In the early 1900’s, Will Harris terrorized a small North Carolina town in a rampage that started with a search for his ex-girlfriend. This lifelong criminal had a past filled with prison escapes and mayhem, leading him to his final act of destruction that took many lives of both police and civilians.
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This story takes place around November 12th, 1906 and covers the story of Will Harris, Harris was a convict with a large criminal record, he had been arrested for just about everything from burglary to assault, and even the murder of a police officer.
Years before our story takes place Harris was a part of a chain gang located in Charlotte NC when he pulled off his first escape and the city would then hire its first African American detective, Van Griffin, to hunt him down and bring him back. Griffin managed to arrest him and bring him back to the county jail where Harris escaped again, and just like before, Griffin caught him, only this time Harris was taken to the prison in Raleigh NC.
Just like the times before, Harris escaped, this time he decided to try his luck in Asheville NC, he wanted to get out of Griffin’s jurisdiction, but he also wanted to meet up with an old girlfriend, Mollie Maxwell. Harris had been sending letters to Mollie telling her that he was going to come see her when he got out and once he made his last escape, Mollie began seeing wanted posters appearing around town and wanting nothing to do with him she decided to leave and head to a small town, about thirty minutes away, called Hendersonville.
Will Harris Searches for Molly
Upon arriving in Asheville on November 12th, Harris couldn’t find Molly anywhere, but he did find her sister, Pearl Maxwell, who was working as a waitress in a nearby diner, so he followed her around until he found where she lived, an apartment building near the corner of valley and eagle street, an area of town known as “Devil’s Half-Acre,” it was also an African American community where segregated African Americans could live and run their businesses.
Once he had located her apartment he did a little shopping. Harris spent roughly $35 on new clothes, a .303 rifle which was often used for hunting large game, a jug of bourbon, and a coke.
After this Harris went up to Pearl’s apartment and made his way inside to see if Pearl would tell him where Mollie was, about this time Pearl’s boyfriend, Toney Johnson, arrived at the apartment where he met Will Harris, who aimed his rifle at Johnson and said “I think you need to be somewhere else.”
A Plea to Police
Johnson complied and left the building and headed for the police department which was right down the street, at this time the town was small and didn’t have many officers working that shift, in fact there were only three officers on duty that night.
Mr. Page and Mr. Blackstock headed to the apartment when Toney told them that a man he believed to be Will Harris was inside with his girlfriend and that he was armed, the officers got to the room that was located in the basement where Will and Pearl were, this basement was dark and with Blackstock taking the lead with the flashlight and Page not far behind, Harris fired a shot from his rifle through the door, striking Mr. Blackstock in the stomach, killing him instantly.
At this point Page drew his revolver, which was a much smaller caliber than the rifle that Harris had, and began to return fire when he was struck in the right shoulder, he managed to keep a grip on his pistol and retreated back into the darkness of the basement while Harris kept up a continuous fire.
Harris left the apartment building where it is said that he stopped in the crosswalk, and began waving his gun around, claiming to be the devil.
Getting Backup to Hunt Will Harris
Page escaped the building and went to get backup, which was just one other officer, J.W Bailey, whom he informed that Will Harris was armed and headed toward town and that Blackstock was dead. Bailey headed across the square to Patton avenue while Page went down South Main in an attempt to cut Harris off.
Meanwhile Harris began making his way up eagle street and shooting anything that moved, he killed three people during his rampage down eagle street, the photo in the thumbnail for this episode is actually one of the locations where a man who was operating his business, heard a commotion outside and wanted to see what was going on, he poked his head out the front door and was immediately shot in the face by Harris, killing him instantly.
Another man, Tom Neal, was shot in the leg but the bullet ricocheted off of a coin in his pocket, sending the bullet upward into his lower stomach. Neal managed to stagger toward Dr. Bryant’s office for help but unfortunately he was too badly wounded and he didn’t make it to the office before dying on the street. At this point Harris turned onto South main, still firing, and as he turned he shot at a man named, George Jackson, luckily the bullet only tore a hole through Jackson’s clothing but didn’t break the skin.
Shootouts Break Out
Around this time Page heard Harris’s shots and went down the east side of South Main and at only a few yards distance, Page and Harris engaged in a brief gunfight before continuing down the street after Harris as he went on up toward the square.
Meanwhile officer Bailey, who had gone down Patton Avenue to a cafe for help, heard the gunfight between Page and Harris and hurried across the square toward the local hardware company to meet Harris head on. Along the way Mr. Bailey called out to several people that were drawn out by the shooting.
Mr. Bailey’s last words were to these people: “I deputize you to help me in this.” after making it across the square, Bailey took up a position behind a telephone pole in front of the hardware building, from this position he fought with Harris until a shot went through the 12 inch pole and into Bailey’s chest, this rifle was so powerful the round continued through Bailey and only stopped when it hit the Vance Memorial in the square leaving a chip in it.
After killing Bailey, Harris turned and started running down South Main while continuing to fire several people and through several windows before disappearing. Mr. Page acquired more ammunition from the police department and hurried to the square where he discovered the body of officer Bailey. Chief of police Bernard had just reached his home on chestnut street when he was notified by telephone of the situation in town and he sounded the riot alarm with the fire bell.
The Town Unites Against Will Harris
Men quickly responded but there was a slight delay due to lack of weapons and ammo. Once these items were secured, every able bodied person in town that had a gun was deputized to hunt down and stop Harris who was currently on his way to Hendersonville in search of Mollie. For a quick refresher, Harris had arrived in town on November 12th and began his rampage on the afternoon of the 13th. Early that following morning, the town of Asheville was flooded with armed citizens.
Men gathered on horseback and a mob of around 200 – 300 armed citizens were sent out to search for Harris, the search lasted two days and on November 15th, he was found sleeping in a barn outside the town of Fletcher, which is about 8 miles away, by a group of men led by a railroad agent named Frank Jordan.
The Beginning of the End
When someone from the group fired at Harris with a shotgun, he dove into some nearby bushes for cover and promised to kill anyone who got too close and emptied his rifle into the air over the group to scare them off. The group backed off and waited for the others to arrive via train and pretty soon a group of over 100 men arrived and had began firing into the bushes where Harris was hiding. When the men finally stopped firing, over 500 bullets had been shot at Harris and he had over 100 bullet wounds, his body was smoking and so badly mangled that they could barely recognize him.
Will Harris’s body was taken back to the town of Asheville where it was put on display in the town square for over a week. A reward had been created immediately after the shooting, and the group that shot Harris requested the money be sent to the widows of officer Blackstock and officer Bailey. Harris’s gun was given to the captain, and the city of Asheville prohibited the sale of alcohol the following year due to the drunken violence.
Interested in similar stories? Why not try:
- Armored Assailants: The North Hollywood Shootout and Killdozer both create millions of dollars of damage | Episode 5
- Ruby Ridge and Waco: Where did it all go wrong? | Episode 8
References: ashevilleparanormalsociety.com, mountainx.com, ashevilleterrors.com
Researched by Kraken from The Squonk & The Hag