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Murder in Fruitville
Murder in Fruitville

Murder in Fruitville


Two bad apples, James A, Waterfield, my warped step-dad, and his heinous dad, George S. Waterfield, were born in Fruitville, southern part of Knotts Island, NC. Back in 1926 countless flocks of ducks and geese made the marshes and waterways in that area a hunting dream for the rich. More than forty hunting clubs lined the shores of Back Bay and Currituck Sound, known as the "sportsman's paradise". Many lodges were costly estates with household staffs, tennis courts and swimming pools.

One frequent hunter, Cliff Johnson, the founder of Johnson & Johnson, owned a hunting lodge on Knotts Island overlooking the Currituck Sound. George S. Waterfield was his personal hunting guide. George also sold Cliff a rack of duck decoys he had carved out of juniper wood. Many considered George's decoys with a raised head, curved neck, and long chip tail the best around. His initials, GW, were carved on the bottom. Based on a book by Kroghie Andresen published in 2008, one of George's decoys sold for $3,700. I wonder if George's homicide on July 13, 1926 had anything to do with that exorbitant price.

His murder victim Bertha Ansell was 16, not 17 according to news reports. June 8, 1910 is engraved on her headstone. Two in print articles stated Waterfield killed the pretty girl to get back at her dad over a grudge. During a quarrel, it was alleged Waterfield promised to “get even” with Charles Ansell.

Bertha's grand-dad had something to do with George's mom, Julia, being accused of being a witch. I couldn't find a hint pertaining to her alleged witchcraft. I read Julia A. Smith, 22, married Caleb J. Waterfield, 47. That's about it except for that witch rumor that went around that narrow seven mile long island. An allegation about your mom being a witch or being mad at a young girl's dad being a murder motive makes no sense.

George Waterfield was 41 at time, his wife was 19. They married when Blanche was only 15. It was reported that George was unlikable. As far as hearsay results go, Bertha was very loveable. If Waterfield believed Bertha assisted his wife in an attempt to run off with another man, that might've been his motive.

The Bee's headline read 'Kills Sweetheart, Shoots Lover on Lonely Road'. There were no rumors about Waterfield having an affair with his victim; plenty of gossip going around about his wife Blanche having affairs, one with William Tatem, age 21 or age 25 depending on which newspaper article you read. Tatem was Waterfield's second shooting victim, but he didn't die.

The Boston Globe reported Miss Ansell and William Tatem returned to the island in an automobile. They stopped by Waterfield's house. The girl was shot in the breast, died instantly, and fell out of the car.

A few journalists wrote a breast wound had caused Bertha's death. Not true! She died almost immediately from a gaping hole in the right side of her neck. The load from a shotgun severed her jugular vein. Since she landed on her left side almost in a fetal position, it's unlikely she fell out of a car.

Three boys came along in a car just in time to witness the shots fired and the couple fall to the ground. The boys claimed Tatem was shot twice while standing. He played dead on the road as Waterfield stood over him and declared, "If I didn't know you were dead, I'd give you the other barrel.

In fear of being next, the boys abandoned the car, and fled into the woods.

The Washington Post had Tatem's account of what happened. He met Miss Ansell. They walked up to Waterfield's home, stopped, and talked with Mr. Waterfield. As a result of a derogatory remark about Bertha made by Waterfield, Tatem said, "Remember, she is an orphan and you should not say anything about her."

Tatem conveniently failed to mention his threat, "If you ever say that again, I am going to let daylight through you."

That's when Waterfield reached behind the fence they stood in front of, grabbed his shotgun and fired. One newspaper had Tatem being shot in the shoulder and lung, and it was likely he was going to die. Another write-up specified "... a load from Waterfield's gun gazed his left shoulder."

Several reports had Tatem landing face first on the dirt road after the shoulder wound. As he started to get up, Waterfield shot him in the back of the neck.

A couple of newspapers reported Waterfield's wife, son, and mom were inside his house at the time of the shootings.

The Daily Advance, Elizabeth City, NC, circulated their account of what happened. It came out a week after the murder and started its tale with "Back of Bloody Murder Is Pathetic Story of Wife So Afraid of Husband She Was Trying To Make Escape Before Tragedy Occurred".

"A young girl dead on the roadside, her head in a wheel rut filled with her own blood and her feet on the edge of another pool of blood where her sweetheart had lain, a shotgun wound as big as a man's fist in the back of the neck."

"The shooting was witnessed by Waterfield's wife, who stood at the time on the porch of their home with her baby in her arms. Following the shooting, Waterfield walked to the porch and kissed the baby."

Then Waterfield said to his wife, "Willie ain't dead yet, but he's going to die."

