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Pardon Tom Dula
The Record
/Playmakers petition for exoneration

By JERRY LANKFORD
Record Editor

The Record and the Wilkes Playmakers will file a petition to have Thomas C. “Tom” Dula pardoned for the murder of Laura Foster. Although the murder occurred 135 years ago, there is evidence Dula may have been innocent, said Record Publisher Ken Welborn. The strongest point the petition will include is that there is evidence that Judge Ralph Buxton, who heard the first murder trial, wrote to Judge William M. Shipp before the appeal case was heard, Welborn said. In the correspondence, Buxton advised Shipp on what testimony should be omitted to assure a conviction. Resident Superior Court Judge Michael Helms told The Record on Monday afternoon interview that such a correspondence would be “highly improper” by today’s standards. “I wouldn’t call another judge and he shouldn’t call me in order for it to be a fair trial,” Helms said. During a press conference held at Town Hall in North Wilkesboro, Welborn told a crowd of about 50 that, the upcoming play, Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend, has created new interest in the old murder case. 

The paper is in the fifth week of a series about the Dooley saga and the play. “As this series has progressed, it has fostered a renewed interest in, not just the show, but in the actual murder/mystery,” Welborn said. With the interest have come hundreds of pages of documents, including copies of the original court transcripts. Staff at The Record and members of the Playmakers have been sifting through the documents — many which were provided by Sandra Watts of North Wilkesboro. Karen Wheeling Sloop, who wrote and will direct the play, has done other research.  “We had story telling sessions where we asked people in Ferguson (where the murder occurred) if they thought he (Dula) was guilty. Everyone said they did not.” The court records from the trial paint a sketchy picture at best about what may have happened, Sloop said. “They based everything on what Pauline Foster said,” Sloop added. Pauline Foster was the housemaid and cousin to Anne Melton. Both women were Dula’s lovers. After Laura Foster’s body was found in a shallow grave in the summer of 1866, both Melton and Pauline Foster were arrested for the murder. Pauline Foster agreed to testify against Dula and Melton in exchange for release.  “She (Pauline Foster) had said in public that she would swear a lie for Tom Dula,” Sloop said. “I don’t think it would hold up in court today. 

All the testimony is conflicting. Nothing was proved beyond a shadow of doubt.” She added, “The truth is, none of us know what really happened. They didn’t know then, either, but they hanged somebody.” The lack of circumstantial evidence and the credibility of Pauline Foster’s testimony are other points that will addressed in the petition, Welborn said. The Record has retained Attorney Bill McElwee III to draft the petition for the posthumous pardon. The petition will be presented to Gov. Mike Easley’s office within the next three weeks, Welborn said. Other points to be addressed in the petition are, according to Welborn: “There were no eyewitnesses to the crime, only witnesses who said they saw Dula in the general vicinity of the alleged murder site several hours before and after the alleged time of the murder; “No murder weapon was found; “Tom Dula did not leave the area until several weeks following the disappearance of Laura Foster. Others, including Pauline Foster and Jack Keaton (a former boyfriend of Laura Foster) did leave the area; “Other key testimony stated that Dula was seen with a mattock (a digging tool) that was given to Dula by the mother of Anne Foster Melton, Dula’s co-defendant. This was a direct effort on her part to take suspicion away from her daughter.”

 More information on the case was acquired by The Record on Monday. That will be reviewed in the next few days. During Monday’s press conference, cast members from the play showed up in costume.  “We are going to see to it that he is pardoned,” said Steve Critz, one of the founding members of the Playmakers, as members of the audience applauded. Members of the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society, who will perform between scenes of the play, were also at Town Hall. After the press conference, the musicians, which included Keith Watts, R.G. Absher (who will also act in the play) and Laura Ferguson performed the Ballad of Tom Dooley. Nearby, reporters asked questions to North Wilkesboro Mayor Conley Call, who opened the press conference. Some were skeptical about the seriousness of the petition for pardon. “We’re very serious about this,” Welborn said. “This is a chance to get a Wilkes County native pardoned for murder. 

