The Murder of Alzina (“Allie”) Berry — Part 1

Transcribed and submitted by Gladys M. Owens.

Click here to view part 2 of this transcription.

While researching for our book Reflections of the Housewright Family’s Journey, co-authored by Regenia Koger, Georgia Greer and myself, we were given some information a Mary Housewright had married a Berry, but he had been hung for killing his wife.  William N. Berry was the last person to be hanged in Hawkins County in 1875.  Since Mary showed up in the 1880 Hawkins County, TN Census, we knew she had not married him.  There was a marriage license not returned of Mary Housewright and James Berry in Grainger County, TN, but again, Mary is in the 1880 census as a Housewright; in 1881, she had Susan Housewright who married Perry Simmons.  By using census, court documents, etc. we were able to prove this was the only Berry/Housewright connection.  But, the murder of Berry’s wife fascinated me.  Helen Danison, late Hamblen County Archivist, contacted me and told me she had just got a file in about the trial of William N. Berry.  She copied the file for me and I thought I would transcribe it and share it with other researchers.  The Hamblen County archives is a great resource.

The counties mentioned in this file were Hawkins, Hamblen, and Greene. As you know, reading old handwriting is a chore (but to me a happy one).  I transcribed this file the best I could.

This family appears in the 1870 Census in Hancock County, District 3, War Gap:  William Berry, 45; Alzina Berry, 46; Sarah Berry, 20; Mary Berry, 16; Matilda Berry, 12; Amanda Berry, 3.

In the 1880 Census in Hawkins County, TN, District 16: S. D. Henard, 52; Tabitha Henard, 50; Loid D. Henard, 16, son; Amanda Berry, 13, other.

During the trial, Matilda married a Smith.  I have not been able to find out anything about her or her other sisters after the trial.

If you have any information about these people, please contact us.

Inquisition over the body of Allie Berry

Witnesses for the State: Dr. Philips, J. R. Henderson, Thomas Berry, Thomas Henderson, James McFerren, Cleon Berry

State of Tennessee }
Hawkins County }

An inquisition holden (that is what it looks like) at the late residence of William N. Berry in the County & State aforesaid on the 2nd of November 1872 before George W. Brooks Coroner of the said County upon the body of Mr. Allie Berry there lying dead by the jurors whose names are hereto subscribed who upon their oaths do say that she came to her death about the 11th of October last by a severe blow inflicted upon her head by William N. Berry, Sarah Berry, Mary Berry & Tilda Berry, weapon unknown, & she came to her death feloniously.

In testimony whereof the jurors have hereunto set their hands the day and date above.

Ilneen (?) G. Lee, L. D. Loyd, J. W. Sleneor, Sen, Thomas Bryant, John. F. Long, John W. Daywood, John Bunch, G. W. Brooks Coroner


State vs Wm Berry, Sarah Berry, Mary Berry & Matilda Berry

Executed by arresting the within named parties and bringing them before J. H. Spears & C. Achardes Esqs for trial on the 7th day of Nov 1872
Smith E. Mooney, Dept Sheriff

Summons for the State

Thos Berry, Sr, Cleon Berry, J. R. Henderson, Thos Henderson, James McPheron, Henderson Berry, Malinda Hartman.

J. H. Spears, J. P.
Filed 12 Nov 1872
Jno J. Wolfe, Clk
by J. R. Pace, DC


Judgment that the defendants are guilty of the charges specified in the warrant and that no default of bail they be confined in the jail of Hawkins County until the next term of the Circuit Court of said County there to have a further hearing to the cause.
Nov 8th 1872
J. H. Spears, J. P.
C. A. Charles, J. P.

Arrest Warrant

State of Tennessee }
Hawkins County }

To the Sheriff of said County greeting:
Information on oath having been made to me that the offence of murder has been committed in the County of Hawkins & State of Tennessee on the body of Alley Berry & accusing William Berry, Sarah Berry, Mary Berry & Matilda Berry thereof—you are hereby commanded therefore in the name of the State forthwith to arrest said William Berry, Sarah Berry, Mary Berry and Matilda Berry and bring them before me or some other Magistrate of said County to answer the charge.
Nov. 7th 1872
John H. Spears, J. P. for Hawkins County.

Affidavit of Joseph Jenkins

State of Tennessee }
Hawkins County }

Personally came Joseph Jenkins before me and made oath in due form of law that Alley Berry, wife of William Berry a citizen of Hawkins County was lately found dead in said County — that he verily believes she came to her death by violence and that William Berry, Mary Berry, Sarah Berry and Matilda Berry murdered the said Alley Berry (for committed murder on the body of said Alley Berry) that said Alley Berry was the wife of said William Berry — that she was as he is informed & believes at the residence of said William Berry on the morning of the 11th of Oct. 1872 — that she was heard to utter screams of distress on said day — that said Alley Berry has not been seen alive since Oct. 11th 1872 — that a body was found near the residence of said William Berry buried in an indecent & inhuman manner in the ground — naked or nearly so and that said William Berry, Mary Berry, Sarah Berry & Matilda Berry through remaining at their said residence until the 31st day of Oct 1872 never gave any alarm to their neighbors at the fact of said Alley Berry’s missing — but said parties started as they reported to move to Texas.
(Written on the side is) which dead body affiant believes to be that of said Alley Berry.

Sworn & subscribed to before me Nov 7th 1872
Joseph Jenkins

John H. Spears, J. P.

