Murder of Lura Parsons

The Murder of Miss Lura Parsons

In 1920, Annie Fellows Johnston made a contribution to the Pine Mountain Settlement School  to help defray the cost of investigating the murder of one of their teachers, Miss Lura Parsons. On September 7, 1920, Miss Parsons was assaulted and brutally murdered as she was walking back to the school from the L&N station at Dillon in Hazard County, Kentucky. Her body was discovered two days later hidden behind a rock about 50 yards off the mountain trail. One newspaper reported that a bloody three-foot club was recovered near the scene and “the ground showed signs of a desperate struggle...the manner in which the unfortunate girl was beaten up, was mute evidence that she had made a desperate fight with her assailant for her honor and life.”

The murder was such a media sensation that it was immortalized in several ballads (from theAppalachian Center Archives):

The Murder of Miss Laura Parsons, The Pine Mountain School Teacher, Of Harlan, Kentucky.

Miss Laura Parsons left her home on a September day, 
She was returning to her school along a lonely way, 
She left the train at Dillon and went walking up the Pine, 
Before reaching the mountaintop, she stopped to rest and dine. 

A murderous brute attacked her - this is a sad, sad tale, 
She couldn't resist the cowardly brute, she was too weak and frail, 
He assaulted her and beat her brains out with a rail, 
And threw her body over a bank and covered up his trail. 

And when she failed to reach the school, people gave the alarm, 
And searching parties organized, they feared she'd met with harm, 
After a search they found her cold and lifeless on the ground, 
But no trace of the murderous brute has as yet been found. 

Her friends and officers have searched, but all efforts have failed, 
Many were questioned, one was tried, but all to no avail. 
We trust the murderer will be caught and death must be his doom, 
No mercy did he show to her who's sleeping in the tomb. 

She leaves father, old and gray, and relatives behind, 
And loving friends to mourn for her, for she was good and kind, 
And when we think of how she died, it brings tears to our eyes, 
Alone upon the mountainside with none to heed her cries. 

No doubt she cried and prayed and plead with him her life to spare, 
Alas, his heart, it was too hard, he killed her then and there, 
And when she stands before the Throne of out Kind and Lord
The murderer, he will stand there, too, and he'll get his reward. 

Miss Laura Parsons' body rests beneath the cold, cold clay, 
Her sold has gone to Heaven above to walk the Golden Hay. 
She'll sing and praise forevermore, and for her friends she'll wait, 
She'll welcome all her loved ones there at the beautiful gate. 

The murderer, he will roam through earth with weights upon his soul, 
Until God shall call him from this life to answer that great roll. 
Justice will overtake him there at that great Judgment Day, 
"Vengeance is mine," saith the Lord, and "I will surely pay." 

"From J.D. Arthur-Composed by C.O. Oaks" 
Howard W. Odum

 

The Death of Lura Parsons

Way down in old Pine Mountain, there lived a maiden fair,
Where all the people knew her and she was happy there. 
She used to teach the children in old Pine Mountain School, 
They all loved Lura Parsons, who taught the golden rule. 

One evening she was walking across the mountain way, 
The birds were sweetly singing, her heart was light and gay, 
The sun was slowly setting, but Lura did not fear, 
She had no way of knowing that death was drawing near. 

Then she met a villain with murder in his mind, 
On her knees she begged him to please not be unkind, 
But vain were all her pleadings, no mercy could be found, 
And there on old Pine Mountain he struck poor Lura down. 

Next day the people waited, but Lura did not come, 
Till they began to wonder if foul play had been done, 
Then they started looking and searching all around, and
All of them were saying, oh Lura must be found. 

They searched throughout the mountain for Lura alone, 
And there they found her lying, her body cold as stone, 
And all around was sadness for one whose life was lost, 
They tried to find the villain to make him pay the cost. 

The grinding wheels of justice moved slowly on their way, 
And he must face his maker, as we all will someday. 
And those who have not heeded the laws of God and man, 
Are sure to learn the meaning of houses built on sand.

(Copied by Rex Blevins)

State veterinarian, Dr. H.C. Winnes, was accused of the murder and tried in early 1921. To read newspaper accounts of the trial, visit the following link:

http://archiver.rootsweb.com/th/read/KY-FOOTSTEPS/2003-11/1067689663

 

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Rita Fox has contributed the following information on Lura Parsons and her family:

PARSONS OF GARRARD COUNTY

In the premiere issue of Paint Lick Reflections, William "Bill" Parson, who married Lizzie Tatem is mentioned in connection to the Kincaid and Hurt families. William was the eldest known son of Robert Franklin and Mary Frances Shaw Parsons. Next to the youngest child of Robert and Mary Frances was Stanley Taylor Parsons (1900-1955) who long drove a school bus for the Paint Lick School. Stan was this recorder's uncle by his marriage to my blood aunt, Penelope Mays Tudor.

Robert Parsons was born at Mouth of Wilson in Grayson Co., Va., and came to Bourbon Co., Ky., in about the mid 1870s where he apparently met Mary Frances Shaw, daughter of James and Cassandra Rhodus Shaw. 

It is believed that Robert's younger brother, Walter Snead "Dock" Parsons also came to Kentucky at the same time. Both wound up in Garrard County; Walter, later moving to near Berea.

These two Parsons brothers were sons of John Welburn and Catherine Cox Parsons, his first marriage. Worthy of mention for this article as John Welburn Parsons had no fewer that about 35 children by about six or more mothers; about 15 being siblings to Robert and "Dock." Tradition says that John removed (kinder word) Catherine from the home. There were threats that sons would come and kill him. This was supposed to be the ones who went to Kentucky. One of his sons who was a sheriff placed his father in jail with the hope that there would be a cooling off time that would avert further troubles. Apparently, the Kentucky sons did not follow up on their threat.

