DAVIDSON HISTORY

Sensational Murder in Davidson in 1914

by | Aug 18, 2018 | Bottom Left Black Box, Davidson History

Jetton Drug Store, circa 1914 (Photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)

In February 1914, there was a sensational murder in Davidson, one which involved two of the most prominent men in town. At 7:30 p.m. on February 10, pharmacist Robert Munroe Jetton discovered Dr. W.H. Wooten in his wife’s bedroom and shot him.

Robert Munroe Jetton, the son of John Lewis and Mary Ann Jetton, was born in Mecklenburg County on August 24, 1881. By 1910, he was living on Jetton Street in Davidson with his mother Mary Ann and four siblings and was working as a pharmacist. He met his wife Josie, who was from Mississippi, when she visited Davidson sometime around 1905, and they married on October 28, 1913. They lived with his family until they could move into their own home the following January. According to newspaper reports, she met Dr. Wooten on the first of several visits to Davidson, and she testified that he “was always familiar, acting peculiarly for a married man.”  She also alleged that he had visited her several times in her home, and on one occasion had kissed her.

At the end of January, Mrs. Jetton fell ill, and Wooten, who was not her doctor, visited uninvited on several occasions to see how she was. She finally told her husband about these visits on February 7. On February 10, Wooten lingered at the drug store until Munroe Jetton had returned from his dinner break. He then started off for the Jetton home. Munroe Jetton was suspicious and followed him. He arrived at the house to find Wooten with Mrs. Jetton in their bedroom, where he had dragged her. When Jetton confronted him, Wooten allegedly rushed him, and Jetton shot him. Wooten died 30 minutes later, and Jetton was arrested.

Jetton was tried later that month, and although the defense tried to prove that Wooten had been invited to the Jetton home, after a half an hour of deliberation the jury acquitted him. According to Jetton’s lawyer, “Jetton shot Wooten in defense of his home and that the action was justified by the ‘unwritten law’ and in self-defense.”*

Apparently, the courtroom was packed, and spectators were jubilant when Jetton was acquitted. However, that was not the end of the case. According to the April 4 edition of the Charlotte Observer, in early April Jetton’s home was defaced with red paint, and the name ‘Jetton’ on the window of the White-Jetton Drug Company was also painted over with red paint. According to this report, feeling against Jetton had been growing since the trial, especially among friends of Dr. Wooten, and that the vandalism indicated “the general sentiment of the community.” The Observer speculated that this may have been an attempt to force Jetton to leave Davidson.

Munroe Jetton did eventually leave Davidson. By the time he registered for the draft in September 1918, he was working as a druggist in Comer, Georgia. He and Josie remained there in 1920, and by 1930 he owned a drugstore in Brookline, Georgia. Both towns are in Madison County. He died in Madison County on January 30, 1939, and he and his wife are buried near his parents in the Davidson College Cemetery.

Parks Rexall Drug Store Building, circa 1987, the exterior unchanged from its earliest days (photo courtesy of Davidson College Archives)

Newspaper reports give much more information about the incidents that led to the murder. For further information, consult “Jetton Acquitted on Unwritten Law,” published in The Farmer and Mechanic (Raleigh) on February 24, 1914 and “Sensational Case in Mecklenburg,” published in The Monroe Journal on February 17, 1914.

*The ‘unwritten law’ held that “a man may with impunity slay the man who has invaded his home.”

Nancy Griffith

Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.

Support Your Community News