November 12, 2013

Woman Kills Her Husband's Mistress, Daughter is Accomplice, 1900



[August 27, 1900] -


A Woman Killed With Clubs By a Wronged Wife, Aided By Her Daughter.

Somerset, Ky., Aug. 27.--A shocking tragedy occurred last Thursday morning near Flat Rock, in the southern part of Pulaski county, in a sparsely settled region, 30 miles from Somerset.  Mrs. Serepta Sellers was decoyed from her home, waylaid, beaten with a club and shot and killed with a revolver by Mrs. Nancy Hunley and her daughter, Phoebe King.  Mrs. Hunley's husband had been in the habit of sending his young son with messages to meet him clandestinely, and in this manner the woman was decoyed to her death by the women.

No arrests have been made up to his hour.  Deputy Sheriff Hale has been to the scene of the tragedy, but no trace of the parties could be found.  Since then Sheriff Langdon received a telegram from Mrs. Sellers' brother that the women who did the killing have been located, and the sheriff and Deputy Marshal Coleman will go prepared to capture them. [1]


[December 20, 1900] -


Phoebe King, Arrested at Chattanooga, Confesses to an Atrocious Crime.

Chattanooga, Tenn. Dec. 19.--Phoebe King, a murderess, was carried half fainting and frantic with grief and fear into police headquarters this morning, having been arrested by Officer J. D. Croft at the instigation of Chief of Police R. D. Hughes of Somerset, Ky.

The crime for which Phoebe King must answer was committed twenty-two miles below Somerset, Ky.  Phoebe King's mother and brother, with herself, lived together.  They bore an excellent reputation.  Phoebe was employed as a domestic in the house of Chief of Police R. D. Hughes in Somerset, and according to the Chief, was a trusty servant.  While she was employed with the Chief her mother married a man named Brown.  Phoebe and her brother went to live with their mother and stepfather.  Brown had led a very dissipated life, and had become entangled with a woman in the neighborhood.  When he married Mrs. King he deserted the woman, from whom he had taken nearly everything she had, under the pretense of borrowing it.  Brown was pressed for the return of the money and property, and the woman made it very unpleasant for all concerned.

It was finally agreed to murder her.  Phoebe shot her with a revolver, her brother emptied the contents of a double-barreled shotgun into the body, and Phoebe's mother beat the head of the victim into a pulp.  All three then fled.  The capture of Phoebe to-day was altogether unexpected.  Chief Hughes came to Chattanooga last night on private business.  He was standing on Market street this morning talking with Officer Croft, when Phoebe passed them.  Chief Hughes thought he recognized her through her veil and so stated to Croft, suggesting that they follow her.  They overtook her, and at close quarters the Chief recognized her as his former servant and the woman wanted for murder in Kentucky.  He at once told her to stop and motioned Croft to take charge of her.

The woman burst into tears and became hysterical at once.  She entered the station half dead with fright, crying and moaning in a piteous manner.  She confessed to Chief Hughes that she had committed the crime and implored him not to leave her alone in a cell.  It is learned that she came to Chattanooga last Saturday, since which time she has been looking for work.  Phoebe is 22 years old, fair complexion, light hair and a rather pretty girl. [2]


[December 21, 1900] -


Her Mother Started Out to Whip the Former Mistress of Her Husband, but Was Worsted.


With a Brother, the Two Pitched on the Woman, Shot and Beat Her and Then Left Her for Dead.

Chattanooga, Tenn., Dec. 20.-- Phoebe King, the Kentucky murderess, arrested yesterday by Officer J. D. Croft at the instigation of Chief Hughes of Somerset, told her side of the story to-day.

With tears in her eyes she first asked if they hang women in Kentucky and appeared greatly relieved when told that such a proceeding was unlikely.  Her next inquiry was what they do with women who kill, and when told that if it is a clear case of cold-blooded and premeditated murder, imprisonment for life would scarcely be escaped, she said that she did not expect to escape, for to all appearances her deed was premeditated.

"We lived happily for a time," she said.  "The woman, my stepfather's former mistress, was the sole cause of our unhappiness.  Mamma was a frail, delicate woman, but had plenty of courage, in fact too much.  This woman, after my stepfather married her, continually harassed and annoyed her, jeering at her and insulting her on the streets.  Mama bore it as long as she could, but one day she came in and said she was going to silence that woman.  She told me she was going to give her a sound thrashing and told me and my brother to stand by and see that she did not get whipped herself.  I promised that if she (mamma) got the worst of it, I would help her out, but if she proved to be stronger than the woman, I would not take a hand in it.  I went and got a pistol and we three, mother, brother and I, went to the woman's house.

She had started to town with one of her daughters after some whisky.  My mother told her she had come to give her a thrashing, and straightway began to carry it out, but the woman was too strong for my mother, and was getting the best of it, so I pulled her off.  She caught my mother by the hair, and was dragging her over the ground by it, and I had to draw my pistol.  She still retained her hold, and I fired, the bullet striking her body.  My brother shot about the same time I did, but he did not know what he was doing.  My mother was crazed with pain and rage, so when she was able to walk, she took a stick and hit the woman on the head with it, rendering her unconscious.  We all left that night, and have not been back since."

