Saturday, January 8, 2022

"I Caught Them in the Act."

C. F. Stephens owned a store in Livingston, Georgia about 12 miles from Rome. He employed Frank Wilkerson as a clerk in his store and provided him with room and board in his home.

Stephens was increasingly unhappy with this arrangement, and he sensed that things were not right in his house. He heard rumors that Wilkerson and his wife, Jessie, were intimate, and he found letters from Wilkinson to Jessie that appeared to confirm this.

Stephens wanted to find out for sure, so the morning of July 12, 1892, he told Jessie that he was going to Rome and would be back at 3:00 that afternoon. Instead, he returned home at 2:00. Stephens hitched his horse about half a mile from his house and walked home. He entered through the back door and took off his shoes so no one would hear his footsteps. 

The bedroom door was closed. When Stephens opened the door, he found Wilkerson and his wife in a compromising position. He drew his revolver and shot twice, wounding Wilkerson. Stephens had only two bullets in his pistol, so he grabbed Wilkerson and pulled him to the floor. Wilkerson drew his pistol and shot twice; one of the bullets hit Stephens between the eyes, and he died a few minutes later.

Before he died, Stephens took the incriminating letters from his pocket and wrote on one, “I caught them in the act. C. F. Stephens.” He gave the letters to his manservant, saying, “Take these to my father. They tell a tale.”

Mrs. Stephens tried to grab the letters, but the servant left with them. She and Wilkerson were both arrested.

The trial of Frank Wilkerson the following October in Troy, Georgia, caused a sensation due to the prominence of the Stephens family. The courtroom was packed every day. More than sixty witnesses testified, but there was very little hard evidence beyond the obvious facts of the case. The debate centered on the incidents that led to the murder and the motives of those involved.

Several prosecution witnesses testified to having caught Wilkinson and Jessie Stephen in “a questionable attitude.” One testified that Stephens had not meant to kill Wilkerson, just to scare him. He had told Wilkerson to leave several times, but Wilkerson said that would be over Stephen’s dead body. Others testified that Wilkerson had intended to murder Stephens at the first opportunity and that Mrs. Stephens knew of his plans.

When Frank Wilkerson testified, his voice was so soft he could not be heard from 10 feet away and had to pause and weep several times. He said no one regretted the killing more than he did, but when Stephens started firing, he had nowhere to go and had to shoot back. He denied ever having intimate relations with Mrs. Stephens. When Stephens caught them, they were standing and talking about his leaving the house. The letters were just thanking Mrs. Stephens for some advice she had given him. 

Jessie Stephens also denied any intimacy with Wilkerson, but she did say she loved him more than her husband. She said the handwriting on the letter was not her husband’s, but Deputy Sheriff McConnell, who had known Stephens from boyhood, said the signature was definitely his.

The jury convicted Frank Wilkerson of voluntary manslaughter. 

Following the conviction, a grand jury indicted Jessie Stephens for adultery and accessory to murder. She fled the city before the police could take her into custody.

“Summary of the News,” Sun, October 21, 1892.
“'I Caught Them in the Act',” Illustrated Police News, July 30, 1892.
“The Defendant Testifies,” Atlanta Journal, October 15, 1892.
“Didn't Desire His Blood,” Atlanta Journal, October 12, 1892.
“In the Southern States,” Dallas Morning News, July 19, 1892.
“Killed by His Wife's Lover,” Morning News, October 12, 1892.
“Killed by His Clerk,” Morning News, July 13, 1892.
“Mrs. Stephens Must Stand Trial,” Morning News, October 22, 1892.
“The Murderous Result,” Daily State Chronicle, July 14, 1892.
“She Loved Wilkinson,” Morning News, October 15, 1892.
“Wilkerson on Trial,” Atlanta Journal, October 11, 1892.


Richard says:
January 14, 2022 at 11:15 PM

Well at least they gave her time to run away. This is a sad story.

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