John Venters: Killing Rock The Trial Part 13

As Robert Bruce begins wrapping up his case against Doctor M.B. Taylor, we see yet again there is something amiss with the testimonies.

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We begin wrapping up the testimonies and evidence for the Commonwealth State of Virginia versus Doctor Marshall Benton Taylor. We will be discussing the evidence so far as well as the witness on the stand John Venters. As we take a closer look, we once again see strange things in his testimony.

The Trial So Far

Robert Bruce, prosecuting attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia
Robert Bruce, prosecuting attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia

With the next 11 witnesses prosecuting attorney Robert Bruce would finish presenting his case. These witnesses like the preceding 12 testifies to nothing that would help him to build that case, especially when we look at the transcript through the lens of hindsight.

However, we must keep in mind that the appellate court would not have that hindsight. They may have read about the case in the newspapers. But not all the newspaper stories and articles from the time directly identify that they are reporting on events relating to “The Pound Gap Massacre.” Therefore there was no way that the judges on the court could be as familiar with the case as we can be today. 

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The Problem with the Star Witness

Wise County, Virginia Courthouse.  Main Street, Wise Virginia.  The date and the photographer are unknown
Wise County, Virginia Courthouse. Main Street, Wise Virginia. The date and the photographer are unknown

As we have previously stated in our other videos and articles. Only one of the 23 witnesses had testified to anything useful for prosecutor Bruce. That had been his star witness, Jane Mullins. But the problem with Jane’s testimony is that she had been shaken, rattled, and discredited by the defense.

This along with the fact that she had perjured herself is plainly recorded in the transcript. And no amount of editing, which we are sure did happen, could hide this from the appellate court. Keep in mind that the often-told story and one of the affidavits attached to the transcript tells us that, “the verdict of guilt was based solely upon the examination of the rifle by the jury.”

An examination in which 3 of the jurors took it upon themselves to disassemble and alter said rifle. We also know from the affidavits of Sheriff Holbrook and his gunsmith deputy, that a piece of the rifle had been removed and that the plunger of the rifle was now in the gun in a way that the gunsmith had never seen before.

We know from testimony given by witnesses from the prosecution and the defense, that the rifle was in good working order prior to it being entered into evidence. Which only occurred as the defense was wrapping up their case. We know from the often-told story, that when the rifle was “dry fired” using one of the shell casings found at the crime scene, that the plunger or firing pin struck the shell “Just off Center.” This is corroborated by the affidavit submitted by I.N. Mills.  

Why was I.N. Mills Important to the Trial?

What Doctor Taylor's Gun might have looked like on the inside.
What Doctor Taylor’s Gun might have looked like on the inside.

Mills had been one of the jurors, and the purpose of his affidavit seems to be to let the court know that the only reason he and other jurors returned a guilty verdict, was because of the examination, disassembly, and alteration of the rife by 3 other jurors. We are grateful to Mr. Mills for his affidavit and honesty. Without his affidavit the confirmation that the shell casings found at the crime scene were in fact rim-fire could not be established. 

This corroboration confirms that those shell casings WERE NOT center fire 45X75 but were in fact from a 44×40 rim-fire rifle. Lastly, we are grateful to Mr. Mills for one other thing. It is his affidavit and the fact that the 12 exceptions to the trial WERE NOT attached to the transcript. That led us to believe that the transcript MAY have been altered. This prompted us to take a closer look at the transcript and when we did, we noticed that the transcript is full of anomalies.  

Witnesses for the Commonwealth of Virginia: William (Bud) Gilliam, his son Milburn Gilliam, and Joe Perkins

There are no photos available for William (Bud) Gilliam, his son Milburn Gilliam, and Joe Perkins.  This is another side of the Wise County Courthouse Main Street, Wise Virginia.  The date and the photographer are unknown
There are no photos available for William (Bud) Gilliam, his son Milburn Gilliam, and Joe Perkins. This is another side of the Wise County Courthouse Main Street, Wise Virginia. The date and the photographer are unknown

In the interest of time, and the fact that a majority of the next 11 witnesses testifies to the same thing. We will be giving summaries of these testimonies apart from the testimonies of John Venters, W.B. Renfro, and William. Mullins. 

