ATHENS THRU THE YEARS
What Happened to Mr. Dimmitt?
By Anne Adams
The circumstances seemed clear. There was a scene of a scuffle, traces of blood on leaves and tufts of hair on bushes, and tracks that led to the edge of a lake. Also, a man was missing. Sound like a TV crime drama? Certainly could be – except this was real and it took place in 1884 near what is now Edom.
As related in his 1929 Henderson County history, Athens Judge J.J. Faulk explained that in 1884 an Edom area teacher named Dimmitt (first name not mentioned in the accounts) had reportedly “grossly insulted” one of his girl students. The girl told her parents, and as word spread around the enraged neighborhood, Dimmitt fled, followed by a posse. They caught him, and then eventually returned to town – without Dimmitt.
“In a day or two,” Judge Faulk wrote, “the whole country was aroused to the highest pitch of excitement.” An investigation was ordered to find out what had happened. A search party set out.
The searchers then discovered that as the posse with Dimmit in custody had stopped at a house to get dinner, there was a report of gunfire nearby. Tracks showed that the posse left the road to enter a dense thicket where they halted. Then, wrote Judge Faulk, “It was discovered that they had dismounted there and a large hickory club had been cut down and there was evidence of a scuffle all around there as if they engaged in a fight or conflict of some kind.”
As they followed the tracks from the scene, the searchers discovered blood on the ground and also there were hairs attached to some of the bushes along the way. The tracks ceased about a half-mile through the woods to the banks of a lake and nearby was found a shirt similar to one Dimmitt had been seen wearing.
When the posse members had returned to town without the prisoner they were arrested and held, but all of them refused to talk.
Judge Faulk and his firm were engaged to defend them and after an investigation came to believe that events did point to Dimmitt’s murder by these men. “Nothing was lacking,” wrote Judge Faulk, “except his dead body and we expected to see it brought in at any moment after the lake was drained.”
This was exactly what Faulk told one of the prisoners, Jeff Ford, and then asked for his account of the events. According to Jeff Ford, the posse members were not guilty of Dimmitt’s murder. What they had done was to “take him out in the bushes and give him a ‘damn’ good whipping and then turned him loose.” He had seen last Dimmitt walking off through the woods toward Canton.
But, asked Faulk, how do you explain the gunfire, the blood-stained hickory stick, the blood found on the ground, and the finding of the shirt? Jeff said he could not explain that but repeated his innocence. Faulk repeated that the body would soon be found.
Jeff Ford replied, “’They’ll never find it because he is not dead and if Judge Cauthron will grant me bond I’ll get on my horse and bring him back here.’”
Faulk said that he was somewhat encouraged by Ford’s reassurances and as it turned out the prisoners were granted bail. Ford got out first, and he set out after assuring his community he would find Dimmitt.
And he did – several weeks later he located Dimmitt working on a farm and after he was finally persuaded to return he was no-billed by a grand jury.
So what about the blood? It turned out that a local resident had a mare and mule colt some two to three years old that had run out into the woods. As Judge Faulk wrote: “…the owner had sterilized the mule and it followed its mother all over the woods, the wound was left bleeding and traveling around after its mother, blood was dropped at different places.” Also, since the animals drank from the lake, that explained the blood there. So the blood was from the mule, and the hair on the bushes was probably from passing horses or cows. The bloody hickory stick they found had been used in the “damn good whipping” which even Dimmitt admitted had happened, thus verifying Ford’s story. There was no explanation for the shirt.
Faulk concluded his story: “The books tell us that a case built upon strong circumstantial evidence is the strongest and most reliable. Ever since this case coming under my personal observation, I have been afraid of circumstantial evidence. Circumstances, of course, don’t lie, but witnesses may be mistaken in stating the circumstances.”