James Pruitt Dukeminier died at age 20 in Navarro County, Texas
on May 25, 1926. Fred Tilman was convicted of murdering him.
The following articles were published in
The Corsicana Daily Sun
and are printed here with the Sun's consent. The Dallas Morning News
also covered these events extensively but would not grant consent to
their being printed here; they are, however, available on the
Navarro County Genealogical and Historical Web Site here.
Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.
Bracketed material has been added.












Wednesday afternoon city officers arrested Fred Tilford, negro, in connection with the mysterious disappearance of Prewett Dukenmeier [sic]. The negro was brought to the city hall where he is being questioned by officers. At press hour any statement made by the negro had not been made public.


Much apprehension is felt here today concerning the possible fate of Prewitt Dukenmeier, aged about 20, who left the Fortson farm Tuesday morning in company with a negro and has not been seen since.


A negro appeared at the Fortson place at Rice Tuesday morning and presented a letter purporting to be from a farmer at Richland, wherein it was stated the man would release the negro to work for the Fortsons if they would pay what the negro owed him.


The negro is said to have asked Tom Fortson for the use of a truck and the $57 which it would take to settle with the Richland farmer, and he would move his household effects to Rice and begin work for him.


The boy was sent with the truck to accompany the negro and was given the money to make settlement. He has not been seen or heard of since. The truck was found about noon today where it had been abandoned in the Grape creek bottoms near Grape Creek church. It was brought to the city hall here. It showed no bloodstains or evidence of foul play being committed.


A posse of men from the sheriff’s office have been scouring the Richland and Grape Creek bottoms all day to find some trace of the driver or the truck.


The truck left the Fortson place about 8 o’clock Tuesday morning, and, according to reports, the boy and negro were seen in Corsicana later that morning.


About two o’clock, Tuesday Tom Fortson stated, the negro telephoned him that on reaching Corsicana Dukenmeier left him to take a party of ten Mexicans to Cheneyboro for hire, and that he was waiting for his return. Mr. Fortson said the negro telephoned him again at 6 o’clock saying Dukenmeier had not returned and he was still waiting.


A third telephone message was received by Mr. Fortson early Wednesday morning, and city and county officers went to the house in East Corsicana the source of the call, but failed to find the negro.


City officers on reaching the house were not permitted to enter. Sheriff Stewart was notified and he went to the house with a search warrant. The house was searched, but the negro was not to be found. He evidently left the place immediately after telephoning, for city officers arrived there just a few minutes later and did not leave the place, keeping watch till the sheriff arrived.


Negro women, occupants of the house, were taken to the county attorney’s office and questioned. They denied that the negro telephoned from their place, although one of the women said he stopped there just a few minutes Tuesday evening. She stated he just made a friendly call as they had known each other many years.


The negro was reported to have appeared again at a negro hotel on the East side, dressed in women’s clothes shortly after noon today. Officers made a hurried call to the place, but he again slipped from view. The mistress of the hostelry told officers the negro had a room there and had left his own clothes behind. These were taken in charge by officers early Wednesday morning. She said he returned today with a dress and sunbonnet on and she forbid his entrance into the house. She said he went to the room over her protest for a roll of money he had secreted, and left. She immediately telephoned the officers.


A telephone call came to the police department soon afterwards from a place in South Corsicana, stating the negro’s whereabouts had been located and he had doffed his feminine attire for men’s garb. Policemen went in further search of the negro and arrested him, bringing him to the city hall where he was questioned by officers. Officers Nutt and Tickle made the arrest.


Dukemeier’s [sic] parents live on the Fortson place. His father is foreman for the farm and has been living there for 25 or 30 years. The lad was born and reared there.


Several Rice citizens were here all day assisting in the effort to solve the seeming mystery.


Parties continue with the search of the Richland creek bottoms.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Wednesday, May 26, 1926, pp. 1, 4]




















By Associated Press.


Dallas, Texas, May 27.—Fred Tilford, negro, brought here last night from Corsicana for safekeeping, today confessed to the murder of Pruitt Dukeminier, aged 20, according to Dallas county officers.


Dukeminier’s bullet riddled body was found in a creek near Richland last night. The officers said the negro had signed a confession admitting that he killed the boy after robbing him of $57 and then threw his body into the creek.


How he forced his victim to wade into Richland creek and shot him down after robbing him was told by Tilford, the police said.


The negro said he and Dukeminier were on their way from Rice to Richland in an automobile. Dukeminier carried $55 in his pocket which he was to pay to a farmer who held a claim against the negro.


Reaching a spot near Richland creek the black drew a pistol, disarmed Dukeminier, forced him to get out of the car and wade into the creek. There he took the money and shot him four times.


Tilford was spirited to Dallas in order to escape a mob last night.



The body of Pruitt Dukeminier, Rice youth, was dragged from the muddy waters of Richland creek at 10 o’clock Wednesday night. Examination of the body revealed three bullet wounds.


Brief funeral services were held for the dead boy at the Sutherland Undertaking Parlors at 9:30 o’clock Thursday morning, after which the cortege left for Rice. Services were continued at the Baptist church at Rice at 4 o’clock in the afternoon with interment.


Dukeminier is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Dukeminier, one brother, Randolph; his grandmother, Mrs. Dukeminier, and three aunts, Mrs. L. M. Barrington, Mrs. Will Patterson and Mrs. J. A. Gallimore [sic], all of Rice.


The Dukeminiers have been living on the Fortson place for the past 25 or 30 years and are well known.


Much intense interest prevailed about town here early today. A large group of people gathered at the morgue to see the bullet-riddled corpse and attend the service.


The finding of the body was the culmination of an entire day of feverish search conducted by friends of the Dukeminier family from Rice, aided by volunteers from Corsicana, Richland, and the small communities north of Richland. Foul play was suspected when no trace could be found of young Dukeminier after he had left Rice with a negro by the name of Fred Tilford. He was en route to a farm near Richland, and had in his possession a sum of money with which to pay an alleged indebtedness of the negro’s to a farmer. He was to return to Rice with Tilford and his belongings, and establish him on the farm of Fortson Brothers, where Dukeminier had lived all of his life and where his father had been overseer for the Messrs. Fortson for over twenty-five years.


Negro Reported Seen.


Clues directed the search for Dukeminier toward the area lying immediately to the south of Grape Creek and along Richland Creek, about 15 miles south of Corsicana. Inhabitants of that region told various stories of having seen a negro and a white boy, whose descriptions corresponded to that of Dukeminier and Tilford, in the vicinity of their neighborhoods on Tuesday morning. Others told of having heard shots ring out in Richland Creek bottom on Tuesday forenoon. A negro driving a truck similar to the one belonging to young Dukeminier was reported to have been seen driving at terrific speed along the roads and highways on Tuesday. About 1 p. m. on Tuesday, Steve Haslip, guager in the oil field, came upon an abandoned Ford truck on the bridge which crosses Grape Creek a few hundred yards from the church and school house of that community. He was forced to start the engine of the truck and drive it from the bridge before he could cross. When he did so, he found the engine of the truck hot from what appeared to be excessive running. Upon inquiry to a workman in the nearby church, Haslip was told that the truck had just previously passed that point, driven by a negro. But these people did not know of the crime committed until early Wednesday when searchers came upon the truck and identified it as the one belonging to Dukeminier.


Searched All Day Wednesday.


All of Wednesday groups of men combed the heavy undergrowth along Grape and Richland Creeks, and the area lying between the two streams. When no results accompanied their efforts, the search was intensified at a point on Richland Creek where it appeared as though a struggle had taken place and something had been pushed into the creek.


