Lafayette County Press (MS)
September 10, 1908


Negro Brute Cuts Woman’s Throat

Mrs. Mattie McMullen, a white woman, the victim lived but ten minutes after the tragedy.  Sheriff Hartsfield and Posse of citizens give chase and land Negro in jail. / Mob storms jail and kills desperado. / Officers and Guards overpowered, and failing to find the keys the orderly mob quietly and deliberately took matters in their own hands, forced entrance to cell where Negro was confined.  Negro armed with poker puts up desperate fight and is killed.

            On of the coldest blooded murders and most brutal crimes known to the criminal calendar was perpetrated on mile north of town yesterday morning about ten o’clock, when a black brute of unsavory reputation by the name of Nelse Patton attacked Mrs. Mattie McMullen, a respected white woman, with a razor, cutting her throat from ear to ear and causing almost instant death.  Reports as to the cause of the tragedy vary, but as near as can be learned the particulars are these:

            Mrs. McMullen, whose husband was confined at the time in the county jail at this place, was a hard working woman living alone with her 17 year old daughter and two other very small children.  It seems that Mr. McMullen wanted to communicate with his wife, and as was his custom as such occasions, he called the murderer, who was a “trusty” prisoner at the jail, to carry the missive.  Arriving at the house, the negro, who was in an intoxicated condition, walked in the house without knocking and took a seat. Seeing the woman apparently alone and without protection, his animal passion was aroused and he made insulting remarks to her. He was ordered from the house and some angry words passed between them, when the woman started toward the bureau drawer to get her pistol. The brute seeing her design made a rush at the woman from behind and drawing the razor cut her throat from ear to ear, almost severing the head from the body.  The dying woman rushed out of the house and the daughter hearing the confusion rushed in, and was instantly grabbed by the negro. Jerking herself from the brutes grasp, she followed her mother who had fallen dead a few yards from the house. The daughter’s screams alarmed the neighbors who quickly responded to the call and immediately sent in a hurried telephone message to the Press office to summons officers and a physician, who in less than twenty minutes were on the way to the scene of the murder. The news spread like wild fire and it was but a short while until the sheriff was joined by a posse of citizens all in hot and close pursuit of the brute.  After chasing the negro three or four miles over fences, through briars and fields he suddenly ran amuck of Johnny Cullen, the 14 year old son of Lin Cullen, who was out with a double barreled shotgun.  Seeing the negro coming towards him, he called a halt, but the negro paid no attention to the command and the boy het him lave a load of No. 5 shot in the chest, which slackened his speed but did not stop him. The boy gave him another charge in the left arm and side which stopped him. The negro was at once surrounded by his pursuers and gladly gave up.  Over a hundred shots were fired from all kinds of weapons but the negro was out of range. Being weak from loss of blood, the brute was put on a horse and hurried to jail.

            As soon as the news spread of the capture, hundreds of people began to gather around the jail and in small groups about the street. They were not indulging in the idle threats, but from the seriousness of their expressions one could see the negro’s fate was sealed.           

            Between nine and ten o’clock the crowd began swelling to large proportions about the jail.  Speeches were made advocating letting the law take its course and vice-versa, but patience had fallen far short of being a virtue in a crowd like that. One wild shout went up, with a rush the crowd advanced on the jail, pushing open doors and jumping through windows. Officers and guards were overpowered and disarmed.  The keys could not be found, but the hardware store and blacksmith shops were made to furnish the necessary tools and a set of quiet and determined men plied them. Four and one half hours of hard and persistent work it took to break through the thick walls of steal and masonry.  The cell was at last reached and a search of the cell occupied by that black fiend incarnate was made. It was at last found and broken into.  Crouched and cringing in a dark corner of the cell with the gleam of murder in his eye stood the miserable wretch armed with an iron poker awaiting the advance.  In one, two, three order the mob entered the cell, and in the same order the iron descended upon their heads, blood flew, the negro having all the advantage in his dark corner, held the crowd at bay and refused to come out. Only one thing was left to do. It was done. 26 pistol shots vibrated throughout corridors of the solid old jail and when the smoke cleared away the limp and lifeless body of the brute told the story.

            The body was hustled down stairs to terra firma, the rope was produced, the hangmans noose properly adjusted about the neck and the drag to the court house yard began.

            This morning the passerby saw the lifeless body of a negro suspended from a tree – it told the tale, that the murder of a white woman had been avenged – the public had done their duty.  Following is the verdict of the Corners Jury.

            We the Coroners Jury of inquest impaneled and sworn to investigate the death of Nelse Patton, colored find after inspecting the body and examining necessary witnesses, that to the best of our knowledge and belief, the said Nelse Patton come to his death from gunshot or pistol wounds inflicted by parties to us unknown.  That any one of a number of wounds would have been sufficient to cause death.  We find further that Sheriff J.C. Hartsfield and his deputies were diligent in their efforts to protect said Nelse Patton from the time of his arrest until they were overpowered by a mob of several hundred men who stormed the jail and dug their way through the walls until they reached the cell in which said Nelse Patton was confined and that said officers never surrendered the keys of jail or cells but that the locks were forced by some party or parties to us unknown and that the said Nelse Patton was shot with pistols or guns while in his cell and while attempting to protect himself with an iron rod.  We further find that the said Nelse Patton was dead before being brought from the jail and being hung.

Respectfully submitted,

E.O. Davidson

R.S. Adams

P.E. Matthews

B.P. Gray

A.F. Galloway

F. Wood

4 October 2010