A somewhat different theory

Some years ago, when I visited Wilkes County, I got the impression that almost everybody inm the area had their own theory of what happened. Theories that they weren't willing to drop, no matter har hard you tried to convince them, that their specific theory was contradicted by facts. One of the most persistent allegations were that Ann Melton remarried after Tom's execution, to either Bob Grayson, Bob Cummings or soneone else, and even if the census records shows that she stayed married to James Melton until her death, they let themselves be convinced :-). Like this one most of these theories were based on one or more of the legends, but I heard one version of the events that I haven't heard, neither before nor later, and I haven't been able to find it on the Internet either. Perhaps it was invented by the man who told it to me, but like other legends, it may also contain elements of truth. When I choose to bring it here, it is because it somehow can be said to provide yet another reason for Ann to confess, if she actually did confess.

The theory is based on the assumption that the murder was committed by Ann Melton and that Pauline Foster knew about it, but that Tom was not involved at all. I believe the theory is right in that the two girls knew something about the murder. Their statements to each other at Mrs. James Scotts place makes this reasonably clear, and whether Pauline Foster's testimony or Mrs.. Scott's testimony tells the truth doesn't actually matter much. According to both testimonies, Mrs. Scott's and Pauline's own, Pauline indirectly admitted that she had knowledge of the murder: "You stick just as deep in it as I" can only be interpreted as Pauline believes that both she and Ann were involved in the murder to some extent. And according to Mrs. Scott, Pauline first admitted having committed the murder, and then added that Ann was just as guilty as she was. On the other hand, it was Ann who returned to Mrs. Scott and admitted she has killed her best friend. So it definately seems as if the girls were involved in one way or another. Or at the very least believed that the other one was involved.

Now to the theory. According to this, Ann Melton was truly in love, but not just with Tom Dooley. She was also in love with Laura Foster. While living in an area with fairly liberal views on sex between men and women despite marital status, a sexual relationship between two women was not acceptable in the community. If Ann and Laura therefore would live together as lovers, they would have to run away together to a place where they were unknown, and where they could live together under the pretense of being sisters or something like that, and where no one would suspect them to be more than that. In any case, the man told me, they had decided to run away together, and would meet at Bates Place.

The evening before Ann wanted "say a loving farewell" to Tom Dooley. Ann asked him to get some liquor so they could enjoy themselves outdoors while Pauline Foster entertained Ann's husband at the Melton place. Unfortunately, Anns mother decided to join the festivites between Ann and Tom, so it was so-so with the physical part of the farewell. Ann was therefore quite annoyed when she returned to the house early that Friday morning. She went to bed, but got up again soon after, and sneaked out of the house and went to Bates Place. Pauline Foster had noticed her leaving and for some reason decided to  follow her, staying unseeen.

At Bates Place Ann met with Laura. Ann was still annoyed that she had not been able to say a proper goodbye to Tom, the way she wanted, so she wanted to postpone the departure until the next morning. Laura, however, had brought all her possessions with her on the horse, and was not inclined to return to her home, even if just for one more night. The disagreement evolved into an altercation and later into a fight. At this time one of the girls pulled out a knife. My informant didn't know, which of the girls actually brought the knife, but thought it was Laura, as she was ready to leave home for good. It came to blows between them and suddenly Laura was stabbed in the chest with the knife, probably by accident, but again my source for this story didn't know for sure. When Ann saw what she had done, she went into a panic, and would run for help. However, she was stopped by Pauline, who had witnessed everything. Pauline, who believed that she now had something she could use against Ann at a later time, persuaded her not to do it, because she wouldn't be believed if and when she explained that it was an accident. Pauline suggested that they had to hide the corpse, and then return later to bury it.

The painting to the left depicts Tom and Laura at a dance and a jaloux looking Ann in the background as Edith F. Carter imagined it. The original picture is in the Tom Dooley Art Museum at Whippoorwill Academy and Village in Ferguson, North Carolina and is reproduced here with permission from the artist.

Sometime Friday morning Pauline "borrowed" the mattock from Tom Dooley, who she knew was sick in bed (after a hard night of drinking) and probably wouldn't look for it anymore that day. In the evening there was the "celebration" at Melton's home and Pauline used the opportunity to get 17 year old Thomas Foster to drink a lot. When the rest of the party had gone, she went to bed with him and when he was asleep she got up and Ann too, and they went to the place where Laura's body was hidden. They used the horse to transport Laura's body away from the scene of the crime, and across the ridge in direction of Dula's home. Not in order to cast suspicion on Tom, but simply to remove it from the vicinity of the Melton home. At the ridge they dug a hole as best they could, using the mattock and their hands and put Laura's corpse in it. Here they covered it, and while Ann went back to her home, Pauline led the horse back to Bates Street, where she tied it to a tree before she went home too.