At the bridge on the Corsicana-Richland highway, a road turns east, and following the meanders of Richland Creek, leads to a grove of trees approximately a mile and three-quarters from the main highway. It was here that the body was discovered and brought to land.


Those searching for the body had made improvised grappling hooks, and were combing the waters of the creek in the vicinity of where the body was found. They had been working at this one task since Wednesday afternoon, but no promise of success had attended their efforts until late Wednesday night. About 9 p. m. a group of linemen in the employ of the Texas Power and Light Company, arrived at the scene with a large truck. One of their number, Oscar Farquhar, doffed his clothes and entered the water to aid in the search by diving. About 9:30 p. m. one of the workers wielding a hook attached to the end of a pole brought bits of a khaki shirt to the surface. Another rake of the hook at the same point brought out a similar bit of cloth. Efforts were redoubled at that portion of the waters. Farquhar had just cleared away pieces of brush and driftwood in order to facilitate his underwater search. He allowed his body to drop to the bottom of the creek in order to secure the thrust to carry him through a dive.


Body Is Found.


Farquhar’s foot struck a soft object under water. He was immediately heard to say, “I’ve got him.” A group of men rushed to the creek bank near Farquhar, ready to grasp his find. One more dive to the bottom of the creek, and Farquhar came to the surface grasping the limp body in his hands, passing it up to those on the bank. Others then pulled the successful swimmer to the bank.


A weird scene was this recovery of the body of Dukeminier. The night was still and clear, and the rays of the moon created fantastic figures as it played on the waters of the creek and the surrounding banks. The concentrated beams of several automobile lights brightened the area in which the search was taking place. To and fro along the creek and in the woods flickered hand lanterns carried by various persons.


The dripping body was laid on the waters edge. It had been found lying on its back in about five feet of water. No weights were attached to the body. It lay in a position perpendicular to the banks of the creek with the head midstream.


Immediately Identified.


A cousin of Dukeminier immediately identified the body as that of his kinsman. A superficial examination was then made, revealing three pistol wounds and several bruises and cuts on the face. From the appearance of the cuts, it was assumed that they had been sustained by contact with the hooks used by those dragging the waters. The body was fully clothed, except for a hat. The leather gloves worn by the deceased on his last trip were still on the hands.


The body was placed in a large truck belonging to the Texas Power and Light Company, and brought to the undertaking parlors in Corsicana, arriving just before midnight.


Three Bullet Wounds.


Awaiting the body were the grief-stricken father and County Attorney Ballard W. George. A thorough examination was made of the wounds. The undertakers estimated that the body had been in the water since about noon of Tuesday. One bullet had passed entirely through the head immediately behind the ears. Another had entered the right shoulder, ranging downward, and emerging just above the elbow. A third bullet had struck the breast bone, leaving a large bruise, but had not penetrated the flesh. This bullet fell from the clothes of the deceased as they were being removed. All of the wounds were caused by a bullet of .380 calibre.


Speedy Trial Promised.


Immediately after this examination, Attorney George announced that Fred Tilford would be accused of the murder and brought to trial at the earliest possible moment. Mr. George stated that he would call the grand jury together early Thursday morning and that he would be required to allow the accused slayer two days in which to prepare his defense. That would make it possible to begin the trial on next Monday morning, should the grand jury complete its investigation on Thursday. However, Mr. George expressed the belief that it would be Tuesday morning before the trial could commence, because of the many details necessary to insure quick progress.


Negro Taken to Dallas.


Following a long questioning by city and county officers at the city jail shortly after his arrest while eager crowds gathered on the outside, the sheriff and his officers spirited the negro away in a waiting automobile. He was taken to Ennis where he was put aboard an Interurban car bound for Dallas. He is held in the Dallas county jail. The new county jail here has not been completed and is not ready for use, and officers desired to take no chances on possible mob violence, which it was apparent would follow when the body of the boy was found.


Tilford was located in a negro house on East Thirteenth avenue about 3 o’clock Wednesday afternoon by Eulas Rubles, negro cook, who works at the Sanitary Café. He enlisted the aid of two trusty old darkies and kept watch on the house till Rubles telephoned the police. When Officers Tickle and Nutt and Tom Fortson arrived, the house was surrounded and Tilford put under arrest.


Rubles, for several years an employe of the Fortsons, had a personal acquaintance with Tilford and went to work on the case soon after the officers were notified of the suspected foul play.


Scouting about negrotown all morning, he picked up a hot trail at the hotel where Tilford appear dressed in women’s garb shortly after noon.


Found Clothes and Pistol.


It was at this house the negro occupied a room the night before and where officers found his clothes and the pistol identified as belonging to the dead boy. The pistol showed evidence of having been fired recently and the bullets taken from the body matched the gun’s calibre.


Tilford, in leaving the room earlier in the day had left his own clothes and the pistol behind. A day book was also found with a leaf torn out. The book matched the paper n which the letter was written. The letter the negro brought to Mr. Fortson the day before, purporting to be from a Richland farmer, proved phony. The Richland farmer had no knowledge of such a letter, and had not written it. This was another incriminating circumstance.


After the pistol had been found and Tilford had recovered a roll of money at the negro hotel, and the pistol was identified as being Dukeminier’s, the case rapidly developed into a chain about the negro.


The boy and negro were seen in Corsicana after leaving Rice on the fateful morning. The truck evidently proceeded towards Richland over the Angus road, turning east on the road just before reaching Richland Creek.


Not Familiar With Country.


The boy, it appears, was not familiar with the community and was directed by the negro as to the route to be taken. Circumstantial evidence is that the boy was misled to the fatal spot and lured to a desolate place, robbed and killed.


The truck was driven further on and abandoned. A couple of hours the telephone message was sent to Rice relative to the Mexican episode. The negro stated over the telephone to Mr. Fortson the boy had left him at Corsicana and had taken a group of ten Mexicans to Cheneyboro, stating the Mexicans offered to pay him $10 each for the truck hire. At 6 the negro telephoned the same story to Mr. Fortson, stating that Dukeminier had not returned from this trip.


Mr. Fortson had his suspicions aroused and started an investigation. The negro was instructed to call up again Wednesday morning and report if the boy had shown up.


He did so about 8 o’clock Wednesday morning and it was from this chapter officers picked up the clue and the negro played hide and seek with them most of the day.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Thursday, May 27, 1926, pp. 1, 6]













The grand jury which recessed May 20 until June 9, was ordered and directed to re-assemble Thursday afternoon at 2 o’clock by order of District Judge Hawkins Scarborough and County Attorney Ballard W. George telephoned each grand juror Thursday morning.


It was intimated that more than a quorum had been secured prior to noon and it was expected that practically every grand juror would be present.


Following is a copy of the order issued by District Judge Scarborough of the Thirteenth Judicial District Thursday morning:


The State of Texas,

County of Navarro.


In the District Court of Navarro County, Texas, for the April Term, A. D., 1926:


I, Hawkins Scarborough, duly elected and qualified Judge of the Thirteenth Judicial District of Texas, by virtue of the authority vested in me by law, do hereby order and direct that the grand jury of Navarro county, Texas, for the said Thirteenth Judicial district, duly selected and empanelled for the April term, A. D. 1926, of said court, do convene and reassemble at 2 o’clock p. m., May 26, 1926; said grand jury having by permission of the Court, duly entered in the minutes of said court, recessed on the 20th day of May, 1926, until the 9th day of June, 1926.


Said grand jury is hereby directed and ordered to meet, reconvene, and reassemble for the purpose of investigating such matters as may come before them, and the sheriff of Navarro county, Texas, is hereby directed to notify and summons said grand jury.


