Murder in a Taxi Cab

This weeks prompt is taxes, which is close enough to “taxi”.  I recently came across a death certificate for Bryl Dewey Ashlin, a taxi cab driver,  dated December 2, 1947 and was stunned at the cause of death!

AShlin, Dewey cause of death 001

The cause of death was “Cerebral laceration and hemorrhage due to a gunshot wound”  Bryl Dewey Ashlin was pronounced “Dead on arrival”    The certificate also noted that this was a homicide (?), ( a question mark was added in parenthesis) and that the injury was from a “Romantic escapade(?)”  This was something I felt I really had to investigate further.

Byrl Dewey was usually just called “Dewey” and was my first cousin, twice removed.  He was the son of William German Ashlin and Willie Anna Lyons and grandson of Columbus Perry Ashlin and Mary Ann James.  Columbus and Mary Ann are also my paternal 2nd great-grandparents.  Dewey was just 47 years old when he was shot and was married with eight children.  I just had to know more about his story!

At first, what I found sounded like a pretty normal life.  The death certificate stated that Dewey was born on the 9th of May in 1900 but other records list his birth as 20 May of 1899.  He was the seventh of eleven children of William German and Willie Anna Ashlin.  The Ashlin family lived near Sugar Grove, Smyth County Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains.  They had a farm on Mountain Road in St. Clair and many relatives, including grandparents lived close by.  Sounds like it was a good place to grow up.  However, they had to deal with the Great Depression in that era.  Later, around 1935 to 1940, the parents moved to Bluefield in Mercer County, West Virginia where they bought another farm.

According to his World War I Draft Registration card in 1917, Byrl Dewey was born in 1899 and he was 19 years old.  He was then living in Pocahontas, Tazewell County, Virginia and working as a laborer for an employer named Gillin.  Here I found out the Dewey was tall and slender and had brown eyes and dark hair.

By 1940 Dewey had married Margie Lee Grogan and they had 7 children.  Daughter Ruby Lea was born in 1923, Audrey  in 1924, Alfred Robert in 1928, William Everette in 1930, Nellie Helen in 1933, Bryl Dewey, Jr. in 1936, Ollie Marie in 1938.   Another son,  Bruce Eugene, was born later in 1946.  Sadly, one son, Thomas Wilburn Ashlin died at 6 months old in 1927.   The family lived in Yards, Virginia.  Dewey  was doing quite well as he owned a taxi cab business operating out of Pocahontas, Virginia and a partnership cab business with his brother Gilbert in Bluefield, West Virginia.  The map below shows how close the towns were as they were along the Virginia-West Virginia borders.

map of bluefieldWV 001

About 1935, his wife, Margie, contracted tuberculosis.  She went to the Catawba Hospital in Roanoke County, Virginia, the first Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Virginia, for treatment.  The mountain air and sulphur and limestone springs on Catawba Mountain were claimed to be valuable in curing lung diseases.   It worked for Margie and her treatment was successful and she returned home in 1936.

Catawba Tuberculosis center VA 001

Things seemed to be going pretty good for Dewey up to then.  But then, I found information on Dewey through Newspapers.com in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph of December 4, 1947 and it was front page news!

“Authorities are continuing their investigation into the gunshot death of Dewey Ashlin, 49-year-old father of eight children of Yards, Va., who was found dead in his own taxicab at Coopers, W. Va., about 9 o’clock Tuesday night, in what officers termed the result of a triangle love affair.  Ashlin’s car was found in a hollow about 100 yards off the main highway at Coopers…Police Chief W. F. Shumate of Pocahontas, Va., who was in on the investigation with West Virginia officers, said Ashlin had been shot through the head by a German Luger pistol, which, with the empty cartridge, was found in the taxicab.  Shumate said the bullet entered the man’s head and came out the left forehead.”

The article went on to describe how Dewey and his brother Gilbert were friends with the same girl.  The girl, Gladys Carter, 18 or 19, told police that Dewey came to her house and tooted the horn.  She went out to talk to him and he asked her for a date but she refused and told him to go back to his wife and children and Dewey said he “would end it all.”  Gladys added that she started to walk back to her house when she heard a gun shot.  Then Gladys and some of her family went to get Dewey’s brother and the police.  However, I am puzzled why his car was found down in a hollow – how did it get there if he shot himself in front of her house?

Meanwhile, Dewey’s wife didn’t learn of her husband’s death until the next morning when officers questioned her.  Margie explained that Dewey left to go to Bluefield to borrow money and took the deed to their home in order to obtain a loan so he could buy out his brother’s part in the taxicab business they owned together.  The Chief revealed that Dewey did have the deed on his person and a sum of money.  Margie had been beside herself with worry as she had asked Dewey what was wrong before he left home and he replied that he “hoped she’d never find out” what was wrong.  (The mystery deepens!)  The Police called in experts on powder burns and continued their investigation.

