Abbotts Branch, Appalachia, Ben Workman, Buster Stollings, crime, Doc Workman, Flora Workman, Gene Wilson Dingess, Harlen Mullins, Harts Creek, history, Logan County, murder, mystery, true crime, U.S. South, Weddie Mullins, West Virginia, Workman Fork, writers, writing
In the early morning hours of April 20, 1956, someone shot Doc Workman in the abdomen with a 20-gauge shotgun as he stood at the doorway to his little house on Workman Fork. “I heard the shot fired that killed him,” said Gene Wilson Dingess, a neighbor, in a 2004 interview. “It was way up in the morning. My sister Mildred and Mommy heard it, too. No one thought anything about it. People roamed all hours of the night with guns and shot rabbits and possoms.”
Upon learning the true nature of the incident, residents of Workman Fork reacted with shock and surprise. Nothing like this had ever happened on Workman Fork. Located somewhat remotely in the headwaters of Harts Creek, the fork constituted one of the most peaceful sections of the community. Moonshining was quite common, but murder? Doc’s killing — any killing — was unprecedented on Workman Fork. People were horrified.
Most everyone agreed that Doc knew the identity of his killer. “Doc knew the person at his door,” Dingess said. “He answered the door in his pajamas.” The killer’s choice of weaponry was a source of great interest. First of all, the 20-gauge shotgun used to commit the murder reportely belonged to Mr. Workman himself. Secondly, a 20-gauge shotgun was the type of low-powered firearm that a teenager or woman (or an old man) might use at close range, say, within 30-40 yards. And, oddly, it was left lying across Workman’s leg presumably without fingerprints. “It looked like someone had been standing by his door where they stood and plotted,” said the late late Roma Elkins in a 2004 interview.
One of the initial suspects in the murder was Doc’s former wife, Flora Lilly. Police also questioned Doc’s former brother-in-law, Weddie Mullins, a son of Harlen Mullins. Buster Stollings, who boarded with Flora, was another suspect. Other suspects were two men named Jake and Bill who were out that night riding mules and stealing corn. Apparently locals were so incensed by the tragedy that they investigated the matter themselves. Early the morning of the murder, one eyewitness saw two young men, dubbed as “Frank” and “Jesse” here to hide their true identities, run by as she milked cows on Abbott’s Branch. “Ben Workman said he saw tracks from a woman in high-heeled shoes leading from the mouth of Workman Fork up to the mouth of Long Branch,” Dingess said. “Now who would’ve wore high heels on this creek back then?”
Today, so many years later, it appears that two young men dubbed as “Frank” and “Jesse” were involved in the murder. Although suspects at the time of the killing, they were never questioned by authorities. Jesse’s own mother believed him to be the killer. “When Jesse come in at the house that morning he had a whole roll of money as big as your fist,” his mother later said. “Him and Wed Mullins was in on that killing together.” Reportedly, Frank was haunted by the murder years later when he was on his deathbed. “My uncle went up to Logan and Frank was in the hospital about to die,” Dingess said. “There was a preacher there and Frank said he couldn’t get forgiveness because he’d helped kill a man.”