Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I Only Wish I'd Done It Sooner: The Murder of a Brick Worker

By David Buster


On the night of May 18, 1911, John Woods of Thurber stayed the night with one Mrs. Alice Beatty of Millsap. Woods was there visiting Mrs. Beatty’s daughter and his paramour, Pearl Little. Pearl had been staying with her mother as she had recently separated from her husband.

Thurber Brick Kiln & Smokestack

Early the next morning, Woods left to catch the train to Weatherford. In route to the station, he encountered an old friend, Alfred Little. Woods and Little both worked in the Thurber brick plant. The men lived near one another with their families until the death of Woods’s wife, when he became a boarder in the Little household. Some might say this is where the trouble began. Alfred Little did not have reminiscing old times in mind when he met John Woods that fateful morning. No, Little was there to confront him about something else, something much more meaningful. Little felt Woods had done what no man should. He had violated the ancient “Code of Honor.”

On the morning of May 19, 1911, Alfred Little unloaded both barrels of a double-barreled shotgun into Woods’s unsuspecting body. The first shot entered his upper torso and stretched all the way down to his intestines. The second shot was even more brutal, tearing away part of Woods’s head. Needless to say, Alfred Little wanted to make sure he accomplished his task. After hearing the shots, Mrs. Little ran to the scene, throwing herself across the prostrate body of Woods, and weeping profusely. Her husband, Alfred, looked on and said nothing.

As time passed and news of the killing spread, a crowd converged on the area where Alfred Little watched over the dead body of John Woods. He stated that he had no regrets in killing Woods and was only sorry that he had not done so sooner. Little stood there approximately two hours, warning the spectators to keep their distance. To be sure that they would heed his command, Little kept both barrels of his shotgun loaded. He refused to surrender to any officer, except the Parker County Sheriff, fearing that if he handed himself over to anyone else he would be lynched by the gathering mob. When Sheriff Gilbert arrived at the crime scene, Little handed over his gun and was taken to the county jail in Weatherford. What appeared to be an open and shut murder case was about to become a very complicated ordeal all because of the “unwritten law.”

Up until 1973, according to Article 1220 of the Texas Penal Code, “A homicide is justifiable when committed by the husband upon the husband of anyone taken in adultery with the wife; provided the killing takes place before the parties to the act of adultery have separated.” However, in murder cases provoked by a spouse’s infidelity a “Code of Honor” or the “unwritten law” was often presented as a defense argument. Simply stated, the “unwritten law” is a hypothetical rule that a man who takes the life of his wife’s paramour or daughter’s seducer is not guilty of any criminal transgression.

Parker County District Court subpoena summoning Thurber residents to testify in the trial of Alfred Little.

The trial, in which Little’s attorneys would invoke the unwritten law as a line of defense, was sensational to say the least. Lasting over a week, the district court case summoned 185 witnesses with witness fees amounting to $617.73. Sixty-five of those subpoenaed were residents of Thurber and the number included Little’s and Woods’s co-workers, neighbors, boarders, and other acquaintances. In addition, the state called on Little’s mother-in-law, Alice Beatty, as a prosecuting witness. The witness, jury, and other miscellaneous fees ran the cost of the trial to almost $1,000. Almost one year after the incident, May 4, 1912, the jury in the Alfred Little-John Woods murder case reached its verdict. “We the jury find the defendant, Alf Little not guilty.”

Pearl and Alfred Little divorced after the Wood’s affair. Alfred lived in Thurber through the 1920s. With the closing of the Thurber Brick Company he moved to Schiller Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago where he found work at another brick yard. Pearl Little remarried Mr. Will Baxter and resided in Parker County before relocating to an assisted living facility in Fort Worth, where she lived until age 91.