Wednesday, February 25, 2009

"The Goat Castle Murder"


Years ago I read a book called " Natchez On the Mississippi" by Harnett T. Kane. The book,
written in 1947, gives the history of the first settlers of Natchez. Not only did I fall in love with Harnett Kane's writing, I fell in love with the town of Natchez. It would not be until I returned to live in Mississippi, that I would get to visit Natchez. I go there often now. It is a pretty place filled with gorgeous homes that were built before " The War" as it's referred to there.

One home that is no longer standing was called "Glenwood", though it was better known in its later years as:
" The Goat Castle". I was told about this place and its famous history by a lady at the historical society who gave me a copy of a small paperback book written by Carolyn Vance Smith and Sim C. Callon titled: The Goat Castle Murder". The title is a little bit deceiving as the murder took place next door at " Glenburnie" not at "Glenwood"(Goat Castle).
On August 4, 1932, Jane Surget Merrill better known as Jennie Merrill was shot dead around 6:30 P.M. in her home "Glenburnie". She was a sixty-eight year old, eccentric, aristocratic, wealthy spinster from one of the oldest families in Natchez.



The graves of General Thomas P. Dockery and his daughter Octavia Dockery, located in the Natchez City Cemetery. The inscription on Octavia's stone reads: Octavia Dockery Mistress of Goat Castle



Eventually, her two next door neighbors at "Goat Castle" would be wrongly charged with her murder, bringing world wide attention to the case. Richard(Dick) Dana and Octavia Dockery
had aristocratic backgrounds themselves and had at one time been in a group of four friends who were inseparable. Jennie Merrill, Octavia Dockery, Dick Dana and Duncan Minor had been in their youth, the toast of Natchez! Always together, all from elite families, all expected to soar high in their adulthood. It was not to be. All would become eccentric and two would become destitute.



No one seems to know just exactly where the friendship started to go downhill but after they had all become aloof adults and began exhibiting strange behavior, Jennie and Duncan became bitter enemies with Octavia and Dick. It was the well known feud between them ,that led to Octavia and Dick being arrested for Jennie's murder.


Jennie Merrill and Duncan Minor, who everyone claimed was a look- a- like to Clark Gable, were second cousins, cousins who fell in love. Duncan's mother was vehemently opposed to the marriage. It is rumored that they did indeed marry later in another state and kept it secret.

For the last twenty years of Jennie Merrill's life, Duncan Minor rode his horse every evening at sunset to spend the night at "Glenburnie" with Jennie, leaving at sunrise.It was Duncan who discovered Jennie's body when he arrived to spend the night.


Octavia was the daughter of General Thomas P. Dockery, a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant. So close that in 1881, the former President Grant, escorted Octavia to one of New York City's Grandest Balls. In her twenties, Octavia was a social butterfly attending parties and balls in New Orleans, Vicksburg, Natchez, New York and even Paris. Once an aspiring poet and writer she became a wretched human being as the years past. She became house mates with Dick Dana in the abandoned, but once lovely Glenwood, now in shambles with no running water, yet still full of beautiful furniture once belonging to Robert E. Lee's family. There were leather bound books belonging to Gen. Lee that eventually became chew toys for the goats roaming freely in the house. They also chewed the rockers off Gen. Lee's baby cradle.


The suave Duncan Minor........





Dick and Octavia on a Victorian Sofa with their house pets.


Richard Henry Clay "Dick" Dana was said to have been a tremendous concert pianist with a great future in music ahead of him. After graduating from Vanderbilt he went to study music in New York City and sang in the Christ Church Episcopal Choir. Then his ambition to be a Concert Pianist was abandoned after a window slammed shut on his hand crushing two fingers. His hand was left deformed and he returned to Natchez a broken man. He began to exhibit very strange behavior that would probably today be diagnosed as Schizophrenia. Conversations with imaginary people, he refused to bathe or change clothes. He let both his hair and beard grow long and unkempt. Octavia had him declared insane to keep him from losing "Glenwood" for back taxes and became his legal guardian. They started to raise chickens and goats along with stray dogs and cats letting all the animals have free reign of the house.



Jeannie Merrill it turned out was not murdered by her friends/enemies Dick and Octavia.

The murderer was a black man named George Pearls who had gone with an accomplice, Emily Burns owner of a Natchez rooming house to "borrow" some money from Miss Merrill. Emily Burns confessed that Jennie refused to give George Pearls any money and then reached for a pistol laying on a side board at which time he fatally shot her. George Pearls was himself shot and killed by a Pine Bluff, Arkansas sheriff's deputy three days later. Emily Burns was convicted of being an accomplice and served eight years.



Jennie Merrill left her entire estate which included two hundred and fifty thousand dollars cash,
Glenburnie Plantation and two Louisiana plantations to Duncan Minor.

Duncan Minor lived seven more years and willed the estate back to Jennie's family upon his death.

Dick Dana continued to exist in destitute squalor with Octavia being known as the " Wild Man of Goat Castle" until his death in 1948 at age 77 , from Pneumonia.

Octavia lived alone at Goat Castle for another six months dying at age 84 in April 1949.



Octavia's family held an auction at Goat Castle after her death where the remaining antiques,
Oil Paintings, rare books, a table and lamp belonging to Mrs. Jefferson Davis who was a relative of Octavia's sister's husband, along with letters written by Civil War Generals Lee, Grant and
Dockery and President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, brought Fifteen Thousand Dollars.


I have often wondered how four young people, close friends, with all the advantages in life to help them excel, all became extremely eccentric people in their mid life years. What were the odds of that happening? All four are buried in Natchez City Cemetery.


30 comments:

Cynthia said...

