Monday, August 31, 2009

Some VERY Interesting History Here in Town

I was going to say "Family" history, but I think I'll just say that the main person in this story was the husband of my relative, so we're not technically related.

I'm talking about my relative, Dot Cooper, who we called Uncle Dot for some reason even though she was an Aunt. Uncle Dot was the younger sister of my great, great grandmother. She married T. Earl Robertson, whom this bit of history is about. The story below is something I had heard only bits and pieces of and today my cousin, Lisa, who said it took her FOREVER to put enough information together to find this article, sent an e-mail to all of us "cuzins" containing the following. I've changed the wording a bit and removed the names of the deceased and injured. I do not want to offend any readers!

And also, if you take the ghost tour in downtown Spartanburg, you get to go down to where this happened. According to my cousin Andrea, who took the tour the claim is there are voices to be heard and lots of "ghostly activity." Apparently, this was something the city would not forget.

Here goes:

The Spartanburg Journal

August 1, 1929


Shipping Clerk Runs Amuck at Bell Mill Wielding Hand Axe

T. Earl Robertson in Bloody Rampage Fatally Wounds _____, _____, _____, and _____

African American Worker Badly Cut, May Die

Four persons all white men, were killed or fatally wounded, another probably mortally injured and the west end of the city thrown into confusion here shortly after noon when T. Earl Robertson, 55, shipping clerk at the J.W. Bell mill on West Main street became insane and ran amuck with a hand axe.

The dead are:

_____, 30, 170 Pine street, sales manager for the J. W. Bell company.

_____, 58 321 South Converse street extension, bookkeeper and cashier for the J.W. Bell company.

_____, 36, South Church street extension, car repairer for the C and W C railway.

_____, 47, South Church street extension, car repairer for the C and W C railway.

_____, about 40 years of age, residing on Brush street and employed with the Bell company, was at the county hospital his skull crushed also by a blow from the ax. He was resting quietly, however, about 9:10 o’clock this afternoon.

Preparations were being made this afternoon to take the insane man to the Columbia asylum. Physicians who visited him in the county jail declared he was violently insane, although he appeared to have lucid moments. Every precaution was taken by officials to prevent him from doing himself bodily harm.

Effort was being made to locate Coroner John S. Turner, who was out of the city, to learn what action would be taken concerning an inquest.

_____ was killed instantly in the office of the J. W. Bell company and _____ died while en route to the hospital. Their heads were split open by the maniac who crept upon his unsuspecting victims who were defenseless and without an avenue of escape from the building.

_____ died at the Mary Black clinic an hour after he had been carried to the institution. His head was crushed by a heavy blow from the ax in the hands of Robertson. _____ succumbed at the Mary Black clinic three hours after he was struck down by the insane man.

Both _____ and _____ were taken unawares by the ax-slayer as they were eating their noonday lunch in a box car in the yard of the C & W C, a short distance from the J.W. Bell plant.

Reports from the Spartanburg county hospital were to the effect that _____ is suffering from injuries to his head, the evidence being that he was struck two blows. His forehead is cut and bruised but it has not been determined whether or not his skull is fractured. He also has a cut on the top of his head. The man was unconscious when he reached the hospital but a short time afterward revived but was unable to give a coherent account of what had taken place.


Robertson was taken into custody by Constable Frank Johnson of Judge JJ Gentry’s court. The insane man was captured by S.J. Lanier, foreman of car repairs for the C. And E.C. railway, who held him until the arrival of the officer.

Mr. Lanier had noticed the maniac walking along the platform of the Bell company and saw him throw something away, he said. Mr. Lanier had found both the bodies of _____ and _____ and then noticed Robertson.

He met him on the sidewalk near a pole and asked him what he meant by killing the two men. “I don’t know what made me do it,” the maniac replied; and later on “just crazy; just crazy,” he repeated.


He kept begging Lanier to have him arrested, the C. and W. C. foreman said. Lanier caught the maniac about the waist and so held him until the arrival of Constable Johnson.

_____ and _____ were found by J.B. O’Neale, C. and W.C. engineer, Bussey having been slain at his desk.

After Robertson had been on his death-dealing trail, he stood in a door of the establishment and refused to let people come in, It was said. A traveling salesman coming up to the door asked to see Mr. Bell, but was told by the maniac, it was said, “You can’t come in here. I am the only one in this place.”


