Greene County, Arkansas
W. P. Dunavant Shoots and
Kills J.C. Starnes
Thursday , September 27, 1917
Transcribed by: Sandy Hardin - May 7, 2003
occurred on Dr. E. S. Baker's farm 3 miles north of Paragould. Dunavant receives
painful knife wound in back but voluntarily came to town to surrender.
John Calvin Starnes was shot and almost instantly killed Thursday morning just before 7 o'clock by W. P. Dunavant , a tenant on Dr. E. S. Baker's farm three miles northeast of Paragould . A twelve gauge Pfeifer shotgun was used. The gun was loaded with No. 4 shot. At the time of the tragedy Starnes was at a distance of about fifteen steps from Dunavant. All but about twenty of the leaden pellets struck the retreating man , covering a small area in the back just below the left shoulder blade. Although no attempt was made to probe the wound , it is presumed that the heart must have been struck. Mr. Starnes uttered a quick exclamation , staggered about twenty steps fell forward on his face in a cornfield. The body was allowed to remain untouched for some time.
Clarence Brewer, about thirty-five years of age, together with Starnes grandchildren and Clifton Dunavant a son of W.P. Dunavant , were eye - witnesses to the tragedy . The versions given by the young Clifton Dunavant and Mr. Brewer differ but slightly. J. L. Starnes , a son of the dead man , was on the premises planting oats , but did not witnesses the shooting , or the fight that preceded it.
W.P. Dunavant reached Paragould about nine o'clock having come in voluntarily to give himself up to the authorities. He was suffering from an eight - inch knife wound inflicted by J.C. Starnes about two minutes before the fatal shot was fired. Dunavant's version of the tragedy is incomplete . He maintains stoutly that he acted purely in self-defense.
Dr. F. M. Scott , who examined the knife wound , stated that at one point the opening had reached a rib , but that it was not necessarily of a serious nature. It was eight inches long. Despite this inconvenience , Mr. Dunavant was able to get about without great difficulty . He walked from the automobile in front of Bertig's store to Dr. Scott's office , and talked without hesitation , mentioning at one point in the conversation , however , the fact that he realized it would be best not to say much until he had discussed the case with W.W. Bandy , whom at a later hour was engaged to defend him.
Dunavant rented Dr. Baker's farm about one year ago . In a written contract between tenant and owner, Dr. Baker reserved the right to have oats or clover sowed in the cornfields , and in signing this contract Dunavant obligated himself to permit any one designated by Dr. Baker to perform such work. Some weeks ago Dr. Baker and Dunavant agreed that the later would not re-rent the farm and closed a deal with J.C. Starnes . The corn on the Baker farm was made in shares , Dr. Baker to receive two - thirds of the production . After renting the premises to Starnes , Dr. Baker closed a deal with Starnes whereby the latter bought one half of one third of the crop , representing that portion owned by Dr. Baker . He was told by Dr. Baker just what the terms of the Baker - Dunavant contract were, and apparently , was under the impression that he had a right to proceed without delay to the task of planting oats . His son J. L. Starnes was to assist in the work . They arrived on the premises Thursday morning . Young Starnes stated to a representative of the Soliphone , that he had no intimation of the impending tragedy , although he did know that his father and Dunavant were not on the very best of terms. He (J. L. Starnes) and Dunavant had talked over the proposition of planting the oats. Young Starnes states that at the time this conversation was bad , Dunavant told him it had formerly been his intention not to permit the new tenants to plant in his cornfields , but that after thinking the matter over and discussing it with his wife he had come to the conclusion that no protests should be made. This conversation was repeated to the elder Starnes by his son , and as result preparations had been made to do the planting Thursday . The elder Starnes drove with his grandchildren to the farm while his son walked through , a distance of four miles. Upon arriving the son did not observe anything out of the ordinary touching upon relations between his father and Dunavant , and had begun sowing oats when attracted by a shot. Upon hurrying to the house he found his father in a dying condition . He made no attempt to become involved in the difficulty . In fact there was not the slightest indication of bitterness upon his part and he did not speak harshly or unkindly of his father's slayer.
