When we last left Tom Dooley he had just been caught on the run in Tennessee. Now it was time to try him.
The prospect of a trial gained much attention throughout the region and caught the attention of former governor North Carolina Governor Zeb Vance. Some believe that Vance simply believed in Dooley’s innocence and/or thought that defending a Confederate veteran in a high-profile case would be politically beneficial. For whatever reason, Vance took the case pro bono…without charge…he would defend Dooley for free.
With Vance’s considerable influence, he had the trial moved to Statesville because he felt, accurately enough, that the chances of Dooley receiving a fair trial for the death of Laura Foster in Wilkes County were between slim and none.
During the trial witnesses testified that Dooley had made the incriminating statement that he was going to “do in” whoever game him the Pock…otherwise known as syphilis. It was revealed that another Foster cousin Pauline working as a maid in Ann’s house was seeing a local doctor for the Pock unbeknownst to Ann. Could there be ANOTHER FOSTER involved in this web? Testimony from the trial indicated Dooley had mistakenly believed Laura had given him the disease, which he had in turn, passed on to Ann. Sadly for all concerned, penicillin would not be developed for another 60 years.
Despite the change in venue from Wilkesboro to Statesville, Dooley was convicted. He appealed the verdict and in the retrial was convicted a second time. It was now 1869…nearly two years after Laura Foster’s disappearance and death. The sentence…hanging.
They did not construct a formal gallows for Dooley…to add gruesomeness to an awful business, he simply stood on top of his own coffin in the back of a wagon. The first of May is celebrated around the world as a festival of Spring…May Day…but in 1868 May Day was Dooley’s last among the living. As he stood before the crowd he is widely reported to have said, “Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I did not harm a hair on that girl’s head.” Today his modern-looking tombstone is in a small manicured meadow, on private property, but still yet it has been half chiseled away by souvenir hunters.
Ann and her cousin Pauline and another supposed accomplice Jack Keaton were also charged in connection to the death as accessories to the crime, but they were successfully defended by Vance and set free. Ann had stated that “there would never be a rope put around this pretty neck!”
A local poet named Thomas Land wrote a song about the tragic events that unfolded in Wilkes County shortly after Dooley was hanged. Several different versions of the song were recorded, but nothing special happened until the Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1958. Their record topped the charts and sold over 6 million copies. Their song “Tom Dooley” is credited for starting the boom in folk music during that era…an era that gave national prominence to a neighbor just up the hill…Mr. Doc Watson, who became a legendary musician in his own right…