The discovery

After her arrest, Pauline Foster was questioned, and she told the authorities about her visit to Laura's grave with Ann Melton. Because of this, she was removed from jail, and a search party went with her to the place, where she stopped and Ann had continued alone to the site of the grave. This happened about September 1st or September 2nd 1866. This is testified by James Isbell, who must have been present already when Pauline was taken from the jail. He continued his testimony: "We went with her to the ridge and came to the log, saw where dirt had been removed. This was the spot, where she (Pauline) stated she stopped folllowing Ann Melton."

As Pauline could not show the way any further, a search was conducted. How this took place is not certain, as it is not mentioned in any of the offical records. From James Isbell's testimony it is supposed though, that the people present, were paired of, and then conducted the search two people together. James Isbell was pairing of with his 74 year old father-in-law, David Horton. Horton was riding a horse. From the way this is stated, we must assume, that Isbell himself was on foot.

Lauras grav findes

Thedrawing  to the right depicts the discovery og Laura's as Edith F. Carter imagines 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. The pictures show more people present thant indicated from testimonies.

After 30 minutes search the two of them found the grave 75 yards from the log that Pauline had led them to. Isbell and his father-in-law was apparently alone, when David Horton's horse snorted as if it had smelled something. Isbell testified, that the earth had been carried away and the surface (sod) replaced.  The two of them hadn't been aware of this, until the horse snorted. Isbell continued his testimony: "We then searched narrowly around the spot and by probing the ground discovered the grave. After taking out the earth, I saw the prints of what appeared to have been a mattock in the hard side of the grave." Isbell continued by describing the body, what it was wearing and so on. Whether the probing was done by Isbell and Horton only, or if they had called for the rest of the search party at that time is not known today, but at some time they must have called them. How many or who was involved we do not know. Some sources mentions the number 70, but that seems to be a large number to search a rather limited area.

At one time anyhow Dr. George Carter was called. He testified, that he had examined the body "at the spot where it was found." The doctor testified that he had found a cut through the body's cloth and into her body between the third and fourth ribs. He couldn't tell if the wound had been fatal. If the knife had gone straight in, it would have missed the heart, but if the point of the knife had been pointed slightly down, it would have hit the heart. The body was too decomposed for him to ascertain whether the knife had hit the heart or not. Dr. Carter continued to describe the grave: "The body was lying on its right side, face up. The hole in which it lay was two and a half feet deep, very narrow, and not long enough for the body. The legs were drawn up." Contrary to popular beliefs, Laura's legs was not broken.

When the doctor had completed his examination, the body was taken to Cowles Store in Elkville. This place was the local gathering spot. It was here that the justice of peace held his hearings, and it was here, that other public affairs was carried out.

Pauline Foster identified the body, and she probably did so before it was taken to Cowles store as she was only 75 yards from the grave when it was discovered. "I saw the dead body. I thought it was the body of Laura Foster. I recognized her teeth and dress. Her teeth were large and there was a large open space between them. I had seen the dress before it was made up. It was woven with a single slay." Actually "sley" would be a better spelling of the last word.

Wilson Foster, Laura's father testified, that he had identified the body. Apparently he was not one of the search party and did not see the body at the grave. "I later saw the corpse of Laura - knew it by the teeth and by the shape of the face, which looked natural. I recognized her clothes. She had on two dresses - one store clothes, the other house made. I knew her shoes. They had a hole in them, which I remembered. James Melton made them. I recognized her fine-tooth comb. Before leaving home, she had boils about her shoulder." This is by the way another indication, that Ann and Laura knew each other before the murder. If James Melton made Laura Foster's shoes, she must have visited the Melton place.

J. W. Winkler was never at the grave according to his own testimony, so he must have seen the body in Cowles Store, as he testified that he was one of the people, that identified the body: "I knew Laura Foster. I saw the dead body. I thought from her cheekbones and from her teeth and from the dress that it was her body. It had on a homespun dress, that I thought I knew".

Today identification would have been easy using DNA, but at the standards of the time, this was probably the best identification you could get of a body, that had been buried for more than three months. Unfortunately Pailine Foster confused the timeline a bit when she testified: "I hadn't seen Laura Foster since the first of March. It was nearly three months between that time and the discovery of the body." Actually six months had passed from March 1st to the discovery of the body in early september, but we have to assume that the dates  agreed upon by everyone else involved are correct, and that either Pauline remembered wrong, or that her testimony was wrongly reproduced in the official records.

Later Laura Foster's body was taken to her home town of German's Hill and buried on what is now known as Laura Foster Hill, near present North Carolina Route 268, where her tombstone can still be seen. Unfortunately the date of the murder on the headstone is wrong, as it claims that she was murdered in May 1865. At that time Tom Dooley was still in the POW camp in Maryland.

After the discovery of the body, Pauline Foster was released from jail and Ann Melton was arrested in her place and put into a cell in Old Wilkes Jail, next to Tom Dooley.

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