Clarence Brewer , who witnessed the entire drama perhaps gives the most accurate description of the affair. He heard the two men when the initial argument started , saw Mr. Dunavant beat a hasty retreat when Starnes accosted him with a knife , saw the latter engage. Dunavant and stab him in the back , while Dunavant , all the while attempting to free himself , finally broke loose and ran into the house. Dunavant within a very few seconds , reappeared with a double barreled shotgun . He walked from the back of his house to the barn lot where Starnes stood near the spot where the cutting took had taken place. Upon seeing Dunavant reappear with the gun , Starnes started to leave and had turned away as though to go out of the lot. Without any preliminary remarks, however Dunavant fired . He then coolly walked away leaving his victim struggling in the throes of death. When Starnes son reached his side , life was almost extinct.
In planks on the barn lot gate within a few feet of where Mr. Starnes was standing when the shot was fired may be seen a number of shot, embedded in the slats. Almost all of the charge , however , found its human mark. Starnes fell with his face the ground . He struggled but slightly . The ground was stained at a few points with blood , but there was no ghastly hemorrhage. Blood oozed from the mouth , but had quickly clotted sufficiently to stop the flow.
Mr. Starnes was about sixty-seven years of age. He leaves a wife a number of children. He was a paralytic , the left leg and both arms being affected. He could not raise his right arm to his mouth to feed himself , but had better use of the left and managed to feed himself with this member. In making the attack on Mr. Dunavant Thursday he used his left hand.
An empty shotgun shell was picked up near the back porch of the Dunavant home, and a loaded shell was taken from the gun used.
Clifton Dunavant , son of W.P. Dunavant was held Thursday as an accessory to the killing. He arrived home Wednesday night from Pine Bluff , where he had been working for some time. He stated Thursday that he was present when Starnes and his father engaged in the affray prior to the shooting. While his father was in the house for the purpose of securing the gun , Starnes according to young Dunavant , threatened his life. The young man , according to his story , had just stooped to pick up a small piece of plank when his father fired.
W.P. Dunavant is 55 years of age and is a man possessed of more than ordinary intelligence. He has been in Arkansas for eight or ten years . By trade he is a timber estimator and at one time had accumulated a competency. He comes of an old Tennessee family which settled in Lauderdale County more than a century ago. He is of Scottish orgin . His father is still alive at the age of 82 years . He is one of a family of fourteen - twelve boys and two girls . For eight years during his young manhood he was a drug clerk for a firm at Gates, Tenn. He was a postmaster at Gates , Tenn. having being appointed to office under the republican administration of Chester A. Arthur preceding Grover Cleveland's first tenure of office; remained postmaster during Clevelands administration from 1885 to 1889, and was an applicant for reappointment when Benjamin Harrison was elected to succeed Cleveland . A hot fight was made on Dunavant by the republicans of West Tennessee for seeking to perpetuate , himself in office after his party had been defeated . Mr. Dunavant stated that he perhaps would have been defeated through political trickery but for the timely assistance of Congressman Presley T. Glass of Ripley , who represented that district in the national law thinking body . It had been represented to Representative Glass , that Dunavant was a republican and believing this to be true the Congressman had recommended Dunavant's opponent for the position . Dunavant hearing of the endorsement , went personally to Mr. Glass had the matter straightned out and secured the Congressmans aid and the office. Later he resigned in favor of a friend . Mr. Dunavant has been engaged in the timber business in Tennessee , Alabama , Mississippi , Louisiana and in other states. About fifteen years . During 1901 -2-3 he was with Jones & McPherson millers at Wynne. He has had fifteen children , eight of whom four boys and four girls are still living. His youngest child a girl is but nine months of age . He has two uncles in Arkansas Dr. H. C. Dunavant a prominent physician of Osceola , and Reed Dunavant a farmer of near Burdette. The former is about 10 years of age and the latter 35. He also has a cousin L.C. Hafford at Caruthersville . W.W. Bandy is representing Dunavant as attorney.
The two Dunavants father and son were given a preliminary trial Thursday afternoon before Edward W. Thompson . Clarence was released the elder Dunavant was held for Grand Jury.
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