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H. J. Southwell Murder Correspondence

Identifier: SC-MS-256

Scope and Contents

This collection contains correspondence from Division 314 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers regarding the death of Atlantic Coast Line engineer H.J. Southwell, who was shot and killed on Front Street by assistant yardmaster H.E. Dallas on July 18, 1922. The correspondence spans from July 1922 to July 1924. Most of the documents pertain to the division's search for an attorney and the solicitation of funds from union brothers to pay the attorney. Of note are two letters from Southwell's wife, Ida M. Southwell, discussing reimbursement for her contribution to their legal fund.


  • Creation: 1922 July -1924 July

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use.

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2018 University of North Carolina at Wilmington, all rights reserved (subject to exceptions). Certain items in this collection were conveyed to UNCW without the accompanying copyright. Where the donor did not convey copyright to UNCW, copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Historical Note

H.J. Southwell, an engineer for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Company, was shot and killed on July 18, 1922 by the railroad's assistant yardmaster, H.E. Dallas. The murder took place in the early weeks of a nonviolent railroad strike, which neither Southwell nor Dallas participated in, but which energized and motivated strikers nonetheless. Southwell supported the strikers, while Dallas had been deputized by the Mayor as a special police officer in response to the strike 10 days prior to the shooting. It was reported by general yardmaster Fonville that Dallas had only started carrying a pistol since the beginning of the strike, approximately the same time he was deputized as a special police officer. Following the shooting, all available police officers and sheriff's deputies in the city and county were ordered on duty to manage the aftermath of the incident at the railroad. Dallas turned himself in to the police station.

Dallas alleged that Southwell antagonized him with abusive language and and threatened him on several different occasions in the weeks before the shooting, which was corroborated by other workers and members of the union during the trial. The animosity is said to have been caused by Southwell's irritation at Dallas for working as a car inspector when his position was supposed to be assistant yardmaster. The superintendent of the railroad company, W.H. Newell Jr., cautioned Southwell about his remarks, saying that if anything happend to Dallas, it would not look good for Southwell, and advised him to go about his work and attend to his own business. Southwell's open hostility is the alleged reason for the altercation, as on the day of the incident Dallas claimed that he only wanted to ask Southwell to "lay off" and stop causing problems. Several witnesses saw Dallas talking with general yardmaster E.L. Fonville just before approaching Southwell. Fonville confirmed that Dallas said he only wanted to get Southwell to "lay off of me and let me alone." Fonville stated that he advised Dallas not to do this and attempted to bring him into the yardmaster's office. Dallas ignored Fonville, who said that Dallas was holding the gun in his hand as he approached Southwell.

Dallas asserted that he had no memory of raising the weapon and pulling the trigger. He claimed that as he approached, he said, "Southwell, I want to talk with you." Southwell then charged at him and the gun was accidentally fired during their struggle. Dallas claimed self-defense. Before his death later that evening, while speaking to his wife, Southwell claimed that Dallas approached him and said, "I am going to kill you; this is your last day," before levelling the pistol at his head. Southwell claimed he knocked the gun down as Dallas fired and the bullet entered his abdomen. Witnesses were unable to recall the nature of their discussion and actions immediately before the shooting, but confirmed that it was Dallas who was holding the gun as he approached Southwell, who was unarmed. After being shot, Southwell said "I am shot, Dallas shot me through and through and I am going to die."

The first trial resulted in a mistrial when, after over 20 hours of deliberation, the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Seven were for an unequivocal acquittal and five were for a manslaughter conviction. In the second trial, the jury voted to convict Dallas despite his plea of self defense. Dallas filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court but withdrew his appeal in October 1923, agreeing to serve "not less than two nor more than five years" in a state prison.


1 Container (Contains 1 document box.)

Language of Materials



The H.J. Southwell Murder Correspondence is arranged into five folders by content and context. Within each folder, documents are in chronological order.

Acquisition Information

Method and date of acquisition unknown.

Processing Information

This collection was partially processed by Hillary Wentworth in 2006. It was reprocessed by Darby Freeman in the spring of 2020.

H. J. Southwell Murder Correspondence
Darby Freeman
2020 February 13
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository