Dinner, Movie, and a Murder
Updated: Jan 1
Hometown Murders & Mysteries | February 2022
We have a doozy of a tale for the February Hometown Murders & Mysteries leading up to Valentine's Day. In fact, part of this story took place in February 1935, and that is what first grabbed our attention. When searching for a story to cover, we usually try to start an archive search in the month we are working toward; we think it gives the narrative a little more connection and nuance.
Hold on to your hats and your hooverettes because this tale is full of influential family connections, old money, sky-high emotions, and generally like watching an approaching train wreck from which you can't tear your eyes away from watching!
Let's kick it off by introducing the story's couple, John Truesdale Wilson and Eva Cooper Wilson. We will refer to them as Truesdale and Eva in this telling.
Mr. and Mrs. John Truesdale Wilson
Truesdale was born in 1898 to William (Floyd) and Doretta Wilson, who lived on a farm in Nancy, Pulaski County, Kentucky. According to his WWI draft card, Truesdale had brown hair, blue eyes and was stoutly built. Other accounts describe him as a very handsome, intelligent, and driven man with a sophisticated southern drawl. Truesdale held many important positions in the community, including business owner, manager at the Monticello plant Wood-Mosaic Company, certified teacher (Southern Baptist Convention), postmaster commission, and later the manager of First and National Farmers Bank here in Somerset, Kentucky. In addition, we found evidence that he was on the board of directors for the local airport for nearly forty years and was involved in the Kentucky Oil Corporation, Peoples State Bank in Monticello, the Chevrolet Company Somerset, and the Farmers Tobacco Corporation in Somerset. Truesdale was said to be instrumental in bringing Palm Beach to Somerset, which helped put food on the table in many homes across Somerset and Pulaski County (including ours!) Truesdale would eventually be listed as a noteworthy banker by the Marquis Who's Who. It is undeniable that even a century after he was born, if one says the name Truesdale Wilson, the people who have roots in Pulaski County will know precisely who you are talking about.
Eva was no slouch either. Eva was born to David and Lucy Cooper around 1895 and grew up with her family in Russell County, but her influential family reach spanned the entire region. Eva was related to the Tarter and Weddle families of Pulaski County, the Jaspers of Somerset, and many other relatives that held past and present elected offices. It was said that there was probably no more powerful and influential family in Pulaski and surrounding counties. People described Eva as beautiful and intelligent, high-strung, and sometimes a bit over the top; some would even dare say crazy or insane.
Eva and Truesdale were married in 1917 and made their home in Pulaski County on Columbia Road in Nancy for the most, if not all, of their marriage. As the years passed, they had three children together, two sons and one daughter. Eva said that her marriage to Truesdale was a happy one – until 1930 when Truesdale met Marie Dutton Burns. Then, everything started falling apart for the couple and almost everyone around them.
Dial M(arie) for murder
After the birth of their last child (perhaps before), Eva started having health problems and periodically stayed in the Somerset General Hospital for days at a time. During the hospital stays, Truesdale would call the hospital to check in on her when he wasn't there. He had a job and care of the children, so it is only reasonable that he couldn't be with her in the hospital 24/7. These hospital stays occurred during the mid-late 1920s – early 1930s when folks with telephones needed a switchboard operator to connect them to whomever they wished to speak. It just so happens that Mrs. Marie Dutton Burns was working as an operator when Truesdale would call to check on Eva in the hospital, and it is reported that this was how the initial connection between the two was made, according to Eva. However, in a formal statement to the police, Truesdale said that he had not met Marie until months after he and Eva separated.
Mrs. Marie Dutton Burns, we will refer to her as Marie, was born in Pulaski County in the Crab Orchard area in 1903 but ended up married to Chester Burns in 1922 and lived with him for some time in Texas and Michigan. Marie and Chester had one daughter together before Marie moved back to Pulaski County, began working for the telephone company, and eventually filed for divorce from Chester. The divorce was granted on May 11, 1931, on the grounds of abandonment. However, Chester didn't respond to the divorce summons, so it was processed in abstention.