William (Bud) Gilliam, his son Milburn Gilliam, and Joe Perkins all give testimony about seeing Dr. Taylor on the Tuesday before the massacre. They each give testimony that Dr. Taylor had told them that Ira had offered $200 to Dock Mullins to kill him. These testimonies seem to corroborate part of the testimony of John Branham.

Branham had just testified that on the Thursday after the killings, Taylor had been on the way to the Wise Court house to meet Dock Mullins. And that Taylor had told him that Dock was going to swear out an affidavit that Ira had tried to hire him to assassinate Taylor. But, if such an affidavit exists, we have not been able to find it… If anyone watching or reading this finds such a document, please let us know as soon as possible.  

The Gilliam’s and Mr. Perkins give further testimony about this meeting saying that they had talked about the shooting into Ira’s bed at the Mullins cabin, which had occurred in mid-April. William had asked how Taylor had known about the shooting as he (Taylor) had told them he had been in Kentucky at the time. Taylor had said that “the spirits told him.” And made a jab at William when he had asked why spirits didn’t talk to him. Testimony was given by Milburn and Joe Perkins that William had walked off after the jab. But the each further testifies that Taylor had said that “it looked pretty hard for a man to lose his life and his money too.” 

Witnesses for the Commonwealth of Virginia: May Branham and Logan Nottingham

There are no photographs available for May Branham and Logan Nottingham.  This photo was taken from Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent
There are no photographs available for May Branham and Logan Nottingham. This photo was taken from Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent

May Branham would testify that before the massacre she had never seen Taylor and both Fleming brothers together. Both she and Logan Nottingham testifies to seeing two men riding toward Kentucky and the Pound Gap on the Sunday before the killings, both testify that this sighting had occurred between 10 and midnight.

Branham testifies that the men had been Taylor and Cal Fleming, while Nottingham had only identified Taylor. Branham further testifies that she had seen Taylor on Thursday after the massacre going towards Pound, this also corroborates part of John Branham’s testimony. She goes on to say that Dr. Taylor and Cal Fleming had come to her house sometime after that. She says that both men were armed but neither of them had talked about the killing.   

Witnesses for the Commonwealth of Virginia: George E. Roberson

There are no photographs available for George E. Roberson  This photo was taken from Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent
There are no photographs available for George E. Roberson This photo was taken from Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent

George E Roberson would testify that he had seen Dr. Taylor at his house two weeks before the massacre. He would also testify that he had seen Taylor with the Fleming’s several times after the massacre. He would say that Taylor had been staying with Aunt Ellen Alley during the time in question. This corroborates her and other’s later testimony to the same thing.

Roberson would go on to say that Taylor had come to his house several times after the killings, sometimes with and sometimes without the Fleming brothers. He also gives testimony to the fact that Dr. Taylor sometimes carried a heavy Winchester rifle. George would end his testimony stating that he had never heard Taylor make any declarations about the killing of Mullins. 

The testimony of John Venters is another one that draws our attention because the writing style in the transcript changes once again. What exactly may have been changed in his testimony other than the rifle is anyone’s guess. 

TESTIMONY OF John Venters, witness for the Commonwealth.

There are no photographs available for John Venters.  This photo was taken looking up to Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent
There are no photographs available for John Venters. This photo was taken looking up to Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent

Venters would testify that he had heard about the massacre but within 10 day He (Venters) had sought out Taylor. He states that Taylor had been at the widow Vanover’s on Elkhorn Creek, and he had sought him out due to a sick child. 

We must pause here for just a moment. By the time that Venters would go and ask Taylor to come see his sick child, rumors had been flying for days that Taylor, Adams, and the Fleming’s were the perpetrators of the ambush and massacre. One would think this strange, why seek out a suspected murderer to treat your sick child?

