|Thomas C. Dula|
June 22, 1845|
Wilkes County, North Carolina
|Died||May 1, 1868
Iredell County, North Carolina
|Cause of death||Hanging (Capital Punishment)|
|Other names||Tom Dula aka "Tom Dooley"|
|Occupation||farm hand, soldier|
|Known for||Progenitor of the "Tom Dooley" folk song.|
Thomas C. "Tom" Dula (June 22, 1845 – May 1, 1868) was a former Confederate soldier, who was convicted of murdering Laura Foster. National publicity from newspapers such as The New York Times, turned Dula's story into a folk legend. Although Laura was murdered in Wilkes County, North Carolina, Dula was tried, convicted, and hanged in Statesville. Considerable controversy surrounded the case. In subsequent years, a folk song was written (entitled “Tom Dooley”, based on the pronunciation in the local dialect), and many oral traditions were passed down, regarding the sensational occurrences surrounding Laura Foster's murder and Dula's subsequent execution. The Kingston Trio recorded a hit version of the murder ballad in 1958.
Tom Dula was born to a poor Appalachian hill country family in Wilkes County, North Carolina, most likely the youngest of three brothers, with one younger sister, Eliza. Dula grew up, attended school, and "probably played with the female Fosters" - Anne (later Melton) and her cousins Laura and Pauline.
As the children grew up, Tom and Anne apparently became intimate. Anne Foster's mother found Anne and Tom in bed together when Anne was 14 years old and Tom was just 12.
Three months before his 18th birthday, on 15 March 1862, Tom enlisted the Confederate Army as a private in Company K, 42nd North Carolina Infantry Regiment. He was captured, but he was released in April 1865.
Dula wrote a 15-page account of his life, as well as a note that exonerated Anne Melton. His literacy is highly unusual, considering the harsh poverty of his upbringing. Dula played the fiddle and was considered to be a "ladies man".
Contrary to newspaper accounts at the time, Dula did not serve in Zebulon Vance's 26th North Carolina. Also rumors that he “played the banjo” in the army band for the Colonel's benefit and entertained Colonel Vance with his antics were false. These have often been cited as the reason that Vance was so quick to lead the defense during Dula's trial. However, it seems more likely that Vance simply believed in Dula's innocence or felt that defending a veteran in the high-profile case would be politically beneficial.
Also, Dula did not come through the war completely unscathed, as folklore, oral tradition, and a some modern writers have claimed. He was wounded several times in battle. Dula's brothers had died in the war, leaving Tom as his mother's “sole remaining boy”.
Dula did sometimes use his musical talents in the army, and on one surviving muster roll he is listed as a "musician" and a "drummer".
Murder of Laura Foster
Anne Foster had married an older man, James Melton, who was a farmer, cobbler, and neighbor of both the Fosters and Dulas. Melton also served in the war, taking part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Both Melton and Dula were captured and went sent to a northern prison camp. They were released after the war ended and returned home. Shortly after his return, Dula resumed his relationship with Anne. With a reputation as a libertine, it was not long before he began an intimate relationship with Laura Foster, Anne's cousin. Folklore has it that Laura became pregnant, and that she and Dula had decided to elope. On the morning she was to meet Dula, May 25, 1866, Laura quietly left her home and rode off on her father's horse. She was never seen alive again.
No one really knows what happened that day, but many stories that have grown that implicate Anne Melton. Some tales claim that Anne murdered Laura Foster because she was jealous because Dula was marrying her. These stories saw that Dula suspected Anne had killed her, but he still loved Anne enough to take the blame himself. It was Anne's word that led to the discovery of Laura's body, leading to further suspicion of Anne's guilt. Anne's cousin, Pauline Foster, testified that Anne had taken her to the grave one night to make sure it was still well hidden.
Witnesses at the trial testified that Dula made the incriminating statement he was going to "do in" the one who gave him "the pock" (syphilis). Their testimony suggested that Dula believed Laura had given him syphilis, which he had passed on to Anne. However, the local doctor testified he had treated both Dula and Anne for syphilis with blue mass, as he also had Pauline Foster, who in fact was the first to be treated. Many believe that Dula caught the disease from Pauline Foster, then passed it on to both Anne and Laura.
