On the 22nd of October 1860 in Greene County, Virginia, my 3G grandfather Burton Shiflett was killed by his wife’s brother, Leland Frazier.
I bet that put a crimp in the Thanksgiving festivities.
So what happened to make Leland kill his brother-in-law? Shifletts and Fraziers – both lines have their share of wild and wooly characters, so whether Leland was just plain mean or Burton just “needed killin’” is impossible to say.
Based on the testimony of Thornton Mooney and others, the Jury found Leland guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter in the stabbing death of Burton Shiflett. That means Leland didn’t plan to kill him; it just happened. A crime of passion. Something happened to provoke him. Maybe Leland caught Burton with his wife (this is NOT something I found in research -- I’m calling on my vast knowledge of motives gleaned from years of watching “Law & Order”). Maybe Burton was beating his wife Nancy, and Leland stepped in to defend his sister (more “Law & Order”). Maybe Burton caught Leland doing something he shouldn't have been doing. Or maybe they just got into a fight that escalated out of control. Whatever the reason, it cost Leland four years in the state penitentiary.
So far I have found minutes from the Greene County Circuit Court with the outcome of the dirty deed but none of the juicy stuff leading up to it. Here is at least part of the official record in the trial of Leland Frazier:
At a Circuit Court held for the County of Greene at the Courthouse on Monday the 19th of November 1860. Present Richard H. Field Esq’r, Judge of the Tenth Judicial Circuit. Benjamin W. White, Foreman, Abraham M.B. Eddins, Sanford K. Deane, Thomas Y. Parrott, William Runkle, Richard Dawson, Pemberton Jarrell, John Douglas, Richard M. Durrett, Lewis P. Douglas, Downing Smith, Isaac N. M. Estes, William Samuels, John Riddle Jr., John R. Munday, & Hinkle Jarrell were sworn a Grand Jury of Inquest for the body of this County who having received their charge retired and after a short time returned into Court, and presented an Indictment against Leland Shiflett, commonly called Leland Frazier, for murder a true bill; they also made the following presentment Viz, “Fifth District & Tenth Circuit November term 1860 – We the Grand Jury for the County of Greene being first sworn make the following presentment to wit: We present Leland Frazier alias Shiflett for stabbing one Burton Shiflett within the County of Greene within twelve months last -?-?- upon the evidence of Thornton Mooney and others sworn in open court to give evidence before the Grand Jury” and the said Grand Jury having nothing further to present was discharged.
Leland Frazier commonly called Leland Shiflett who stands indicted of murder was led to the bar in custody of the Jailer of this Court, thereof arraigned and pleaded “Not guilty” whereupon came a Jury to wit: William R. Parrott, James W. Lucas, Jerome Taylor, John W. Crow, Richard H. Miller, Linn B. McMullan, Andrew J. Davis, John M. Douglas, William B. Haney, Larkin Watson, James A. Gibson, and James Jarrell who being charged and sworn the truth of and upon the premises to speak, and having partly heard the evidence were committed to the custody of the sheriff of this county, who is directed to keep them together without communication with any other person and to cause them to appear here tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock.
Circuit Court Law Book, page 105
Leland Shiflett commonly called Leland Frazier who stands indicted of murder, was again led to the bar in custody of the Jailer of the Court, and the Jury sworn in this cause yesterday appeared in court according to their adjournment and having fully heard the evidence and arguments of Counsel were sent out of the Court to consider of their verdict, were committed to the custody of the sheriff of this County, who is directed to keep them together without communication with any other person and to cause them to appear here tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, whereupon an Oath was administered to Benjamin Robinson, sheriff of this County, and to Richard D. Melone & John W. Melone, deputy sheriffs, to the following effect “You shall well and truly to the best of your ability keep the Jury and neither speak to them yourselves, nor suffer any other person to speak to them touching any matter relative to this trial, until they return into Court tomorrow morning.” And the prisoner is remanded to jail.
Ordered that Court be adjourned till tomorrow morning 10 o’clock. Richard H. Field
Circuit Court Law Book, page 111
Leland Shiflett commonly called Frazier was again led to the bar in custody of the Jailer of this Court, and the Jury sworn in this cause on Monday last appeared in Court according to their adjournment, were sent out of the Court, and in a short time returned in to Court, and upon their Oath do say “We the Jury find the prisoner is guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter, and fixed his term of imprisonment to four years in the penitentiary house, Nov. 20, 1860.” And thereupon it being demanded of him, if anything for himself he had or know to say why the Court him should not now proceed to pronounce judgment against him according to law, and nothing being offered or alleged in delay of judgment, it is considered by the Court, that the said Leland Shiflett commonly called Leland Frazier be imprisoned in the public jail and penitentiary house of this Commonwealth for the space of four years, the period of the Jurors in their verdict ascertained. And the prisoner is remanded to jail.
Ordered that Court be adjourned till the first day of the next term. Richard H. Field
Circuit Court Law Book, pages 116-117