 

Bowman Speaks Out
About charge, rumors, in exclusive interview

By JERRY LANKFORD
Record Editor

Dr. Tom Bowman has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of selling sample drugs. Bowman, 49, of North Wilkesboro, will resign his seat on the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners and surrender his medical license for five years as part of a plea agreement. Bowman has also agreed to pay $150,000 in fines when he is sentenced in connection with the plea. “I’m going to do what I agreed to do,” Bowman said.  Until sentencing occurs, Bowman said he will continue business as usual at his practice and on the county board. According to sources, it could be several months before sentencing takes place. During an exclusive interview with The Record on Monday, Bowman declined to talk about specifics of the criminal investigation.   For weeks, Wilkes has been buzzing with rumors regarding Bowman. Although he declined to address those rumors specifically, Bowman said, “It’s unfortunate that in Wilkes County people thrive on bad news and rumors. What they see in front of them is as bad as it’s going to get.” About the felony charge, he said, “I regret that I can not change the past and I am truly sorry for the wrong doing that I have agreed to. I would point out that the only violation that I have agreed to is the conspiracy to repackage sample medications and I certainly wish to express my regret and sorrow regarding this matter.”

 North Wilkesboro Police Det. Randy Rhodes said the investigation began last July after a shooting occurred at Lowe Fur and Herb. Rhodes declined further comment about the investigation but added that the State Bureau of Investigation, Wilkes District Attorneys Office, Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Attorneys office were involved in the case. Wilkes DA Tom Horner stated in a news release that it “became apparent that Dr. Bowman was engaged in various criminal activities, which primarily consisted in redistributing sample drugs for money. While these sample drugs originated from Dr. Bowman’s office, at no time did any evidence surface that anyone else associated with his office was involved.” Horner added, “During the course of the investigation it was determined that Dr. Bowman was involved with several individuals who redistributed sample drugs through multiple pharmacies for considerable personal gain over an extended period of time.” A bill of information regarding the plea agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Charlotte on Friday, said David Freedman, Bowman’s attorney. From this process, Bowman will not be indicted, Freedman said. “He waived the indictment procedure by doing this,” Freedman said. “He’s been cooperative throughout all of this. This wasn’t required to be submitted through a grand jury.” 

During Monday’s interview, Bowman said he is mostly concerned with his patients. Last week, the staff at his office — Riverside Medical Associates in North Wilkesboro — sent out 4,000 letters to patients and their families. The letters explained that his practice is still open and that provisions would be taken to provide medical attention for patients in the future.  “I would like to make sure that the community and my patients know they will be taken care of and that they will have good medical coverage here at Riverside Medical Associates during any future leave of absence that I may have to take,” Bowman said.Freedman added, “He spent his lifetime serving the people of Wilkes County. He truly feels he has let them (his patients) and his political constituents down. He has been cooperative throughout this investigation and has tried to make it the least harmful as possible to those people.”  Bowman is one of three Republicans on the five-seat county board of commissioners. He was elected for a two-year term last year after a third-place finish for three seats. Bowman, however, can never run for office again since the charge in the plea is a felony.  

About leaving the board, he said, “When I resign my seat as a county commissioner, I am confident that the current board of commissioners will find a good replacement who is conscious of the current problems with regard to our citizens paying too much tax, and hopefully there will be some sort of tax relief soon. I hope they pick someone with experience, who know who to deal with the issues that affect the public.” Wilkes GOP leaders will nominate possible Republican candidates to replace Bowman on the board. The choice, however, is up to commissioners. Sources say Zach Henderson, who ran unsuccessfully last year, may be among the recommendations. Bowman said his leaving the board should have no adverse affect on county government. “I think our current commissioners are excellent men,” he said. “Even though there have been occasional disagreements on some issues, I believe they have good intentions.” He added, “They’ll do just fine. I’d like to think I brought some experience to the board. It’s been a pleasure working with them.” Bowman previously served on the county board from 1994 to 1998. He was chairman for two of those years. He has been a doctor since 1977 and has acquired nearly 10,000 patients during that time. 

Fostor to Run
for N.W. Mayor

By JERRY LANKFORD
Record Editor

Republican Steve Foster says he wants the North Wilkesboro’s mayor seat and plans to run for the post. Foster, 52, who is mayor pro tem, told The Record this week that he will file to run for the office next month. The filing period opens at noon July 6 and closes at noon Aug. 3. A GOP primary seems likely. Mayor Conley Call. Call, also a Republican, told The Record on Tuesday that he will run for reelection. A primary would be held on Sept. 25. Elections are scheduled for Nov. 6.

