The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Squirrel Spur Mystery

By John Hassell Yeatts © 1983

Issue: May, 1983

Thumping along in a 1928 Ford touring car down the Squirrel Spur in southern Patrick County more than fifty years ago, my Pa, the late John Henry Yeatts, broke the silence by saying, “Son, I reckon if you’re big enough to drive a car, you’re big enough to know some pretty wicked things have happened along this old road in times past.”

He then pointed to the ruins of an old log house just north of Anderson Carter’s home and the site of the old toll gate, and explained that sometime before the dawning of the 20th century, a man and his two sisters had all been murdered and apparently robbed while they slept. While the fiddles rang and the banjos twanged the crowd circled in rhythm in a house on the crest of the mountains near Bell Spur in celebration of a recent wedding, someone or ones had stolen into the humble home at the foot of the mountain and cut the throats of the bachelor and his spinster sisters, apparently making off with a substantial amount of gold and other money.

Two of the male dancers that evening were suddenly and noticeably missing for a period of time - say two hours. And within several days thereafter, there was evidence that they had suddenly become free spenders. They were eventually arrested upon suspicion and somewhat of a makeshift grand jury convened to hear the evidence. To add to the drama of the event, the jury was moved to the mountain top near the scene of the dance, or perhaps right in the house.

Evidence was heard, and the plea of the men, was of course, innocent. Their alibi was that they had simply gone for some hidden booze to liven up the party, and that they couldn’t have been gone long enough to walk the 8 miles (round trip), committed the murder and robbery and been again dancing spiritedly in the time they were known to be missing. Two of the jurymen - possibly Bob and Jake Puckett of the Bent section - who were known to be expert walkers - were detailed to walk to the scene of the crime, rest ten minutes and then walk back to the scene of the trial. Well, it took them a few minutes longer than the suspects were known to have been missing from the dance, and they were acquitted.

My Pop never revealed the names of the suspects or many other details of the crime, for that matter. And now for reasons unknown to me, I simply didn’t press the interrogation. But probably because I was lost in contemplation of teen-age girls I might see on the streets of Mt. Airy, as they seemed to be more of interest to me at that time than the details of an ancient trial.

Lately, however, I have taken to wondering about the “scientific” evidence that acquitted the suspects:

A.  Could they have had fast horses hidden in the brush near the dance?

B.  How certain were the people, in fact about the time the men were missing?

C.  How was the exact times of the death determined, etc.?

Now I’m pretty certain that the statute of limitations has expired, and that, Patrick Countians don’t live beyond 100 very often, and that nothing could be gained but a good story by the resurrection of the incident. However I am calling upon the memory of my mountain buddies in that area to see if they can recall any details of the dastardly crime from tales they may have heard from their parents or grandparents.

Lord Mansfield in 1768 said, “Let Justice be done though the heavens fall!” Lawrence Burton [Commonwealth Attorney in Patrick County, Virginia at that time] where are you?