Robert Franklin and Mary Frances Parsons lived in the Flatwoods section of Garrard County. My father, Donald Tudor, described Robert as a large, kind and gentle person, that he had huge hands. I can almost imagine how large, as Donald had very large hands also. Robert and Mary Frances are buried in the Paint Lick Cemetery.

Near Robert and Mary’s graves rests Lura Frances Parsons, simply 1878-1920 (or more precisely 7 Sept. 1920). Lura was the daughter of Walter Snead "Dock" and Drucy Ann Poe Parsons. 

LURA'S TRAGIC DEATH

Harlan County, Kentucky

One of the worst crimes in the annals of the criminal records of this section of the State, was perpetrated in Harlan county, on Tuesday of last week, when Miss Lura Parsons, assistant teacher of dietetics, who was in route to the Pine Mountain School on foot across the mountain trail from Dillon, a station on the L.&N., was attacked by a fiend, assaulted and murdered, and her body dragged some fifty yards from the road and hidden behind a big rock. 

Miss Parsons, whose parents live in Garrard County, near Lancaster, had been connected with the Pine Mountain School for the past two years. Some two weeks ago, she left for her vacation, going to the home of her parents. On last Monday, accompanied by a younger brother and sister, she went to Berea, where the boy and girl were placed in school, and that night boarded the train for Pineville, arriving here between 4 and 5 o'clock Tuesday morning. She left on the Harlan train at 7:40 for Dillon, from which point a road on Pine Mountain leads to the school. 

On the same train, enroute to the School, was Dr. H.C. Winners, a veterinary, who had been sent to that place to inspect the stock, by the Experiment Station at Lexington. Dr. Winnes met Miss parsons at Dillon, and he said that in a conversation with her, she stated that she was going to walk across the mountain, a distance of about six miles, to the school. Dr. Winnes, after some delay, secured a mule to ride to the school, and it is said, left Dillon some twenty or thirty minutes after Miss Parsons.

Dr. Winnes was some four hours reaching the school, and stated that he had lost much time in route, on account of having lost his way. He told those in charge of the school that Miss Parsons was on her way, and when she had not arrived late that afternoon, an investigation was made, and no trace of her could be found. The alarm was sent out and soon a number were engaged in the search for the missing woman. About 1 o'clock Thursday afternoon, her body was found hidden behind a rock, a short distance from the trail leading from the prison camp, where 75 convicts, who are working on the road on the grade to the Pine Mountain School, are housed.

The officers at Harlan were at once notified, and accompanied by several physicians, went to the scene of the crime. A short distance from where the body was found, the officers discovered a club about three feet long, which was covered with blood. The ground showed signs of a desperate struggle, and the manner in which the unfortunate girl was beaten up, was mute evidence that she had made a desperate fight with her assailant for her honor and life.

The body was taken to Harlan and on Saturday was sent to her home in Garrard County, for burial.

After finding the body of Miss Parsons, the search was begun for her assailant. Dr. Winnes, who was the last person known to have seen her alive, had returned to Frankfort. Deputy Sheriff Chad Nolan, of Harlan, carrying a warrant for Dr. Winnes, went to Frankfort and returned with him to Harlan. Dr. Winnes passed out a statement, saying that he did not see Miss Parson, on his trip from Dillon to the school: that he woke up a convict who was asleep on the road, and that he had no knowledge of the crime. He was taken to the prison camp, where he identified the convict who, he said he had found on the road.

Officers reported that in the bunkhouse of this convict, bloody clothes were found. These were sent to Lexington that the blood spots might be analyzed. The report of the chemists has not been received.

The feeling in Harlan County is intense. A strong guard of deputy sheriffs is maintained at the prison camp, for the protection of the convicts, and a guard is also kept with Dr. Winnes. Assisting the local officials in figuring out the crime, are detectives from Cincinnati, who have been employed by the school authorities.

Louisville Times, November 27?, 1920? 

Mrs. Annie Fellows Johnston has made a contribution to a fund to pay expenses incurred by the Pine Mountain Settlement School in investigation of the murder of Miss Lura Parsons. Miss Jesse O. Yancey, State Board of Health, will receive donations to the fund in Louisville and C. N. Mann, treasurer of the institution, in Lexington.

To this year, 2002, this recorder believes that this crime is yet to be solved. At the time, two ballads were written and sung about this dastardly deed, one of which is recorded here.

THE DEATH OF LURA PARSONS
Way down in old Pine Mountain, there lived a maiden fair, 
Where all the people knew her and she was happy there. 
She used to teach the children in old Pine Mountain School, 
They all loved Lura Parsons, who taught the golden rule. 
One evening she was walking across the mountain way, 
The birds were sweetly singing, her heart was light and gay, 
The sun was slowly setting, but Lura did not fear, 
She had no way of knowing that death was drawing near. 
Then she met a villain with murder in his mind, 
On her knees she begged him to please not be unkind, 
But vain were all her pleadings, no mercy could be found, 
And there on old Pine Mountain he struck poor Lura down. 
Next day the people waited, but Lura did not come, 
Till they began to wonder if foul play had been done, 
Then they started looking and searching all around, and
All of them were saying, oh Lura must be found. 
They searched throughout the mountain for Lura alone, 
And there they found her lying, her body cold as stone, 
And all around was sadness for one whose life was lost, 
They tried to find the villain to make him pay the cost.
 The grinding wheels of justice moved slowly on their way, 
And he must face his maker, as we all will someday. 
And those who have not heeded the laws of God and man, 
Are sure to learn the meaning of houses built on sand.

 

page by Donna Russell