Lee Thompson kills, buries wife for sewing money

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2016

It was Monday morning, March 29, 1943. Ernest Good answered a knock at his door. His relatively new neighbor who lived in the old Tom Reid home place, Lee Thompson, apologized for bothering him, but asked if it were possible for Good to take him to see his son.

It seems that Thompson’s wife, Mollie, had been missing for two days and he wanted to let his three children know, and to check out the possibility she had gone to visit with them without telling him. The couple did not own a vehicle.

Though conscious of gas rationing, Good used his Model A Ford to take Thompson to see his son, Paul, at his place of employment at Inman Mills and to alert the other two children. They returned home and began to question neighbors who might have seen her within the past two days.

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Mollie Thompson was a quiet, shy woman who told neighbors when moving into the neighborhood a few months earlier that she was a qualified seamstress. It did not take long for several neighbors to bring her both repair and original work.

Some neighbors felt there was a kind of uneasiness in Lee and Mollie’s relationship and they were fairly certain that his drinking probably had something to do with it. He had whiskey on his breath when he approached Good to carry him to visit his children.

When no one had seen Mollie Thompson at any point for several days, Good became suspicious that she may have come to harm and could be lying wounded or dead in local woods. He took his suspicions to Deputy Sheriff Frank Reid who lived on the southern edge of the community.

Two search parties were formed and searched far and wide for several days. Lee Thompson went with one of the search parties. When some men in the party asked if a thorough search in woods close by the house on the east side had been made, Thompson assured them that the other party had done so.

On Wednesday morning, April 7, Jess Allen, one of two black neighbors who had participated in the searches, walked in the close by woods. About 200 yards from the house, he noted some freshly moved dirt at the edge of a large brush pile. Moving some of the limbs he was able to determine that an entire area of soil had been recently dug and been covered over by the brush.

Shovels were brought to the site, and Mollie Thompson’s body was discovered buried about two and one-half feet under the ground. She had been shot in the back of the head but the bullet had not come through the front part of her skull.

While her body was being uncovered, and dirt removed so that it could be examined by the County Coroner, Lee Thompson disappeared.

The parties searched for Thompson in the local area to no avail. Most felt that, if he was responsible for Mollie’s death, he most likely had hightailed it far away from the grave site.

Ernest Good and another neighbor on Tugaloo Road, Tommy Davis, took responsibility for a mule and cow owned by the Thompsons.

Early Sunday morning, April 11, Ernest Good again had someone knock on his front door. The Sunday Greenville News deliveryman excitedly told him that the old Tom Reid home was burning down.

That night a cold rain smothered any glowing embers left over from the leaping flames from the old two-story home.

About 10:30 the next morning, Good and Davis came to the old barn on the back side of the burned down home to feed the mule and cow. Davis climbed into the loft and threw down part of a bale of hay.

Good lifted some flakes of the hay and walked into the open breezeway of the barn. He heard a muffled moan from one of the back stalls. That was not a sound made by a mule or cow.

Entering the stall, he discovered Lee Thompson lying in the dark corner, covered with blood. He had attempted to split his own throat but was still very much alive.

Sheriff Homer Bearden was notified and deputies came to arrest Thompson. He was taken to Greenville General Hospital and placed under guard for several days until he was in stable condition and able to be questioned about his wife’s murder and burial.

Thompson went on trial on Tuesday, September 7. He admitted killing his wife, but insisted that it was an accident. There was no unpleasantness between them, he said. He had been drinking for about two weeks and his wife was upset, as she usually was, with his drinking. He did not recall why, but said that he remembered taking his 22-caliber rifle and shooting three times in the house, and one of the bullets accidently hit her in the back of the head.

He testified that he threw down the rifle, ran over to his wife and hugged her to his chest. When he realized she was dead, he placed her body in a closet for a day before deciding to bury it. He said that Tobe Allen, the other black neighbor who was part of the search parties, helped him with the burial only.

He admitted to hiding out in backwoods behind Ernest Good after his wife’s body was found. He came back to the house on Saturday night to get a coat and two razors but did not indicate that he burned down the house.

He split his throat, hoping to die, but used his knife instead of the sharper razors.

Though he made no such admission in court, Gowensville neighbors felt he most probably demanded sewing money from Mollie in order to buy more whiskey and she refused. Whether the shooting was a deliberate action or an accident, her death most likely resulted from that supposition.

The jury deliberated for one hour and 43 minutes, returning a guilty verdict with a recommendation of mercy. Visiting Judge E.C. Dennis of Darlington delayed sentencing for a number of days before making it life imprisonment.

Tobe Allen was tried in the next session of court in October for accessory after the fact of murder and given a short sentence.