Hello everyone, and welcome to Okie Investigations, the True Crime Podcast where we tell the stories of crimes that happened long ago. If you are a true crime fan, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. That way, when we have new episodes, you will be the first to know. Also, check us out on our Facebook page Okie Investigations and visit our blog TrueCrime.Blog where we post a lot of the cool things we found for each episode. This episode, “Three is a Crowd,” has a lot of newspaper clippings dating back to 1891. They are so cool to dig through and take a deeper dive into this story.
Parts of this story may contain opinions and speculations and should be taken as such. These stories depict violent crimes of all types and may be a trigger for some listeners. Listener discretion is advised.
Next week November 1st through the 6th, I will be on vacation. My feet will be on a sandy beach somewhere in Belize. If you are out that way, I’m the guy who’s probably sunburnt and has had too many Mojitos. What does this mean for all of you? Well, nothing really. I have preplanned an episode drop and a bonus episode so that it will be business as usual.
We do have some cool things coming down the pipeline that are not entirely ready to announce just yet. We have been working hard to bring you all the best True Crime content that we possibly can and will continue to do so because this is what I love to do.
Today’s story comes from doing a lot of research on late 1800’s crimes. These are sometimes harder to research due to their age. Documents weren’t kept or were lost, and digging this one out was quite fun.
Our story first takes place in the town of Salem, Virginia, on April 4th, 1891.
A young African American woman, Susan Watkins, arrives in town. She was seen going from shop to shop, person to person, looking for anyone who knew her husband Charles Watkins, who she described as “Mulatto” due to his caucasian and African American parentage, or if they knew his friend, Benjamin Wright. As she does this, word begins to spread across town about the woman’s search. Someone who knows the second man, Benjamin, goes to his house and lets him know about the woman. He is told that the woman is in town and where to find her.
As soon as Benjamin arrives in town, he has no trouble finding the woman. She is still there, asking anyone who would listen if they knew the two men. So Benjamin approached the young woman and asked her why she was asking for him.
The woman introduces herself as Susan Watkins. She tells him that she is the wife of Charles Watkins. He left her some months ago, and she believed that he had run off with another woman. Benjamin refuses to believe this story. He explains that Charles had introduced him to his wife. She was a pretty white woman named Edith. But as he said this, Susan reached into the bag she was carrying and handed him a paper. It was a marriage certificate for Susan and Charles Watkins, both parties had signed it, and she intended to do what she could to save her marriage.
Susan explains that they used to live in Chicago, where Charles met the woman Edith Friebel. She was a german woman who fell in love with her husband. While Susan was working hard and trying to make ends meet, Charles and Edith were sneaking around and planning on running off together. Susan wanted the chance to confront them both and hopefully, get Edith to back down and go away.
This strikes a chord with Benjamin. He went into this expecting to find a mad lady looking for him, and now he finds this woman in need. Benjamin knew that Charles was not the most honest man, but he didn’t realize that he was as bad as this woman tells it. So he decided on the spot that he was going to help Susan confront Charles. He will also be by her side to face his friend who has been lying to him and everyone around him for too long.
Benjamin explained to Susan that he knew what town Charles was living in, but it was too late to go there now. They would leave at first light the next day, and they would definitely find her husband. Although he didn’t know where Charles was currently staying, he was confident that they would soon find out. They both went to Benjamin’s house, and he let Susan stay the night. That next day, they started off toward a town named Roanoke.
When they arrived in Roanoke, they went to a village that was a prominent African American community that is very tightknit. They began asking if anyone knew where Charles or Erith were staying. They also told the townsfolk about Charles leaving his wife for the other woman. Some of them were shocked. Benjamin had been introducing everyone to Edith and presenting her as his wife. None of them had any clue that it was all a ruse. Soon they were directed up the road to a house where George Washington lived…. no, not that George Washington.
When they arrived at the home, they knocked on the door, and the man who owned the house, George, answered. Susan and Benjamin introduced themselves and asked him if Charles was there. Fearing that something was up, George was reluctant to tell them one way or another. So Susan explained what was going on and showed him the marriage certificate.
Very confused, George lets them into the home where Charles and Edith are in the back, listening to everything. Everyone confronts Charles about what the truth actually is. At first, he denies knowing Susan, but no one believes him. Then he confesses what he had done. He explained that when he was with Susan, he didn’t mean to, but he fell in love with Edith. Knowing that Dudan would never accept a divorce, he decided to leave with Edith and disappear from Susan forever.
Charles explained that although he and Edith were not married, and at this time, since they were an interracial couple, it would be near impossible for them to be. They decided to just live as a married couple. Susan had little to nothing to say about all of this. In either story, she is somewhat the villain, going after a married man.
Seeing Ediths obvious discomfort, Charles decided to take her away from all of this and promised to come back and talk further to Susan. A light rain had come in as Charles and Edith left the Washington home. As the day went on, Susan and Mrs. Washington spoke some and got to know one another. George spent some time putting together several sleeping arrangements for everyone, knowing they were all probably in for a long night.
