The Pressley Murders: Can’t Hang a White Man, Be His Crime Ever so Bloody.

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A PALMETTO TRAGEDY.
A Man in South Carolina, Shoots Two Men Dead and Mortally Stabs Another.

By Telegraph to the Gazette.

CHARLESTON, S.C., November 18.–
A terrible tragedy was enacted in Edgefield county to-day. A white man named Robert Jones occupied some land, rented from his relatives, Charles and Edward Presley. The notified him as he could no longer pay the rent, he must vacate. To-day Jones went to the field where Edward Presley, aged 80, and his sons, Charles and Edward jr., were plowing and shot Charles dead. Ed. started in pursuit, and Jones stabbed him mortally with a knife. Jones then reloaded his gun, and killed the father, old Mr. Pressley, who is the grandfather of Jones’ wife. Jones then came to the court house, entered the jail and surrendered, remarking that he had killed three of the best men in the county. This account is from the News and Courier correspondent, who visited the scene. Another account is that the Pressleys went to the field where Jones was working and Jones killed them in self-defense.

Daily Gazette, The (Fort Wayne, Indiana) Nov 19, 1885

TRIED FOR A TRIPLE MURDER.

“All of yesterday and to-day were consumed in the R.T. Jones murder case. He is indicted under three separate indictments for killing three persons — Edward Pressley, Sr., (an old man, 78 years old,) and his two sons, Charles Pressley and Edward Pressley, Jr. The case now being disposed of is for the killing of Charles Pressley.

On November 29, 1880, R.T. Jones and Charles Pressley entered into a contract with the sinking fund commission to purchase 210 1/2 acres of the Jennings tract in Moss township, Edgefield county. The contract made was that the purchasers should pay one-fourth cash, and the balance in one, two and three annual installments. The cash payment was made on Dec. 11, 1880, R.T. Jones paying the whole of the amount required under the contract, $210.50.

The Pressleys having no money at that time to meet the payment, Jones paid this amount with the understanding that he would be allowed 50 acres by advancing $200, and the $10.50 Pressley could consider a loss. This satisfied the cash payments required by the secretary of state. Next year, they were not able to meet the installment in full, which was due, and the next year they were unable to do so. The officers could not grant them indulgence any longer, and so their right to the land as purchasers was declared forfeited. Then it was that U.R. Brooks, assistant land agent, came over to see about the matter. Negotiations were entered into with him through Charles Pressley to rent the place from Nov. 1, 1883. He made the rental lease out in the name of Charles Pressley, and R.T. Jones signed the paper as witness.

It will thus be seen that Charles Pressley was recognized by the state as the renter of the property. Things pursued the even tenor of their ways until November, 1885, when the triple murder took place, growing out of a misunderstanding between the Pressleys and Jones as to who had the right to work certain portions of this land under the rental lease. Jones claimed that he considered he was entitled to 50 acres of the land on account of having paid as one of the purchasers under the original contract, $210.50, the cash payment, one-fourth of the total amount which, it was stipulated, should be paid.

The facts adduced from the testimony given are as follows:
J.B. Pressley, the only surviving male member of the Pressley family, testified that on the 18th of November, 1885, his father, Edward Pressley, Sr., and his two brothers, Charles and Edward, went off after breakfast, his brothers intending to do some ploughing on a little piece of land about a quarter of a mile from their house, that at about half-past 10 o’clock he heard the report of a gun, as if two shots had gone off in quick succession, and in about five minutes he heard another gun, and soon after that a negro boy rode up to where he was with one of his brother’s horses that they had carried to the field with them. He proceeded immediately to the field and found his father and his brothers, Charles and Edward, lying on the ground dead. His father and brother Charles were shot to death and his brother Edward was cut to pieces with a knife.

Charles Brooks testified that on the 18th of November, 1885, he was sitting before his crib door shucking corn when he heard the report of a gun, looked up and saw three or four hundred yards off R.T. Jones and young Edward Pressley like they were fighting; an arm was moving up and down vigorously; directly he saw Edward Pressley fall to the ground. Jones then walked off a few steps, picked up his gun and commenced to reload it. After which he walked over to where old man Edward Pressley was standing holding a horse right where Charles Pressley was lying dead, and deliberately shot the old gentleman down. Having killed the three Pressleys, Jones then walked off. Charles Brooks called to a neighbor of his, Dan Mitchell, to come there, that he believed Jones had killed all three of the Pressleys. In a short while J.B. Pressley arrived on the spot and Charles Brooks and Dan Mitchell went over to where the bodies were. It was shown by the state that not one of the Pressleys was armed, the only weapon of any kind found was a penknife which was closed and in the pocket of Charles Pressley.