Eight days later, this article appeared in the Charleston Gazette on December 12, 1947, Page 12 and in the Raleigh Register, Beckley, West Virginia, p. 9.  (Translation below)

Ashlin, Byrl Dewey death, newspaper clip 001

“PRINCETON   Gladys Carter, 19-year-old daughter of a coal miner at Coopers, was held today on a murder charge in the fatal shooting of a taxi cab driver whose body was found in his cab Tuesday night, Sheriff Perry L. Dye reported.  Her arrest, he said, followed an investigation of the death of Byrl Dewey Ashlin, 49, of Yards, Va., who owned a taxi company at Pocahontas, Va.

Ashlin’s body was sprawled in the front seat of the car parked near the Carter home at Coopers, 10 miles west of Bluefield.  Officers said he died of a single bullet wound.  An automatic revolver was in the seat…The warrant for her arrest was sworn out by Mrs. Audrie Baum, one of Ashlin’s six children.” ( There are a few mistakes in the article – Dewey was 47 and had eight children.)

Another newspaper article from the Kingsport News of Kingsport, Tennessee, also reported on the incident.  This was evidently multi-state news!

Girl Is Charged With Cab Driver’s Slaying

Princeton, W.Va   Attractive 18-year-old Gladys Carter was held in Mercer County jail Wednesday night on a murder charge in the shooting of a taxi driver whose body was found sprawled on the front seat of his cab last week, Sheriff Perry L. Dye reported.  Dye said the girl’s arrest by state and county officers at her home at Coopers, about 10 miles from Bluefield, climaxed a week of investigation into the death of Byrl Dewey Ashlin 49, of Yards Va., married and father of eight.

The funeral for Dewey Ashlin was held on December 7, 1947 at the Midway Methodist church at Yards.  The obituary lists his children, parents and brothers and sisters.  It mentions he was a member of the U. M. W. A. and the Knights of Pythias Lodge No. 60, Pocahontas, VA.  Pythias served as pall bearers and flower bearers were the Sunday school class of the Midway church at Yards. Dewey was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Bluewell, Mercer County, West Virginia.  (Bluefield Daily Telegraph, December 6, 1947, page 2).

I am so far unsuccessful in trying to find results of the arrest of Gladys Marie Carter.  I could not find any information of whether she was released or convicted or if the death was ruled a homicide or suicide after a thorough search on Newspapers.com., Ancestry and other sources.  So we are left with further questions!  I will continue to pursue this!   However, I found that in 1960, Gladys was married to Robert Eugene Uphold and that she died on 14 March of 1999 in West Virginia.  Whether she was convicted and served time is uncertain.    Dewey’s wife, Margie, was left with 5 children at home to raise at the time of Dewey’s death and they ranged from age 1 to age 17.  She did not remarry until 23 June 1955, 10 years later.   At age 49, she married John Thomas who was born in Thomaselli Giovanni, Italy and who had been divorced twice.  Margie died in July of 1979 in Yards, Virginia.

So ends the story but more research is beginning!

Sources:

Bluefield Daily Telegraph, West Virginia, 16 Aug, 1936, p. 4. (Margie Ashlin returns from Catawba after successful treatment).

Certificate of Marriage, Commonwealth of Virginia, John Thomas and Margie Lee Ashlin, 23 June 1955, County of Tazewell, No. 17205.

Certificate of Death, Commonwealth of Virginia, Thomas Wilburn Ashlin, 16 Aug 1927, Pocahontas, Tazewell County, Virginia, Reg. Dist. 1921, Reg. No. 27.

Certificate of Death, West Virginia State Dept. of Health, County of Mercer, Byrl Dewey Ashlin, Dist. no. 280, Serial No. 692.

Virginia.gov, Online Services: Origin of Catawba Hospital.

Ancestry. com, U. S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, Virginia, County of Tazewell, Byrl Dewey Ashlin, [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA., Ancestry. com Operations, Inc.,  2005.

Virginia, Births and Christenings, 1853-1917, index, FamilySearch, FHL microfilm 2,046,968.

United States Federal Census, 1900, Blue Springs District, Smyth, Virginia, FHL microfilm 1,241,728.

United States Federal Census, 1930, Pocohontas, Tazewell, Virginia; Page: 8A, Enumeration District 0003.

National Archives and Records Administration, Virginia 1910 Census Miracode Index, [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2000.

United States, Find A Grave, findagrave.com, Memorial 84151169, Byrl Dewey Ashlin.

 

 

 

 

 

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