Phoebe refused to say where her mother and brother are.  She said her story would be substantiated by five witnesses, and she felt that she was not a murderess in the strictest sense of the term.  Chief Hughes ordered a nice dinner for her, and she ate heartily.  This evening she is calm. [3]


[May 2, 1901] -


FRANKFORT, Ky., May 1.-- Governor Beckham this morning offered a reward of $150 each for the arrest and delivery to the jailer of Pulaski county of Nancy and Miles Hunley, fugitives from justice.  They are charged with murder, and are believed to be in hiding in the mountains of Tennessee. [4]


[June 27, 1901] -


The Charge Against a Pulaski Woman And Daughter Now On Trial.

SOMERSET, KY., June 27. -- Nancy Hunnelley and Phoebe King, mother and daughter, are on trial in the Pulaski Circuit Court here for the murder of Epsey Sellers near Flat Rock, Ky., nearly one year ago.

Nancy Hunnelley's husband had, it was alleged, been paying attention to Epsey Sellers. Mrs. Hunnelley became jealous, and she is alleged to have sent her boy with  decoy note to Mrs. Sellers, who was waylaid by Nancy Hunnelley and her daughter, Phoebe King, beaten with clubs, shot and killed. The daughter is alleged to have held Epsey Sellers while her mother shot and beat her to death.

After the murder Mrs. Hunnelley left the State and was only captured about one month ago in Virginia, where she and her son had been in hiding. Mrs. Hunnelley is rather good looking, and her daughter, Phoebe King, is quite a beauty and a belle in her vicinity. 

It will take several days to select a jury and try the case. [5]


[July 1, 1901] -


Mrs. Hunley Pleads That Killing of Neighbor Was Justifiable.

Scripps-McRae Press Ass'n.
Lexington, Ky., July 1.--Mrs. Nancy Hunley and her daughter, Phoebe King, are on trial in the Pulaski Circuit court charged with the murder of Mrs. Epsey Sellers last December.

The defense is that the killing was justifiable because they had been attacked by Mrs. Sellers and further, that if the woman was murdered by them they had a right to do so because she had taken from them their husband and father.

Mrs. Hunley was on the stand Thursday afternoon.  She detailed the fight in which she said Mrs. Sellers had attacked her with a pistol, which had fallen from her hands and which Phoebe King had picked up, and from which she fired a bullet into the woman's head, while Mrs. Sellers was about to stab her with a knife.

The prosecution claims that Mrs. Sellers and her children, who witnessed the affair, had been decoyed to the place, and that Mrs. Sellers was killed without warning by Mrs. Hunley. [6]


[Jul 2, 1901] -



SOMERSET, KY., July 2.--After having taken 159 ballots the jury in the case of Mrs. Nancy Hunley and Miss Peobe King, charged with the murder of Mrs. Epsey Sellers, failed to agree and the defendants were released under $1000 bond.  The vote stood 10 for acquittal and 2 for conviction.  The woman killed Epsey Sellers because it is alleged that she had sustained illegal relations with Hunley.

The grand jury has indicted Miles Hunley, son of Mrs. Hunley, for alleged conspiracy in the crime. [7]


[Oct 29, 1901] -


SOMERSET, Ky., Oct. 28.--The October term of the Pulaski Circuit Court convened here this morning.  Besides a large number of felony and misdemeanor cases there are two murder cases.  The first for trial is that of Epsey Sellers, near Tatesville, in this county, in August, 1900.  At a previous trial of the case at the last June term the jury failed to agree.  The other is against Harry Bishop, charged with murder in the killing of young James B. Davis, on the 4th of this month.  Bishop at his examining trial before Squire J. F. Barker was held over to the grand jury without bail.  The defense in both cases will be that they committed the crimes in defense of their homes and will ask that a verdict of not guilty be returned, based on the unwritten law. [8]


[November 8, 1901] -

Mrs. Phoebe King and mother, Mrs. Nancy Hunley, were given five years in the penitentiary by the Pulaski circuit court for the murder of Mrs. Epsy Sellers. [9]


[Nov 18, 1901] -


When domestic wrongs are arbitrated by the pistol in America it is always pleaded in defense of the man who shoots the invader of his home that there is an unwritten social law profoundly rooted in public opinion which holds the civil law inadequate to the punishment of offenses against women and the family, which justifies recourse to private justice to supplement it.  This "unwritten law," it would seem, cannot successfully be invoked in behalf of a wife who shoots the female wrecker of her domestic peace, for on the 5th inst., at Somerset, Ky., Phoebe King and Nancy Hanley were found guilty by a jury of manslaughter and sentenced to five years each in the penitentiary.