As mentioned, Eva claimed that she and Truesdale were happy until he met Marie and became involved with her "while I was in the hospital in 1930". Eva said she became aware of the "unnatural and unmoral" relationship between the two after returning home from a hospital stay. Eva said she confronted Truesdale in which he would not admit or deny the affair. She said she filed for divorce on the grounds of cruelty in August 1930, after she could "bear it no more." Eva said she filed only to make Truesdale realize what he was doing to her was wrong and was an attempt to save the marriage instead of ending it. After the divorce was filed, Eva said that a relative told her that he saw Truesdale and Marie parked out in the country setting on the ground by the vehicle. Afterward, Eva said she had another talk with Truesdale about the relationship with Marie, and that is when he said, "she had me in her spell." Eva apparently had half the county watching Truesdale's every move; she said that she knew that Marie would visit Truesdale in his office until the small hours of the morning. On one occasion, her neighbor, Mrs. Garner, and her nephew took Eva for a drive at night on Crab Orchard Road, where they allegedly found Truesdale and Marie parked on the side of the road. Truesdale was also seen by a relative at Cumberland Falls with Marie sitting on Truesdale's lap in the one-seater car.
Eventually, the divorce proceedings played out after Eva had the papers amended to include adultery, and the divorce from Truesdale was granted in February 1931. Eva was granted custody of their daughter and $30 a month in alimony. Truesdale was granted custody of their two sons, John and James.
Remember Marie's divorce? Her divorce was final around three months after Eva and Truesdale's on May 11, 1931.
Shooting on Oak Street
On May 13, 1931, two days after Marie obtained her divorce from Chester, Eva confronted Marie on Oak Street in downtown Somerset and shot her twice in the back. Marie said she saw Eva follow her and Beulah Girdler as they walked downtown the Friday afternoon before the shooting. Marie and Beulah attended a funeral at the First Methodist Church, where Eva followed them in and sat behind them during the service. Marie left the church and headed east on Oak Street, Eva following close behind. When Eva caught up to Marie, she drew her .32 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol and began firing. Marie had two pictures in her hand and used them to knock the gun from Eva's hands but was unsuccessful. Eva was able to get off three shots before the glass in the picture frames shattered and cut Eva on the hand.
Deputy Otto Humble passed by in his car when he saw the two women struggling for the gun. Humble stopped and disarmed Eva. Deputy Humble said that Eva tried to turn the pistol on herself and said, "I'm going to end it all – she destroyed my home," speaking about Marie. Deputy Humble took Eva into custody and was on his way to jail with her when her "highly nervous condition" caused him to take Eva to the hospital instead.
After the Deputy took Eva and headed toward the jail, Marie started walking to College Street, where she waved down a grocery delivery truck. The driver, Sam Daulton, was asked to drive her home, but when he eventually noticed all the blood on the back of her dress, he took her on to the hospital, where she was treated for two gunshot wounds. One of the shots "passed through the apex of her left lung, lodging under her shoulder blade," The second bullet "entered the middle of the back and ranged downward, stopping in the abdominal muscle." The bullet under the shoulder was removed, but the bullet in the abdominal muscle was not removed and posed no danger. Marie stayed in the hospital for a few weeks, then released and expected to recover fully.
Eva's version of the story was that she was walking down the street when Marie bumped into her and assaulted her with two picture frames. After Marie knocked Eva down twice, she stooped over to pick up the pictures, and Eva fired twice, then the struggle for the gun began. Finally, Eva said that Marie said she would take the gun away from her and "blow my d--n brains out."
Eva was charged with malicious shooting and wounding with the intent to kill with a $2000 bond. Eva paid the bond and was released. However, she was indicted by the grand jury on May 25, 1931.
After leaving the hospital, Marie went back to Texas, where she sent a letter to the Pulaski County authorities asking for the case against Eva to be dismissed. In short, Marie said she had discussed the charges with Truesdale, and they thought it would be best to avoid the notoriety that would accompany a trial. Marie said she would come back to Pulaski County to testify if the case moved forward and made it known that she was afraid that Eva would try to kill her again. Marie also said, "I also wish to state that it is my belief that this woman is actually irrational as no sane person would have taken the action she did against me without any cause whatsoever, and rather than get involved in a case where insanity will evidently be the plea and where I would have to testify that I believed it true, as to her condition, I thought it best to suggest the above course." It is worth noting that Marie did not ask for a peace bond (a restraining order) to be placed on Eva. Judge RC Tarter subsequently dismissed the case against Eva after reviewing Marie's July 21, 1931, letter.