That late evening, Charles returned without Edith. He explained that he had taken her to his grandmother’s house in the mountains. Charles expressed that he wanted to talk to Susan alone, he had arranged a buggy ride for the two of them, but Susan quickly declined. Charles backed off of this idea for now.
They both spent the night together, having awkward conversations and not coming to any agreements. They were both just too stubborn to let the other one win.
That following day, Charles again asked if Susan wanted to go out with him. He had some things to take care of and said they could spend the time talking. But she again refused to leave the Washington home. Charles, who was visibly annoyed at this, left just after asking.
On this day, Susan confided in Mrs. Washington that she was scared to leave with Charles. She was suspicious of his behavior and didn’t trust him. Charles returned that evening at about 6PM. This time he demanded that Susan come with him. He explained that they were not going to be able to work anything out unless they could have some alone time together.
Susan must have given up at this point. Probably hoping that there was still a chance to save her marriage. So she gathered her things and went out with Charles just after 6PM.
Susan never returned to Washington’s home.
The next day, a young boy named Lawrence Anderson was out working with his friends. They were pulling an OX cart around town and gathering firewood, and loading it into the cart. Another boy that he was friends with had just come from the creek. He was frightened at something he had seen there. When Lawrence asked what it was, his friend told him it looked like a dead body near the log crossing in the creek. Lawrence knew of the log crossing. It was a large log placed over the stream some time ago. The bark had been stripped away from the log. On rainy days like this one, it was easy to slip while trying to cross the log.
The young boy ran down to the creek with his friend. When they reached the log, it was pretty clear that someone was in the water below. The woman was partially adrift. Her head was in the water, and her legs were up on an embankment. After discovering this, Lawrence ran down and alerted authorities to what they found.
Quickly police arrived, and they sent for someone to get the medical examiner. At first, it appeared that the woman had slipped and possibly hit her head and fell into the water. But as they looked further, the damage to her head seemed severe. When the medical examiner arrived, he agreed that something was not right with this. It appeared that she had been hit with something, not from a fall. They would have to do an autopsy to make sure.
No one recognized the woman. They believed that she must be new in town or was visiting. They started to ask the locals if they had seen a young woman in town, and they were told the story of Susan Watkins. How she was looking for her husband Charles and that he had been living with another woman at George Washington’s house. Believing this to being the same woman, they went to find Charles Watkins and his mistress Edith.
Officers first went to the place where Susan was known to have been. If she were here, they would be able to rule her out as the possible ID of the victim. They were heading to the home of George Washington.
When officers arrived, they were able to speak to both Mr. and Mrs. Washington. They explained why they were there and what was going on. They asked if Susan was at their home still. George told the officers that she had left the evening before with Charles and never came back. He also told the officers that Charles had recently taken Edith to his mother’s house. If he was anywhere, it was likely there. But Charles did return earlier that day for his trunk he left at the Washington home.
The authorities knew where Charles’s grandmother stayed. The only problem was that it would take a while to get there. She lived in the mountains in a wooded area.
As the officers were heading to Charles’s grandmother’s house, the medical examiner had removed the woman from the creekbed. They found that whatever happened, it wasn’t robbery. The woman had several pieces of jewelry on at the time of her death. Several gold rings, one with a diamond, a nice watch, and other jewelry. If there were a robbery, those would have been taken.
That evening, Officers arrived at the home of Charles’s grandmother. They were met by Lucy Watkins and Tayior Watkins, who were related and lived with the grandmother. They explained how Charles had shown up with Edith and left her there to stay. He went to talk with Susan and came back the next day. The night before, Charles seemed on edge, and he and Edith left that afternoon. They mentioned that Edith had been with them for the past couple of days, and she didn’t leave the house until this morning.
At a dead-end, the officers waited until the following day to resume the search for Charles and Edith. Salem officers were checking with the train stations to see if anyone matched the description for either person. They believed that someone who looked like Charles had purchased a ticket for one train, but no one remembered seeing him on it.
But they did get the break that they were looking for. Edith was spotted in town, just leaving George Washington’s home. She had returned to pick up some of her things. When officers arrived, she was just leaving their home. Officers arrested her on the spot and brought her in for questioning.
A corners jury had also been assembled to study the death of Susan Watkins. Some of the locals had identified her from seeing and talking to her earlier in the week. As they were examining Susan, Edith was confessing what she knew of the situation. She told officers that she had nothing to do with Susan’s death and that Charles wanted her to leave town with him and join him in the village of Liberty.
This information was passed to the corners jury, who came to this conclusion.
“The Jury believes that Susie Watkins came to her death between the hour of 8PM on the night of the 6th of April and the hour of 12 noon on the 7th of April, from wounds on the top of her head and a fracture of the skull inflicted by a rock, stick or some other hard instrument in the hands of Charles Watkins, and that Edith Fribel was an accessory to the act either before or after.”
The search was now on for Charles Watkins. The news of Susan’s murder was front-page news. The police were not the only ones who were looking for Charles. An angry mob had formed, comprised primarily of African American men who were mad that one of their friends could do something horrible. Their numbers swelled in the hundreds, and they vowed to lynch Charles for his crimes. The mob surrounded the jail when a rumor travels around that Charles had been caught. But the Sherrif had reassured them that it was false, and they soon dispersed after.