The two girls was getting more and more on each others nerves, driving Pauline to drink more than usual, and making Ann more and more angry about even small things. The bickering finally lead to the quarrel at Mrs. Scotts place. Eventually, Pauline got so tired of the bickering and quarrelling that she chose to return to her home in Watauga County. As the suspicion began to focus on Ann (not Pauline as she told in court), Ann went to Watauga with Sam Foster and persuaded Pauline to follow them back to Elkville. When Pauline herself became a suspect and was arrested, she hastened to blame everything on Ann Melton - and Tom Dooley, who really knew nothing about what had occurred. She had no problem with directing the search team to the grave, which she herself had helped to dig.

The rest of the story we know, except that according to this version, it was Ann who - perhaps with the help of her female charm - persuaded James Horton (in this story he is back in the picture) to get Tom a good lawyer, because she actually pitied him - though not enough to confess.

That was the story that I was told, only it was longer but the story of Toms trial and execution, Anns later confession and such, was no different from other stories. It was Ann who killed Laura (unintentional), and it was Pauline who helped her hide the body. This story completely absolves Tom, but is there any lind of truth in it? I have previously pointed out, that Ann Melton could hardly
be the murderer, due to lack of opportunity and in the same article, I reject the possibility that Pauline was the killer. In return, I admit to a conspiracy between the two girls being possible, but is there anything else to be said for or against this interpretation of events?

The missing opportunity I mentioned above. But this lack of opportunity for Ann as well as Pauline is based on the fact that Pauline Foster told the truth when she testified that Ann came home an hour before dawn and had stayed in bed all day while she was in the field planting corn. Since she only mentioned in court that she would have seen Tom Dooley, had he come from Bates Place, we must assume that James Melton worked somewhere, where he could not see whether Tom came from Bates Place or not. There is therefore no one that can say with any certainty whether Ann and Pauline left the Melton place on Friday morning. If they did, they actually could have had an opportunity to meet with and kill Laura. We know however that they wouldn't have had time to bury the corpse at that time, for when Wilson Foster, Tom Dooley and George Washington Anderson visited the house around breakfast, they all found Ann in her bed, and Anderson confirmed that her shoes were wet.

Could Ann and Pauline have moved the corpse on Friday night? They probably would at least have had the opportunity. James Melton was not interested in how  Ann spent her time, and Pauline Foster had no problems, getting a young Thomas Foster so drunk that he would fall asleep, at least when she had "slept with him" for a while. Unfortunately for the theory, according to doctors the body at this point would be so affected by rigor mortis that it would be almost impossible to move, so it does not sound likely. They may of course have left the body for several days until rigor mortis had disappeared again. Throughout the case there was no one that asked questions of what the two girls did on the Monday after the murder or later. They would not have had the horse to help as it had returned to Wilson Foster, but perhaps they asked Thomas Foster to help them. Ann was his sister, and he was apparently sweet on Pauline, and he had, according to his own testimony access to a horse. This could also explain why he was so eager to suggest that Tom had been going to Bates Place on that Friday.

But why then would Tom confess the murder (if in fact he actually did)? To protect Ann Melton comes back as the only reason I can see. Perhaps Ann 
persuaded  him to help her, or perhaps someone else persuade him to help her. Unfortunately we do not know if anybody visited Tom while he was in prison in Statesville and if so who it was. If Tom wrote the confession, he did it very late (ie after it was discovered that he had cut through his chains). In that case he knew that there was no way out for himself and he may have wanted to save his lover Ann. This, however doesn't explain neither the wording of the note, or the strict requirement of secrecy until he was dead.

Is the suggestion of ​​a relationship between Laura Foster and Ann Melton possible? Definitely. The two knew each other and were perhaps distantly related. They were roughly the same age and both were known to be sexually very active. Ann had apparently, according to witnesses, sexual relations with Pauline and Tom together, so maybe she had it with Pauline, Laura or other girls without Tom being present. This could also explain why she was so angry with Laura because of the syphilis, if she thought Laura was the source of the disease. And if Laura had an affair with another woman, and a married woman at that, this would probably be a good reason for her to run away from home.

So yes, the theory is certainly possible, but I must admit I don't find it likely. Had there been a general rumor that Ann was sleeping with women as well as men, it would have been mentioned during the trial. And certainly it would probably be mentioned in several legends, unless the storytellers simply found it so embarrassing that they omitted it. So no, I do not think that Ann and Laura were lovers and planned to run away together and I still do not believe that Ann killed Laura Foster.

 - Return to Tom Dooley page -
- Return to English Pages -