Judge RC Tarter was one of Eva's many influential relatives mentioned earlier.
Far, far away – but not far enough
Sometime after the two divorce settlements, the shooting, and dismissal of attempted murder charges in July 1931, Marie returned to the area. She and Truesdale announced their marriage and moved to Wayne County in 1932. The two made their home in a house on Cave Street with Truesdale's two boys, and we presume Marie's young daughter. The residence was located closer to Truesdale's workplace and farther away from Eva.
Later, Eva would say she was harassed and attacked by Marie on several occasions between 1931 and 1935. Eva also said that Marie was continually not taking care of Eva's two sons and made them sleep in beds with bugs, which only exacerbated her nervous condition. The relationship between Eva, Truesdale, and Marie appeared to remain volatile through the next four years until it all came to a head on February 24, 1935.
Off-screen downtown drama
On Sunday, February 24, 1935, Eva claims she woke up ill that morning, remained in bed for the better part of the day and had no intention of going out. Later, after lunchtime, some of her daughter's friends came by the house wanting Betty to go to the theater with them. Eva did not allow Betty to go with them but decided to take her herself. She and Betty got ready and went to the Virginia Theater [also called the Somerset Theatre] for an afternoon show or two.
Meanwhile, one of Truesdale's friends (and his assistant) from the Wood-Mosaic Company in Monticello, Carl Huff, said that he and a woman named Lucy Tuggle had lunch at Truesdale and Marie's home on Cave Street in Monticello. After they finished the meal, the four decided to drive to Somerset to see a movie.
According to Eva, she and Betty were seated in the theater when she saw Truesdale, Marie, and a couple she did not know enter the theater and set four or five rows in front of her and Betty. However, she said Marie noticed her and Betty as she passed by and made a face at them. Eva said it was the first time she had seen Marie and Truesdale out together since their marriage, disturbing her. She said that Marie continued to turn around and make faces at her, and eventually, Betty started to cry for her daddy. Finally, Marie, Truesdale, and the couple they were with got up and proceeded out of the theater; as they passed, Marie supposedly leaned down toward Eva's face and stuck her tongue out at her. Betty began crying harder after her daddy at that time. After that, Eva said she didn't know what had happened. She remembers that Truesdale was standing in front of her with his hands up, and an officer asked her for the gun.
Carl Huff, Truesdale's friend (and assistant), said that after they were seated, everyone but Lucy realized they had already seen the movie that was getting ready to play, so they decided to go to Danville instead of staying to watch the film. Carl said he didn't see Eva until after hearing the first shot. Carl said that Eva was about four feet away from Marie when she pulled off four shots in Marie's back. He said Marie fell forward, and a policeman immediately took charge of Eva. Carl and Lucy testified that Eva told the police officer, "let me stay and watch her die." Three other witnesses, not related to any of the parties, said that Eva only said, "I surrender," and handed the gun to patrolman Norfleet.
Marie was taken directly to the Somerset General Hospital, where she died from the injuries fifteen minutes after arrival. Eva was taken to jail and held on a murder charge. Due to the severity of the charge, the Judge denied the request for bond.
Custody hearing and bond
Around March 6, 1935, while Eva remained in jail, Truesdale petitioned the court for custody of their daughter, who was living with Eva's relatives. The Judge did not award him custody and said he could petition the court after Eva's trial and the jury's verdict was returned. By March 13, Eva's attorney had successfully petitioned for bond on the grounds of poor health and that she had been "irrational about anything concerning her domestic difficulties." Her doctor testified that he had been treating her since 1926 and said she suffered from "chronic appendicitis and affected tonsils, and two years ago when he treated her, he noticed symptoms of tuberculosis." Judge Sandusky ended up granting her a $10,000 bond, and she was released until her trial date.