George Waterfield, left his property, and stalked a few hundred yards down the road to where he spoke to Fred Wilkins, a neighbor. "Fred, I've done murder. I've piled up two bodies back yonder, and I'm looking for another."

Tatem got up as soon as Waterfield was out of sight. He made it to a friend's house. Then he was driven to a hospital in Norfolk, Virginia.

There was a rumor Waterfield chatted with a police officer, Floyd Williams. If true, there never was an explanation why Waterfield wasn't arrested. His shotgun and handgun might be the reason. Many people on that island feared Waterfield, and thought Tatem was having an affair with Waterfield's wife.

William Tatem's sister's granddaughter wrote, "I remember hearing about Uncle Willie messing around with someone he shouldn’t. Uncle Willie and Ms. Ansel would walk most evenings by Waterfield’s home. Mrs. Waterfield would come out and join them in their walk supposedly to meet further down the road with her lover."

Most likely Tatem went to Waterfield's home to "have it out" with Waterfield over an episode Waterfield had with Bertha. Waterfield learned his wife had carried a suitcase filled with clothing to the home of Bertha's father. Waterfield went there to confront Bertha. He accused her of having something to do with the domestic difficulties he was having with his wife. He was convinced his wife was having an affair with Tatem or someone else. Somehow Bertha was involved.

Bertha spoke to Tatem shortly before the murder. She told him about Waterfield's unfriendly visit. It seems like Tatem went to Waterfield's house looking for trouble.

Tatem making a big deal about Bertha being an orphan was groundless. Her mother died in 1918. Bertha lived with her dad not too far from the crime scene. It's conceivable Tatem was hankering for a reason to beat up the old man. He didn't know Waterfield had a loaded shotgun nearby. Waterfield's house was forty feet from the road. He felt safe.

No attempt was made to apprehend Waterfield for six hours. He returned to his house to talk to his wife. She was gone. About 9 PM he walked to the home of Cornelius Jones about a quarter mile from his house. Jones sat on his porch until Waterfield took a few steps on his land. Then he greeted Waterfield as far away from his house as possible. He feared Waterfield's son might cry out while he lied to Waterfield about Mrs. Waterfield not hiding inside his house.

Jones talked soothingly to Waterfield as they walked out of his yard and down the road. He listened attentively to every word Waterfield had to say. The killing was self defense and a shot meant for Tatem killed the girl. Jones assured him a jury of his peers won't convict him as they shook hands. Waterfield expressed his determination never to be taken alive. Those were the last reported spoken words by George S. Waterfield.

Mrs. Waterfield hid in Jone's house until the next morning. She returned to her home accompanied by the sheriff and members of his posse. Upon arrival she went into the woods and returned with another suitcase filled with clothing.

She explained to the sheriff she had lived in mortal terror of her husband, who had threatened to kill her. She had sought to escape with the help from Miss Bertha Ansell.

The sheriff's first step in the effort to capture Waterfield involved a search of the adjacent woodland and inside the houses in the vicinity. After a lunch break, the search party increased to seventy-five men and a half dozen bloodhounds on loan from Norfolk, VA.

The hounds led the posse to Jones' house. From there the hounds followed Waterfield's trail through the woods to a boat landing. Waterfield's skiff was missing.

The island shores were patrolled by armed men, while others were in motor boats and skiffs seeking the fugitive. It's written Waterfield in his skiff eluded the posse somewhere in Back Bay or Currituck Sound. Some neighbors believed the witch, Waterfield's mother, hid her son and helped him get away.

Governor McLean offered a $100 reward for the apprehension of George S. Waterfield, but no description of Waterfield provided anywhere. Shortly thereafter, a newspaper reported, "Searching centered upon Tidewater, Virginia, where fugitive is thought hiding."

Waterfield's skiff was found a couple weeks after the search ended with a dead body in it, apparently suffering a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face. His wife declared it to be that of her husband, but some inhabitants of the island that knew Waterfeild believed it wasn't George Waterfield. A few local Knotts Islanders heard a grave plot was dug up to provide the body found on that flat-bottomed rowboat. There were many other Waterfields living on Knotts Island long before the murder and afterwards. Years later a couple from the island claimed they saw a thinner George S. Waterfield in Florida.

Waterfield's wife and son moved to Norfolk, Virginia, the day after the murder to live with Blanche's dad, Orry Bailey. Blanche married Burleigh C. Harrison on June 11, 1931 in Norfolk, VA, and probably lived with her second husband until they divorced on Oct. 3, 1941. The 1940 Census has James, 16, living with his grandfather. He enlisted in the army August 10, 1940, and convicted of raping a 17 year old girl in 1945. His sentence: confinement at hard labor for life. He was released after serving two years.


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10 Jul, 2022
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