Once the grave had been located, Laura Foster's decomposed body was found with her legs drawn up to fit in the shallow grave. She had been stabbed once in the chest. The gruesome murder and the lovers' triangle, combined with the rumors that circulated in the small backwoods town, captured the public's attention and led to the lasting notoriety of the crime.
Dula's role (if any) in the murder is still unclear. He had fled the area before Laura's body was found, after locals accused him of murdering Laura. Calling himself Tom Hall, he worked for about a week for Colonel James Grayson, just across the state line in Trade, Tennessee. Grayson would enter folklore as a romantic rival of Dula, but this is untrue and became more widespread after the facts were largely forgotten. Once Dula's identify was known, Grayson did help the Wilkes County posse bring him in, but that was his only part in the affair.
Following Dula's arrest, former North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance represented him pro bono, and to the end of his life maintained that Dula was innocent. He succeeded in having the trial moved from Wilkesboro to Statesville, since it was believed Dula could not receive a fair trial in Wilkes County. Nevertheless, Dula was convicted, and although he was given a new trial on appeal, he was convicted again. His supposed accomplice, Jack Keaton, was set free, and on Dula's word, Anne Melton was acquitted. As he stood on the gallows facing death, Dula reportedly said, “Gentlemen, do you see this hand? I didn’t harm a hair on the girl’s head”. He was executed on 1 May 1868, nearly two years after Laura Foster's murder. Dula's younger sister and her husband retrieved his body for burial.
In 2001, Tom Dula was "acquitted" of all charges after a petition was sent around Wilkes County and to the county seat. However, this action was unofficial and had no legal standing.
Much legend and folklore has grown around the tragedy and the life of the handsome Tom Dula. Not the least of these is that Dula came through the war without a scratch, with Governor Vance making use of Dula’s supposed talents with a banjo for his own own entertainment. Both Dula’s and Vance’s accounts, as well as Dula’s own military record, show this to be untrue. Noetheless, it persists even today.
Another myth holds that while Dula was fighting in Virginia, Anne — apparently despairing of ever seeing Tom again – met and married an older farmer, James Melton. In fact, Anne had married James Melton in 1859, three years before Tom left for the war, though that may not actually have changed the nature of their relationship.[better source needed]
A final tale is that Anne Melton confessed to the murder on her deathbed. Anne allegedly confessed she killed Laura in a fit of jealousy and begged Tom to help her conceal the body. People in the area still say that on her deathbed, Anne saw black cats on the walls and could hear and smell bacon frying.
In popular culture
A local poet named Thomas Land wrote a song about the tragedy, titled "Tom Dooley" (which was how Dula's name was pronounced), shortly after Dula was hanged. This, combined with the widespread publicity the trial received, further cemented Dula’s place in North Carolina legend. Land's song is still sung today throughout North Carolina.
- Michael Landon portrayed Dula in the movie The Legend of Tom Dooley (1959). The movie is not based on the facts of Dula’s life, except in the very loosest sense, nor is it based on any traditional Tom Dula legends. Rather, it is a fictional treatment inspired by the lyrics of Land's folk song, "Tom Dooley".
- Sharyn McCrumb's novel The Ballad of Tom Dooley (2011) is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding Laura Foster's murder; in a postscript McCrumb claims her reconstruction is consistent with all the available evidence.
- Bill Brooks's novel Tom Dooley: American Tragedy (2016) is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding Laura Foster's murder.
- Stonewall Jackson's U.S. country music and Billboard hit song "Waterloo" (1959) makes reference to Tom Dooley in the final verse.
- Sam Cooke's song "Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha" (1959) makes a humorous reference to "Tom Dooley" being performed in the Cha Cha Cha style.
- Abner Jay's song "VD" discusses Tom Dooley's story but is distinct from Land's song.
