52 Relatives 2018-2: Stover Wells Green; His Enduring Mystery

Stover Wells Green, my mother’s elder half brother, was born in 1907 to my grandmother, Nora Durboraw Green Stevenson Mize (whew) in Chick Springs, Greenville County, South Carolina. His father, Isaac Furman Green passed away September 30 of that same year. Since birth certificates were not required until 1915 in South Carolina, it is not known by anyone now living if Wells was born before or after the death of his father although it is a certainty that he did not know his biological father. Wells was the third of three children born to Nora and Isaac.

We first meet Wells at the age of 3 when, at the time of the 1910 US Census, he is living with his widowed mother; her mother, also widowed,Sarah Vaughn Durboraw, and his two full siblings, Edward Green b 1903 and Edith Karen Green b 1905.

A glimpse of things to come is seen in court records in March 1919 when a 12 year old Wells, is sentenced to a year in the reformatory in Florence, South Carolina for housebreaking and larceny.

By 1920 Wells is living in Gaffney,Limestone Twp., Cherokee County, South Carolina. His mother is now married to Ward Stevenson and has three more children: James Stevenson,7; Charlotte Stevenson,5; and Rosemund Stevenson, 2. I have not been able to find a marriage record, but it seems Nora must have remarried about 1913.

On Jan 29, 1925, a Friday night, Wells Green, now described as a student at Gaffney High School, and three friends, traveled over the border separating South from North Carolina, to Morganton, North Carolina to steal “a load of liquor” from moonshiner Frank Butler. This was clearly meant to be an act of theft, the boys did not have money to purchase the ten gallons of liquor from Butler and planned to take off as soon as their one gallon jugs were filled without paying the bootlegger once he had filled those jugs.

The liquor was stored in a location about half a mile from Butler’s house. Butler rode in the car with the boys to fill their jugs, then they returned to Butler’s home, turning the engine off while Butler went into the house accompanied by Wells Green, to get canning jars into which to put a gallon of liquor for which the boys had not had a jug. But, rather than going with Butler into the house, Wells jumped into the restarted car with the intention of taking off, leaving Butler unpaid. Quick on his feet, Butler ran to the driver’s door, opened it and attempted to turn the engine off as Wells sprang from the car and shot him three times with a 32 caliber pistol. Two of the three shots hit Butler; one in the heart inflicting a fatal wound.  But Frank Butler did not die without first telling his wife that “those fools shot me”.

The boys took off in the car, returning to their repective homes in South Carolina.

The following Tuesday, the sheriff of Burke County, North Carolina issued a warrant for one of the four boys involved in the escapade and called for an investigation in South Carolina to determine who else was involved. The initial suspect arrested by the Burke County sheriff identified the other three young men, including Wells Green, who, it was concluded in a hearing in Morganton on February 4, 1926 was eligible for a charge of first degree murder, an offense that could lead to the death penalty.

Well’s mother,my grandmother, who thought Wells had been “at the movies” the night of the crime, sought to hire legal council to defend Wells, who at first denied he had committed the crime. Wells’ father, Isaac Green, had been a member of a prominant and prosperous local family. Upon Isaac’s death in 1907, Nora and the three children she had had with Isaac Green had been granted a trust to provide for her and the three Green children until they reached majority, and a significant legacy for each when that time arrived. Newspaper accounts from the time note that Wells’ mother and the Green family were financially well prepared to hire such legal counsel as it would take to defend Wells from a possible sentence of death. Family scuttlebut was that my grandmother blew through the trust, including money meant to support her and the three children until adulthood in the attempt to rescue Wells from a death sentience. Since I am in possession of a copy of that trust, and the claims made to the adminstrators and the court as the children grew, I can say that it is definitely not the case that my grandmother “blew through” that money for Wells’ legal defense.

