Someday this real-life murder in my family is going to be in a book


[Edited to add: a photo of me when my hair was longer]

When I was at my mom’s house recently, I came across this picture of my grandmother. It was taken around the time that my great grandfather gunned down her boyfriend.

My grandmother didn’t marry until she was 32, in 1920. I used to just figure she was a late bloomer.

In 2009, when I should have been working on my editor’s revision letter, I goofed off by Googling my grandmother’s name. “Effie Satterwhite.” Google has obviously been scanning more books since the last time I looked, including one published in 1907 that listed the opinions of the Arkansas Supreme Court.

One of which involved Effie. When Effie was 18, her father shot her boyfriend for kissing her.

I’ve got booklets of family history and this is mentioned NOWHERE. My mom didn’t know it. She is also sure my dad, who died in 2003, didn’t know.

According to the court records, when she was 17, Effie started seeing a man named Jim Wallis. One night they went to an “entertainment,” and returned at 11 pm. “She started to go in the house, but was stopped by Wallis who reached out his hand and drew her to him and kissed her. She put her hands against him and pushed him away. They walked to the end of the porch, and stood there talking until the clock struck eleven. Wallis looked at his watch and then turned and kissed her again. He then left the house.”

Effie went inside, heard a door open, and then saw her father “going down the steps with a gun in his hands.” She heard the shot, and tried to run to Jim. Her father grabbed her, and said it was all her fault for hugging and kissing Jim. Finally he let Effie go to her boyfriend, who lay bleeding in the street.

At the trial, Effie’s brother testified that a year earlier he had seen Effie and Jim together “in a very suspicious attitude, conducting themselves in what he thought a very unbecoming manner on the front porch.” He ordered Effie inside, and told Jim to never come back. But Jim did, the next day, and told Effie’s brother that he loved her.

They continued to see each other until the night he was gunned down. My great-grandfather’s defense was that he was sure Jim “was trying to seduce his daughter and relieve her of her virtue.” But the jury found that the two intended to marry.

My great-grandfather was convicted of assault with intent to kill, and his appeal was denied. Jim died in a hospital four months after the shooting.

And my grandmother did not marry for 14 more years.

She was 72 when I was born, and 90 when she died. She was slender, with a sharp mind and sharp opinions. She was prim, severe, judgmental, fanatically religious. She could whistle really well.

I want to write a book where my grandmother and Jim, the star-crossed lovers, are reunited in the present time.




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That is a very sad story. :( I think you look a lot like your grandmother. Do you see the resemblance?
My husband was saying that last night. I stuck in a photo of me. I do see it, although her jaw was more square.

When I found that out about my grandmother, it made me understand her so much more. If she were a character, it would be like suddenly learning her backstory and having everything fall into place.
I'm definitely going to have to write it. I wonder how horrified my grandmother if she knew that I know.
I'd definitely want to read that story! And I agree, I think you resemble your grandma quite a bit.
It was you last sentence that gave me chills. You absolutely should write that book, April. I'd love to read it. I think you'd write it well (and I'm saying that having read very little of your work, but still....)

What a heartbreaking story.
What always gives me pause about these kinds of stories is that, if great-grandfather hadn't killed Jim, you probably wouldn't be here. (Though who knows if Effie would have married him in the end...)
It seems like they would have gotten married - although why not get married when they first gt in trouble for the "unbecoming manner."

I would love to track down his relatives, to see if anyone has a picture of him.
It's amazing the things we don't know about our own families. My mother's parents were avid genealogists, and yet there is a scandal on her father's side that we know next to nothing about. There are hints that it was rape or incest, but it was never spoken of. The culture a hundred years ago seems to have been to ignore things that aren't fit for polite company.

I wonder if Effie ever forgave her father and brother for what happened. I hope so, but I can't imagine how difficult it would have been to do that. I for one would love to read their happy ending in a book. :)
She lived with her parents for several years after that as her dad was convicted and then appealed his sentence. What it would be like having your name dragged through the mud at the State Supreme Court?

They did cover everything up. Even when I was a kid there were no gay people. (Liberace was flamboyant.) There was no child abuse. And by law, women could not be raped by their husbands.