The authorities knew that they had to get to Charles before anyone else did if they wanted a chance to convict Charles for his crimes. A mob would surely kill him if they found him first.
Weeks would go by with no new news in the case. Officers were searching the mountainside and neighboring towns to see if he had been seen there. But it was like he had just vanished. During this time, the authorities believed that there would not be any way to convict Edith. So they cut a deal and let her go. Edith was very suspicious of this. When she left the prison, she was hounded by a reporter and some locals. The reporter kept asking what she was doing and where she was going. The local was giving her a piece of her mind.
Edith was followed all the way to the local train station, where she was able to buy a ticket to get out of town. She did tell the reporter that she believed that she was being followed by the police. She thought that they were watching her because she might know where Charles was. But she said that the joke was on them because she was going to her mother’s.
It would be months later before there was a break in the case. Close friends and family of Charles suddenly started getting letters from someone who went by the name of S. G. Williams. In the letters, the author confessed to Sarah’s murder and how he was working hard to get out of the country. The author let on that he was actually Charles and that he was working on lining up a job on a boat to go overseas. It would be a one-way trip for him. But for now, he found a hotel to work at to make ends meet.
But for Watkins, the devel was in the details, and it was ascertained that Charles was currently in North Carolina. One letter was sent to George Washington, who immediately turned it over to the police.
Detectives called the Detectives in Wilmington, North Carolina, to let them know to be on the lookout for Charles. They sent them a copy of the letter and gave them a physical description of Charles.
In North Carolina, it was Officer Ben Turlington who made the big break. He was going from hotel to hotel and checking to see if he could spot Charles. He then went to the Island Beach Hotel, and that’s where he asked if Mr. Williams was working there. He was told that he did. He was their head waiter. Williams came out to see who was asking for him, and he was arrested on the spot. Officer Turlington knew it was Charles from the description he was given.
Charles was quickly brought back to Virginia. The mob that had gathered before that wanted to lynch Charles had since settled down and waited for the justice system. Many didn’t believe that Charles would get a fair trial in court, but they also didn’t think he was innocent.
It wasn’t until the trial that we saw a clearer picture of what happened when Sarah died. The trial started on November 17th, 1891. After getting a Jury into place, they were able to start the trial. The first person they introduced as a witness was young Lawrence Anderson. He described the scene as he found it and stated that they never went down to the water to see the body. They stayed up on the bank and immediately went to tell someone.
The next witness was John Banks. He was one of the men who went down and viewed the body. He discovered tracks of what looked like a new shoe leaving the scene and heading into the mountains. He had followed the trail of footprints until it went cold.
They then called on members of the corners jury to testify on their findings and their take on the case. Each one had not only examined the body in some way, but they had also visited the site of the murder to see what conditions they were in.
Then a more profound account of what happened started to be told. On the evening of the murder, Taylor Watkins testified that he is Charles’s uncle. He said that Charles came into his home and started talking about Susan and how she was now threatening to shoot him and Edith. It was soon after this, Taylor noticed someone coming up to their home. They looked like they were injured. When he opened his door, a woman pushed her way in. It was Susan. She started yelling at Charles and asked why he shot her . Charles denied shooting her. Susan’s hand had been injured, and she was asking that Charles take the ball out of her hand so she could then leave. Susan said that Charles could have his white wench.
They all stayed the night at Taylor’s, and that morning, Susan demanded that Charles take her to a doctor to remove the ball from her hand. Then she will leave town. Susan and Charles left that morning for town. A few hours later, he feared something else might have happened when news came of the dead woman found at the creek.
When the Jury received the case. They quickly returned with the verdict and found Charles Watkins, Guilty. The judge ordered that in January that next year, Charles would be hanged.
After the trial, Charles seemed to have a mental break. He started acting odd, and he focused intently on religion. The guards began describing Charles as a raving lunatic due to his behavior. The court had to address it. Many thought he would be declared insane, and they would vacate his sentence and send him to a mental institution. But just the opposite happened. He was found sane, and the sentence was allowed to resume.
On January 8th, 1892, Charles walked to the gallows that were built for him. Earlier that day, he had confessed to the crime he had committed. He gave a detailed account to clear his mind some. He was still acting very odd at this time. He was very focused on religion and would often talk to himself.
When he reached the top of the gallows, he was asked if he had anything he wanted to say. Charles just shook his head. They then placed a black cloth sack over his head and fastened the noose around his neck. Charles fell several feet when the trapdoor was sprung, but the rope failed to break his neck. It took 8 minutes for Charles to die.
The one thing about this case that I wonder is, did Edith have more to do with the murder than suggested? I could not find much on her whereabouts during all of this, and it’s interesting that she fled so quickly after she was released. What do you think?
If you want to find out more on this case, visit truecrime.blog to read all of the incredible newspaper clipping we have on it. If you enjoyed this story, please give us a review. They help us out so much.
I’ll see you all next time. See ya.