AT THE DAVIS HOME
Albert Austin, John York and Scott Davis stared in stunned silence at the scene that greeted them on the porch. Ova lay on her back in a pool of blood. She had a gaping gunshot wound to her head. A few feet from her near the edge of the porch lay John. He was bleeding profusely from several self-inflicted gunshot wounds to his head. A blood-stained letter lay on the porch near Ova’s head.
After the initial shock wore off, the men raced onto the porch to see if they could do anything to help her. As York approached her, he spotted the letter and kicked it out of the way. They thought she was dead but quickly realized that she was still breathing. From damage wrought by the gun, they knew there was no hope for recovery; and they did the only thing they could — make Ova as comfortable as possible in her remaining hours. While Scott and York remained at the Davis house, Albert mounted his horse and raced to Boiling Springs to notify Mr. and Mrs. Davis of the tragedy.
As the news of the shooting spread rapidly through the neighborhood, friends and neighbors rushed to the Davis house to help. Since Ova was so gravely injured, they decided not to move her into the house but rather to bring a bed from the house into the hall where she lay. After setting it up, Ova was tenderly placed on the bed. As the women tended to her, York returned to the porch to retrieve the letter.
John lay near the edge of the porch. At first everyone presumed that he had died. Suddenly, he groaned loudly and rolled off the porch, falling face down into the grass. There, he lay until members of his family arrived.
Lon Green, John’s younger brother, was the first to arrive at the scene. He asked some of the men there to help carry John to the west side of the house near the chimney and lay him down on the ground in the shade. As Lon examined his head, he saw that the balls had entered his skull behind his ear and exited through the top of his head. His skull was broken in several spots.
Elizabeth Vinson came running into the yard. She began crying when she spotted her wounded son. The Green attempted to care his wounds as best as they could. However, they were limited by what they could do for such a devastating head wound. As she cradled her son, she secretly hoped that he would pass peacefully into the Great Beyond. For she knew, if he survived, he would surely be hung in the center of town as the Brassells had a scant nine years earlier. She did not think that she could bear to watch him die in that manner.
As the sun moved in its westward direction, the shade afforded to them at the chimney dissipated. The heat of the June sun beat down on them. By now more of the Green family had arrived, and they carried John to the spring - the same spring where he surreptitiously watched Ova. There they could more effectively wash the blood from his head and could bathe him in the cool spring water.
Albert raced to find Mr. And Mrs. Davis and alert them of the tragedy. After an hour or so, he finally reached them on the road. They immediately turned their carriage around and rapidly headed home.
Arriving between 1pm-2pm, Mr. And Mrs. Davis sprang from the carriage and ran into the house. When Mrs. Davis spied her daughter laying on the bed in the hall, she began to scream. She screamed and screamed and screamed until she fainted. Mr. Davis, having witnessed the carnage of the Civil War, immediately realized that there was little hope for his precious daughter. He tended to his prostrate wife by fanning her until she regained consciousness. Together they sat by Ova’s bedside as their grief threatened to overwhelm them. Within the hour, Ova breathed her last breath and slipped into eternity.
Mr. Davis asked those around what had happened to John. Someone informed him that his family had taken him to the spring where he had died. A short time later, another person, who had come from the spring, announced that he still lived but was expected to pass at any moment. Mrs. Davis gathered several quilts and sent them to the spring so that John would not be lying on the bare ground.
AT THE SPRING
At the spring, quite a crowd gathered around the Green family as they attended to the gravely injured man. John slipped into and out of consciousness. During one of his more lucid moments, Howard Hutson demanded "What the like of this meant?"
John replied in a low, weak voice, "That's the question! I have told you that Bill Davis would have this done, I had to do what I have done." John inquired who just spoke to him. Hudson identified himself and stated that James Cameron was with him.
John went on and on about how a man could always see after it was too late. As he rambled on, the rest of the conversation made no sense. He mumbled incoherently until he again lost consciousness.
As the sun began to set, John still clung to life. Elizabeth wanted to take him home to die. She walked to the Davis household to talk with Mr. Davis about the current situation. Mr. Davis offered her the use of his jersey to carry John back to the Green home.
By this time, Sheriff Charles Bradford had arrived at the scene. He, as well as everyone else, expected John to die. He agreed to allow the Green family to take John, but he assigned Constables George Parks and Jim Parks (Ova’s fiancee) and Deputy Sheriff Chance C. Farley to remain as guards at the Green house. In the unlikely event that John survived, they wanted to ensure that he paid the price for his crime.
