The following account of the murder of James Edward Thackston (son of James Ford Thackston and Martha Melvina King) is from a South Carolina Supreme Court opinion, State v. Hester, 137 S.C. 145, 134 S.E. 885 (1926). The following is a sworn statement by a co-defendant, J. C. Floyd, quoted in the Supreme Court’s opinion:
“On Saturday, December 20, 1924, I was in the employ of Mr. J. Ed Thackston, working for him on the farm-milking the cows and other things. I was around home all day until the afternoon when I went to the store, and there I saw Mr. Ed Thackston in his store attending to his duties. I stayed there in the store with Mr. Thackston until about 4:30 p. m., when I left there and went to the dairy to milk the cows. I got there, and there I met Frank Morris, colored, and we milked six cows, getting through about 5 o’clock p. m., when I left the dairy and went on back up the road, passing the store of Mr. Thackston, and went on over the hill to Mr. Jerry Hester’s house. Upon my arrival there I saw Mr. Jerry Hester and his wife, Mrs. Hester, and Mr. Hester and I went to the front porch and sat down to talk. In this conversation Mr. Jerry Hester, he told me, ‘Well, Charlie is back home now and Mr. Thackston will be done away with.’ Then he (Mr. Hester) asked me if I was going back to the store that night, and I replied, ‘I don’t know whether I will or not.’ Then he said, ‘I need a little soda,’ and with this he sent out to my house to borrow some; his son, Cromo, going with me when I left after it. While we were sitting there talking, and the above conversation passed between us, Mr. Hester said that when I went to the store to get Mr. Thackston back that he would be hid at the brick store, which is located right at the railroad crossing, and that Charlie Hester would be in the dairy yard, and they meant to whip him. After getting a pound of butter from Mrs. Hester, paying her for same, I and the boy sent by Mr. Hester went on to my house, and the object in this boy going with me was for me to see when I got home if there was any excuse for me to have to go to the store, so that I could get Mr. Thackston out for them to whip him. When we got to the house I gave the boy the soda, and went on to the store, believing that he would tell his father, Mr. Hester, that I had gone, and that they would get ready to do their bit when I got Mr. Thackston back to the store, and they could get placed, as had been agreed. I went on to the store, as had been agreed, and when I got there I saw that the store was closed up, and that Mr. Thackston had gone home, and I went right on over the railroad just below the entrance to Mr. Ross’s house, and there I whistled for Mr. Thackston, knowing that he would come back to the store for me, for I had heretofore made arrangements with him that on account of us at home expecting a new baby that I was to call the doctor over his phone, and as soon as he heard my whistle he came right on over to the store. He had his money bag with him at this time; that is to say, that when I called him back, as had been agreed with us, he had it with him. When we got to the store, I knew that Mr. Hester was hid at the brick store, as he told me that he would be there, and he had had plenty of time to get there, so when Mr. Thackston got to the store I asked him to let me have some matches. He opened the store, and we both went in; he turning on the lights. He gave me the matches, a five-cent box, and I paid him for them. After I made this purchase, he (Mr. Thackston) asked me ‘if I would not go back home with him,’ and I told him that I would, and with this I stepped out of the door, leaving him just a short distance behind me, and when I got to the door I stepped down the three steps to the ground, and there stood Mr. Jerry Hester with a shotgun up to his shoulder and told me, ‘Run, Floyd,’ and with this I ran off up the road towards home. Charlie Hester, his boy, was standing right there beside him when this was done. When I left at his command, Mr. Thackston had not come out of his store, and the store door was not locked, but he was only a short distance behind me. I ran on up the hill as I had been told to do, and went right on home. I had my supper after I got home. As I went on up the hill running, I got to the crossroads and I passed a man, and I think that this man was Claude Hester, as this man was the same build as Charlie Hester. On leaving the Hester house that afternoon, after I had talked to Mr. Hester, and the plans had all been arranged, and as I was coming out the path towards my house, I met Charlie Hester, and he told me that he would be in the dairy yard that night when I got Mr. Thackston out back to the store, and that they meant to whip him. After I got home, I did not hear any more until about 12:20 a. m. Mr. Ross came to my house and asked me if Mr. Thackston was there, and I told him, ‘No.’ I then knew that something bad had happened, although they did not tell me that they were going to kill him, only that they were going to whip him, but, after I learned that he had not gotten home, I knew that something bad had happened. I couldn’t sleep any more, for I felt sure that Mr. Thackston had been killed, but I sat around the fire until about 3 o’clock a. m., when I thought that I would go out and see what had happened, so I went away from my house, going through Mr. Hester’s yard, and there was no one up, and I went right on through the yard, and went to the railroad tracks just where it was understood that Mr. Jerry Hester was to be hid, and then I went on up the railroad tracks toward Frank Morris’s house, and a short distance up the railroad tracks I found blood there. I then knew what had happened, and in place of these men whipping Mr. Thackston, as had been agreed, they had killed him, and my heart sank to my toes, but, in order to make sure that these men had killed him, I went on to Frank Morris’s house to learn further, and when I got there I was told that they had found him on the railroad tracks dead. All that I knew to be in the gang was Charlie Hester, Jerry Hester, and Claude Hester, and, if there were any others, I did not know it, but I saw and recognized Jerry Hester and Charlie Hester as I came out of the store, for Jerry Hester put a gun on me, and told me to ‘run,’ and I did run, for all that was expected of me was to get Mr. Thackston back to the store where they could whip him. Charlie Hester was to do the whipping, for he did not like Mr. Thackston, for some time ago Mr. Thackston sat on a jury that convicted Charlie Hester for transporting whisky, and he and his father had always said that Mr. Thackston hung the jury on him. This is all that I know about the killing; and, when it was all planned, it was understood that after I got Mr. Thackston back to the store they were not to kill him, but to whip him, and I was not there when the killing took place, as I had done my part and ran home. After the killing of Mr. Ed Thackston, I had a conversation with Jerry Hester, and he asked me if I was ever going to tell this, and he told me that if I ever told it that they would kill me.”
Some other genealogical information from the opinion:
“Three witnesses for the state, Childress, Mrs. Thackston, the wife of the deceased, and his brother, King Thackston, over the objection of the defendants, gave testimony as to the habit or custom of the deceased upon closing his store at night of putting his money into shot sacks tied with shoe strings, placing the sacks of money in his grip, or hand bag, and carrying the grip or hand bag, sacks, and money to his home. Mr. Childress testified that on the night of the killing Mr. Thackston, upon leaving the store, put money into the grip, and that he saw some shot sacks at the time. Mr. King Thackston testified the hand bag was found near the dead body of his brother. There was some evidence on the part of the state that shot sacks, similar to those used by Mr. Thackston, were found in the home of the defendants.”
Additional family information from a later, related opinion, State v. Hester, 148 S.C. 360, 146 S.E. 116 (1929):
“Upon the call of the case for trial the second time, the defendants moved to quash the regular venire of jurors and a special venire ordered by the court to be drawn and summoned to fill deficiencies in the regular venire, upon the ground that Mr. J. Ben Watkins, county auditor of Greenville county, one of the jury commissioners who had participated in the drawing of both the regular and special venires, was a brother of Mr. Joe Watkins, a son-in-law of Mr. Thackston, with whose murder the defendants were charged.
The presiding judge heard the testimony of Mr. W. K. Thackston, a brother of the deceased, the testimony of county auditor Watkins and of Mr. Harry A. Dargan, clerk of the court, and one of the jury commissioners, on the motion before him. Auditor Watkins testified that his brother, Joe, married a daughter of the deceased; that he had nothing to do with placing the names of the jurors in the jury box in December, previous to the trial . . . .”