The defense put up a plea of self-defense in Charles Pressley’s case, and it is presumed that it will be the same in the other two cases. The prisoner testified that he had some words with the Pressleys and had forbid them going on what he considered his land, that on the morning of the 18th of November, 1880, he had hsi gun, intending to go squirrel hunting, when he saw the Pressleys ploughing in the field, and that he walked over where they were and ordered them off. Charles Pressley replied that he didn’t intend to go off, and that, moreover, if he, Jones, did not go off he would kill him. Charles Pressley then advanced on Jones (so the defendant claims) with a drawn knife, whereupon Jones shot him down.

As R.T. Jones is only being tried on this case for the killing of Charles Pressley, the triple murder was not investigated beyond the part as to the reason or ????? which led Jones to kill young Edward and the old man. The prisoner had employed the finest talent in the county to defend him, Messrs. W.T. Gary, Ernest? Gary and N.G. Evans.

The jury retired at 6:30 p.m. and after sitting up all night with the question,? reported in the court in the morning that they could not arrive at a verdict. A mistrial was ordered Six were for acquittal, five for manslaughter and one for murder. A more ??????, ????? and cold-blooded murder was never committed.

The Fitchburg Sentinel (Fitchburg, Massachusetts) Aug 20, 1886

The trial of Robert Jones for the murcer of his father-in-law and two brothers-in-law will also come up this term. Lat Novembers, while the examination of the Culbreath lynchers was going on in the Edgefield court house, this terrible triple murder was committed within hearing of the court. Jones had recently married a Miss Pressley, the daughter of Mr. Edward Pressley, who was eighty years of age and palsied. Mr. Pressley had two sons, Charles and Edward, who rented a farm and planted it. Jones would do no work, but lived on his relatives. One day in November, Edward Pressley, Jr., told Jones that he must work or leave the place. The following day Jones took a gun, walked into the field where the two young Pressleys were working and the old man was looking on, and shot Edward dead. Charles Pressley started toward Jones, who drew a knife and cut Charles to death. He then deliberately reloaded his gun, and, walking up to the old man, shot him dead. Then, leaving the three bodies in the field, he walked to the jail and delivered himself up. Jones was tried in July for the murder of Edward Pressley, but the jury was packed and a mistrial resulted.

Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio) Nov 3, 1886

Murder Trials in Carolina.
CHARLESTON, S.C., March 11. — The mistrial of R.T. Jones, at Edgefield Courthouse, probably ends that infamous case. In the fall of 1887 Jones, in a dispute over some land, killed his father-in-law, Edward Pressley, Sr., and his two brothers-in-law, Charles and Edward Pressley, Jr. Jones was tried for the murder of Pressley, Sr., and sentenced to thirty years in the penitentiary. An appeal was taken, and by inadvertence two other indictments were nullified. Then Jones was bailed. At the third trial there was a failure to agree, as at the fourth, which has just taken place.

The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) Mar 12, 1889

JUSTICE IN SOUTH CAROLINA.
Can’t Hang a White Man, Be His Crime Ever so Bloody.

COLUMBIA, S.C., June 15. — The fact that it is very difficult to find a South Carolina jury which will convict a white man of murder was again strikingly illustrated Saturday, when R.T. Jones, the famous Edgefield county “family exterminator,” was found guilty of manslaughter in the Lexington county court. Six years ago Jones brutally and in cold blood murdered three of his kinsmen — Edward Presley, aged 78, and his two sons, Edward and Charles.

Atrocious Crime of the Prisoner.

He shot and cut them to death because they were planting a piece of land, concerning the title to which Jones and the Presleys had had a dispute. Previous to the trial just ended Jones was tried five times for his triple crime in Edgefield county, the jury in each instance failing to agree in spite of the fact that the evidence against him was overwhelming. Jones will probably be given thirty years in the penitentiary, but declares he will poison himself before he will go there.

Decatur Morning Review (Decatur, Illinois) June 16, 1891

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