As the Davis family was preparing for the burial of their precious daughter, the Green family loaded the gravely injured John into the jersey and took him home. When they arrived, his brothers carried him from the wagon and placed him on a bed. He was in terrible condition and suffering greatly.
After the chaos of the afternoon slowly dissipated, York approached Davis and quietly handed him the letter that he had found on the porch.
One side of the letter was covered in blood. The other side was rife with bloody fingerprints. A human hand drawn in ink adorned each end of the letter. Written between the two hands was the inscription:
“Read the enclosed letter and don’t grieve after us; read this as soon as you find it.”
When Davis opened the envelope, he found four pages of handwritten text and a flyleaf from Pierce’s Memorandum and Account Bookwith additional information handwritten on it. The letter was not dated. The paper was worn as if it had undergone a great deal of handling during the letter’s preparation. It read:
“Davis & Green: This goes to show what love is. You may know that I am interested in you when you read this. I can freely give my life for the one that I love so dearly. We were engaged to marry the first Sunday in August 1886. I saw there would not have been any of this if Ova had not taken somebody else’s advice. I thought everything was all right, or I would not have got where I did. Those things I told were so what we did. It has ruined me forever, and her, too. I told her well of this. So I can’t live in the condition I am in. I have made up my mind to destroy my life and her’s too, if I don’t fail. I have tried to forget this, and the more I tried the more I would study about it. You all just saw how bad you could aggrevate (sic) me about Ova. So I can’t stand it any longer. I will take her and go beyond you all’s sight.
“Nobody knows anything about love till they get where I have been. I knew when everybody turned against me that my time was up. I had this thing figured out a long time ago. I did aim to kill Jim Parks and “Punk” Cameron, but I knew I could not do that all. You all can read this and keep away from the girls. Look what one has caused me to do. You now, by this, may take warning to live and love each other, and quit your way of doing among each other.
“Let every breath be a prayer, and don’t follow after me. I have prayed day and night for a long time and found no relief. I had rather be in hell at once, for this is nothing but hell no how. I am aggravated to death, and it gets worse in the place of better. Every time I think of the way me and Ova did, it nearly kills me and I think of it day and night.
“This is something for you, Mr. Davis, to study about the rest of your days. I am going to hell and I will take Ova with me. So I won’t be there by myself, for Ova is as certain to land in hell as I myself. So we will both be there together. We will try another world of a mode existence, and if you don’t change your way you will follow after us both.
“To Mrs. Davis. Here is you, Mrs. Davis: Let your children choose who they please. Don’t you say a word. Look where one of yours had gone down in the bottomless pit of hell for evermore on the account of your advising because I was a poor boy. Now you can think of this after it is too late to advise.
“Here is you, Albert: If there is any such a thing as haunts, I will haunt you till the thirtieth generation. You thought you were doing great things when you were talking for Cameron. You could not see this till it was too late. I aim to haunt Jim Parks and “Punk” Cameron and Albert Austin till the thirtieth generation. You see if you all don’t near and see great sights and sounds and racket, for you three have aggravated me and I will aggravate you now. When you got in your wild career, you can think of this.”
To his mother, he wrote:
“Mother, don’t you grieve after me.
“For I am bound to go
To leave this world of sorrow
And trouble here below
“I don’t mind dying a bit in the world. I had rather be dead than a living. I ain’t got but one time to die and when I am dead I will be done with suffering here in this world. Oh, me! how beautiful it would have been if we had married when we were promised. You can’t see nothing until it is too late, but I could see this a long time ago, and I told Ova of it time and again and did everything I could to prevent it, and you all did the same the other way. So you can see now when you were doing wrong laughing at me and calling me a fool. Think of this, will you, when I am dead and you no more shall see.
“This is what I want you all to do without dead bodies. I want you all to bury us bother together at Davis’ grave yard, on the right of the gate as you go in. Will you, Mr. Davis, have this done? Bury us both like I say, and do like a man. It will not do any good for you all to fall out with each other now. You call can’t help this; so you call live and love each other and do this that I have asked you all to do — bury me and Ova together and sing this song when you put us down in the grave:
“I saw a youth the other day
All in his prime, he looked so gay;
He has trifled all his time away
And dropped into eternity.”
“John W. Green.” (written on the right as a signature)
“My dear mother, and brothers and sisters—
Don’t you all grieve after me,
For I can’t live no longer here,
And don’t you all follow after me
And don’t grieve after me.
On the left side the following was written:
“Mr. Davis, don’t grieve after Ova;
I take her with me, where you no more shall see.”