- The members of Macabre, known for their death metal, also released an album of acoustic folk songs titled Macabre Minstrels: Morbid Campfire Songs (2002), which includes a track titled "Tom Dooley", about Dula's death; Macabre's song differs from Land's traditional ballad.
- The music project Windows to Sky featuring SJ Tucker released a version of "Tom Dooley" titled "Tom Dula: Madness Made Us Wild; a Play in Five Verses and a Hanging" (2012), which combines elements of several versions of the story and song, and adapts quotes from the original court transcripts as lyrics. They describe it as "our original reinvention of the 'Tom Dula' story for the Neil Young Americana Contest, June 2012".
- Neil Young's album Americana (2012) features a song called "Tom Dula", a re-working of Thomas Land's original poem.
Uses in other media
- Glada Barn's version of Land's song, “Tom Dooley”, closes Rectify Season 2/Episode 6 ("Mazel Tov"). Rectify's protagonist Daniel Holden was falsely accused of raping and murdering his high school sweetheart, when he was 18 years old, and he served 20 years in prison, on death row. Despite the fact that DNA evidence resulted in his sentence's being vacated, many people continue to believe he is guilty, and some of them, including the dead girl's family and friends, the local police, and the senator whose career was built on his having prosecuted the case, want to see Holden punished.
- West, John Foster (April 2002). The Ballad of Tom Dula: The Documented Story Behind the Murder of Laura Foster. Parkway Publishers. ISBN 1-887905-55-3.
- "Tom Dula". Wilkes County Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on June 8, 2008. Retrieved February 10, 2013.
- West, John Foster (May 1993). Lift up Your Head, Tom Dooley: The True Story of the Appalachian Murder That Inspired One of America's Most Popular Ballads. Asheboro, North Carolina: Down Home Press. ISBN 1-878086-20-0.
- The Kingston Trio (album) at AllMusic
- Sharyn McCrumb (2007-01-01). "Tom Dooley: Bound to Die". Blue Ridge Country. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
- Fletcher, John Edward (2013). The True Story of Tom Dooley: From Western North Carolina Mystery to Folk Legend. SleuthSayers (1 ed.). Charleston: History Press. ISBN 978-1626190436. External link in
- Bill Cissna (2006-09-13). "North Carolina hills hold tale of Tom Dooley". The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Retrieved 2007-10-21.
- "Dula's Confederate muster card" (PDF). gen2go.org. p. 17.
- Lundin, Leigh (2010-02-21). "Who Killed Laura Foster?". Tom Dula. Criminal Brief.
- Lopresti, Rob (2010-01-17). "Boy Kills Girl". Tom Dooley. Criminal Brief. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
- Waltz, Robert B. & Enge, David G. "Murder of Laura Foster, The [Laws F36]". The Ballad Index. Fresno State University.
- Trimble, Marshall (September 25, 2009). "Ask the Marshall: What is the story behind the folk song 'Tom Dooley?'". True West Magazine.
- The Legend of Tom Dooley at the Internet Movie Database; retrieved on 2007-10-19
- Jay, Abner (2003). "VD". One Man Band (CD, Compilation ed.). Sweden: Subliminal Sounds – SUBCD7.
- "Tom Dooley". Macabre Minstres: Morbid Campfire Songs. Decomposed Records. 2002.
- Windows to the Sky feat. SJ Jucker. "Tom Dula: Madness Made Us Wild; a Play in Five Verses and a Hanging". CDBaby. Retrieved February 12, 2015.
- "Rectify Season 2 Music Round-up". Sundance TV. August 27, 2015.
- Finding Tom Dula's and Laura Foster's resting places on archive of blueridgecountry.com web site at the Wayback Machine (archived September 23, 2012)
- Tom Dooley – The Story Behind the Ballad by Karen Wheeling Reynolds ISBN 978-0-9846398-0-9
- Tom Dooley: a Wilkes County Legend, a Play
- Tom Dula's story on archive of Wilkes Chamber of Commerce website at the Wayback Machine (archived December 8, 2003)
- Tom Dula's gravestone images
- North Carolina Historical Marker