Fascinating story. I have the same question about how a person's life can unravel. Wonderful detail here...and the murder did not take place at the goat castle afterall...hum..."Glenwood" gives a feeling of estate grandure while "Goat Castle" evokes the excentric...finally, I wonder on the truth of the story. Why did the police officer shoot the accused man? That means there was no trial...I think this would make an interesting movie. Thanks for sharing your porch swing. <3

Poetikat said...

I would think their eccentricities may have been present in their youths, though perhaps not quite as apparent. They must have been drawn to each other by their mutual quirkiness at that time. Would you agree?

Great story - really intriguing.

Kat

TheWritersPorch said...

Cynthia....Mr. Pearls was said to have pulled a gun on the deputy .After finding papers on him showing he was in recently in Natchez,Pine Bluff called Natchez.
The gun turned out to be the Merrill murder weapon.

Kat....that is exactly what I have always concluded.That would explain not only thier friendship as youth's but also the paranoia and bitterness that developed in later years.

Sandi McBride said...

Now that was an exciting story and one that you gave us the answer to! Thank you it was wonderfully told.
(And he did look a bit like Clark Gable!)
Sandi

Dave King said...

What an intriguing story, made all the more so by the excellent n arration and well-chosen illustrations. Enjoyed the read.

NCmountainwoman said...

What a fascinating story! I just love tales of the eccentric Southern gentry.

TheWritersPorch said...

Dave, Sandi, Carolyn......

Thank you, I love this story and love being able to share it! There are many stories like this around the deep south and I will tell more later.

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

What a whirlwind of a story! I agree with Cynthia, this might make for an interesting movie.

Jessica James said...

Another great tale dug up from the pages of history and dusted off for all of us to read.
Thanks, Carol.
And BTW, I had extra batteries in my Jeep - which did me little good because I was too exhausted to walk down and get them.

The Prodigal Tourist said...

What a great story! Never heard of it, must confess. And I do love the name, 'goat castle'!

Femin Susan said...

Woah !! what an immersing story....simply couldn't wait to know the end...
nice write !

Sweetie said...

What an intriguing story. The illustrations make it even more interesting. Goat Castle is a very unusual name and very unusual people lived there. Thank you so much for sharing the story and your talent.
Sweetie

A Brit in Tennessee said...

What an exciting story...
Eccentric Southern aristocrats, and all the flaws of commoners.

Vicki Lane said...

Wonderful story -- just waiting to be dramatized!

steviewren said...

Are you sure Mr. William Faulkner didn't write this story? These folks were just his kind of people.

Steven said...

Great blog, very impressive, the first time I am here with you on my blog and I can say that I was fascinated by the way your voice I wish you all the best. Steven

david mcmahon said...

What an amazing story. Thanks for sharing this with us, Carol

Reader Wil said...

Thanks Carol for telling this story, which is so intriguing and exciting that I'd like to read a book about it.

Kaye Barley said...

What a fascinating story!!
Thank you for sharing this.
This type of tale is one of the things I truly love most about the south - Southern Gothic is always best when it's the real thing, isn't it? In all it's tragic glory.
You know who this story brought to mind?
Eugene Walter. It just sounds like a story he would enjoy telling.

Katherine Aucoin said...

What an interesting story. So many grand homes on the old South that have so many stories. I love reading about these kinds of things. That's another thing wonderful about the South, we don't hide our eccentric residents; we put them on the font page of the paper!

willow said...

Fascinating story! I am always a sucker for an intriguing murder. The name "Goat Castle" makes it all the more unique. Did you happen to read Bee's post about the quirky names of houses? "Goat" would certainly fit it there. It doesn't evoke an elegant air, does it?

Moannie said...

Wonderfully exotic story and evocative pictures. All very F.Scot Fitzgerald. Loved it

Paul said...

Natchez under the Hill-great place !!

Craig Glenn said...

I loved that story and congrats on the Post of the Day.

Craig

Pouty Lips said...

Duncan Minor looks just like Clark Gable to me. This was a very interesting post and well deserving of the POTD mention.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

What a fascinating story! You researched and explained it wonderfully!

Sometimes truth can be more fanciful than fiction.

My husband and I volunteer at a very historic cemetery in Brooklyn, NY called Green-Wood Cemetery. It has it's own historian and he's written several books about the people buried there --many famous and infamous.

Right now we've been involved with a Civil War Veteran project and have found over 3,000 Civil War veterans buried in the cemetery, even some Confederate soldiers. Some wonderful fascinating stories there too! If you have time I posted about a few on my blog awhile ago -- they can be found under the posts labeled BROOKLYN. I should have probably tagged them as "Green-Wood" -- a future project :)

Terri said...

Thank you so much for sending me the link to this, Carol.
I enjoyed it so much and such a fascinating and interesting story. How ironic that all four ended up being so eccentric. Quite a story!

Christina said...

Extremely interesting. I first read about Goat Castle as a child in a book called "The Haunting of America" (1973) by Jean Anderson. Good work on finding these facts and photos! Pleasantly surprised and fascinated.

Michael Llewellyn said...

I spent many years in Natchez interviewing people who knew or knew about Jennie, Duncan, Octavia and Dick, reading their letters and scouring old newspapers to learn more. I compiled my discoveries in a novel called, appropriately, The Goat Castle Murder which will be published this fall. Anybody interested can read more at http://michael-llewellyn.net/historical-fiction/goat-castle/

Michael Llewellyn said...

I spent many years in Natchez, researching this classically Southern Gothic murder. The result is my book, The Goat Castle Murder; Moonlight & Madness in Mississippi. It is due out this fall from Water Street Press and I hope y'all will take a look!