The Murder of Harriet Reeves
The Orange Murder
From the Greensborough Patriot
Guilford Superior Court
On Tuesday Spencer S. Reeves was tried for the murder of his sister, Harriet A. Reeves. The murder was committed on the 13th of January last, in the county of Orange, whence the trial had been removed to Randolph, and again, from Randolph to Guilford.
Mr. Solicitor Jones and Mr. Waddell appeared as counsel for the State: Messrs -Morehead, Norwood and Nash for the prisoner.
The evidence was circumstantial, but carried to the mind inevitable conviction of the prisoner’s guilt. We give the main facts disclosed on the examination of the witnesses.
Spencer S. Reeves, the prisoner, and his sister, Harriet A. Reeves, the deceased, lived with their mother, Sarah Durham, they three composing the entire white family. The black family consisted of two men. A woman, and a girl about twelve years old. It was proved that on the afternoon when the murder was perpetrated, one of the negro men, Simon, was at work in the new ground about a mile from the house, where he usually took with him his breakfast and dinner and staid all day. The other negro man, Jesse, was sick, and had been for some time, and was proven by Mrs. Durham to have been in the house about the time the murder was accomplished at the stable.
The prisoner had been at Hillsborough the early part of the week, where, he afterwards said, he had volunteered, or enlisted. It was proved that he stopped at three several places in the neighborhood of his mother’s, as he returned home, on Wednesday, the 15th January; that he wore a certain overcoat, which was found next day hanging up in the cutting-room adjoining the stable where the dead body was found; and that he had with him a black bottle with a corn-stalk stopper, which was also found next day in a barrel in the cutting-room. He stopped at Mr. Andrews’, some three quarters of a mile from his mother’s, about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and left in about half an hour. He here drank out the last of his liquor – having procured a half pint three miles back, from which some four or five persons besides had each taken a dram at the time he got it.
It was proved by the unfortunate mother, Mrs. Durham, that Spencer came home about three o’clock on that day – said he would go up stairs and go to sleep. His sister, Harriet, told him to go into his own room . But he went us (sic up) stairs; and returned with a bridle. Harriet told him he should not have the bridle, as he had wasted enough of her things already; and took the bridle out of his hands. He said he would go to the stable and would have a horse and bridle too; and went out, his sister going with him. – Witness looked through the window and saw them walking side by side, about half way to the blocks, the blocks being about half way to the stables, which are situated something like a 100 years (sic yards) from the house. Soon afterwards, witness walked out towards the stables, but became so faint she had to stop; but she called Harriet, supposing she might have gone to a neighbor’s, where she had spoken of going that morning. She returned into the house, and the sick negro, Jesse, came in, he said to see massa Spencer, learning he had returned. Witness, had not been in the house long, before, on receiving some information from the servant girl, she hastened out and went to the stables as fast as she could, where she saw her daughter lying dead in the stable; ;she called her, and swooned away herself, or was so confused that she recollected nothing distinctly for some time afterwards. All this occurred within half an hour or less from the time that the prisoner and Harriet left the house.
The overcoat and the bloody cutting knife were produced in Court by the coroner of Orange county. The deceased was found lying on her back; the arms stretched out at full length, the neck cut half off. A bruise appeared, as though a blow had been struck, diagonally across the nose, just above the eye, and on the temple. The knife had been unscrewed from the cutting box; and was found lying about a foot about the head of the deceased. The screw taps, &c. which had attached the knife to the box were found in the litter.
About an hour by sun, Mr. Stroud, who lives in sight of Mrs. Durham on the road towards Hillsboro, while working in his new ground, heard the clatter of horse’s feet in the direction of his own house and that of Mrs. Durham. Spencer soon came in sight, riding at half speed, bare back on one of his sister’s horses, the other horse following him. He slackened his pace to a fast trot as he passed through the new ground – passed within about twenty steps of witness, who hailed him and asked how all were at home – he replied, “all well.” Witness saw blood on his face, and mentioned the fact. On being asked if he had not been the sworn enemy of Reeves and his father, witness said he had no ill will towards Spencer but he did not approve of their conduct.
