No murder occurring within the last 10 years has caused so much excitement among the people of Georgia as that of Mrs. Ella Beck and her sister, Miss Addie, the husband and brother-in-law being the criminal. – New York Times, December 10, 1884.
When people ask what my visits to cemeteries are like, I don’t get very specific because, to be honest, it can be a Forrest Gump experience. I never know what I’m going to get.
Never was this more evident than when I recently claimed a Find a Grave photo request for a woman named Addie Bailey, buried in Cumming City Cemetery in Forsyth County. I don’t wander that far afield of the metro often, but I was up for something different. My friend, Sherri, had agreed to join me and I thought this might prove interesting. Little did I know how true that would be.
Locating Cumming City Cemetery in the “downtown” area was easy, but there was no designated parking area. We glimpsed the barbed wire atop the back fence and realized that located behind the cemetery was the county jail. It was confirmed when we pulled into the jail parking lot and saw some fellows in orange jumpsuits working in a shed nearby. We decided to park on the OTHER side of the cemetery.
It wasn’t until we began hunting for Addie’s grave (which Sherri found!) that I read her story on FiAG. Addie Evaline Bailey was born in 1867. Her older sister, Ella, was born two years earlier and was married to Eugene Beck. The couple lived in Clayton over in Rabun County, where Eugene’s father had been sheriff. The sisters were close but after Ella married, they did not see each other often. Their father, Dr. Samuel Bailey, was a well-known physician in Cumming and was close to both his daughters.
Addie was set to marry in November 1884 and Ella invited her to stay with her in Clayton during the week before the nuptials. Unfortunately, Addie had no idea that Ella had a secret. Eugene was an alcoholic and prone to long periods of drunkenness. Not until Addie had traveled to Clayton to stay with her sister did this become apparent. Ella was too proud to share her predicament with anyone, not unusual in those days.
According to a servant, on the evening of October 28, 1884, as the sisters slept, Eugene awoke, got dressed and came into their bedroom. He turned up the lamp before taking out a gun, then shot his wife in the head as she slept. She died immediately. As Addie awoke, he shot her in the chest. A servant reported that he fled out the door, and went straight to the jail and the marshal. According to court transcripts:
Hearing continued screaming, the marshal went out and learned that Beck had killed his wife and sister in law. Returning, he said to Beck, “Gene, you have killed your wife and sister-in-law!” Beck replied, “Well, I have killed the best friend I have got.” In about fifteen minutes the sheriff came and locked him up. He did not resist. He had a little half pint bottle about half full of whiskey.
Dr. Bailey was summoned but was only told his daughters were “ill”. He got quite a shock when he entered the bedroom to find one daughter laid out on the floor in preparation for burial and the other clinging to life. Addie died a few days later. Dr. Bailey brought their bodies back to Cumming for burial.
At the time of their deaths, Addie was 17 and Ella was 19. Incredibly young to be thrown into such violent circumstances. Their graves are on top of the hill in one of the most beautiful areas of the cemetery. The sisters share a monument beside their parents’ monument. Local lore says Dr. Bailey often visited their graves for long periods of time.
The double murder shook North Georgia to the core. It was reported on by several North Georgia newspapers. Even the The New York Times (quoted earlier) had a few lengthy articles about the murders. Some accounts stretched the truth a bit (one being that Dr. Bailey arrived at Beck’s house to find Addie’s body dressed in her wedding gown for her burial when in truth she had not died yet) to escalate the drama of an already tragic event.
Being the only son of a prominent family, Beck had some supporters in the community. Some testified on his behalf. He plead not guilty by reason of insanity. It did not keep him from being sent to prison for life in September 1885.
In March 1886, Beck appealed his case to the Georgia Supreme Court (Beck vs. The State of Georgia) on the grounds that due to his drunken state that night, he had no control over his actions and was not responsible for the murders. But it was not enough to get his sentence overturned. Beck died in 1890 from blood poisoning, reportedly contracted while working on a chain gang in a Dade County (Georgia) mine with other prisoners.
Dr. Bailey died in 1887, only a few years after the murders. His second wife (the first died in 1834), Sally, was the mother of Addie and Ella. She was 24 years Bailey’s junior and lived until 1904. She is buried with him beside the sisters.
Grave inscriptions can run the gamut from sorrowful to joyful to humorous. The one at the foot of Addie and Ella’s monument is decidedly bittersweet.
Sweetly sleep, angel sisters.
No more from your slumber
Will you be awakened by pistol shots.
From the bothers of earth you were driven,
But the gates of Heaven were opened to let you in.
To read more about Addie and Ella’s story, you can visit these sites:
New York Times articles: http://bit.ly/YWYsZr and http://bit.ly/WTJZrt
Account of the murders: http://bit.ly/TQuBPN
Jerrie Good Rakes said:
I love your stories. It’s the highlight of my day. Thanks so much.
Wow, what a tragic story for those two young women. It always makes me so sad to hear about a family that loses all the children in one fell swoop. I wonder who wrote the poignant words on their gravestone?
That’s a question I intend to dig into. I see so many inscriptions (some leave me scratching my head), I wonder if the guys who made the markers wrote them or the family did. I will try to find out.
Sherri Feliccia said:
Never expected to encounter such a moving and heart breaking experience in my first trip cemetery hopping with my dear friend Tracy. One really learns a lot about how things were in the old days as well. It’s satisfying to know a family member has closure in their search as well.
Linda Bulman said:
Traci, only you could make visits to a cemetery a fun and interesting experience! History books are necessary, but this is the history that really connects us to the past.
Thanks, Linda! That’s exactly what I hope to do. 🙂
Faith Cordray said:
Traci, thanks for another amazing tale found in the
history of the graves.
Todd Guenzi said:
This story is amazing! Thanks for sharing the history with us.
Gloria Hayes said:
My Grandfather McDuffie’s two brothers were shot at the same time at a party by a man; the bullet supposedly went through the one brother and entered the other brother, killing them both,back in the early 1900’s. Their headstone is exactly like the two sisters’. They are buried at Christian Hill Cemetery, near Rochelle, Georgia,near their father, David Stephen McDuffie.