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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Betrayal and Mercy.

Little Murders

Two men walking through the woods near Dalton, Georgia, came across the body of a young woman lying in Milk Creek. Her feet were bare, she was clad in old wrapper tied with twine, her chestnut-brown hair hung over her shoulders in disheveled locks, and two deep wounds cracked her skull. No one in Dalton recognized the woman; there was no way to tell where she had come from and who had killed her. Then a liveryman, Robert Springfield, made a startling discovery while taking out one of his buggies. The seat was covered with fresh clots of blood and strands of hair. He had rented the buggy the previous night, to a man named Charles Patton.



Patton was not in his room when the police called so they went inside and searched it. They found a valise covered with blood and filled with women’s clothing. George Patton and his friend William Hollman were arrested for murder and reportedly they made a full confession. However, the details of the confession would change over time. The people of Dalton gathered outside the police station, bent on lynching the pair. Fearing that the “Murray County regulators” might join the mob, the police secretly moved their prisoners to a new jail in Calhoun.

The murdered girl was Matilda Gudger who had come to Dalton in the fall of 1886, from her home in Indiana, looking for the man who had seduced and abandoned her. It was first reported that she had come to find Charles Patton, but when the case came to trial, witnesses testified that she had been arguing with William Hollman and that he was the father of her unborn baby.

The men were tried separately for the murder and William Hollman’s trial was held first. At the time of the murder, Matilda Gudger was staying with Patton and Hollman at a “ginhouse” in Dalton. Also living there were two sisters, Lizzie and Carrie Holcomb. At his trial, the Holcomb sisters brought damning evidence against Hollman. Lizzie Holcomb testified that on the night of the murder Hollman got out of bed and went to tend the furnace. A short time later Matilda got out of bed and said her feet were cold, and she was going to the furnace to warm them up. Lizzie said that a while later Hollman returned and told them that ‘Tilda had fallen into the well. She further testified to the argument between Hollman and Matilda earlier in the day.

William Hollman, who had lived in Dalton all his life, maintained that he had not known Matilda Gudger until three weeks before the murder and had not killed her. The jury took Lizzie Holcomb’s word over his and Hollman was found guilty and sentenced to hang. When Charles Patton was tried, Lizzie told the same story. It was not enough for an acquittal, but Patton was spared the gallows and sentenced to life in prison.

Hollman continued to fight, taking his case to the Georgia Supreme Court. He claimed he was sentenced under perjured testimony, and if he was to be hanged, Charles Patton and Lizzie Holcomb should hang along with him. Lizzie was Patton’s sweetheart and their testimony shielded each other. The Supreme Court upheld the sentence and convinced that he would hang, Hollman stated that his confession on the gallows would not help Patton or Holcomb. He had not yet told all but planned to do so.

William Hollman’s plight radically divided the people of Dalton. Many still called for a lynching not content to wait for a legal hanging, but others took Hollman’s side. A petition asking for Hollman’s sentence to be commuted life in prison was signed by hundreds and sent to the governor. Some sent letters to directly to the governor; one Dalton woman wrote of Hollman, “the boy is scarcely a man and almost an imbecile and has been used as the tool of a wicked woman and Charles Patton, her accomplice.” Hollman himself wrote the governor a sincere letter begging for mercy, saying if that was not possible he hoped to see the governor in heaven.

Governor Gordon granted Hollman a thirty-day reprieve while he looked at the case. Following his investigation, the governor concluded that Hollman hat been convicted on the evidence of two women of bad character, and commuted his sentence to life in prison.

Again the lynch mob gathered, calling for Hollman and burning Governor Gordon in effigy. Hollman was secretly taken away to the iron mines at Rising Fawn where he would serve his sentence.

Sources:
"A Woman's Terrible Fate." The National Police Gazette 26 Nov 1886.
"Betrayal and Death." Logansport Journal 12 Nov 1886.
"Court and Capital." The Atlanta Constitution 6 Jul 1887.
"Danger of Lynching." Evening Star 1 Dec 1886.
"Holman's Hope." The Atlanta Constitution 23 Jun 1887.
"Pen Picture Of Atlanta What Is Going On In The Capital Town." Augusta Chronicle 10 Apr 1887.
"Saved from the Gallows." The New York Times 9 Jul 1887.
"Thirty Days Respite." The Atlanta Constitution 8 Jun 1887.
"Trying to Save Patton's Life." The Atlanta Constitution 18 May 1887.
"What They Say." The Atlanta Constitution 1 Jun 1887.

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