Tom Dooley (The True Story of Tom Dula)

Tom Dooley

Tom DooleyTom Dula (Pronounced Dooley) was a dashing young confederate soldier whose love of music was his claim to fame. Many nights found the soldier sitting round the army campfire picking his banjo and singing.  After surviving the war, Tom returned to his home in happy valley located on the Yadkin River in Wilkes Count, North Carolina after the war.  Before the war, Dula was a happy go lucky man before the war and had grabbed the attention of Laura foster and her cousin Ann Foster. The girls were very popular and courted by many a young man, but both of them were infatuated with Tom Dula. Tom on his part managed to keep time with both.

Ann’s crush on Tom was spent by the end of the war and she had married.  Of course, Laura thought that with Ann married and all then Tom would be hers. On his return however, Ann feel back in love with him, Tom being such a dashing soldier. She would have nothing to do with Laura getting ahold of tom and if Laura was out of the way her tom could get together. Laura herself was quite pretty and had many suitors, including school teacher Bob Grayson. Grayson wanted Laura for his wife.

One night Laura took what clothes she could carry on horseback and left home for a rendezvous with Tom. They were to elope. She disappeared. Laura was eighteen at the time. The people suspected she had run away with Tom Dooley. Search parties were formed and about three weeks after Laura disappeared, her horse returned, skinny and with a broken halter. The searchers were able to track where the horse had been tied to a tree. Laura was assumed to be dead and some people thought Laura’s body had been disposed of in the Yadkin River.

tom dooley

Ann Foster

Later, Ann got into an argument with her sister, Perline Foster. Perline warned Ann that she better be careful or she would tell what she knew about Laura. Ann answered that Perline was just as guilty as she was. The argument was reported to the authorities and the two girls were questioned. . Perline became scared and broke down. She said Tom Dooley had killed Laura, that Ann took her to the site of the grave. Perline directed the search party to the place where Laura was buried. Sure enough they found a grave with her body in it.  Her legs had been broken and what appeared to be a stab wound was found in her breast. Also found was the small bag of Laura’s clothing. There was no doubt, it was Laura.
Laura was taken to the nearest town, funeral arrangements were made and she was buried on a hill, known ever since as “Laura Foster Hill”.


The investigation began. One of the men, Bob Grayson, (the same bob that was in love with Laura) said he had found a handkerchief in the grave that belonged to Ann Melton. On that information they arrested Ann Melton and on further investigations set out to arrest Tom Dooley as well. Everyone who knew Laura was under suspicion and several fled the country. But Bob Grayson continued which finally resulted in the hanging of Tom Dooley. Several members of the search party fled the country. Anyone who was ever associated with Laura was under suspicion. Not to be denied, Bob Grayson continued the search for the murderer of Laura.

Weeks after Laura’s body had been found, a bunch of riders with Grayson in the lead came into to town. Tom Dooley and Jack Keton with their hands shackled behind their back were among them. Grayson told the gathering town that Tom Dooley had murdered Laura and Jack Keton and Ann Foster had helped him. Tom Dooley, nonchalant as ever, asked that he be un-shackled and when he was, proceeded to play a little tune on his banjo. The two prisoners were taken to Wilkesboro and incarcerated by A. T. Ferguson. Jack Keaton furnished a plausible alibi and was later released. Ann Foster was quickly arrested.

A local attorney named Vance, agreed to defend Tom. Vance was able to negotiate a change of venue because the local people were up in arms against Tom. The trial began in Statesville with Judge Ralph Burton presiding. Evidence was produced that Tom Dooley and Ann Foster were having an affair.  Betsy Scott was brought into court by Bob Grayson. Betsy swore she had been told by Laura that Laura was to meet Tom Dula. From the very beginning Tom insisted that he was not guilty, but he would not say anything against or about his relationship with Laura or anyone else. . The attorney tried in every way possible to draw him out, but Tom remained mute throughout the trial. Tom Dula was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

On May 1st, 1866, that Tom Dooley rode through the streets of Statesville in a wagon. He sat on the top of his coffin on that bright and shiny day with his banjo on his knee, joking with the people walking along side. . He picked his favorite ballad on the old banjo, laughing as the wagon neared the gallows. When the rope was placed around his neck, he said to Sheriff W. E. Watson, “I would have washed my neck if I had known you were using such a nice clean new rope”.

Asked if he had any last words to say, Tom held his right hand and replied, “Gentlemen, do you see this hand? Do you see it tremble? Do you see it shake? I never hurt a hair on the girl’s head”.

Tom Dula was hung by the neck until dead.

Ann Melton however was found not guilty but was the subject of rumor and stigma. Ann did not seem to care and continued to flirt and use others until her death.

AND that is the story of Tom Dula…


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