Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The "Key" to the John Walter Stephens Killing

The "Key"

In his 1919 "confession" (released to the public in 1935), John Green Lea stated:

"Stevens was then stabbed in the breast and also in the neck by Tom Oliver, and the knife was thrown at his feet and the rope left around his neck. We all came out, closed the door and locked it on the outside and took the key and threw it into Country Line Creek."

Who had the key? Was the person who provided the key an accomplice?

Marmaduke Williams Norfleet apparently was in possession of the key to the Master's Office/Room on the ground floor (southeast corner) of the Caswell County Courthouse when John Walter (Chicken) Stephens was killed in 1870 -- kept either at the Register of Deeds Office in the Courthouse or at Norfleet's retail grocery store in Yanceyville, North Carolina.

In 1891, Felix Roan confessed to being a party to the killing, and all relevant testimony supports the door to the Master's Office being locked when Stephens's body was found May 22, 1870. Thus, a reasonable assumption is that one of the killers had the key. Only one key is known to exist.

Felix Roan is a son of Nathaniel Moore Roan (1803-1879) and Mary B. Henderson (1817-1896). The sister of Nathaniel Moore Roan, Mary Comer Roan (1811-1859) is the mother of Marmaduke Williams Norfleet.

Thus, Felix Roan (who claims to have participated in the killing of Stephens), and Marmaduke Williams Norfleet (who had possession of the key to the Master's Office at the Courthouse) are paternal first cousins.

Did Norfleet give the key to his cousin Roan? Or did Roan by virtue of his family relationship with Norfleet have access to where the key was kept at Norfleet's Yanceyville retail grocery store?

Then there was some very convoluted and confusing 1870 court testimony about this famous key.

Norfleet, both Register of Deeds and Yanceyville merchant stated there was a cold snap in April 1870 and that he instructed his clerk, Robert Roan, to send Calvin Miles to the Courthouse to borrow some wood to use at the store. The wood was stored in the courthouse room where John Walter Stephens was killed the next month. This indicates that the key was at the store. Calvin Miles (col.) testified he got the key to get the wood from Robert Roan, that he got only one key, that he carried three "turns" of wood from the Courthouse to Norfleet's store, and that he returned the key to Robert Roan.

This Robert Roan is a younger brother of the Felix Roan who admitted the killing of John Walter Stephens.

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