Guilty or Innocent Will Purvis the White Cap Murderer Part 1

About Will Purvis a member of the White Caps, accused of murdering Will Buckley, his trial, attempted execution and further examination of his case.

No Noose Is Good News--The Melodrama of Will Purvis

In the 1890s, with the influence of the original Ku Klux Klan on the wane, there sprang up in the Deep South a somewhat less violent group of terrorists known as the White Caps. Their sworn purpose, like that of the KKK, was to terrorize helpless blacks.

In 1893, near Columbia, Miss., the local chapter of White Caps flogged the servant of one of its own members, Will Buckley. Buckley was outraged at the incident and swore to expose the entire organization and its covert activities. At the next convening of the Marion County Grand Jury, Buckley made good his threat, and indictments were issued against three White Caps. Satisfied that the deed was done, Buckley set out for home with his brother Jim and the flogged servant. The trio was approaching a dense thicket of underbrush when a bullet suddenly ripped open Will Buckley's chest, and he fell from his saddle, dead. The assassin leaped from his hiding place and fired at the other two men, but they escaped unharmed.

Bloodhounds tracked a cold scent to the nearby Purvis farm, and suspicion was leveled at 19-year-old Will Purvis. When it was discovered that the young man had joined the White Caps just three months before, the grand jury indicted him for the murder of Will Buckley.

Jim Buckley, the deceased's brother, was the prosecution's key witness. When asked to identify his brother's assassin, Buckley pointed a finger at Will and shouted, "Will Purvis there killed the man!" Despite a strong alibi, Purvis was found guilty and sentenced to hang on Feb. 7, 1894.

On the day of the execution, nearly 3,000 spectators jammed the area around the scaffold. As Will Purvis mounted the steps to meet his Maker, the crowd, sensing a last-minute confession, nudged closer. But Purvis simply proclaimed, "You are taking the life of an innocent man." As the hangman adjusted the rope around Purvis's neck and hefted his ax, a preacher appealed to heaven, "God save this innocent boy." With that, the hangman whacked the stay rope supporting the trap door, and Purvis's body shot through the scaffold like a bullet. But when he came to the end of his rope, to the utter horror of the God-fearing crowd, the knot unraveled and Purvis landed on the ground unscathed.

His hands still tied, Purvis hopped back up the steps to the gallows, screaming, "Let's get this over with!" The red-faced officials were about to oblige him, when the crowd, certain that divine intervention had saved Purvis, pressed forward. "Don't let him hang!" they cried. The preacher called for a show of hands of "all who are opposed to hanging Will Purvis a second time." The vote was overwhelmingly in Purvis's favor, and a doctor threatened to enlist the services of 300 men if the perplexed officials tried to veto the crowd. The sheriff weighed the situation briefly, then cut Purvis's bonds and escorted him back to the jail.

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