The Murder of Thornton Tugwell

The Gazette
September 29, 1915

Young White Man Killed by Negroes

Thornton Tugwell, a prominent young white man of seven miles north of Farmerville, was shot and killed early last Wednesday morning by two negroes at a point on the Arkansas Southeastern Railroad about one mile south of the Tugwell home.

The first news of the killing reached Farmerville about nine o’clock Wednesday morning, when Bunk Nelson, on of the negroes accused of the killing, arrived in Farmerville and told a rambling story of a shooting affray which had occurred between Ivey McElroy, another negro, and Thornton Tugwell. The Nelson negro claimed that he heard but did not see the shooting and did not know whether anyone had been hurt or not. He was arrested and place in the parish jail, but a few hours later was removed by officers and conveyed to Shreveport for safe keeping.

As quickly as possible after news of the killing was received here, a party composed of Coroner J. G. Evans, Sheriff J. D. Miller, District Attorney H. B. Warren, and several other citizens, went to the Tugwell home for the purpose of holding an inquest and investigating the murder. Coroner J. G. Evans impaneled a Coroner’s Jury and, after examining the body of the deceased, and after examining several witnesses, rendered a verdict to the effect that “the deceased, Thornton Tugwell, came to his death by gun shot wounds inflicted by Bunk Nelson and Ivey McElroy; and recommend that they be charged with murder.

One of the witnesses examined by the coroner’s jury, a negro girl who cooks for the Tugwell family, stated that early that morning she saw the two negroes, both carrying shot guns, pass Mr. Tugwell’s house; that she went into the house and told Mr. Tugwell and he got his gun and followed them down the railroad track; and that was the last she saw of him alive.

The McElroy negro has not yet been captured. He was seen by a white man a few hours after the killing and he declares that the negro is wounded with small shot, and since that time no trace of him has been found.

Later in the day it developed that the Nelson negro had brought his gun to town and secreted it in a negro cabin, where it was found by parties who made a search for it. One barrel of the gun had been recently fired.

The general opinion is that both of the negroes fired on Tugwell with buckshot and that he shot the load of small shot which wounded the McElroy negro.

Mr. Tugwell was a very popular young man in the community where he lived and the entire country is aroused to white heat over his brutal murder.

The Gazette
October 6, 1915

One Hundred and Fifty Dollars Reward Offered for Negro Slayer

The fifty dollars reward offered last week by Sheriff J. D. Miller for the arest of Ivey McElroy, the negro who three weeks ago murdered Thornton Tugwell, has been increased to one hundred and fifty dollars, brothers of the murdered man habing agreed to put up the additional hundred dollars.

No trace of the negro has yet been found, but as the sheriff’s office here had mailed circulars offering the reward and giving a description broadcast over the country, it is hoped that he will soon be apprehended.

Ancient Murder Case Reopened Here After Twenty-Four Years

The Gazette
August 17, 1939

Rudolph Newson Waiting Trial For Tugwell Killing

Sheriff’s Office Catches Negro Wanted Here Since 1915 for Murder

A murder case that has lain unsolved for 24 years showed the first indication that the mystery that has shrouded the case would dissolve yesterday when Chief Criminal Deputy Sheriff George M. Edwards announced that he had caught one of the persons under suspicion.

Randolph Nelson, 49 year old negro, has been in jail here for two months. Mr. Edwards said, in connection with the murder of Thornton Tugwell, well-know citizen, at his home, near Conway community, eight miles north of Farmerverille, in 1915.

Mr. Edwards said that there had been no announcement concerning Nelson’s apprehension because he had feared that publicity concerning the negro’s arrest might interfere with the apprehension of another negro who was involved.

Follows McElroy’s Trail

He indicated that he had gotten a “lead” on Ivey McElroy, involved  in the case along with Nelson and that after trying to catch him by following his various leads as to his whereabouts, had been unable to catch him.

The negro was arrested in Monroe recently after P. D. Morgan, former citizen here who lives in Monroe, had informed Mr. Edwards that he had seen a negro on the streets there whom he remembered as being involved in the Tugwell case.

Checking upon Mr. Morgan’s suspicions, Mr. Edwards found that Mr. Morgan’s guess as to the identity of the negro was correct. Nelson was arrested for Mr. Edwards by the Monroe police and was transferred to the parish jail here shortly afterwards.

Murder Happened in 1915

The Tugwell murder happened in 1915 after Thornton Tugwell had encountered some difficulties with the negro McElroy. He warned the negro, after some dispute concerning money, that Mr. Tugwell said McElroy owned him, to stay off his property. In the difficulties that followed, Mr. Tugwell was killed.

Mr. Tugwell’s body was not found until several hours later. McElroy had disappeared. Nelson was arrested in Farmerville shortly afterwards but was later released. A grand jury some time later returned indictments against the two negroes.

Mr. Edwards stated yesterday that Nelson had lived for a time in El Dorado, Ark., later in Texas and New Mexico and had been living in Monroe about six months when apprehended.

The negro will remain in jail pending the meeting of the Union Parish Grand Jury in October.

Mr. Tugwell was the brother of M. R.  and O. L. Tugwell of Farmerville and A. C. Tugwell of Tugwell City.

The Gazette
September 14, 1939

Negro Indicted For Murder Committed 24 Years Ago

Rudolph Nelson, negro, was indicted by the Union Parish grand jury last week on a charge of murder, committed 24 years ago, when Thornton Tugwell a prominent white citizen of the Conway community, was slain.

Nelson has been in the parish jail here for several weeks having been located and caught by Deputy Sheriff George Miller Edwards, upon being informed of his whereabouts.

The indictment charges that Nelson, on September 15, 1915, killed and murdered in cold blood Thornton Tugwell.

At the time Tugwell was killed much excitement prevailed and this negro, together with another named Ivy McElroy, were implicated in the crime and were much hunted for a long time, but to no avail. The latter has never yet been found.

After 24 years, Nelson was located at Monroe, arrested by officers there and Deputy Edwards notified. He immediately transferred the negro to the jail in Farmerville.

The negro’s trial will presumably be set for the next regular petit jury term of Court in October.




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