The traveling man noticed something queer about Robertson’s eyes and left.

The slain men were all married and have families. _____ wife and young daughter were expected back from Chattanooga, where they have been visiting this afternoon.

Some signs of Robertson’s having acted strangely had been manifested for several days, several persons said. But J.W. King, traffic manager, who was at lunch at the time of the accident noticed nothing particularly.

Robertson was “worrying possibly a little” at times, but he had not noted queer behavior during the morning.

Robertson explained he hadn’t been able to eat dinner. He had tried to kill himself two or three Sundays ago, he told the physician, by throwing a chain over a high voltage wire.

He had thought of putting his head into a revolving wheel at the Bell plant, he said. He had had no quarrel with anybody, he explained, and he thought _____ and _____ were still at their work.

His breath had been bad and he had been undergoing treatment, the maniac told the physicians he had asked his brother to have him locked up for he knew he was crazy.

On being further questioned he admitted he “might have” hurt somebody during the day.

He had formerly worked with the county and elsewhere, including on a farm. Robertson said he had been with Bell several years.


Robertson lives with his wife and son in East Spartanburg. He was interviewed at the jail by Dr. L.J. Blake and Dr. J.E. Cudd, county physicians.

When asked his name he replied he didn’t know, and again gave a negative answer when the question was repeated. He has two brothers he said living above the city, Andrew and John.

The only thing he could remember about the incident the maniac first claimed was asking someone to arrest him.

Mrs. Robertson and their son T.E. Robertson, Jr. arrived at the jail about 3 o’clock and visited Robertson in his cell.

Her husband had been having spells for several weeks, Mrs. Robertson explained. Their home is on the Union highway near the junction with the Spartanburg Country Club road.


John Simpson, employee at the Bell plant was probably the nearest to the warehouse victims and gave a coherent account of the events, although he was not an eye witness. He was eating dinner near the platform of the warehouse and was facing the railroad track.

The man said he heard a loud cry for help issue from the interior of the building. Soon Robertson appeared carrying the handax in his hand. It was stained with blood and he had blood spots on his face he said. As he approached him Simpson said he became frightened and moved away.


Simpson said he evaded the man who walked around several freight cars and again entered the building. It was then that Robertson attacked several of the employees who fled from the building. Among the number was Clarence Guess, who narrowly escaped the fate of _____, who was struck twice by the insane man.

Simpson said he fled toward Main street but turned around in time to see Robertson emerge from the building behind several of the workmen and walk directly across the railroad track to the car in which _____ and _____ were seated. He then went to the telephone and called the police station, he said.


Robertson had been in the employee of the Bell company for about 8 years in the capacity of shipping clerk. He lived at East Spartanburg and for a number of years was employed as street car motorman. He is married and has one son. His wife visited him in the jail shortly after being apprised of the tragedy.

AUGUST 2, 1929

…………While the city was reeling under the shock of the tragedy precipitated by the erstwhile meek shipping clerk, the man who in his frenzy snapped out four lives, was being spirited away to the state hospital for the insane at Columbia. The party, in charge of Chief J.H. Barnett of the county rural police, left here about 3:30 o’clock after making hasty arrangements for the commitment of the mentally unbalanced man to the institution.

They arrived in the capital about 4:15 o’clock when he was immediately admitted to the asylum and placed under observation.


Three times during the trip Robertson attempted to kill himself, the officers said, but each time his efforts were restrained. He kept muttering, they said, that he wanted to die. Every precaution was taken by those in charge of him to prevent him from doing himself bodily harm and hospital attaches are exercising every care with the same object in view, according to reports from Columbia.

Wish I could figure out why they mentioned that "his breath had been bad." Such an odd comment, don't you think?

I understand that Earl Robertson's son, who was also named after him, worked all of his life to "pay the families" of the men who were killed. I'm sure this must have been something to deal with during that time. My grandmother, who was 7 years old when this happened, said she can remember someone coming to the house to inform them all of what happened. It's so tragic and sad and an unfortunate part of Spartanburg History.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

Oh wow! what a sad story! The writing is interesting can tell it's from a long, long time ago!