Motion of William Berry for order of trials

The State vs Wm Berry

The defendant William Berry makes oath that justice requires that a [illegible] be granted in this case the other defendant against them is no proof should be first put on trial in this case. He asks wherefore that the other defendants be first put upon trial to [illegible] justice

Wm his mark Berry

Sworn to in open court 4th day July 1873
John J. Wolfe, Clerk

Motion of William Berry for change of venue

State of Tennessee vs Wm N. Berry

The deft makes oath that there exists at the present time in the County of Hawkins such degree of excitement and prejudice both on account of the grave character of the offence with which he is charged and the circumstances surrounding the [illegible] there of which tend to convict affiant there with as well also as the fact that affiant very recently made his escape from the jail of said County and was arrested and returned from a distant state, and is now and have been since his return, heavily interred in said jail and in such condition has at times been unnecessarily exposed to public view and also on account of the further fact that his prosecution is influenced by and urged as he believes by a very numerous kinship principally resident in this County. He does not believe that he can have a fair and impartial trial in said County of Hawkins and for the reasons above stated affiant does not believe that the [illegible] of justice be met without a removal of the case by Change of Venue as allowed by state to some approving County when the objections urged do not exist. Affiant there fore prays that a Change of Venue in the case be ordered to the County of Hamblen. Affiant further states that their application is not made for purpose of delay but purely in order that justice maybe done.

W. N. Berry

Sworn to and subscribed before me on this 29 Jan 1876 [as transcribed]
J. J. Wolfe, Clerk

Affidavit for Change of Venue

State of Tennessee vs Wm N. Berry
Filed Jan 29th, 1874
J. J. Wolfe, Clerk

Affidavits of W. N. Berry and S. J. Kirkpatrick

State vs Wm N. Berry

The deft makes oath in due forum of court that he cannot safely come to trial at the present term of the court for the reason that Col. Jas. Netherland who has been his counsel from the date when the accusations of which he now stands charged was first brought against him is absent and unable to be present at this term of the Court on account of a severe injury recently received by being thrown from his horse and of which he is now confined to his bed. Affiant further states that Mr. Netherland is the only person having knowledge of the fact which he relies on for his defense and that his said counsel has herewith sably? Conducted the proceedings preclaimay? To making said defense and that it would not be possible to for affiant to advise another council at this lat hour as to the character and nature of the fact relied upon by him in such way as that a full development of the case could be had upon a trial at this term of the Court. Affiant further state that through the assistance of his friends he has [illegible] employed additional counsel but that he has not as yet had any opportunity to confer with him in reference to the case. Nor does affiant believes that counsel is acquainted with the facts of the case [illegible] beginning could possible investigate the same witness in time to which he would necessarily be restricted in a sufficiently through manner to present the defense which affiant has in the full and ample manner which justice requires should be due affiant therefore prays that the case be continued until the next term of this court not that the [illegible] of justice be thwarted or even delayed but that justice be done

W. N. Berry

Sworn to and subscribed before me on the 20th April 1874
T. C. Carin, Clerk

Also personally appeared before me S. J. Kirkpatrick who being sworn states that he has recently been retained as Counsel for the deft—in the case of the State Vs Wm N. Berry now pending for trial in this court. Affiant states that he is wholly unacquainted with the facts in the case not having had an opportunity to investigate the case since his being retained therein and affiant does not believe that he would be doing justice to his client in going into trial in the above of deft [illegible] cause and upon the [illegible] information which he provides of the fact s of the case he therefore prays that the case be continued with the next term of this court to the end that a fair and impartial investigation in of the case [illegible] be found and the case trial upon its merits.

S. J. Kirkpatrick

Sworn to before me on this 20th April, 1874
T. C. Carins, Clerk

Affidavit of P. G. Fulkerson

The State vs W. N. Berry

P. G. Fulkerson, Atty Gen. for the state makes oath in due form of law that Matilda Smith formerly Matilda Berry who is a material witness for the state and has been summoned is absent as he believes in contempt of the process of this court wherefore affiant proposes that an attachment issue against said witness.

P. G. Fulkerson, Attorney General

Sworn to & subscribed on Aug. 17, 1874
T. C. Cains, Clerk

Summons to Greene County for Matilda Smith

State of Tennessee }
Hamblen County }

To the Sheriff of Greene County

Whereas in our circuit court for Hamblen County and indictment is proceeding against Wm Berry for murder and whereas it appears from inspection of record that Matilda Smith had be regularly summoned to appear at the term of our court now sitting to give evidence in behalf of the state and if further appearing to the court from affidavit of P. G. Fulkerson Atty Genl that the said Matilda Smith refuses to obey the summons and is in contempt of the court it is ordered that an attachment issue for the body of the said Matilda Smith your are therefore commanded forth with to have the body of the said Matilda Smith before the judge of our court. Now sitting at the courthouse in Morristown [illegible] to give evidence in said cause and answer said contempt. Witness T. C. Cain Clerk of said Court at offices in Morristown, Dec. 21, 1874

T. C. Cain, Clerk

State vs W. M. [as transcribed] Berry
Attachment for witness
Issd — Dec 21, 1874

Executed as commanded by taking the body of Matilda Smith on the 22nd of December 1874 & delivering the 22nt of December 1874 to the Judge of Court

Bill of Cost 75 cts (cents)
Joseph Jenkins, Constable

E. Baird guarding witness attached 3 days $3.00
H. Boyd

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