A drama played out in the mountains of southwestern Virginia in 1891 that attracted nationwide attention and held the citizens of the Roanoke Valley spellbound. It was a story of violence, bigamy, race and a quest for justice. The tale of the trial of Charles Watkins for the murder of his wife was marked by threats of lynching, a fugitive manhunt, a disappearing witness, mistaken identities, claims of insanity and finally a secret letter to break the case wide open. In its day, the story was as closely followed as a modern televised murder trial. Despite the rapt attention of the public then, it has entirely faded from the history books. Historian John Long resurrects the truth of who killed Susan Watkins. Did her rival for a man's love get away with murder?
John D. Long is the director of education at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. He has taught history at Roanoke College, Radford University, and Virginia Western Community College. A contributing columnist for the Roanoke Times, he has also written extensively on local history and the Second World War and is the author of A Town by the Name of Salem: The Past in Pictures (with Mary Crockett Hill) and Murder in Roanoke County: Race and Justice in the 1891 Susan Watkins Case.