Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tom Conder, Martha J, and Jack Riley

Tucked away in the secret vaults (ok, public filing cabinets) of the Tennessee State Library and Archives are the court papers for the trial of Tom Conder and Martha J Riley. One hundred and seventy four pages of supeonas, warrants, witness statements, confessions and more.

[Just as a side note. To copy these pages on the photo copier in the archives in $0.25 a page, bringing the total to nearly $44.00 just to make the copies. But I learned today that the archives will make a copy of the whole reel for just $25.00, and I was thinking to my self, I could take this to the public library, or the family history library, and make digital copies of the pages I need. That would be almost half the price.]

Anyway, I started scanning through the pages and found "witnesses for the prosecution" and I was hooked. I won't go into every single version here. But ..... The witnesses heard a gun shot from the Riley house, and about 5 minutes later a woman scream. The first to arrive were two school age boys (one was 14) from a schoolhouse about 300 yards away from the house. Next a handful of adult men, who arrived individually within minutes of each other. All had heard the gunfire and the woman scream. Each described them as being 5 minutes apart. Each described Tom Conder and Martha J Riley being at the house and noted the presence of other witnesses who had arrived earlier.

Initially, both Martha and Tom claimed that Mr. Riley (aka Andrew Jackson Riley, he went by "Jack") had shot himself. Tom had been living at the house and claimed that when the gun shot happened he was sleeping in his bed. Tom's wife Bettie had passed away two years earlier.

But there were issues with the story. The gun was a double barreled shot gun. Only one of the two barrels had fired. In most stories it was the left, though at least one it was the right. But the shot had passed through Mr. Riley head, from behind one ear to just infront of the other ear. The shot would have been impossible to accomplish by suicide. The muzzel of the gun was sitting in a pool of blood which seemed to also convince the investigators that it was not suicide. Though I don't really understand that part. Forensics is not my thing.

And then there were witnesses that saw Tom with his arm around Martha months before the shooting. And just after the shooting Martha shaking Tom's hand and was overheard telling him  "I am in trouble again. I harldly get out of one trouble until I get into another." Was there a love triangle?

It was the opinion of the justice of the peace that they were guilty of murder and so they were arrested and placed in the Obion County Jail. It was located in Troy. It was made of brick in 1881 at a cost of $9,000 and was considered "the finest in West Tennessee" with the exception of the one in Memphis.

Under the pressure of interrogation, their story soon began to fall apart. Martha J Riley broke first.
(next week ... Martha's Confession)

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