On February 9, 1926, one of the stranger claims in this case is made as the widow of the slain bootlegger testifies she has received death threats from a “South Carolina bootleg ring” if she testifies against the four young men charged with the death of her husband. In her testimony, ten gallons of liquor has grown to twenty five, and “fools” have become “devils”. She ultimately retreats to the home of her father, a former North Carolina deputy sheriff. The February 9 hearing results in a continuance to allow for the accused teens to obtain legal council and the state contemplating filing charges of conspiracy to commit murder against all four boys.

By February 11, 1926, a Shelby, Cleveland County, North Carolina attorney has been retained to represent Wells. On February 20,Wells and one other of the youths are determined to be held without bond in Morganton pending first degree murder charges while two are determined to have been accomplices and are freed on a bond of $1000 each.

A trial is set for March 15, 1926 with Wells being charged with second degree murder. But, on that day, Wells suprisingly pleads guilty to that charge and is sentenced to not less than 8 and not more than 10 years in the North Carolina State Prison in Raleigh. Wells left to begin this sentence on March 18, 1926 the same day a damning editorial is published in the Gaffney Ledger, hometown paper for Wells and his mother, blaming his criminal act on the early death of his father and his mother’s subsequent two marriages, claiming this led to “little or no moral training”.

On 13 January 1927, less than a year after beginning his sentence, Wells is described in the prison newspaper as a model prisoner; in February 1928, while still a prisoner, he wins second prize in a national essay contest. Meanwhile, the other young man sentenced directly for the murder escapes from the state prison in a laundry van and one charged only as an accomplice and who had served only a short term goes on to rob a bank in Edgefield, South Carolina.

So, if Wells Green pled guilty and went to prison for second degree murder in March 1926 with a minimum sentence of 8 years, I have no idea how he appears in the 1930 census, back in Chick Springs, Greenville County, South Carolina, with my grandmother, his one full brother, the three half sibling Stevenson children and his other half siblings, my mother, Freddie Mae Mize, and her brother, Charles Mize. My grandfather is strangely missing, but, that is another tale for another snowy day. Perhaps Wells was such an exemplary prisoner he shaved four years off his minimum sentence with good behavior? Perhaps placing second in a national essay contest counts as good behavior? At the time of this 1930 census, Wells is gainfully employed as a clerk in a dry goods store.

In November, 1933, Wells is shot in the chest on the street in Greenville by Ezell Gosnell, son of Reuben Gosnell, a “revenue agent”. He  is taken to the hospital for his injury but refuses to file charges against Ezell who spent the night in jail and was released when no charges were filed. The motive or motives here are completly mysterious; Ezell Gosnell marries and leads a seemingly normal life. Other than the reference to his father as a “revenue agent” neither I nor anyone else, including Ezell Gosnell’s family can imagine the motive behind this shooting, a connection between the two men, or for Wells’ refusal to press charges against a man who shot him, in a public place, with a number of  witnesses.

The rest of the known story of (Stover)Wells Green consists of two 1941 charges, one in March and one in November of “violating the liquor laws”. Something tells me that prison time didn’t fully rehabilitate him.

No one knows what happened to Wells after 1941. My grandmother never knew what happened to Wells after 1941 and it haunted her the rest of her life. He has been a romantic family legend for all of my life. Family rumor had it that he shot a man in a lover’s quarrel and went to prison; I guess that’s more romantic than he shot a man while trying to avoid paying for moonshine. It’s not impossible that he was shot by a man in a lover’s quarrel, if, perhaps we are referring to the shooting by Ezell Gosnell, but, since Wells would not press charges, that is a question that will never be answered.

One of the wilder tales told in the family about “what ever happened to Wells Green” was that he went to Washington, DC, got in with “the mob” and ended up being weighted with cement and thrown into the Potomac to drown, or killed by “the mob” and disposed of by being thrown into the Potomac with those “cement boots”. There’s no evidence to even suggest this, I think it’s the product of a creative imagination.

Years of research have not solved the fate of Wells Green, we just know he disappeared. I won’t stop looking, because, you know what they say:

The Truth Is Out There

 

 

 

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