On February 28, 1912, I.J. Beverly, sheriff of Wise County, Virginia, wrote Jacob D. Smith, assistant prosecuting attorney in Lincoln County, West Virginia, to inform him that John Fleming — a fugitive on the run — was living in a nearby town called Glamorgan and using the alias of George Fleming. The letter read as follows:
Wise, Va., March 7th
Prosecuting Attorney Lincoln county, Hamlin, W.Va.
Have John Fleming in custody. He agrees to come without requisition if I will bring him but refuses to go with your officer. I will bring him if you will pay all expenses and Two Fifty per day. Answer.
Sheriff Wise County
On March 8, Smith received Sheriff Beverly’s letter. Three days later, he left Hamlin, seat of government for Lincoln County, for Richmond, Virginia as an agent to secure requisition papers from Virginia Governor W.H. Mann. A little later, he hired G.A. Lenz, a C&O special agent in Huntington, West Virginia, to accompany him to Wise County as a guard. By March 16, Smith and Lenz had delivered Fleming to the Lincoln County jail. On March 30, Fleming’s bail was set at $2,000.
Early in May, the following witnesses were called to appear before the Circuit Court in the State v. John Fleming, scheduled for June 4: Caleb D. Headley, Lewis Cass Gartin, Andrew Sias, Paris Brumfield, Tilden Gartin, W.A. Adkins, M.E. Nelson, Joe Gartin, Tilman Adkins, John Gartin, Grover Gartin, E.C. Lucas (Sr.), Jeff Lucas, Alvin Sias, Harrison Neace, Bob Fleming, Bud Workman, Jessie Adkins, Lewis Lucas, Ben Noe, Levi Rakes, Flora Lucas, Thomas Sias, Samp Davis, Lona Neace, Albert Neace, George Fleming, Robert Adkins, T.B. Hatfield, Peter Mullins, Ike Fry, William Adkins, Floyd Mullins, Harlan Mullins, Mary Burns, Lula Burns, Jane Moore, Zack Neace, Bill Neace, Abe Noe, Floyd Workman, Wiley Lucas, Dr. Jenks Adkins and Little Cane Lucas.
Days later, John Fleming escaped from the county jail using tools given to him by his brother, Willard. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Willard and placed in the hands of Boyd S. Hicks. According to records maintained at the Lincoln County Circuit Clerk’s Office: “Whereas Burnie Smith has this the 4 day of June 1912 made complaint upon oath before M.D. Hilbert, Justice of said county that one John Fleming was confined in the Lincoln county Jail, being so confined to answer to a charge of shooting with the attempt to kill Caleb Headley, and while in said Jail as a prisoner awaiting trial on said charge, one Willard Fleming did on or about the 10 day of May 1912 willfully and feloniously give and cause to be given the said John Fleming prisoner as aforesaid certain saws, chisels, and other implements for use of said John Fleming in effecting escape from said Jail, and by means of which said saws and other implements he the said John Fleming did saw the bars in said Jail and make his escape there from.” On June 5, Willard Fleming, Matthew C. Farley, Lewis Maynard and Zac Williamson posted Fleming’s $1000 bond.
In an effort to re-arrest Fleming, the Lincoln County Circuit Court issued capias warrants for him on October 29, 1913, December 21, 1914 and March 29, 1915. Fleming was no where to be found.
With John out of the way, his former wife, Lizzie Fry, felt safe enough to remarry. On November 8, 1915, she married Boss Keith. It’s not clear if she had ever married Charley McCoy, the man whose cuckling of Fleming had prompted the ’09 shootout.
In the years following Fleming’s escape, surprising details surfaced about his role in the shootout at Fourteen. “The Fryes and Headleys were blamed for Grandpa Hariff’s death,” said one local man in a 2003 interview, “but an old Frye woman sent word on her deathbed who killed him. She said it was his first cousin, John Fleming.”
Meanwhile, the court continued to issue capias warrants for Fleming on November 14, 1916, February 16, 1917, April 11, 1919, April 5, 1921, April 19, 1922 and December 29, 1922.
Finally, on March 26, 1923, according to Law Order Book 17 at the Lincoln County Courthouse, prosecuting attorney Jacob D. Smith, “with the assent of the court says that he will not further prosecute the defendant John Flemmings, of the Felony of which he now stands charged in this Court. It is therefore considered by the court that the defendant John Flemmings be acquitted, discharged and go thereof without delay.”
By that time, Fleming was probably dead.
“John Fleming went back to Virginia with someone,” said Willard Frye, a nephew to Lizzie, in a 2003 interview. “He got off his horse at a stream to get a drink of water and when he bent down at the stream this man shot him in the back of the head.”