The haunting folk ballad “Omie Wise” has kept the story of Naomi Wise’s murder alive for more than two hundred years, but how much of it is true?
Ballad: Omie Wise
The Indiana Hero -1820
When Palmer Warren refused to fight a duel with Amas Fuller over the woman he loved, Fuller shot him in cold blood. But Amasa Fuller was so popular in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, that the young lady was cast as the villain, and Fuller “The Indiana Hero.”
Ballad: The Indiana Here (aka Fuller and Warren)
Charlie and Frankie Silver were the ideal young married couple, so the legend goes, but the reality was much darker. Frankie had endured physical abuse from Charlie throughout their marriage until, she fought back to save her own life.
Ballad: The Ballad of Frankie Silver
The Murdered Wife -1845
Eight days after Mary Ann Wyatt married Henry Green she died of arsenic poisoning. There is little doubt Henry Green murdered his wife but his motive in doing so is an enduring mystery.
Ballad: The Arsenic Tragedy
The stories behind murder ballads are never as pretty as the songs. The 1866 murder of Laura Foster by Tom Dula in Elkville, North Carolina left a pretty song of an ugly murder.
Ballad: Tom Dooley
Jubilee Jim -1872
Jim Fisk was the consummate Gilded Age robber baron. Everything he had or did had to be the biggest and best. When his adulterous relationship turned scandalous, it was an epic scandal filled with blackmail, courtroom drama, and finally murder.
Ballad: The Stokes Verdict
On October 4, 1875, the mutilated body of 17-year-old Josie Langmaid was found in the woods in Pembroke, New Hampshire. The ballad her murder inspired is remarkably accurate, but profoundly sad.
Ballad: Suncook Town Tragedy
The body of Charles Arthur Preller was found in a trunk in a St. Louis hotel. Though the death had been made to look like a political assassination, it was in fact the tragic ending of a “peculiar relationship.”
Ballad: Ewing Brooks
On the afternoon of January 25, 1892, Alice Mitchel met Freda Ward on Front Street and cut her throat with a straight razor. Was Alice driven by insanity, jealousy, or “an unnatural love?”
Ballad: Alice Mitchell and Freddy Ward
Poor Ellen Smith -1892
Ellen Smith, a beautiful but innocent young woman strays from the path of righteousness for a faithless lover who soon becomes her killer. It is the stuff of Victorian cautionary literature and mountain murder ballads.
Ballad: Poor Ellen Smith
The Knoxville Girl -1892
"The Knoxville girl" is an American version of a song with very deep English roots, modified to fit the drowning of Mary Lula Noel.
Ballad: The Knoxville Girl
The Meeks Family Murder -1894
That Bad Man Stagolee -1895
The story of Stagolee has been sung by troubadours for more than a hundred years. When Stack Lee Shelton shot Billy Lyons, in a fight over a Stetson hat, in Bill Curtis's Saloon in St. Louis, on Christmas night 1895, the legend was born.
Ballads (two of many versions): Stack O'Lee Blues, Billy Lyons and Stack O'Lee
On October 16, 1899 Frankie Baker shot her lover Allen Britt. By that evening a local songwriter had composed a song that would become one of the most popular murder ballads of all time.
Ballad: Frankie and Johnny
On Christmas Eve 1900, Cooney Houston shot and killed his girlfriend Delia Green. Delia’s story has been sung by generations of folk singers, and has been recorded by musical icons such as Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
Ballad: Delia's Gone
Saturday, December 3, 2016
The stories of many of America's most memorable murders have been kept alive by folk ballads that have been sung for more than a hundred years. Though seldom factually accurate, the songs are always moving and heartfelt. Here are just a few: