Monday, November 12, 2012

The Murder of Benjamin Ross and the Escape of Little Bill

The Murder of Benjamin Ross and The Escape of Little Bill

This story isn't about any of my director ancestors, but takes place where the Rochester Family has lived for over 250 years.

In 1888, Benjamin Ross was living in Glassy Mountain, South Carolina known as the Dark Corner.  

He was a prominent citizen who was a government distiller and liquor dealer.  In other words, a moonshiner.

One day Benjamin Ross testified at a moonshine hearing in Greenville, South Carolina.  After his testimony, he was at home laying by the fire when their dogs began to bark.  His little daughter went to the door but didn't see anybody.

Suddenly, the family heard shots coming through the glass window.  Benjamin was hit both in the chest and stomach.  He stood up and said, 

"Lord, Harriett.  I am shot.  Lord have mercy on me."

Then he fell into his wife's arms, took a few breaths, and died.

Thomas Rochester (whom I am most likely distantly related to) thought he knew who did it.  Just the week before, William Howard had told him that he was going to shoot Benjamin Ross.  So he pretended like he already knew that William Howard had done it, and was able to get William to confess.

There are two William Howards in town and they are first cousins--William M. Howard and William L. Howard.  William M. is known as "Big Bill" and William L. is known as "Little Bill" because he was shorter.  If you get confused just pretend "L" stands for "little."

Thomas accused Little Bill of the murder.  Little Bill accused Big Bill of the murder, claiming that he was standing close by and saw Big Bill do it.  The courts believed Little Bill to be guilty and Big Bill to be innocent.

In July 1890, Little Bill was sentenced to be hanged and sent to jail to wait.

He didn't have one of these.
Every weekend, his wife walked 27 miles with their baby to visit him.  The jailor couldn't turn her away because she had walked so far.  She was described in the New York Times as having staring blue eyes with her mouth half open.  She looked like didn't have an idea in the world except to get dinner and have children. Apparently she had at least one other idea.

In October 1890, Mrs. Howard asked to leave the jail like she did every Monday morning.  As the jailor watched her go, he noticed she walked sort of funny, but didn't think much of it.  She was walking a 54-mile round trip every weekend to see her husband, of course she would walk funny.  That afternoon, when the jailor went to check on Little Bill, guess what he found?

Little Bill's wife in jail, lying underneath a blanket! 
 Little Bill had walked out of the Greenville County Jail, dressed like his wife.

Guess he didn't need one of these after all.

Four months later, Little Bill was found staying at his mother-in-law's.  He was later acquitted because the chief witness mysteriously died.

In December of 1890, Big Bill was murdered by Benjamin Ross' stepson George Center (who was also Big Bill's first cousin). George claimed self-defense and was found not guilty.

Little Bill lived to be 68 years old and had 12 children.

1 comment:

  1. I am The Great Grandson of Lil Bill Howard.This Story was never talked about as I was growing up.My GrandMother Annie Maude Howard Turner,Talked of her Father fromtime to time and Her Sister Lula Howard Black would Tell of The Times they had growing up William Lil Bill Howard Was no murderer and That is the reason for His Clever escape.My Great Grandmother Sis Howard was From what I heard growing up was a wonderfull kind Caring Woman She Knew That Her husband had commited no Crime other than Knowing About The killing of Ben Ross.She was not about to let Him Hang for something he had not done.I consider my Great Grandmother a HERO.If Any family decendants would like to Contact me I am at 864-384-9401..i can be reached at any time I would love to hear from anyone Who may know a Little bit more About My Ancesters.Doug Turner &th generation Glassy mountain Howard.