Monday, October 15, 2012

Mystery Monday: Part 3 Man on the Run - The Letters


Mystery Monday is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers that asks us to share mystery ancestors or mystery records – anything in our family history research which is currently unsolved.  With any luck fellow genealogy bloggers will lend their eyes to what has been found so far and possibly help solve the mystery.

Click HERE to read Part 1 The Early Years and HERE to read Part 2 The Getaway.

In 1876 William Henry Jollett ceased to exist at the same time that William Preston Boyd appeared on the scene with no signs of a past.  At least a past that could be verified. 

William Preston Boyd’s past began in August of 1876 when he married Harriet Lavina Echols, daughter of Harrison Perry and Clarissa Atkins Echols. Their marriage record in Giles County, Virginia states William was a widower and his parents were George A. and E. A. Boyd of Virginia.  If such a couple existed, there was no record of it that could connect to a son William Preston.

William and Hattie led an unassuming life on a farm raising thirteen children, first in Giles County and then in Monroe County, West Virginia.  In between babies and harvest, William was careful to avoid any legal entanglements that might raise suspicion.  Land was either quit-claimed or purchased in Hattie’s name.  William Boyd’s past ended in 1924 when he committed suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

William and Hattie Boyd
Photo courtesy of Tim Rugenstein


Son Kyle Emanuel  Boyd came across a series of letters written between the 1890s and 1914 that aroused suspicion about their father’s past, letters that also hinted at a reason for their father’s suicide.  Apparently William Boyd’s past was too much to live with or his past deeds were about to be revealed. 

But whatever dark secrets William harbored were burned by Kyle’s son Dexter who swore the truth would never come from him.  He preserved only parts of the letters that would confirm that William Boyd was indeed William Jollett. 


Click to enlarge



The earliest letters had been sent to agencies, sheriff’s office, and ordinary citizens of Warren County, Rockingham County, and Page County under the ruse of trying to find William H. Jollett who was ostensibly an heir to some land and money.   They were signed supposedly by Kyle Boyd.  Kyle knew he had written no such letters.  Besides, the earliest letters were written when he was just a young boy making it even more unlikely that he would have written them.  

Surely Kyle was taken aback when he saw reference to William Jollett’s father Emanuel, which was his own middle name.  One letter from John W. Breeden of McGaheysville, Virginia confirmed that the Jollett family believed William Jollett to be dead.  


Today’s Boyd family believes that William and Hattie wrote the letters themselves out of curiosity about his family and to determine if he was still a wanted man.  But wanted for what?  He had already served time for horse theft.  Certainly there had to have been something else more horrible than that, something that was not subject to any statute of limitations for prosecution.  Otherwise the need to invent a new identity made no sense.  Otherwise suicide made no sense. The only explanation that seems reasonable is murder. 

According to one letter, William Jollett had gotten Vinie Martin “in a family way.”  Then when that fact became known, he rode out of town and into obscurity.  Was THAT the shameful act?  Or could his involvement with Vinie have led to murder?  Could William have killed an irate father or perhaps a protective brother?  Or was the horrible act something else entirely?  Only Kyle and Dexter knew, and they took it to the grave.  As one letter concluded, “and the rest is known to all.”


Next time -  What became of Vinie Martin? And who were the Lichliters who apparently could “give all information anyone wants”?

Part 4 (Oct. 22) – Annie Found


18 comments:

  1. Looking forward to learning more about your family. They were different times back then so maybe whatever it was in this day and age might not seem so bad (unless of course it was murder).

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    1. I have wondered the same thing. What could be SO horrible that you wouldn't want the family to know? Surely it can't be an illegitimate child. That seems so "routine" judging by the numbers of weddings after the fact. But if this Boyd family was very religious, maybe that was the extent of the "crime."

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  2. This is getting good - can't wait for the next installment!

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  3. Wow! From horse thief to possible murderer? I didn't see that coming. So, do you know what happened to Vinnie's father? Any record of how he died to remove the suspicion of William murdering him?

    And why, oh why, did Kyle's son destroy those letters?! How frustrating! By the way, how did you find out Dexter burned the letters? Just curious.

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    1. I should torture you and say, "Stay tuned," but in short, a Boyd researcher who contacted me and my sister years ago and then another one just a couple weeks ago both descend from William Boyd's children and they both said that Dexter burned the letters because the truth was too terrible. Dexter never told anyone the truth and warned others to leave it alone, that everyone would be better off not knowing. He saved only the parts that would help point family members to William Jollett.

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    2. Whoa! Those are some pretty strong words--"the truth was too terrible." I wonder if there are court documents or records out there somewhere or newspaper articles even. I found a newspaper article about a distant cousin of mine indicating he had been indicted. (I could say what he was indicted for, but I am probably going to write a blog post about him in the future.) ;)

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    3. According to Patricia (my Boyd contact), her father spent months scouring newspapers throughout Virginia - nothing. I looked for court records as did her dad - nothing. It's like they were all in on a conspiracy to drive the rest of us crazy. (And by the way, thanks for the torture re: your distant cousin! HA)

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  4. And so...Virgina Reels...at least the Boyds or are they Jolliets! Anyway...what a tangled web William wove with his descendents spinning and wrapping it up into a real family mystery. I'm surprised he allowed a photo to be taken. Bless his poor widow's heart...I bet she knew something was amiss all along. I'll be back for the next installment. I'm wondering if the Boyd's were tempted to change their last name after the mysterious suicide of their father. My step great grandmother's first husband changed his name after fleeing Tennessee for Texas. I'm still trying to unravel that bit of info, but in the meantime, it sure makes for some good story telling...truth or not!!!

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    1. Actually, the Boyds believe Hattie knew the story and helped with the cover-up. She is the one who wrote "Annie Breeden" as William's mother (which was true) and "father unknown" on William's death certificate even though on their marriage certificate William "seemed" to know his father was "George." In truth his father was Emanuel Jollett.

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  5. Incredible tangle! Wendy, I'm with you: what could be so terrible? And why, oh why, did the details have to be destroyed? Well, at least the rest that is "known to all" will hopefully be discovered in your search.

    Looking forward to next week!

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    1. It would be exciting to suddenly learn that Kyle and Dexter actually told someone.

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  6. Wow! This is an interesting mystery, indeed! I love the part where he changes his name. It's also interesting how he got out of jail to recuperate. You sure don't hear about things like that these days. Life on the run back then couldn't have been easy, especially with a family. It's really neat the way you can weave all these facts into such an interesting mystery. Can't wait to see what happens next!

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    1. Hi M.J. Thanks for checking in and commenting. I agree. It had to have been hard to leave one's family forever and take on a new life.

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  7. Everyone back then loved a secret.

    I feel so bad for our Boyd cousins, but they have done some great detective work!

    Great writing!

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  8. Looking forward to the next chapter now!!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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    1. Hey there. I meant to send word to you that I had started this story since you had asked for more details. I'm glad you found it.

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