william Harold Pflughaupt - Grand aunt Laura Cutler's son
a new father. mission and goal." 90 Yeors After Laura Foster's Murder Tom Dula Of Wilkes, Hanged In Iredell, Lives On In Best-Selling Recording Of Ballad By DOUGLAS EISELE It wasn't, as the song goes, "the eternal triangle" that got the now popular "Tom Dooley" in trouble. For the Wi'lkes County Civil War veteran was one of a pentagon that figured in probably the moiS'l publicized trial ever held "in Iredell County. The story—"of a Mr. Grayson, a beautiful woman and a condemned man named Tom Dooley"—is told in a current t'apitol record adapted from an old mountain ballad; "Oh, bow your head, Tom Dula, Oh, bow your head and cry: You've killed poor Laura Foster And vou know you're bound to die." The ballad, with initial roots in Slates villt-, is based on the gruesome murder of a charming Wilkes County girl of 18 years, Laura Foster, in May of 18(56. Tom Dula (Dooiey in the song) was bhe most promi&ing suspect. A brave enlistee in the Civil War, Dula had returned home after Gettysburg to the Happy Valley section of Wilkes County—the place where Laura Foster lived. She didn't conceal the fact she was in love with Tom Dula. But Dula, a handsome, banjo- picking youth in his early twenlies, made less ado about Laura than she wished. His aleutkm went also to two others in Happy Valley. One companion in his clandestine affairs was Mrs. Ann Melton, a beautiful, well-to-do young woman who thought more of Tom Dula lhai\hfcr marriage lo James Melton, now only a name in the records. The other—Pauline Foster- was a cousin lo Laura and was employed by Ann Melton as a servant Tom Dula had met Ann Melton through Pauline. Besides the three women vying for Tom Dula's love, there was yet another—st-lv-' ' r '<• er Bob Cummings—who figured in tiie pentagon, .te - a in love, hopelessly, with Laura Foster. It was one spring morning, May 25 of 1866, that Laura's father awoke in their simple abode to find his daughter and a mare gone. First thoughts were of an elopement—but Tom Dula was stili in town! For almost three weeks there was no word of the whereabouts of this charming mountain girl. The-n, early in June, a horse was found lied to s U'ee in Bates Place. "The Bates Place was no residence," noles one writer, "but a thickly wooded section, popular as a lovers' rendezvous. And somebody identified the mare as Foster's Betty"— the missing horse. Discovery of the mare tout-heel off a gianl search thai ended half a mile away where a horse shied and snorted. There, in a tangle of laurels, a hidden grave was found. "That's her dress," cried Bob Cummings, eying Ihe rolling body of Laura Foster. She lay double and twisted, a deep stab in the bosom piercing all the way to her heart. Next day, Tom Dula was conspicuously missing from Happy Valley. Bul so were Jack Keaton, a former suitor of the victim, and Bob Cummings, along wilh Uvo others of Ihe community's popular young men. Anyone in Happy Valley could lake his pick about who was guilty, and why. It was a month later, in mid- July, thai Bub Cummings rode back into town, with Jack Adkins and Ben Ferguson, holding guard over two mi-n lied to their saddles. The prisoners were TOJII Dula and Jack Keaton. "I will charge 1'ht'se men with murdering Laura Footer," announced t'uminings, "and I also ask the arrest of -Mrs. James .Melton." It turned out that Cummings and the other two men had followed Dula and Keaton to a secret hiding plate in Tennessee. Kealon was turned tree, after proving an alibi, however, and Ann Mellon joined Dula in jail. None other than former Guv. Zebulon B. Vance, Dula's colonel in the Civil War, left his practice in CharloHe to defend his brave companion in the lost cause. Vance's first legal move was to transfer Ihe trial to Slates- ville from Wilkes County. Then he moved, successfully, that tho oases of Tom Dula and Ann .Melton, original co-defendants, be tried separately. Tom Dula went on trial. But some of the It-alimony was challenged and attacked, because statements by one of the slate's \\itnetses were admitted without corroboralion. "One telling piece of information established a motive for Dula," observes a writer. "He had suffered from venereal disease, and blamed this upon Laura Foster, He had declared, in Hie hearing of several; that he would 'put through whoever gave it to me." " The jury found Dula guilty as charged, but the trial was appealed to the state Supreme Court which ordered that a new trial be held. In the second trial Dula' again was convicted. A second appeal to the high court was granled, but tins time the jurists ruled thai the lower court trial had been conducted aecorcUng to the law. The Superior Court's judgment went inlo effect: ". . . that said Thomas Dula be taken to the jail of Iredell County when he came, there to remain until Friday the first day of May, 1868, and on that day he be taken to Ihe place of public execution- . , . and there be hanged by the neck until lie be dead." So Tom Dula, in kecking- with the judgment, was publicly hanged for the murder of Laura Foster. His execution occurred somewhere in the Monroe Street section of Statesville. Ana .Melton, who allegedly had conspired with Dida in the murder of Laura Foster, was subsequently tried in another county and found not guilty of the charge. One reason for her exoneration, it appears, was this note which Dula scribbled before hit execution: "Statement of Thomas C. Dula: I declare- that I am the only person that had a hand in the murder of Laura Foster." He wrote the note, ffiks W Happy Valley said, because h« really loved Ann Melton an<J wanted to suffer any punish- lor Ihe crime aloue.