What’s more is the fact that with every witness, both for the commonwealth and the defense, would NEVER describe Dr. Taylor or the Fleming brothers as behaving like men on the run. As we soon learn with the first witness for the defense, these rumors would come from none other than Jane Mullins.

We will also learn that Jane had been told by James Potter that Taylor and the Fleming’s had been the ambushers. But the one thing that is crystal clear from these testimonies is that nobody who knew Dr. Taylor believed those rumors. And neither did they believe what Jane Mullins had said about the ambush.   

Venters would then be asked about Dr. Taylor’s rifle and the way in which the rifle is described here is unique. Every other time the rifle is said to be a 45×75 using only numbers. But here the phrase is spelled out as a forty-five-seventy-five using no numbers. He would also be asked about the guns that the Fleming brothers had been carrying. The answer he gives about them is recorded in the same fashion. 

Venters goes on to tell the court that a few days later he had called Dr. Taylor back to his house to see the child once again. Another interesting thing here is that by the time of the call back, Jane Mullins would have been in protective custody.

It is also possible that when Taylor and the Fleming’s came to his house for the second time to see the child, that the indictment for Adams, Taylor, and the Fleming’s may have already been issued. So, we must ask ourselves, “Are these the actions of a guilty man on the run?” or is it an example of a compassionate and caring man concerned about the welfare of a sick individual?

Before answering those questions, remember that within a few days Adams would go to Wise and turn himself in. Also keep in mind that around this time Taylor and the Fleming brothers would begin sending letters to the sheriff of Wise County asking for an escort so that they could turn themselves in.   

Cross-examination of John Venters

There are no photographs available for John Venters.  This photo was taken looking up to Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent
There are no photographs available for John Venters. This photo was taken looking up to Pine Mountain by Joanna Adams Sergent

On cross-examination, Venters would testify that he had known Taylor for about 15 years and that Taylor had been carrying a gun for the last 4 to 5 of them. That time-frame fits with Taylor becoming a US Marshal.

It is also worthy to note that the last duties that Dr. Taylor performed before resigning as a marshal was to go to Memphis, Tennessee and return Talt Hall to Wise Virginia. Taylor would then serve as a jailhouse guard during the trial of Talt Hall. That trial ended in February 1892, so the rumors about Taylor leaving that trial to prepare for the Pound Gap massacre are easily dismissed. Which makes us wonder why Charles Johnson included it in his book. 

Venters testifies that although Dr. Taylor had been carrying his guns for 4-5 years, he would sometimes see him without a gun, but states that whenever he met Taylor on the road he was usually armed.  

The last few things in the transcript that John Venters testifies about is highly suspect. It is recorded that he said that Henry Adams had a 44 x 75 Winchester… a gun that did not exist. He goes on to testify that he thought James Potter and Howard Lytle also owned guns of the same make and model.

Another interesting thing here is that the often-told story tells us that Henry Adams and James Potter had been named as suspects during the inquest because it was known that they owned guns that matched the shell casings found at the crime scene. Curiously John Venters is asked where Adams and Lytle lived but is NOT asked about James Potter.

As we have said in other videos, the name of James Potter is brought up over and over throughout this story. But for some reason, he is not indicted, nor is he subpoenaed to testify in this trial. Venters then testifies that Enos Hamilton owned a 45×75 and lived in Virginia. He then finishes his testimony by telling the court that Calvin and Henan Fleming lived on the widow Vanover’s land in Kentucky on the Elkhorn Creek. 

Thank You

We at Kentucky Tennessee Living would like to thank you for watching our series on The Killing Rock. Don’t forget to hit that like button as the more likes we receive the more likely YouTube is to suggest our videos to other viewers. Also, to receive notice when we upload a new video be sure to subscribe and click the bell notification. 

We thank you for continuing to support Kentucky Tennessee Living. As we bring to you the history of the Appalachian Mountains. We must remind everyone that the story names Killing Rock: The Oft Told Tale (s) and Killing Rock: The Untold Story and Killing Rock: the Trial are all under Kentucky Tennessee Living copyright.

Source Information

A Narrative History of Wise County, Virginia By Charles A. Johnson Pub. 1938.

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