Witness my hand at Corsicana, Texas, this the 27th day of May, A. D., 1926.



District Judge.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Thursday, May 27, 1926, p. 6]










Andy Autrey, local contractor, was one of the volunteer searchers for the body of Prewett Dukenmeier [sic], who took an active part in the location of the body in the muddy bed of Richland creek.


Mr. Autrey stated that the body was halfway buried in the mud and indications were that the body had been tramped into the mud which kept it from rising to the top of the water.


Mr. Autrey stated that there were all evidences on the bank of the creek that a struggle had taken place. It is his opinion that the shooting followed the struggle and the body was then thrown in the water. Several hundred people from Corsicana, Mexia, Richland, Rice and other communities were taking part in the search Wednesday night, Mr. Autry said, and that it was exactly 9:55 when the body was discovered by Oscar Farquhar, an employe of the T. P. & L. [Texas Power & Light] Company.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Thursday, May 27, 1926, p. 6]















Trial of Fred Tilford, charged by indictment with the murder of Pruitt Dukeminier, has been set for June 7. A special venire will be summoned to select a jury to try him, Judge Scarborough stated today. He announced the appointment of Harry Jack, Wayne Howell and Fred Upchurch as counsel for the defendant.


Burch was released in Dallas to go home. Local officers are convinced he had no complicity in the crime. In addition to the evidence given by Burch, another negro, and four white men make statements of a corroborative nature to Burch’s story. It is in effect that a white boy and one negro were seen together that day.


Suggestion has been made that Texas Rangers be asked for to attend the trial. However, there is likely to be no mob violence.


E. L. Burch, negro farmer, arrested Thursday night and taken to Dallas county jail, charged with complicity in the murder of Pruitt Dukeminier, is the negro who furnished officers with the information which led to the recovery of the body submerged in Richland Creek.


Tilford, who was indicted Thursday night by the Navarro county grand jury in connection with the death of the white youth, made a statement incriminating Burch.


Officers do not believe Burch can be connected with the killing in view of the circumstantial evidence against Tilford and the statement he made. His statement is considered preposterous.


Burch was plowing in the field near where Dukeminier was shot and thrown into the creek. He saw a white boy and a negro go into the bottom, heard pistol shots and the negro came back alone, and heard the truck drive hurriedly away.


On this information the hiding place of the corpse was disclosed by searchers Wednesday night.


Burch was before the grand jury Thursday.


Tilford stated to Dallas county officers that Burch did the actual killing. He alleged that he and Dukeminier were joined by Burch (who knew he had gone to Rice to get the money). That Burch rode on the truck with them for a short distance, and quietly asked Tilford where the money was. At this, he stated, he told Burch the boy had it. The statement continues that Burch opened a gate and the truck was driven inside the pasture, and the trio went into the jungle near the creek. While at the creek, he said, Burch slipped behind Dukeminier, grabbed him, took his pistol away, held him up and robbed him. The money, he said, Burch took and gave him $10 and kept the rest. After this Burch forced Dukeminier into the water, where he was shot down.


Explaining his driving east with the truck and leaving it, Tilford claimed that Burch gave him the pistol with the $10 and directed him to go.


This statement refuted the alibi Tilford first claimed which said he had never left Corsicana, and that Dukeminier had taken ten Mexicans to Cheneyboro while he waited.


Police Are Praised.


County Attorney Ballard W. George stated Friday that the work of City Policemen Rufe Tickle and Bruce Nutt in the searching for and arresting of Fred L. Tilford for the murder of James Pruitt Dukeminier, was effective and through their efforts his arrest was made. The negroes who furnished the information for his apprehension worked under these two officers who later made the arrest. While engaged in this work neither officer went to lunch but continued their work of trailing and shadowing the hunted negro.


Assisted in Rescue.


According to information received at the Sun office Friday morning, John Cardwell, Jr. and Jesse Ware were members of the party of volunteer searchers who found the missing bod of Pruitt Dukeminier, and these two boys assisted in bringing the body from the water following its discovery by Oscar Farquhar. Cardwell was a personal friend of the missing boy, having known him for a number of years.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Friday, May 28, 1926, pp. 1, 4]












Funeral services for Pruitt Dukeminier, 20 years old, whose body was found in Richland creek Wednesday night, where it had been thrown after being shot and thought murdered by the negro, Fred Tilford the day before, were held at the Baptist church at Rice at 4 o’clock Thursday afternoon. Services were conducted by Rev. Day, Baptist minister, and Rev. A. E. Carraway, Methodist minister. Burial was in the Rice cemetery. Eight boy friends of the deceased were active pall bearers.


The Rice Municipal Band, of which the deceased was a member furnished special funeral music.


Deceased is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. C. Dukeminier; one brother, Randolph Dukeminier; his grandmother, Mrs. Dukeminier, and three aunts, Mrs. L. M. Barrington, Mrs. Will Patterson and Mrs. J. A. Gallimore [sic], all of Rice.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Friday, May 28, 1926, p. 4]








Rice Citizenship Is Appreciative



To the Citizens of Corsicana, Richland and Surrounding Communities:


We wish to thank and express our deep appreciation to the officers and citizens of Corsicana (including some of the good colored people) who responded so nobly in running down and capturing the black assassin of one of our most beloved young men, Pruitt Dukeminier, and to citizens of Corsicana, Richland and surrounding country, and all others who assisted in any way in the search and successful finding of the body.


We trust none of you will experience such an awful tragedy. Should misfortune of any kind overtake you we stand ready and willing to render any assistance possible. We shall ever remember and appreciate the untiring efforts made by all of you.



And Citizens of Rice.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Friday, May 28, 1926, p. 4]







Court House.



Items of Interest From Temple of Justice



The grand jury which was called Thursday to investigate the fatal shooting of James Pruitt Dukeminier of Rice adjourned after returning their bill of indictment Thursday night against Fred L. Tilford, negro, for murder in connection with the death of young Dukeminier. Unless recalled by District Judge Hawkins Scarborough, the grand jury will not meet again until June 9.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Friday, May 28, 1926, p. 4]












A special venire of 75 men will be summoned from which a jury will be selected to try the case of Fred Tilford, who was indicted for murder Thursday in connection with the death of Pruitt Dukeminier of Rice.


The case will go on trial in Judge Scarborough’s criminal district court Monday morning, June 7, according to the setting of the docket.


Tilford will be prosecuted by County Attorney Ballard W. George, assisted by W. M. Taylor. Harry Jack, Wayne Howell and Fred Upchurch have been appointed by the court to handle the defense in behalf of the accused negro.


Since the release from custody of E. L. Burch, Richland negro farmer, who was held for investigation in connection with the death of Dukeminier, there have been no new developments in the case. Officers were convinced following probe of Burch who was implicated by Tilford that he had no connection with the crime.


A number of witnesses will be summoned, including a number from Rice, Corsicana and Richland.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Saturday, May 29, 1926, p. 1]






















Texas Rangers will be present here Monday for the trial of Fred L. Tilford, negro, for murder in connection with the death of James Pruitt Dukeminier, 20, Rice youth, whose bullet-ridden body was dragged from the muddy waters of Richland creek late Wednesday night, May 26, after a search by Rice, Richland and Corsicana citizens for many hours.


The youth left Rice in a truck Tuesday morning with the accused negro for the purpose of going to Richland where the negro alleged that he owed a man $57.00 with the intention of moving to the Fortson place. When he did not return Tuesday, officers were notified as foul play was suspected. A feverish search finally revealed his body submerged in Richland creek.


District Judge Hawkins Scarborough announced Saturday that every person entering the district court room Monday would be searched for weapons as a precautionary measure against violence. He has been in communication with Governor Miriam A. Ferguson who has assured Judge Scarborough that Texas Rangers would be present.


The regular petit jury of thirty-six citizens has been augmented with the summoning of seventy-five special veniremen for this place and it is thought in official circles that the attorneys in the case will be able to pick a jury of twelve men out of that number. The selection of a jury will be difficult in view of the fact that the case has attracted considerable attention. In the drawing of the special venire of seventy-five men, District Judge Hawkins Scarborough did not draw from the Rice, Richland and Corsicana vicinities in an effort to get jurors.


Clues pointed to the vicinity of the Grape creek sector by the stories of having seen a negro and a white boy whose descriptions corresponded with those of young Dukeminier and Tilford, Tuesday morning and also the hearing of shots in Richland bottoms. A negro driving a truck similar to that one driven by Dukeminier was also seen driving along the road at a terrific speed.


After the search that recovered the body late Wednesday, a kinsman of the slain man identified the youth. The body showed three wounds. One bullet passed through the head behind the ears. Another entered the right shoulder, and the third on the breast bone.


Through the efforts of City Officers McNutt and Tickle, the negro was traced all day while Chief of Police Will S. Knight and other city and county officers who were in close touch with the case at times. Wednesday afternoon, the accused negro was questioned considerably in Corsicana and late in the afternoon was spirited to Dallas, Sheriff John W. Stewart and Deputy Sheriff John R. Curington taking him to Ennis via automobile and then going the remainder of the distance via interurban.


The grand jury which was not in session was called together Thursday afternoon, May 27, by District Judge Hawkins Scarborough. Thursday afternoon in Dallas, the accused negro made a written confession of the crime and also implicated another negro who was instrumental in getting him arrested. The implicated negro was taken to Dallas but officers were not convinced that he was implicated and later was released on bond.


The grand jury heard a number of witnesses and just before nine o’clock Thursday, May 27, returned a bill of indictment for murder.


The funeral services for young Dukeminier were held Thursday afternoon with interment in Rice.


The extreme penalty will be asked by the State in this case which is represented by County Attorney Ballard W. George and Assistant County Attorney W. M. Taylor.


Judge Hawkins Scarborough appointed Wm. Harry Jack, Fred Upchurch and Wayne R. Howell, members of the Corsicana bar, to represent the accused negro.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Saturday, June 5, 1926, pp. 1, 7]















The jury in the case of the State against Fred L. Tilford was completed at 3 o’clock this afternoon.


A. W. McClung, of Kerens, was the twelfth man chosen and the thirtieth venireman questioned.


Court convened at 2 o’clock for the afternoon session and in one hour the four remaining jurors were taken. The others are A. C. Kent, Mildred; W. E. Boyett, Purdon; W. E. Coleman, Navarro.


The jury was put in charge of the sheriff under strict rules. The court told the jurors they would not attempt discuss [sic] the case with anyone, and would not be permitted to read any newspapers while the case is on trial.


The defendant was formally arraigned by County Attorney Ballard George and he verbally entered plea of not guilty.


The judge finally excused the remaining 45 men of the special venire and excused the regular panel for the week till 10 o’clock Wednesday morning.


The witnesses were sworn at the same time and put under the rule.


The taking of testimony started immediately.


The court was undecided whether a night session will be held.


Morning Session.


Eight jurors had been selected in the trial of the Fred L. Tilford case when court took noonday recess Monday. The eight selected up to the noon hour are G. O. O’Daniel, Roane; P. H. Loggins, Corsicana; Herbert Fitch, Winkler; C. R. Slater, Emmett; H. T. Collins, Emhouse; J. W. Howell, Oak Valley; E. B. Reed, Blooming Grove, and A. J. Beal, Corbet. The jury is expected to be completed by mid-afternoon and the State expects to get into the evidence late Monday. County Attorney Ballard W. George stated he has about fifty witnesses to put on the stand.


Two veniremen were challenged by the State for cause, and one challenged for cause by the defense. The defense had exhausted seven of its peremptory challenges in the selection of the first eight jurors. They are allowed fifteen.


The defendant negro was brought here from Dallas Monday morning, accompanied by Sheriff Schuyler Marshall, and Deputies John Rowland, Pickens and Bowen. They were accompanied by Captain Ray Aldrich and brother, J. W. Aldrich, of Austin, members of the State Ranger force. Other officers assisting in handling the large crowd in attendance of the trial are Sheriff Dave Terry and Deputy R. E. Harrison of Freestone county; Sheriff Joe Loe and Deputies Hale and C. W. Winterrowd of Ellis county; Sheriff Jim Morrow and Deputy Burris of Henderson county. The local official force consists of Sheriff John W. Stewart, Deputies John R. Curington, Rufus Pevehouse, C. P. Brooks, Bud Kelly, John Underwood, W. E. Lee, Deputy Constable M. J. Hartley, Constable R. A. Edens of Rice, City Marshal Joe McElroy of Dawson, and City Officers Will S. Knight, Bruce Nutt and Ruff Tickel.


The doors to the district court room are carefully guarded. Perfect order prevailed throughout the morning session, although several hundred eager people crowded the courthouse lobby long before court opened.


The eight jurors were selected from the special venire of 75 men. Twenty-one of these had been used up when recess was taken till 2 o’clock.


Every seat I the courthouse was taken. The doors were kept locked until after the jurors were questioned by the court touching on their ability to serve. As the doors were thrown open people who had jammed the outside halls rushed pell mell through the aisles. The court intervened, instructed them to seat themselves outside the rail. The balcony and lower floor were jammed to the limit. No one is being allowed to stand in or in any way obstruct the aisles. An officer stands guard at every door. The Rangers from the balcony called for order as the stampede surged madly into the court room. Many were left on the outside. The crowd is composed of men, women and children, with a good sprinkling of negroes along the west balcony.


Tilford was brought into the court room from the back way by Dallas officers, Corsicana officers and the two rangers armed to the teeth with pistols and riot guns. Every precaution has been taken to keep down mob violence.


Coatless and collarless, in striped trousers and vest to match, the negro sat near the Judge’s bench, fully composed. In his mouth he held a half charred match while in his hands he toyed with and manicured his nails with a tooth pick. The negro apparently paid but little attention to the proceedings as the lawyers asked jurors questions that bore directly on their qualifications to try him for his life. He eyed the vast crowds with large, rolling glassy eyes, at times picking his teeth, manicuring his nails and again fold his hands across his lap.


Tilford is under indictment for the killing of Pruitt Dukeminier, Rice youth, May 25. Deceased body was fished from the waters of Richland creek by a searching party after he was last seen in company with Tilford.


Tilford and Dukeminier left Rice in a truck on the fateful morning to go to Richland to move the negro’s household goods to the Fortson Bros. place where he was to go to work. Tom Fortson sent the white boy with the negro, giving him $57 to pay of an indebtedness the negro represented he owed a Richland farmer. Later an investigation was started when the boy failed to return and the next day circumstances developed that led to the arrest of Tilford, and the finding of the bullet riddled body of the white boy.


The grand jury in special session returned the indictment. The negro was spirited away to Dallas to protect him from threatened mob violence.


The prosecution will rely on circumstantial evidence for a conviction and will ask for the extreme penalty. Three men were excused from jury service on account of having conscientious scruples in inflicting death. Several had formed opinions as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant. All expressed themselves they would apply circumstantial evidence the same as direct evidence, and all accepted for service had no scruples against the death penalty in a proper case.


To save time Judge Scarborough interrogated all veniremen touching on their qualifications to serve. Ballard W. George questioned them in behalf of the prosecution and Wayne Howell in behalf of the defense.


W. M. Taylor is assisting Mr. George in handling the prosecution. The negro is represented by Harry Jack, Fred Upchurch and Wayne Howell.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Monday, June 7, 1926, pp. 1, 7]












DISTRICT COURT ROOM, 4:30 P. M. [The minutes are blurred on the microfilm copy from which this transcription was made; the time may be something other than 4:30.]—At this time all of the arguments in the case had been completed with the exception of County Attorney George, who was talking at this time. Mr. George followed Attorneys Jack, Howell and Upchurch. Assistant County Attorney Taylor opened the argument for the State. At the conclusion of Mr. George’s argument the case will then go to the jury.



Tuesday Afternoon.


Court opened with the delivery of the charge by Judge Scarborough. It covered one grade of homicide—murder.


Murder carries with it a penalty of death, life imprisonment or a term in prison not less than five years.


All witnesses were excused. W. M. Taylor, assistant county attorney, made the opening argument.


One hour to each side was allotted for argument. The evidence was completed at the morning session.


The charge defined “malice aforethought,” “circumstantial evidence,” and that the defendant must be found guilty if in the jury’s opinion he be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.


“All the facts,” said the court, “that is, the facts necessary to the conclusion that defendant did with malice aforethought, unlawfully shoot with a gun and thereby kill James Pruitt Dukeminier, you will find defendant guilty of murder.


“These facts must be consistent with each other and with the main fact sought to be proved and the circumstances taken together must be of a conclusive nature, leading on the whole to a satisfactory conclusion and producing in effect a reasonable and moral certainty that the accused and no other person committed the offense charged.”


There was no eye witness to the killing.


Taylor spoke fifteen minutes. He was followed by Harry Jack in behalf of the defense.


Ballard George closed for the State asking for the death penalty.


A verdict is expected late today.


Tuesday Morning.


Thirteen additional witnesses testified in behalf of the prosecution Tuesday morning in the Fred L. Tilford murder case in district court here.


The State rested its case with the testimony of Ruff Tickel, city policeman, who with Bruce Nutt, city policeman, put the defendant under arrest.


Tilford was put under arrest at the Bob Mitchell house on East Thirteenth avenue about 4 o’clock Wednesday afternoon, May 26.


The defense used one witness, Eulace Rubles, negro cook at the Sanitary Café. The defendant was not placed on the stand. He made no statement, and has never made a confession that he committed the crime. In fact, in a statement made the day following his arrest he only said E. L. Burch, negro farmer, was responsible for the killing. He stated to Dallas county officers that he and Burch connived to obtain the $57 in money by misrepresentation, and that he went to Rice to carry out the scheme, and that when he and Dukeminier drove to Richland Creek, Burch joined them at the creek, and asked him where the money was. At this, he stated, he told Burch Dukeminier had it in his possession, whereupon Burch disarmed Dukeminier, robbed him with his own pistol, shot him dead and threw the body in the water.


This statement was not given in testimony, and the defense rested its case with Rubles’ evidence. Rubles saw Tilford on the railroad track on Wednesday morning about 8 or 9 o’clock. Tilford told Rubles that a mob was after him and for him to go to the court house and tell Joe B. Fortson to come down to see him at the Oil City rooming house. Rubles went to the court house and talked with Mr. Fortson, who was at the county attorney’s office. Rubles said he had known Tilford the past ten years. Tilford also told Rubles that the white boy had gone to Cheneyboro with eight Mexicans for $10 apiece and he had failed to return, and a mob was hunting him.


Rubles searched about negrotown after leaving the court house that morning till Tilford was surrounded in the Mitchell house that afternoon.


State witnesses testifying Tuesday morning were Miss Ila Myers, Richland telephone operator; Mrs. G. H. Long, Rice telephone operator; Lessie Burcher, daughter of E. L. Burch; Jessie Ware; Sanford Harris, Mrs. John Dooling, Martha Thompson, County Attorney Ballard W. George, Quincy Carroll, negro; C. R. Baxter, officer; Geo. Polland [sic; likely Pollan] of Rice, Ruff Tickle and J. O. Cheney.  J. A. Lansford and Willis Bonner, who were on the stand Monday, were recalled by the State.


Miss Myers testified as to a telephone message that came from Corsicana to Mr. Lansford about 4 o’clock the afternoon of the killing. The negro told Mr. Lansford then he was afraid to come to Richland for his things as he thought there was a mob after him. Mr. Lansford said this was the telephone conversation he had with Tilford, and he told him to go ahead and get his things and go on back to Rice as he had started.


Mrs. Long testified as to the calls that passed through her office from Corsicana to Mr. Fortson at Rice. One call was made about 3 o’clock and the other shortly after 6 o’clock Tuesday afternoon. Mr. Fortson telephoned Mr. Lansford at Richland twice that afternoon  and Mr. Lansford called Mr. Fortson once. They talked concerning the trip and [sic] the boy and negro were supposed to be making.


Lessie Burch testified to very much the same her father testified Monday about seeing the negro and white man pass their field go into the woods, come back out and disappear together again and the negro returning from the woods alone.


Jesse Ware, who dived into the creek that night in search of the body and pulled it out, testified that it was that of Pruitt Dukeminier, who he had known all the boy’s life. He described a wound near the right ear.


Sanford Harris saw a negro walking along the road four miles south of town about 1:30 o’clock on Tuesday.


Mrs. John Dooling also testified seeing a negro pass her home on the Angus-Grape Creek road.


The women’s clothes that figured in the disguise were introduced in evidence and Martha Thompson, aged negro woman, identified the dress, bonnet and apron as belonging to her and the dust cap as her granddaughters. She testified a negro came into her house and appropriated the clothes, wearing them away. This was about 10 o’clock Wednesday morning. The old darky carried a walking cane and was assisted to and from the witness chair by an officer.


Quincy Carroll, negro truck driver for Fortson Grocery Company, saw Tilford at noon when he came to his house while they were eating dinner. He got a drink of water and wanted to hire him to drive him to Waco. The boy said he made him leave the place, telling him his father would be in shortly, and he would know he had been doing “something or up to something, with them women’s clothes on, and he would put him rough.”


C. R. Baxter, officer, went to the negro’s room Wednesday morning with Ballard George and Claude Patterson, but did not go in. Later he returned and searched the mattress and found the pistol owned by Dukeminier he took with him on leaving Rice the day before. It was introduced in evidence and is a .380 automatic Colt pistol. He gave the gun to Chief Knight and he turned it over to Mr. George.


George Polland [sic] of Rice saw the truck at the Grape Creek bridge and identified it as the property of Fortsons. He knew the truck.


J. O. Cheney of Cheneyboro was put on the stand by the prosecution and examined if Mexicans live in the community and if any white boy was seen in his vicinity with Mexicans in a truck. This was weakening to the defendant’s tale of the Mexicans, which he evidently told to lay a predicate that would exonerate him.


Court took recess at 11 o’clock until 2 o’clock. In the meantime the charge was prepared, and the arguments were started immediately.


Monday Afternoon.


Court adjourned at 6:15 o’clock until 9 o’clock Tuesday morning after eighteen witnesses had been heard in behalf of the prosecution of the Tilford case.


The court room remained packed and jammed with eager listening spectators. It was necessary to rap for order more than once, as spectators laughed as some of the negro witnesses testified in their original manner.


Witnesses heard Tuesday after the taking of evidence started shortly after 3 o’clock were Tom Fortson, H. C. Bartlett, J. C. Dukeminier, father of deceased; Constable R. A. Edens of Rice, Hattie Skelton, negro woman; Horace Eldredge, negro boy; Fred York, J. S. Lansford, E. L. Burch, negro; Percy Banks, negro; Hosanna Jacobs, negro woman; Pete Holmes, negro boy; M. C. Hobbs, Cora Burch, negro woman; Will Crook, Willis Bonner, Ella Easley, negro woman, and N. J. Peeples.


Tom Fortson of Rice, questioned by Ballard W. George for the prosecution, told of giving Pruitt Dukeminier $57 on Tuesday morning, May 25, the day of the killing. He saw Tilford on Sunday before, and again on Monday about sundown in Rice. He has known Tilford for fifteen years. The negro plowed all day Monday for Constable R. A. Edens, and when the day’s work was done he went to Rice and there saw Mr. Fortson and made a trade with him. He represented to Mr. Fortson that he owed J. A. Lansford of Richland the money, and if he would pay it the negro would move himself, wife and two nieces to the Fortson place and go to work. The negro’s people have been living on the Lansford place near Richland.


Mr. Fortson testified the negro proposed that he would go to Richland Monday night by train and return next morning with a statement of his account with Lansford in writing. The negro got off the northbound interurban about 7 o’clock Tuesday morning, came into the Fortson store with a letter. The letter was purported to be from Mr. Lansford. Mr. Lansford later on the stand testified he had no knowledge of such a letter and did not write it. Hattie Skelton, keeper of the Oil City Rooming House in negrotown, testified the negro came to her place about 11 o’clock Monday night, and occupied a room there. He got up about 4 o’clock Tuesday morning and told her he was to meet the train from Richland, that he expected his wife. He asked his hostess for writing paper while at her place and she gave him a sheet from the hotel register. On this sheet the phony Lansford letter was written. The paper and pages matched in design and page numbers. Hattie Skelton saw Tilford again about 3 or 4 o’clock that afternoon when he returned to her house in wet clothing. The negro told her, according to her testimony, he had been cutting a yard for a white lady since he was there earlier in the day. He had left his handbag there and took it and went upstairs to the room and changed clothes. She later went up to straighten up the room and his wet clothing were there. The negro returned there that night. He told this woman he had had trouble with a white boy. He went to the station to mail a letter for Hattie and she saw him no more till next day, Wednesday. Shortly after noon Wednesday defendant came to her house dressed in women’s clothes. The witness declared she screamed and tried to keep him from coming in. She told him the officers had been there and got his clothes. He went into the room telling her he had something in the room they did not find, and he came back out poking something into his bosom.


The negro dressed in women’s clothing a little later came to the house of Ella Easley, who testified he came there inquiring about a jitney boy to take him to Waco. She testified he displayed a roll of greenback bills, saying he would pay any amount for the trip.


He related to her the Mexican story, saying the white boy had taken a group of Mexicans to Cheneyboro and had not shown up, but as he left Rice with the boy the crime would be put on him. He carried the roll of bills, tens and fives, in his bosom, she said. The clothes worn by Dukeminier, the negro, and the female wardrobe of the defendant were introduced and identified by various witnesses.


N. J. Peeples of Corsicana, who was working on the Grape Creek church Tuesday, the day of the supposed killing, described the truck driven by a negro that stalled on the bridge within a  few yards of where he was working that day. He said the truck seemed to stick in the deep ruts on the approach of the bridge, and the negro backed up and killed the engine. The negro got out, walked about the vehicle and left it. A young white man came along in a car later and he went and helped him to move the truck to get it out of the road and off the bridge. The truck was stuck there where the negro deserted it about 12:30 o’clock, according to this witness.


The prosecution introduced a pistol which was identified as belonging to Mr. Dukeminier, carried by his son that day, and he often carried it in the truck behind the seat cushion, he said.


Young Dukeminier and Tilford left Rice at 8 o’clock Tuesday morning and were passed near the city barns as they came into Corsicana by Fred York, Rice garage man. York testified he knew Dukeminier well, but did not know the negro, and as he drove by them he greeted them.


E. L. Burch, negro farmer, testified to seeing a white man and a negro come along the side of his field where he was plowing a few minutes before he quit for noon. He said they entered the woods afoot, came back out and went back into the woods, and a while later he saw the negro came back across his field alone. He asked him what they were looking for and the negro told him they were trying to find a good fishing hole. He identified defendant as the negro he saw.


Percy Banks, negro farmer, testified seeing a white man and a negro about the same time cross his field, go down the levee. He testified to hearing four shots in the direction they disappeared into the woods, and later where the body of Dukeminier was fished from the creek. He saw no more of the white man and negro after they went down the levee and he heard shots fired.


They were seen by other negroes living in the Richland country and the truck was seen by Cora Burch, wife of E. L. Burch. She said it passed near her house going east, driven by a negro in a zig-zagging manner, as if the driver was inexperienced or greatly excited.


Will Crook, white farmer, who lives on the road leading from Richland to Grape Creek, was reclining on his porch just after 12 o’clock Tuesday and saw the truck drive madly by with a negro at the wheel. He was positive that it was not E. L. Burch. Mr. Peeples, the last witness Monday, identified the defendant as the negro who drove the truck to the bridge and left it.


Willis Bonner, white man, saw the negro about 1 o’clock walking towards Corsicana. He described the clothes he had on, and each witness asked concerning the clothes were asked to look at the clothes introduced in evidence. Each description tallied almost completely. Bonner noticed that the negro’s shirt was wringing wet. He thought little of it at the time.


M. C. Hobbs, white man, member of the searching party, told of the body being found buried in the water of Richland creek, and testified to seeing big finger prints in the bank where apparently someone had climbed from the water to the bank.


The State expects to prove the negro left Rice Monday night and instead of going to Richland as he represented to Tom Fortson, he stayed all night in Corsicana, wrote the letter himself, purporting to be from Mr. Lansford, and returned to Rice early Tuesday morning, leaving with young Dukeminier for Richland. They expect to prove that the white boy and negro reached Corsicana, and drove on towards Richland via Angus, and on reaching the road turning east just north of Richland creek, the boy was directed to turn in that direction. That he drove the truck at the negro’s guidance as to the road, the boy not being familiar with the country and the roads and where the negro lived, and was misled. That the negro knew the lad had the money he wanted and he got the pistol from behind the truck seat cushion, robbed the boy when they were alone in the bottom, and to cover up the crime he secreted the body in the water.


E. L. Burch is the negro implicated with complicity in the killing by defendant’s statement made to Dallas county officers.


So far Tilford has refused to admit doing the killing, but lays it off on Burch. Burch was arrested and held for questioning, but was released after officers were convinced he had no part in the crime.


The prosecution will rely solely on circumstantial evidence for a conviction.


Judge Scarborough announced to the big crowds late Monday afternoon after the jury had been taken out, that the three lawyers, Harry Jack, Fred Upchurch and Wayne Howell, have been appointed by the court to handle the negro’s case, and that they are serving without pay or any fee. The law makes it the duty of any lawyer to defend any person charged with crime when the court appoints him for that purpose.


The jury is composed of A. W. McClung, Kerens; A. C. Kent, Mildred; W. E. Boyett, Purdon; W. E. Coleman, Navarro; G. O. O’Daniel, Roane; P. H. Loggins, Corsicana; Herbert Fitch, Winkler; C. R. Slater, Emmett; H. T. Collins, Emhouse; J. W. Howell, Oak Valley; E. B. Reed, Blooming Grove, and A. J. Beal, Corbet.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Tuesday, June 8, 1926, pp. 1, 5]










A verdict inflicting the penalty of death was returned against Fred L. Tilford, negro slayer of Pruitt Dukeminier, in district court Tuesday.