Another witness, Cyntha Loyd, met Reeves about seven or eight miles from home, riding bare-back in a sweeping trot towards Hillsboro. His face looked pale – his face and hair looked like he had been sweating and wiped it off, or had just washed. Told her that he was going to uncle Fred Reeves’s to stay that night. He had seen witness the day before – told her that he had volunteered; that he had lost his sister’s saddle blanket, but it made no difference while she could have Pres. Snipes sitting up courting her every two or three days. Witness asked him if his sister was willing for him to go to Mexico; replied that he did not care; if they did not mind he would serve them as he did Ruffin Durham. [The way he served Ruffin Durham was not allowed to be given in evidence; but it is said that he was a suiter, and that he, Reeves shot him. Other threats were proved upon the prisoner, such as, that if Presley Snipes did marry his sister it should do neither of them any good, as he was courting her for property; before his sister should marry a d—d rake, or any person, he would kill her, for he had lost his property on her account, &c.]
Witness George Laws, deputy sheriff of Orange, assisted to arrest Reeves, in Hillsboro, the night of the 13th, about 11 o’clock. Met him without knowing him, in a shady place on the sidewalk, walking close to the palings – asked who he was, but received no answer. Asked him again; when the high sheriff, Mr. Turrentine, came up and said, “this is the man – lay hold of him.” Prisoner then asked what was the matter. The sheriff told him his sister had been murdered, and he was suspected of the murder. Prisoner swore it was a lie, and asked who fetched the news. He was told that it was Jones Powel. He said, “Jones Powell – if that is all the evidence they’ve got, I can soon do away with his evidence.” He was then taken to Mr. Nichols’ tavern, and some questions were asked him; he said they only wanted to trap him. Witness told him they did not wish to trap him, and advised him not to answer any questions. Prisoner asked Turrentine how they said he did it? Mr. Turrentine replied, they said he did it with a scythe blade. Prisoner said “that is the truth” but immediately said. “no, no, it is a lie.” Witness told him that they had heard there was blood seen on him as he came to Hillsboro, and he (witness sic) would give him a fair hack. He denied that there was blood on him. Another officer, Mr. McCollum, held the candle while witness examined; found no blood on his outside clothes. But on turning up his left coat sleeve, he discovered a stain of blood on his shirt, where an attempt had apparently been made to wash it out. The shirt sleeve was very dirty, but that portion cleaner, as if it had been washed and rubbed down, yet not obliterating the stain. Prisoner denied that it was blood. Witness then turned up the right coat sleeve, and found a spot of blood, with spatters branching off from it. And said, “Spencer , there’s blood.” He looked down, but made no reply. While conducting him to jail the prisoner inquired if they would not have to prove the crime upon him before they could hurt him. Witness told him they would. Here the testimony was closed. The jury retired; and after an absence of about five minutes returned a verdict of Guilty.
Outrages of this unnatural and horrible description are so rare, that we will be excused for the space occupied in this detail of circumstances. A Brother murdering a sister; an aged, diseased and feeble mother called upon to give evidence against an only son for slaying an only daughter, are occurrences which exhibit the hideous passions of the human heart in a fearful light, and show something of the deep unutterable anguish with which one criminal act may pierce the maternal bosom. The prisoner is a man of rather well looking person; full round face; and appeared well dressed. His features were either so fully influenced by a hardened heart, or so well governed by a bull-dog will, that nothing, not even the presence of his mother on the witness’ stand, or the exhibition of the bloody knife with which he perpetrated the foul deed, wrought much change in the expression of his countenance. He heard the verdict of “guilty” rendered by the jury with apparent indifference. He is said to be not over thirty years of age, and his short career has been marked by dissipation and many exhibitions of ungoverned passion and malicious disposition, as well as acts of crime. God knoweth his heart – may its sensibilities be better cultivated before his state is changed from the passing to the eternal