Foster said he will run for the post because the town needs strong leadership. “You can’t be afraid to make decisions,” he said. “I’m the one that has to put my head on my pillow at night and knows if what I did was right.” Economic development is a key issue for the town, he added. “One of the first things I would do as mayor is appoint someone to recruit industry,” Foster said. “This would help both the town and the county.” He added, “I want to see North Wilkesboro grow again. You can look around and see all these empty buildings. Businesses are not going to come to us. We have to go out and get them.” A mayor shouldn’t fear the issues, Foster said. “Being mayor is not a popularity contest,” he said. “I’m not afraid to make a stance.” This winter commissioners ordered an investigation into alleged misuse of town funds. During that period, Foster said, “The mayor was out of town on numerous occasions and I was left to answer questions.” Shedding light on the financial problems, he said, “We’re very careful in how we do business now. We run it like a business. Tax money is being scrutinized.” Foster was elected to a four-year term on the town board in 1999. He was appointed mayor pro tem after collecting the most votes. If elected mayor, a Republican will be appointed by the town board to fill the vacated seat. Foster is employed as a supervisor at Tyson Foods. He is married to Betty Kilby Foster. They have two children, Jenni and Beau.

 

The Wilkes County Public Library Chess Club continues to meet Saturdays from Noon to 3 p.m. in the Friends of the Library Meeting Room. Chessboards will be provided, and the club is free and open to all levels of players.

 T.O.P.S. Take off pounds sensibly. Join us every Monday at 5 p.m. at St. John’s Church Education Building located on C.C. Wright School Road. For more information, call  Margaret at 696‑2442.

 A Tobacco Cessation Support Group will meet at The Wilkes County Health Department education room on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from noon - 1 p.m. Call 651‑7478 for more information. 

A child passenger safety seat check by Certified child safety technicians takes place the third Wednesday of each month between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. at the Wilkes County Health Department. No appointment is necessary. You must check in with the front desk receptionist. For more information, call 651‑7478

.The Family To Family Support Group of Wilkes, a support group for families of those with mental illness, meets at 7 p.m. each second Tuesday of the month at New River Behavioral Health Center. For information, call 973-3382.

 Respite Care of Wilkes County, Inc. and Wilkes Senior Center are sponsoring a golf tournament July 14 at 9 a.m. at Sumerset Golf Course. Entry fee is $30 per person. Bring your own four member teams. To sponsor this tournament, call Respite Care of Wilkes County, Inc. 670-2644. Proceeds benefit programs to help Senior Citizens in Wilkes County. For more information or to register, call Angela Fisher at 670-2644 or Sumerset Golf Course at 667-9595.

 A Chickenque, sponsored by the Mulberry-Fairplains Ruritan Club, will be held at Memorial Park on Friday, June 29. Plates consist of chicken, beans, slaw, roll and cake will be sold beginning at 10 a.m.

 The Yadkin Valley Astronomy Club will hold a moon watch on June 28 at Rivers Edge Park (the old airport area). This event is free and open to the public. Telescopes will be available for viewing or you can bring your own. Moon maps will be distributed. 

Where the Lillies Bloom, a motion picture filmed in and around Blowing Rock, will be shown in the Friends of the Library Meeting Room on Thursday, June 28 starting at 6:30 p.m.

 The 40th Class Reunion of the Class of 1961 of Wilkes Central High School will be held on Friday, August 31 and Saturday, September 1. RSVP by July 15. Call Mary Henderson 921-2051, Ella Howell Rhodes 838-3339 or Eric Williams at 838-5891.

 Open Mic Poetry Night will be held at the Wilkes County Library on Tuesday, June 26 at 7 p.m., featuring original poetry readings.

 Where the Lillies Bloom, a movie filmed in Blowing Rock and surrounding areas will be shown at the Wilkes County Public Library on Thursday, June 28 at 6:30 p.m.

 Beaver Creek Baptist Church will be hosting its Annual July Celebration Worship Service on July 1 at the Ferguson Community Center at 7:30 p.m. featuring fireworks and refreshments. Bring a lawn chair. All are invited.

 Mansfield’s 45th Annual Memorial Gospel Singing will be held at The Grand Ole Singing Grounds on Saturday, June 30 from 7 p.m. until midnight. All gospel singers invited. Free admission to the public.

  


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