Sylvester Cecil Luttrell was a Southern Rail employee in 1906. He had no history of crime or violence, but a crime occurred in his living quarters that made many locals’ blood run cold. Luttrell, 57, had a wife and grown children who lived outside Bristol, Tennessee. He maintained a “sleeping apartment” on Second Street. He also maintained several love affairs.
Luttrell left for work around 9:00 pm, on Tuesday, April 24, 1906. He locked the door behind him. He returned to his apartment at 11:00 pm. The door was still locked. He went into his room and turned the lights on. Luttrell found Letitia “Mollie” Glover, 30, dead. Their affair had been ongoing for a month or two.
Glover’s head was butchered. Initial reports stated someone struck her skull over twenty times with an axe. She laid in Luttrell’s bed, as if she’d been sleeping. The authorities arrived and the coroner eventually determined she’d died from just two blows with an axe. The first nearly severed her head, while the second split her face. The bloody axe, which belonged to Luttrell, was found under the bed. It also looked like someone had searched the room for something.
They arrested Luttrell on the 27th, but Chief of Police Caldwell wasn’t convinced. He could not fathom a possible motive for such a horrific crime. Luttrell had been married for years, and there was no indication that relationship was in peril. The only possible person of interest was yet another woman, named Janie Ramsey.
Janie’s Axe to Grind
Janie Ramsey was the most interesting figure in the events, but was never given the attention she apparently warranted. The authorities searched her home shortly after they found Glover’s body. They found a bloody handkerchief, as well as an apron that appeared to have bloodstains on it. Ramsey had tried to scrub the stains out of the apron. Coroner Radar testified, at the inquest, that they found a bloody skirt in Ramsey’s apartment. Ramsey could only say she’d been killing chickens.
Several witnesses testified they heard Ramsey issue many threats against Glover’s life because of her relationship with Luttrell. Chief Caldwell couldn’t shake his suspicions of Ramsey, so she was arrested just after she testified to the coroner’s jury. Caldwell believed she contradicted herself a number of times, and possibly even lied. She was arrested and waived her right to a hearing on May 5, 1906. She was sent to the Blountville jail.
Luttrell said he left angry that night, but stated Mollie was very much alive. He had to go to the train station in Bristol to assist in loading a herd of cattle for shipment. Southern Rail representatives corroborated his story.
There were few clues for the authorities to go on, as far as suspects other than Ramsey. Suspicion fell on Luttrell because he waited an hour to summon authorities. The police also said he was “unusually nervous,” when arrested. The possible symptoms of shock weren’t a great deal to take into a courtroom. It remains unclear as to why the authorities pushed his trial so quickly, with so little evidence against him. Luttrell retained the services of attorney J.S. Ashworth, Esq.
Janie Ramsey Has a Secret
As time passed, it looked more and more like Ramsey had committed the act. She declared her affair with Luttrell had lasted for years, but he deserted her for Mollie. An acquaintance, Maggie Norman, said she’d warned Luttrell and Glover to keep their arguing quiet early on the night of Glover’s murder. Neighbors feared the police would get involved.
To the shock of the authorities, Ramsey’s roommate, known only as Mrs. Beech, said the blood on Ramsey’s skirt couldn’t have come from slaughtering animals. They hadn’t killed chickens in over a month. Dr. N.S. Peters said he believed the blood on Ramsey’s clothing was human.
Despite the considerable evidence against Ramsey, Luttrell was the first to go on trial, and the main focus of the proceedings. The trial started on September 28. One witness came forward and testified he and his son witnessed Luttrell in the act through his window. The witness stated Luttrell and Glover had been fighting, and Ramsey was in the room with them. He said he actually watched Luttrell use the axe on Glover.
The trial was held at Blountville, Tennessee. It ended at midnight on September 29. Luttrell was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in the Tennessee state penitentiary. Despite the evidence, Janie Ramsey was acquitted.
Not So Fast
Ashworth wasn’t finished with his defense. There were a number of glaring inconsistencies in the testimony at trial. Primarily, the body was far too cold and the blood was too dried for Luttrell to have done it. Luttrell had waited an hour to summon authorities, but the body had been dead for two or three hours.
This also disproved everything stated by the prosecution’s witness. He couldn’t have witnessed Luttrell murder Glover, because Luttrell was at work when the crime occurred.
Ashworth continued to work on Luttrell’s behalf, and the supreme court granted him a new trial. He was released on May 27, 1907. No further information on a second trial or further proceedings against Luttrell or Ramsey is available.