Murder of William Holbert

The following are newspaper accounts of the Murder of William Holbert, a Wirmingham Grist Mill operator. Generously contributed by Gary Norris.

April 1, 1932 Livingston Enterprise

Officers Seek Pair as Holbert Killer

Citizens Show Ire After William Holbert Found with Brains Blown Out
Wife and Daughter Attacked
Citizens Raise Funds to Push Search
Robbery Assumed Motive for Crime
Money Missing from Dresser
Officers Working on Theory Three Men Entered Home, Robbed, Killed, Attached
and Fled.
Bloodhounds Fail to Get Trace
Fear of Lynching Result of Criminal Discovery

Two men closely surrounded by circumstances are being sought by Overton
County officers today as possible murderers of William L. Holbert, 53,
Wirmingham grist mill operator, who was found slain at his home Saturday

Mrs. William L. Holbert, invalid widow of an Eleventh District grist mill
operator, and their daughter, Bernice, 21, who were attacked at their home
sometime Friday night, March 25th, after Mr. Holbert had been killed were
reported in a critical condition late Thursday, March 26th.

Following closely upon clues revealed at the scene, Overton County officers
lengthened their cordon Wednesday to overlap adjoining counties seeking 3
men believed to be Holbert's killers.

Sometime Friday night, three men are supposed to have entered the Holbert
home with robbery as a motive and meeting resistance, perhaps, blew out
Holbert's brains with a small gauge shotgun, clubbing the invalid Mrs.
Holbert, she receiving a broken arm and beating a daughter of Holbert,
Bernice, 21, and fracturing her skull. She had not regained consciousness
Thursday, and is in a critical condition. Doctors declared however, that
she had a chance to live.

Livingston Enterprise article of April 1, 1932

Hold Mass Meeting

Angered residents in and near Wirmingham held a mass meeting Tuesday to
first offer a $200 reward for the killers of William Holbert. The fund was
instead given over to aid in the search by expert criminologists if
necessary and was swelled to $250 Thursday. Although Sheriff Johnson and
his deputies working hard under his direction had combed the county for 2
men who identities were not revealed, no trace was reported as being

Bloodhounds were called to the scene. Saturday failed in finding a trace of
the criminals.

Found by Son

The scene was discovered at about 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning by Homer
Holbert, as son, who had come to do his usual feeding chores at the place.
A yellow dog, property of the Holberts, is missing. Mrs. Belle McDonald,
widow of the late John McDonald, lived with the Holberts, but was not at
home at the time the murder was committed. Four one-dollar bills were
missing from a box in the dresser drawer, but the fiends overlooked a
ten-dollar bill.

Mrs. McDonald was robbed of a $100 pension check last summer, but could not
identify the thief at that time. The check was never cashed. It was
thought obviously that the same party was implicated in the Friday night
crime with robbery evidently the ulterior motive.

The Holberts lived near Bethsaida in the 11th District near the Pickett
County Line and also near Wirmingham. Mr. Holbert was recognized in his
community as a hard working and honest man and was said to have many friends
and few if any enemies.

Alpine Graduate

Mrs. Holbert has been an invalid for about 15 years, and was helpless in the
attack and in the dark on her husband and daughter. She was likewise
helpless in getting aid before her son came to feed Saturday morning. She
called to him upon his arrival, shouted the death message to him thought the
cold morning air.

Bernice, who may succumb to her wounds, was a graduate of Alpine Institute
in the Class of 1931.

Funeral services for William Holbert were conducted Sunday at Bethsaida
where the burial took place. He is survived, besides his wife and daughter
and son, by a brother, Bowland Holbert, of Crossville and a sister.

Violence in the form of a mob which officers would be unable to handle, was
feared should the criminals be found.

Search Continues for Trio of Murderers
Bernice Holbert, Dead Man's Daughter, Ignorant of Killings and Attack
$250 Reward out for Three Youths Under Indictments
Crime Most Gruesome in Many Years

Overton County officers under the direction of Sheriff Fowler Johnson continue searching for a trio of suspected murderers of Wiliam Holbert, 53, Eleventh District grist mill operator who was slain March 26 at his home near Wirmingham.

Bernice Holbert, 21, brutally beaten in the midnight massacre is still suffering from what doctors believe to be a concussion of the brain. She remained unconscious for several hours in the Alpine Infirmary and has not yet been told of anything that happened on the fatal night. If she remembers anything, she has not mentioned it. Attendants have kept from her the fact that her father has been killed, although she does know that "something terrible has happened and that they are keeping something from her." In her critical condition, doctors believed it unwise to tell her of her father's murder and the circumstances surrounding her own attack. Mrs. Holbert who was also attacked at the time, received a broken arm, bruises, and lacerations is recovering.

Seek Three Youths
Officers are searching for three youths believed to be implicated in the fiendish crime. They are:
Lonzy Hayes, 28.
L. Otis Smith, 17.
Ord Winningham, 26.

Lonzy Hayes, fair complected, dark brown hair, light blue eyes, short and stocky, weighs about 120- 135 pounds, small feet. Hayes is under indictment in Overton County. An extra reward of $50 is offered for his arrest.

L. Otis Smith has a fair complexion, dark brown hair, gray or blue eyes, black hair, five feet ten inches tall, weighs from 135 - 150, and is under indictment in Pickett County.

Ord Winningham has brown eyes, dark hair, weighs from 130 - 150 and is said to be under indictment in Cumberland County.

A total of $250 has been offered for the arrest of the three youths, if they are found guilty and circulars have been printed giving their description in detail and will be sent to officers all over the state and in other states.

William Layfatte Holbert, born January 08, 1876, was the son of Jerimiah "Jerry" Holbert and Clarinda Dishman

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