The jury was out ten minutes. The verdict was handed to Judge Scarborough by P. H. Loggins, foreman, at 5:40 o’clock. [The hour is blurred on the microfilm copy from which this transcription was made and may be something other than 5.] Sentence was immediately passed on the negro and he was returned to Dallas.


Officers and Rangers stood about the negro while the verdict was read.


Tilford received the verdict calmly and with no sign of surprise or emotion. He continued to chew his gum in a lazy-like manner.


“I have nothing to say,” Tilford answered as he stood up to hear the sentence imposed. He said he had made peace with God and is ready to die.


The court in pronouncing sentence said:


“Fred Tilford, on the 28th day of May, 1926, the Grand Jury of Navarro county, Texas, having been duly empaneled, returned against you an indictment charging you with the murder of James Pruitt Dukeminier, and it having been brought to the attention of this court that you were without counsel, three reputable lawyers of this court were named to defend you, and you were brought to trial on the 7th day of June, 1926, and having pleaded not guilty a jury duly empaneled heard the testimony against you, found you guilty, and sentenced you to death; and now, pursuant to that verdict, this court passes that sentence upon you, directing that you be delivered to the Sheriff of Navarro county, Texas, by him to be safely kept and delivered to the Warden of the State Penitentiary of Texas; and the Warden of the State Penitentiary of Texas is hereby directed to cause to be passed through your body before sunrise on the morning of July 9, 1926, current of electricity of sufficient strength to cause your death, and to continue to pass through your body a current of electricity of sufficient strength to cause your death until you are dead, dead, dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.”


Tilford heard the sentence with apparently less concern than any one in the courtroom. People stood in the aisles, creened [sic] over the railings, jumped upon benches but there was not the slightest demonstration when the verdict was read. Intense silence prevailed.


Tilford was led away by officers. He will repose in the Dallas county jail till he is assigned to the death row of cells in the Huntsville penitentiary. The electrocution will take place in the death chamber early on the morning of July 9.


No appeal will be taken. Only executive clemency can save the negro from death.


Thus in forty-five days after the murder legal atonement for the crime will be carried out.


Tilford was convicted for the murder of Pruitt Dukeminier, who he left Rice with May 25. The next day the negro was arrested. That evening the bullet-riddled body of the white youth was fished from Chambers creek. Two days later the Navarro county grand jury returned an indictment against Tilford.


It was just two weeks following the killing that the death verdict was returned. The trial lasted two days.


There was no eye-witness to the killing. The circumstantial evidence was so strong the jury gave the defendant the extreme penalty.


The death warrant for Fred L. Tilford, condemned negro, was prepared Thursday [sic], directed to the warden of the State penitentiary at Huntsville, including the verdict of the jury and the sentence of the court. The warrant was signed by Hawkins Scarborough, district judge of the Thirteenth Judicial district, and Mike Howard, district clerk.


The paper stated that execution was to be held July 9, 1926, and directed the warden to make the proper return of the warrant.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Wednesday, June 9, 1926, pp. 1, 4]








Court House.



Items of Interest From Temple of Justice



Sheriff’s Office.


Sheriff John W. Stewart and Deputy Sheriff Rufus Pevehouse passed through Corsicana Wednesday on the 11:15 o’clock southbound Southern Pacific train en route to Huntsville with Fred L. Tilford, negro, sentenced to be electrocuted at the State penitentiary July 9 for the murder of James Pruitt Dukeminier, Rice youth.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Wednesday, June 16, 1926, sec. 1, p. 4]













Sheriff John W. Stewart and Deputy Sheriff Rufus Pevehouse went to Dallas Wednesday morning to convey Fred L. Tilford, negro, to the Huntsville prison, where he is scheduled to die in the electric chair July 9.


The accused negro was convicted on a charge of murder and given the extreme penalty in the district court here a few days ago in connection with the death of James Pruitt Dukeminier, aged 20 years, Rice youth, May 25.


The trial attracted unusual attention and was tried in the district court here before District Judge Hawkins Scarborough. Texas Rangers and a number of special officers, including several sheriffs from adjoining counties, were on hand at the trial.


The accused negro plead not guilty.


As soon as his trial had been completed, the verdict of the jury read, and the sentence of death given by the court, the negro was taken out the rear way and on to the Dallas county jail where the prisoners of the county are kept.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Wednesday, June 16, 1926, sec. 2, p. 4]













Fred L. Tilford, negro, confined in the death cell of the Huntsville State penitentiary, is doomed to die in the electric chair shortly after midnight Thursday.


Nothing but executive clemency can save Tilford from death in the chair. This action is not thought to be likely. There was no appeal taken in the case in which the negro was given the extreme penalty in the district court here.


Tilford was taken to Huntsville from the Dallas county jail by Sheriff John W. Stewart and Deputy Rufus Pevehouse soon after his trial which ended here June 8.


Tilford was sentenced to die within as short a space as the law allows.


The negro was charged with the killing of Pruitt Dukeminier, Rice youth.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Wednesday, July 7, 1926, sec. 1, p. 6, col. 3]










A number of persons went from Corsicana to Huntsville Thursday to witness the electrocution of Fred L. Tilford, negro, tried, convicted and sentenced to death in the district court here last month on an indictment for murder in connection with the death of James Pruitt Dukeminier, Rice youth, whose body was discovered in Richland creek after a search of several hours.


Tilford was tried before District Judge Hawkins Scarborough, who sentenced him to be electrocuted July 9.


Among those who were reported to have gone are Sheriff John W. Stewart, Tom Fortson, Rice; J. A. Travis, Pleas Shivers, Will Jeffers, Sam J. Little, Deputy Sheriff Rufus Pevehouse and City Policemen Bruce Nutt and Ruff Tickle.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Thursday, July 8, 1926, sec. 1, p. 7, col. 6]













By Associated Press.


Houston, Texas, July 9.—Fred Tilford, negro, of Rice walked calmly to the electric chair in the state penitentiary at Huntsville at 12:10 a. m. today and paid with his life for the slaying on May 25 of Pruitt Dukeminier, also of Rice. Thursday morning in the death cell Tilford talked with Dr. J. T. Carter of Rice, who has known the negro all his life, and signed a confession in which he unfolded the story of a cold-blooded murder committed for $55.


Tilford, a tall, yellow negro, walked to the death chair unassisted and the straps were fastened at 12:10 a. m. At 12:14 a. m. Warden N. L. Speer threw the switch that sent the current crashing through the black’s body. He was pronounced dead at 12:17 a. m. by Dr. Carter of Rice.


Deputy Sheriff Rufus Pevehouse, City Officer Bruce Nutt of Corsicana, Dr. J. T. Carter of Rice, Frank O’Rourke, secretary of the Texas Prison Commission, Prison Physician Bush and the prison chaplain witnessed the execution. Other spectators were barred by prison rules.


“I killed Pruitt Dukeminier myself,” the confession reads. “When we got out of the truck, I grabbed him and took his gun away from him. Then I took $55 off of him. I marched him down to Richland creek and made him wade out in the water. Then I shot him in the head and in the back. I wanted the money to go to Kansas City, Mo. The only reason I can give for killing him was that I was crazy.” The confession was repeated in the death chair and acknowledged by the doomed man.



The case had its genesis in the proposition that Tilford would go to Richland, pay Mr. Lansford what he owed him, and move his household goods and his family to Rice.


