Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Was Tom Conder Framed for Murder

Thomas Young Conder was born in Hickman County, Tennessee on 29 December 1848. He was a younger brother of Jim Conder at whose home the Cane Creek Massacre occurred. He was too young to serve in the Civil War with his older brothers. After the war he married Amanda Ruth Brakefield on the 25th of March, 1874. The two moved to Missouri where Ruth's family used to live. But tragedy waited for them there. Their first child died before she reached her first birthday. And when Ruth next had twins, the strain sapped her health. She died when the twins were only two months old.

Heartbroken,Tom took his two children back to Tennessee and settled on Marsh Creek in Perry County. Ruth's parents lived there (or perhaps moved with him) as did Tom's brothers. It was while living there he met the LDS Missionaries. Soon his in-laws and his brothers were baptized into the LDS church and on the 31st of January, 1881, Tom was baptized as well.

At least one of Tom's brothers rented the land on which he lived. The landlord was unhappy with his tenants receiving Mormons. So whether by choice or not, Anderson Conder took his family to Obion (oh-BYE-uhn) County, Tennessee sometime after joining the Mormon Church in 1881. Anderson's wife had a son from a prior marriage named John Westbrook. Letters to John clearly indicate his mother was living in Obion County by 1884. It appears that Tom followed Anderson there. Interviews with people who knew Tom in Obion County said they had known Tom for about 4 years (in 1888). So it is likely he moved there in 1884.

Once in Obion County, Tom married Bettie Riley in 1885. Apparently, Tom was considered quite a catch. One of the women who had her eye on Tom was his own mother-in-law (Martha J. Riley). Dessie Miller Wood, a grandniece of Tom's through his brother George Henderson Conder, claims that in September of 1888 Mrs Riley decided if she killed her husband, she could clear the way for her to be with Tom. But after shooting her husband, Tom spurned her advances. Out of spite, she accused Tom of having pulled the trigger while she watched. The accusation led to Tom's hanging for murder in July of 1889, and her being sentenced to life in prison. Only after Tom's death did she confess she had lied about his involvement.

Pat Miller sent me two newsapaper articles describing the case against Tom. Both were written in July 1889 the day after the execution of his sentence. Neither article describes Mrs Riley recanting her testimony, but if they were written the day after the Tom's death it is unlikely her changed tune would have made it into those articles.

So I figure I should be able to find out more about this case. Wouldn't it be wonderful to find out what really happened?


Ardis said...

What an awful story! (And what an irresistible trail for a historian. It has enough salaciousness that you'd think it would have been picked up by newspapers elsewhere, and remembered years later in local history. Maybe in time you *will* discover more of what happened, or at least what people believed happened.)

Great post.

BruceCrow said...

Irresistable is the word! The newspaper articles Pat sent me were from Knoxville and Atlanta, which could not really be described as local. So it at least made it that far. Archives for the local Obion newspapers don't go back that far. But I have more leads already.

Justin said...

FWIW, I came across an article on the case from September 1888. Obviously nothing therein about the recanting.

BruceCrow said...

Oh, that is cool, Justin. Irresistable, isn't it? I'll look for her confession when I go back to the archives.

btw, you reputation is secure. :)

Michael said...

I'm not sure if you are still monitoring this thread but my sister and I are trying to complete an ancestral line. Would you happen to know the names of the twins that Amanda Ruth gave birth to before her death? We believe that Thomas Young Condor may be our Great Great Grandfather. We think that our Great Grandfather, Thomas Walker Condor may have been one of the twins (Amanda being the other) and raised by his Grandmother, Rachel (Anderson) Condor, Thomas Youngs Mother after Amanda Ruth' death and of course Thomas Young Condor's death.

BruceCrow said...

I believe your suspicions are correct. The names I have are Thomas Walker Conder and Ella Amanda Conder, both born on 9 November 1876. Feel free to email me and I'll send you the info I got from a distant cousin of yours.