The Mystery of Sallie Leonard

Sallie B. Leonard was found on a road near “English’s field.” This field was beside the English Mill Dam in Bristol. The mill sits on Beaver Creek, and has also been called “King’s Mill,” and “Wood’s Mill.”

Her corpse was found on Friday morning, October 4, 1878. A laborer named Tom was on his way to work at Col. English’s home. He reported the body to Fredrick Harr, who returned with him to the scene. Harr verified the 25-year-old was indeed deceased. The men then notified Col. English.

Leonard’s feet were still in the road where she’d been walking. The body was believed to have been moved around 20 inches. Her hat was oddly placed on the body, over one of her hands. There was dirt in her nostrils and mouth, but the killer apparently had tried to clean her face. Aside from minor abrasions on her neck and extremities, there were no other signs of violence or struggle.

Urine stained the front of her dress. The authorities believed she was strangled while she laid on her stomach, even though the body was found on its back. They theorized someone strangled her from behind and turned the body over before they left. The authorities performed an autopsy, but could still only guess the cause of death was strangulation. Her neck was not broken or crushed. There was no obvious bruising.

The inquest lasted from Friday to Saturday. Dr. J.F. Hicks was the coroner and medical examiner in charge of the autopsy. He carefully checked Leonard’s skull, but there was no sign of trauma. Her other organs were likewise without injury.

For reasons never established in documentation, authorities eventually suspected F.C. Miles, along with several acquaintances. His known associates were his wife, her sister, Mary B. Snapp, and Lyndon Montgomery.

The examination lingered for days at Conway Hall on Fifth Street. Questioning was held before attorneys William Bushong, J.P. Rader, and Esquire Pile. Attorneys Bailey & McCroskey were the prosecutors. A.H. Blanchard was the defense attorney. The authorities believed the crime took place around 7:00 pm Thursday evening.

While authorities did not establish relevancy of the fact to Leonard, they said Miles’s pistol was at Baker’s Store. Miles called the store at 7:00 pm, the time of the murder, and claimed he gave the weapon to Constable Emmert for safekeeping. Emmert then left it with John A. Brewer at the store. Shopkeeper Ed Anderson didn’t like the sound of the story. He refused.

Miles proclaimed he would “have someone’s blood” by the next morning for the confusion. Anderson took it as a threat, but Miles stated it had nothing to do with him.

Miles went to Deputy Marshall Caldwell around 10:00 pm and said he found Leonard’s body near the mill dam. He couldn’t tell if she had fainted, or was dead. The marshal accompanied him back to the spot.

Miles felt her face and said it was cold. He broke down when the deputy confirmed she was dead. He said he knew he would be blamed for it. He was even more terrified his wife would be accused of the crime, but that was never examined. Miles was also worried he would be mobbed, since Caldwell was his only friend in town.

Caldwell said he needed to turn himself in, so he did. The deputy took Miles on the 4:30 am train, to the Abingdon jail. Caldwell returned just after 4:00 pm, on Friday, and was summoned to the inquest.

Dr. J.J. Ensor lived across from the mill dam. During the examination, he testified his dogs fiercely barked around 8:30 that evening. He investigated and heard voices. He looked around in the darkness a while, but he couldn’t see anything else. He returned inside a short time later. The voices he heard were all female.

Miles was no stranger to murder, and perhaps that influenced the authorities against him. He killed a man named Provence on Main Street just a few years earlier, but escaped conviction for the crime.

The proceedings resulted in more questions than possible answers. Miles’s relationship with Leonard was never established. No motive was known or guessed. Likewise, the authorities never elaborated on why his search for his gun had any relation to a bizarre strangulation case. In truth, they still had no idea what caused Leonard’s death. She could’ve died of natural causes, and her body turned over by someone who discovered her before Harr.

Miles actually had a solid alibi, as he was on the telephone at the time of the murder. This was an era when telephones were seldom in houses, so he must’ve been in or near town, not out in a field. How he strangled a woman while he harassed a shopkeeper via telephone was never explained.

The lack of answer to these typical questions didn’t stop the authorities. Miles was convicted of second degree murder in December 1878. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His wife was acquitted.

Just a week after his conviction, Captain John F. Davis showed up. Davis was an agent for the dreaded penitentiary lessees. The convicts who served their time doing hard labor in mines. Davis arrived to escort Miles to the infamous Coal Creek camp. This placed him at the forefront for the dreaded Coal Creek War a few years later. No further information on Miles can be found.

The cause of death for Sallie Leonard remains a mystery.

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