Trial set for Lincoln County
On May 17, the Commonwealth requested a change of venue from Pulaski County. The prosecution said that "the homicide took place in the entrance of the Virginia Theater, which is a very public place; that news thereof immediately spread in the county; the unusual interest was manifest in the case at the time and since, due to the fact that the victim was the wife of JT Wilson and that the defendant was his former wife; that the two Somerset newspapers, each of which has wide circulation in Pulaski County, published accounts containing all details of the homicide, and many of the news articles concerning the killing have appeared in the two newspapers so that the entire population of Pulaski County has become acquainted with the homicide." The petition alleged that the defendant is a member of one of the most prominent families in the county and named members of the Tarter, Cooper, Jasper, and Weddle families. The petition went on to describe several rumors of propaganda, including:
Truesdale connived with Eva and procured Marie to commit the crime
Truesdale carried a large amount of life insurance on Marie and plotted with Eva to get the money
That Truesdale spent the entire night before the murder with Eva
Truesdale and Eva were to be married to each other soon
Marie had broken up the home before the murder
Commonwealth's attorney J.M. Kennedy said that on May 4, Carl Dick, a cousin of Eva, spoke to Truesdale on the square asking him if he would testify against Eva. Truesdale said yes, and Carl told him, "Be careful what you swear if you want to get off the witness stand, and that goes for your father, too."
Not only did the prosecution ask the court to move the trial from Pulaski, but Kennedy also went on to request that the venue not be moved to Russel County, Wayne County, McCreary County, or Rockcastle County, claiming that the defendant, her family, and attorney had reaches all across those counties and a fair trial could not be held in any one of them.
Judge Sandusky granted the change of venue and moved it to Lincoln; the trial was scheduled for June 1935.
Eva acquitted by the Lincoln County jury
After a three-day trial for the murder of Marie Dutton Wilson, Eva Cooper Wilson was set free.
The trial opened on a Wednesday, and the verdict was returned at 9:35 on Friday night, after deliberation of nearly three hours by the jury. Her attorneys put forth the temporary insanity defense caused by Marie breaking up her home, the mistreatment of Eva's children, and the continued harassment and threatening attitude toward Eva.
The prosecution had asked for the death penalty and attempted to show that the shooting had been premediated for as long as three years and claimed that Eva was not insane at the time of the shooting.
After the trial
After Eva was set free, she resided in Danville with Bettie (Eva Elizabeth) before marrying again in 1947. She lived with her husband in Russell County, near where she grew up. Eva died on March 23, 1970, at the Somerset City Hospital. Her husband, Hollis Marion Smith outlived her by 13 years and remained in Russell County.
Truesdale married a woman named Mary Carneal (Wilson), who coincidently worked for Truesdale as a stenographer at the Wood-Mosaic Company in Monticello (when he was married to Marie). From all accounts we can find, Truesdale and Mary spent the rest of their days together. Truesdale and all of his wives are buried in the Somerset Cemetery.
We know that oldest of the Wilson sons, John David, was killed at the young age of 25 in Papua New Guinea on February 15, 1944. At the time of John's death, he was a 1st Lt of the 499 AAF Bomb Squad in World War II. James Truesdale Wilson went on to be successful member of our community and passed in 1979. During his lifetime, James was a business owner and a bank (vice) president like his father. Tragically though, James was killed instantly when the small aircraft he was piloting struck a treetop in Ferguson near the airport and went down into a hilly pasture. The site of the crash was about six-tenths of a mile northwest of the airport runway between Kelley’s Crossing and Sinking Creek. James was only 59 years old at the time of his death.
Eva and Truesdale's daughter, Betty (Eva Elizabeth Wilson Caplin), died in Somerset in 1995 at the age of 68 after an eight-month illness. She, along with her mother, father, brother James, and two stepmothers are all buried in the Somerset Cemetery. John is buried at the Mill Springs National Cemetery in Nancy.
Little Bettie Burns, Marie and Chester's daughter, as far as we can find, was living with her mother's sister and brother-in-law (Evert and Myrtie Girdler) on Crab Orchard Road in 1940. We lost track of her after that.
Truesdale's parents were the second generation of current-day Haney's Apple
dale family farm, which we absolutely adore! Oreida Haney was a dear friend to our family, and we still referred to her as the Godmother of Nancy. Since her passing in 2020, the apple dale has expanded to include a café in the house she lived in – you can find us having lunch or meeting friends there year-round!
As always, we welcome community feedback and insight. If you have a connection, a correction, or more to add, please leave us a comment or email us at email@example.com. Unfortunately, in most cases, we have to rely on what the newspapers and other written historical resources tell us, but we all know that is only part of the story.