The two women killed Mrs. Epsey Sellers on August 14, 1900.  Mrs. Hanley charged Mrs. Sellers with alienating the affections of her husband.  Phoebe King is Mrs. Hanley's daughter, and the mother and daughter were convicted of having shot Mrs. Sellers to death.  In their case "the unwritten law" as the recourse of women was, of course, as rightfully pleaded as it could be in the case of a man shooting the destroyer of his home, but the jury declined to sanction a resort to it on part of a woman, while doubtless they would have justified it in a man.  This proceeding is the reduction to absurdity of this wretched plea of "unwritten law" in defense of the arbitration of domestic wrongs with the pistol.

If there is any natural justice or equity in it, such a plea ought to be as good a defense for a wife who shoots her husband's married paramour as it is for the husband who murders his wife's paramour, for if a married woman may be seduced from her duty by the insidious advances of a man, why may not a married man be corrupted by the wiles of an artful, unprincipled woman?  The plea of "seduction" may be worthless in either case, but if it may be fairly urged in the one case it is just as good in the other, and if a married man's plea of "unwritten law is a good defense for shooting the "seducer" of his wife, the same plea ought to be just as good for a wife who shoots the married woman that angles for her husband's affections.

There cannot be any "unwritten law" that is a good defense for murder in a man which ought not to be accepted as an equally good defense for a woman.  There is no such law, written or "unwritten," which can rightfully be pleaded in defense of murder, and the refusal to grant a woman any benefit of this "unwritten law" so often successfully invoked in defense of a man, exposes the wretched absurdity and depravity of this vicious plea. [10]


[April 3, 1902] -


FRANKFORT, Ky., April 2.--The State Prison Commission has ordered released from the penitentiary here Nancy Hunley and Phoebe King, of Pulaski county, mother and daughter, who were serving a sentence of five years for manslaughter in the murder of Mrs. Epsey Sellers, whom Mrs. Henley had accused of intimacy with her husband. [11]


[July 14, 1904] -

The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune says it appears to be coming to be a settled principle of administration of justice--more or less alleged--that there is a higher law for men than for women, with a corresponding difficulty in ascertaining the judicial reason why. Last week in New York there were two trials for murder. In one case the prisoner, who had shot down and instantly killed the dishonorer of his home, was acquitted by the jury in the time it took the Foreman to insert the word "not" before the word "guilty" and to sign and present the verdict to the Clerk. The other prisoner was a wife who had shot down and instantly killed the woman who had taken the husband and father from wife and children. She was convicted and sentenced to Sing Sing for life.

Not many months ago a Jury in the Pulaski Circuit Court, Kentucky, sent a wife and mother to the Penitentiary for life for doing as the New York woman did. In that case the Court of Appeals, for errors committed by the trial Judge, reversed the judgment and a new trial will be had. Last Tuesday a woman was taken to Frankfort to serve a life sentence in the Penitentiary for shooting and killing as the New  York and the other Kentucky woman had done. But acting Governor Thorne issued an unconditional pardon, and the woman, with two little children, is now en route to her mountain home--no thanks to Judge nor to Jury.

No man was ever convicted in Kentucky, nor in any other state, for killing the destroyer of his home. But the unwritten law that shields the husband appears to be of the opinion that the wife is exempt from its merciful provisions and must take the legal consequences of her shooting. Not considering the question of the soundness of the higher law for men, there is no reason why it should be administered for the benefit of the husband and denied to the wife.  Governor Thorne did that which seemed right to him, and which seems right to Juries to do when a man is at the bar of justice. And he did right all 'round. [12]


[1] "Decoyed To Her Death." Daily Public Ledger, Maysville, KY. August 27, 1900. Page 2. LOC.

[2] "Murderess Carried Weeping To Prison." The St. Louis Republic, St. Louis, MO. December 20, 1900. Page 2.

[3] "Phoebe King Makes A Full Confession." The St. Louis Republic, St. Louis, MO. December 21, 1900. Page 7. LOC.

[4] "Reward For Alleged Murderers." Morning Herald, Lexington, KY. May 2, 1901. Page 5.

[5] "Killed a Rival." Lexington Leader, Lexington, KY. June 27, 1901. Page 5.

[6] "Under The Unwritten Law." The Guthrie Daily Leader, Guthrie, OK. July 1, 1901. Page 2. LOC.

[7] "Disagreed." Cincinnati Post, Cincinnati, OH. July 2, 1901. Page 3.

[8] "Two Women To Be Tried On Murder Charge." Morning Herald, Lexington, KY. October 29, 1901. Page 2.

[9] Excerpt from "In Neighboring Counties." Semi-Weekly Interior Journal, Stanford, KY. November 8, 1901. Page 1. LOC.

[10] "Unwritten Law." Oregonian, Portland, OR. November 18, 1901. Page 4.

[11] "Mother and Daughter Paroled." Morning Herald, Lexington, KY. April 3, 1902. Page 1.

[12] Daily Public Ledger, Maysville, KY. July 14, 1904. Page 2. LOC.


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