Guilty or Innocent Will Purvis the White Cap Murderer Part 2

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

But the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that just because the bungling officials did not know how to tie a knot properly, that was no reason why justice should be thwarted. Will Purvis was ordered hanged, again, on July 31, 1895. But on the eve of his second execution, Purvis, with the aid of friends, escaped from jail and hid out in a secluded farmhouse.

In the ensuing gubernatorial election, one of the issues was whether Will Purvis, if caught, should be hanged. A. J. McLaurin, who favored commuting Purvis's sentence to life imprisonment, won the election. When McLaurin assumed office, Purvis gave himself up, and the new governor honored his campaign promise by sentencing Purvis to life inprisonment on Mar. 12, 1896.

Two years later, the prosecution's star witness, Jim Buckley, destroyed the state's case when he admitted he wasn't sure that Purvis had been his brother's assassin. Accordingly, Purvis was pardoned on Dec. 19, 1898. He married a preacher's daughter, had seven children, and became a prosperous farmer, but the fact that he had never been fully vindicated for Buckley's murder continued to cloud Purvis's happiness.

In 1917 an elderly man named Joe Beard attended a revival meeting of the Holy Rollers. Urged to come forward and purge his soul, Beard sunk to his knees and wailed about the terrible sin he had lived with for the past 24 years. He said no more, but shortly thereafter, on his deathbed, he confessed that he and another White Cap named Louis Thornhill had been chosen by lot to assassinate Will Buckley. Beard had lost his nerve, but Thornhill had carried out the dastardly plot. Although Beard's confession was made before many witnesses, it was never put into writing and signed according to Mississippi law. So the real murderer continued to live alone in the woods not far from Columbia.

Will Purvis had nearly been hanged once and had spent four years in prison, three of them at hard labor. In 1920 the Mississippi legislature appropriated $5,000 to him as compensation, stating that "the State of Mississippi has confessed a great wrong done you, and now removes all stain and dishonor from your name...."

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