Located on the bottom, after inverting the page, was the following:
“The Pangs of Jealousy”
“I am at my right mind, but Ova is in my brains, and I had rather die and go to hell than to see her ever marry another man. I want you, Shelah, to come and get my horse, and keep him as long as you or he lives. He is paid for, and I want you, Shelah, to have him, and you be sure and come and get him. My folks don’t want him. They have wished him dead a dozen times.
John W. Green”
On the flyleaf from Pierce’s Memorandum and Account Book was written:
“Mamma, you keep my pistol as long as you live.
“Jim, you keep my fiddle as long as you live.
“Don’t grieve after me.”
Heartbroken, Mr. Davis folded the letter and put it away for safe keeping. As an attorney himself, he knew that this letter may one day be used as evidence if John survived his wounds and was brought to trial.
THE GREEN HOUSE
During the first few days, John continued to lapse in and out of consciousness. While conscious, he had lucid moments and moments filled with wild hallucinations. At times, he screamed and thrashed about. He ranted and raved and talked of killing himself. When the pain became more than he could bear, he begged for a knife or pistol to end it all. Other times, he hallucinated that he was being chased by Negroes and snakes. He screamed that he wished that he had waited and killed Parks and Cameron, as well. It was disheartening for his family to hear.
On Sunday night just after the shooting, John rested quietly in his bed. Lon stood nearby holding a lamp whose brightness showered the bed with light. John moaned and asked if it was dark in room. Puzzled, Lon replied that he held a lit lamp. John sighed and explained that he was blind and could not see the light.
He, then, asked where Ova was. Lon patiently explained that she was now deceased. John rose up and loudly retorted "I told her of this six months ago. I told her well of it!"
When Lon questioned why John killed Ova, he told him about the letter left on the porch and said that it explained everything. He reiterated that he wanted to kill Cameron and Parks. He regretted that he did not wait until Sunday, when all three of them would have been at Sunday School. He asserted that Parks and Cameron had been in his way during his courtship of Ova. Then, yet again, he proceeded to describe in detail how he killed Ova.
On Tuesday night, 21 June, John begged for Reverend William Dinges to visit him. When the reverend arrived, he gently asked “John, do you know me?”
John: “I can’t see.”
Dinges: “Did you send for me?”
John: “I did.”
Dinges: “What do you want with me?”
John: “I want you to pray for me. Will you sing for me?”
Dinges: “What do you want me to sing?”
John: “The song that I wrote in the letter.”
When John repeated some of the song, Dinges responded that he did not know that song and could not sing it. John peevishly snapped “Sing whatever song you want!”
After singing to him, Dinges asked how John felt about his current situation. John explained that he though he was going to die. Dinges continued talking with him about his crime and the consequences of the unpardonable sin. As John responded to his questions, he astounded Dinges with the quality and the intelligence of his answers. John answered Bible questions and relayed promises from the Bible.
On another night, George Parks and Chance Farley stood guard in the kitchen while Lon and Elizabeth sat by his bedside. John rambled on about a variety of subjects. Then, he talked about giving away his possessions. He declared that he wanted Shelah Davis to have his horse, his brother James to have his fiddle, and his mother to have his pistol. After a brief pause, he went on to malign Ova and to reiterate the details of the murder.
THE COOKEVILLE JAIL
Each passing day, John defied the odds and showed improvement. At this point, it appeared that he might actually survive having shot himself three times in the head. The growing concern was that the Green family might attempt to hide him from authorities before he could be brought to trial. By June 29, John was well enough to be transported to the jail by Sheriff Bradford.
Outside the jail, a large crowd assembled hoping to get a look at the culprit of such a heinous crime. Jim Parks, Ova’s fiancee, waited with the crowd. As John reached the jail, he called out for Parks asking if he was in the crowd. Parks responded that he was. John called for him to come over to him. Parks made his way through the crowd and stood before him. John begged for his forgiveness for what he had done, for what he planned to do, and for the gossip he had spread about Parks and Ova. Unfortunately for history, Parks’ response was never recorded.
Even though John’s condition was improving daily, he was still feeble and the threat of death loomed over him. Lon stayed every night at the jail with him for over two weeks.
Monitoring the jail was the Head Jailer Joel C. Gabbert and Assistant Jailer John Braswell. Sheriff Bradford’s cousin, Wade Harpole, lodged at the jail. William Manor and William Medley were incarcerated for their crimes.
John still suffered from sporadic hallucinations. When he was rational, he recounted - to anyone who would listen - how he had stalked and murdered Ova and how he planned to murder Parks and Cameron. He declared that if he went to trial, he would not deny killing Ova. He cried that he would rather commit suicide than to be hanged. He often begged Jailor Gabbert to get him something with which to kill himself.
In his less than rational moments, he babbled about his hallucinations. At times, he ranted about being chased by a Negro. He saw dogs and rabbits running by. Once he claimed that a rabbit had ran by and gotten caught under a drift. A Negro and a white man were trying to get the rabbit out. Eventually, the white man was able to get the rabbit out.
One of the more fantastic tales that John relayed was about Ova. He claimed that he and Ova had entered into a Lover’s Pact during the time - in his mind - that they were courting. The Lover’s Pact entailed a commitment to each other that if one of them “quit” the other, the jilted party had the right to kill the other person. After Ova refused John’s company and before he left for Dickson County, he ran into Ova on the road one day. He claimed that she sweetly smiled at him and inquired as to why he had not been to visit her. He responded that he would come by her house that afternoon.
When he arrived, he had brought with him a pistol and handkerchief. He tied the handkerchief around his eyes, handed the pistol to Ova and commanded her to shoot him. When she replied that she could not, he removed the handkerchief and tied it around her eyes. He aimed the pistol at her but could not pull the trigger. He claimed that although they both attempted to carry out their agreement, neither had the courage to follow through.
Soon, his brothers realized that if he did survive, he would need a lawyer to represent him in court. Elias and Lon first approached Gabbert, who was an attorney as well as Head Jailer. The Green brothers offered Gabbert a horse and a cow in exchange for defending John. However, Gabbert and the Greens could not come to a formal agreement. The Green brothers then approached Captain Walton Smith. He agreed and enlisted the help of the Honorable George H. Morgan, Alvin W. Boyd Esquire, and Jabez Watson Esquire as John’s defense team.
Shortly after John’s arrival at the jail, Dr. Jefferson Franklin Dyer, the jail physician, examined his head wounds. He found that one shot had glanced off the side of his head. The remaining three shots entered his head behind the right ear and traveled up towards the top of the skull. The three balls were lodged in the same area of his brain.
After the examination, Dr. Dyer recommended that the bullets be removed from his skull. Everyone agreed. When Dr. Dyer performed the operation, he was only able to remove two balls. The third remained lodged in his head.
Captain Smith contacted Dr. Samuel Benjamin Fowler of Jackson County and requested that he assist Dr. Dyer in the removal of the third ball. Smith, Fowler and Dyer arrived at the jail early one Sunday morning. Jailors Gabbert and Braswell were present as well as convicts William Manor and William Medley.
When John spotted the doctors approaching his jail cell, he grabbed a stick and backed himself into a corner. He threatened to hit Dr. Fowler with the stick if he came any closer. The men attempted to reason with him but to no avail. Gabbert informed him that he would not get any better as long as the bullet remained in his head and that he doctors were only there to ensure that he would get better. John adamantly refused saying that he did not want his head cut off. He countered with the only reason they wanted him to get better was so that they could hang him!
Walton, Dyer and Fowler continued to reason with him. After several hours of arguments back and forth, John finally agreed to allow them to operate. He laid down on the bed. As Dr. Fowler began to probe the wound, John pulled away from him and attempted to prevent him from examining him any further. With more persuading, he finally laid down and allowed Dr. Fowler to complete the operation.
About 1 July 1887, a preliminary trial was held before Esquire Madison F. “Mat” JonesJohn was found guilty of first degree murder and officially committed to jail without bail.
The Grand Jury Hearing was held 12 September 1887 in the Circuit Court in Cookeville. The prosecutor was Ova’s father, William G. Davis. The Attorney General was Algood Moore. Columbus Jackson Davis served as the Jury Foreman. The jury comprised of C. J. Davis, John Cumby, William Dyer, Charles Randolph, James Henry, J. M. Swallows, Thomas Car, W[illiam] J. Lewis, J. E. Jared, L. F. Elrod, J. H. Holley, Elijah Peek, and S[ilas] H. Gentry. C. J. Davis acted as the foreman. Considered but not selected were J[ames] H. Quarles, W[illiam] E. Boyd, L. S. Oaks, Thomas Ford, James Hutchings, Tilmon Wiggins, A[lbert] S. Alcorn, E. H. Neal, L. B. Hatfield, and S[imon] O. Evans. John plead Not Guilty to charges of First Degree Murder. The Grand Jury returned a True Bill of Indictment.
John Wesley Green would stand trial for the Murder in the First Degree of Ova Davis. Cookeville, Tennessee would once again capture the nation’s attention as it had with the recent Brassell trial.