As with many uncommon houses, Marble Hall inevitably gained an uncommon history. A wealthy farmer named John Brown purchased the home after Rice’s debtors sold it. He lived there with several grown children, including a son named Charles. Charles was married and had two children. The whole family lived in the massive estate until 1880. Charles, his twin Alexander, and another brother, decided they wanted to enter the carriage business.
Rogersville had been a bustling and influential city through the Civil War, but did not fare well during Reconstruction. As a result, few new people came to the area and even fewer purchased carriages. The Brown family decided Bristol was the place to be.
A family friend, Attorney M. L. Blackley, had an office building in Bristol. He studied law with George Torbett. Blackley grew weary of the city and wanted to take his own family into the peace and tranquility of the countryside. The two families made a bargain. They effectively traded properties in 1880. Blackley built the Browns a fine new building in Bristol, and he assumed ownership of Marble Hall.
It was a feat to consolidate all the Brown’s business interests in Hawkins County. They kept livestock, farmed, and all of details had to be squared away before the family could move. While they finalized the last tasks, the Blackley’s moved in. Mr. Blackley cleared up the few remaining matters in Bristol, and John and Charles cleared up the tasks in Rogersville.
Because the home was so massive, John and Charles remained at Marble Hall as guests. They continued using hired helpers Heck and Harris to help them move their herds to the stockyards. John returned to Bristol during that last week and left Charles to move the remainder of the stock.
On November 18th, Charles took their hogs to Whitesburg to sell. Harris and Heck helped him. The few pigs they didn’t sell were butchered the next day and the meat put on the train for Bristol.
An Unforgettable Night
The weekend slipped by without real event. Joe Harris was seen in Rogersville on Monday as he helped the Browns prepare for the next day. The last sighting of him was near a small quarry around a mile from Marble Hall that afternoon. Charles and Heck planned to leave at daybreak and be in Bristol as soon as possible. Their closest neighbor, William Price, was going to see them off at the station in Rogersville.
Price’s son Jacob remained behind to visit with Heck, as the two were around the same age. Mrs. Price stayed with Mrs. Blackley at Marble Hall. Mr. Blackley had some lingering details to clear up in Bristol. Everyone visited for a time in the main room. Charles and Heck had made their sleeping area in the main room. They planned to leave at daybreak and didn’t want to wake everyone in the process. Both men had a glass of brandy to help them sleep.
William Price awoke the next morning to darkness outside. It was actually only around 1, but he believed it was near dawn. He looked out his bedroom window and saw Marble Hall’s front room alight. He assumed he overslept and that Charles and Heck were already dressing to leave. He quickly rose and dressed himself, he kindled the fires, and woke his daughter to prepare breakfast.
He walked to Marble Hall, but the front door was still locked. He went to the rear of the home where his wife slept in the guest room. He knocked on the window to rouse her. She let him in the home. Mrs. Blackley had descended the steps by that point and spoke with the couple. They suddenly smelled smoke.
Mr. Price went to investigate while the women remained safely behind. The smell came from the closed door of the front room. The ladies caught up with him when they had lit their candles. Everyone knew the two men slept on the floor inside and their bedding was close to the fireplace. They were terrified the bedding had caught on fire while the men slept.
Price entered the smoke-filled room and tried to call to the men. He believed one of them was his son, Jacob. He never received an answer, so he felt his way towards the bedding. He came to the mattress and he felt heat radiate from it. He grabbed the leg of the nearest man and dragged him back out into the foyer. He feared they had suffocated. The ladies had the lamps lit by that point and they could see.
The skin on the body was burned away. The Prices were convinced it was their son. Mr. Price returned to get the second body. He threw the smoldering bedding into the fireplace and dragged the second featherbed out of the room. It also held a body in the same condition. Price summoned his son at home. He prepared to tell him the news of his brother’s demise.
Fortunately, the brother didn’t know what the family was talking about. Jacob had come in hours earlier and was asleep. The Price family was relieved, but not for long. They identified the body on the mattress as Andy Heck. The other body was Charles.
It wasn’t long before they noticed something was wrong with the skulls of both corpses. Brown’s skull was crushed in just above the left ear. Heck laid naturally on the featherbed, but his skull was crushed from his forehead, to the inner point of his left eyebrow, down the left side of the nose.
The remaining flames were doused as daybreak came. Everyone discovered Brown’s overcoat, pants, and pocketknife were all missing. Blackley had two axes on the property and one was missing. Brown carried a sizable amount of money in his coat from selling off the livestock.
Sheriff Blevins looked around and immediately suspected Joe Harris. Harris had helped the family for a long time, particularly in the week before the move, yet he was nowhere in the crowd of visitors.
Blevins began the manhunt for Harris. Just when it seemed he had disappeared, two wagons passed through. They’d come from Hancock County and had seen the man Blevins searched for. Blevins arrested Harris’s brother first so no one could warn the man.
The authorities eventually traced him to a brothel in an area called Pumpkin Valley. It was over 12 miles from the scene of the crime.