With this scheme in mind Tilford went to Rice on Sunday, and operated a cultivator Monday for R. W. Edens. Monday evening he went to see Tom Fortson and made a trade with him. Mr. Fortson, being anxious for farmhands at the time, and having known Tilford for a number of years, promptly accepted his proposition. The negro represented to him that Mr. Lansford at Richland would release him, his wife and two nieces, upon the payment to him [of] the $55 debt.


The negro stated he would go to Richland that night and obtain a written statement of his exact account with Mr. Lansford, and return next day.


The negro, it was proved, did not go to Richland, but spent the night in Corsicana, and returned early next morning to the Fortson store in Rice. The letter was presented making claim of $55. Evidence later showed that Mr. Lansford knew nothing of the letter and that in fact the negro owed him $33.10.


The $55 was given young Dukeminier who went with the negro to drive the truck and assist him in moving. The boy took a pistol in the truck seat with him, as was his usual custom when out on trucking business.


The negro evidently intended to obtain the money and make away with it at first, but with the Dukeminier boy being sent along in charge of the truck and money, the motive of robbery with murder to cover up the lesser crime arose in the negro’s mind.


They left Rice Tuesday morning, May 25, about 8 o’clock. They were seen as they came into Corsicana and were seen in Corsicana together.


Two negroes testified seeing a white man and Tilford together walking along the timber line in Richland creek bottoms near the place where the bullet riddled body was found. One of the negroes identified Tilford and saw him return from the jungle alone. The negro heard four pistol shots fired after they had passed through his field and go down into the woods. The negroes were plowing in their respective fields and each separately fixed the time as noon.


Negroes Testify.


About the same time a truck with a negro at the steering wheel was seen to drive by three houses going eastward towards Cheneyboro.


Tilford was identified as the negro who left the truck near Grape Creek church, where it was found by officers next day. Tilford was identified by N. J. Peeples, of Corsicana, who was working on the church house at the time. Tilford was identified by two more white men as he was seen by them walking towards Corsicana.


In the rounds from the time Dukeminier and the negro left Corsicana that morning till he re-appeared in town the preponderance of time given out by the various witnesses was almost perfect. The negro women at the rooming house in East Corsicana where Tilford stopped the night before testified of his coming back shortly after noon with his clothing wet and his trouser legs muddy. These clothes were found at the rooming house where he had left them. The Dukeminier pistol was found hidden in the mattress where the negro slept. The negro had a roll of money in his possession, according to several witnesses.


Put on Women’s Clothes.


The negro left the rooming house and went to the house of an aged negro woman and appropriated a dress, apron, dust cap and sunbonnet, which he donned, apparently in an effort to disguise himself. Negroes joined in the efforts of officers to catch Tilford, and a merry hide and seek chase was kept up almost all day, when Tilford was located and arrested in Bob Mitchell’s house on East Thirteenth avenue.


When Tilford left the truck, after Dukeminier had been killed, robbed and his body secreted in the waters of Richland creek, and returned to Corsicana about two o’clock he telephoned to Tom Fortson that when he and the white boy reached Corsicana, the boy left him to go to Cheneyboro to take a part of eight Mexicans who offered him, he said, ten dollars apiece.


At 6 o’clock the same day he again telephoned Mr. Fortson that Dukeminier had not returned from Cheneyboro. At this time Mr. Fortson became suspicious. The negro telephoned Mr. Lansford at Richland also, and said he was afraid to come down there for he heard there was a mob forming to lynch him.


Mr. Fortson instructed Tilford to telephone him again Wednesday morning, which he did. Officers had been put on the trail and from the address from which he telephoned officers picked up the clue that started the all-day chase. The negro successfully evaded them for several hours. Eulace Rubles, Corsicana negro, who formerly worked for the Fortsons and who knew Tilford, rendered valuable and tireless assistance in locating the accused. City Officers Nutt and Tickle arrested the negro.


Spirited Away.


He was taken to the city jail and questioned. County officers took the negro in charge and to prevent threatened mob violence, spirited him away to Dallas where he was kept till the trial came up.


The truck was found about an hour before the negro was apprehended. The body of young Dukeminier was found that night by a party of searchers. He had been shot three times. One bullet penetrated the brain back of the right ear. One bullet pierced his right shoulder. One bullet struck him in the breast, and when the body was lifted from the water this pistol ball dropped out of his clothing.


In his left pocket were two two-dollar bills, which Mr. Fortson had given him separately from the $55 supposed debt money. His watch was in his trousers’ watch pocket, and had stopped at two and three quarter minutes  before twelve o’clock.


The negro was being safely kept in the Dallas county jail when the body was recovered from the creek. There would likely have been mob violence had the negro been kept here after the body was found.


Tilford denied the killing, saying E. L. Burch, negro farmer who had seen him with a white boy crossing his field, did the actual killing. Officers arrested Burch and took him to Dallas, but he was later released from custody. Burch was a material witness in the case.


The grand jury was convened May 28 and an indictment charging Tilford with murder was returned.


Sentence Pronounced.


The trial was held June 7 and 8. A total of thirty-five witnesses were used in the trial of the case. Every precaution was taken to prevent a possible mob outbreak. Texas rangers, assisted by officers from Dallas, Henderson and Freestone counties attended the trial to assist Navarro county officers in handling the large crowds that swarmed the court room.


The case sent to the jury at 5:30 o’clock Tuesday afternoon and a verdict of death was returned in just ten minutes. The jury was composed of P. H. Loggins, Corsicana, foreman; A. W. McClung, Kerens; A. C. Kent, Mildred; W. E. Boyett, Purdon; W. E. Coleman, Navarro; G. O. O’Daniel, Roane; Herbert Fitch, Winkler; C. R. Slater, Emmett; H. T. Collins, Emhouse; J. W. Howell, Oak Valley; E. B. Reed, Blooming Grove and A. J. Beal, Corbet.


The prosecution was handled by County Attorney Ballard W. George and his assistant W. M. Taylor. Judge Scarborough appointed Harry Jack, Wayne Howell and Fred Upchurch to defend the negro.


The negro sat through the trial apparently unconcerned. He expressed no surprise at the verdict, and continued to lazily chew his gum while the court pronounced sentence on him.


Trial Is Speedy.


He was taken back to the Dallas county jail and later transferred to death row in the Huntsville penitentiary. The sentence as pronounced by Judge Scarborough was as follows:


“Fred Tilford, on the 28th day of May 1926, the Grand Jury of Navarro county, Texas, having been duly empaneled, returned against you an indictment charging you with the murder of James Pruitt Dukeminier, and it having been brought to the attention of this court that you were without counsel, three reputable lawyers of this court were named to defend you, and you were brought to trial on the 7th day of June, 1926, and having pleaded not guilty a jury duly empaneled heard the testimony against you, found you guilty, and sentenced you to death; and now, pursuant to that verdict, this court passes that sentence upon you, directing that you be delivered to the Sheriff of Navarro county, Texas, by him to be safely kept and delivered to the Warden of the State Penitentiary of Texas; and the Warden of the State Penitentiary of Texas is hereby directed to cause to be passed through your body before sun-rise on the morning of July 9, 1926, a current of electricity of sufficient strength to cause your death, and to continue to pass through your body a current of electricity of sufficient strength to cause your death until you are dead, dead, dead. And may God have mercy on your soul.”


He received the sentence calmly and with not the slightest outward show of excitement or emotion.


Thus in forty-five days after the murder Fred Tilford paid the penalty with his life in the electric chair, by due process of law.


There was no appeal taken from the verdict of the trial court.


[Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Tex., Friday, July 9, 1926, sec. 1, pp. 1, 7]