A Triple Tragedy Inside One of Fulton's Most Notable Buildings
By: Danny Gaither - November 19, 2016
The Itawamba County News called it a “Triple Tragedy”, my brother and sisters simply knew the story as “Purdy” told by my Grandmother, Lillian Sandlin Gaither. Purdy was the best bedtime story ever to us kids! I don’t think my Grandmother particularly enjoyed telling the story but that is what the grandchildren wanted to hear. She would pull up a straight chair beside our bed with all four of us piled on top of one another listening intently, when finished she would cleverly add a good bible story to calm us down prior being tucked for the night.
The setting was the old Wiygle Hotel built around 1855 by Reuben Wiygle on the corner of West Wiygul and South Clifton Streets in Fulton, MS. (current address 101 W. Wiygul Street) When my Grandmother was telling the story the hotel was a hundred plus years old at that time. We could look out the bedroom window of my grandparent’s house at 105 East Wiygul when the story was being told and literally see that old haunted looking hotel within 200 feet of the house. The hotel was a wooden structure that consisted of two floors approximately 30’X30’ in the front with a porch downstairs and upstairs. The hotel’s ground floor extended approximately another 130 to 150 feet to the south. In the 1950s absolutely no paint was on the structure. Looked like unpainted barn siding. Though falling in disrepair people still lived in the hotel in the 1950s and 1960’s. The hotel was torn down in 1962.
The main subjects of the story were Trannie Wiygle, age 71, Trannie’s wife Jennie Wiygle, age 41 and their adopted son Purdy Wiygle age 17, one month from his 18th birthday. The year was 1913. Trannie was the owner of the Wiygle Hotel and livery stable across the street. He also operated a store and farmed. Today we think of a hotel as a place to spend a night or two and then be on your way. Because of limited housing at the time many individuals and families lived in the hotel. Trannie’s family lived in the hotel. Both Trannie and Jennie were in their second marriages. Their spouses from their first marriages had passed away. Trannie’s first spouse, Sallie Walker Wiygle passed away in 1892. Jennie’s first husband and passed away in 1891. It’s unknown how long Trannie & Jeannie had been married but were living as husband and wife as early as the 1900 census. Purdy was an adopted son and was living in Trannie & Jeannie’s home at the age of 5 years old shown in the 1900 census. (Purdy was the natural son of Mary Ann Underwood Tunnell & John Robertson Pierce. They never married)
My Grandmother was a young unmarried 19 year old first grade teacher at the time. She recalled Purdy as being happy and jovial and she said that one of Purdy’s chores each day was to gather wood and start the fire for warmth at the school each morning.
On January 2, 1913 my grandmother said the headmaster of the school came in and made an announcement that Purdy would no longer be coming to their school to light their fire that he and his family had been found murdered at the hotel.
On New Year’s Day, January 1, 1913 the hotel had been closed all day. People assumed the family was away visiting. On Tuesday January 2, 1913 it was noted that the livestock had not been tended to and no one had seen the Wiygle family. My great grandfather, William Lafayette Gaither, who operated Gaither & Sons General Merchandise store on the corner of Gaither and Main street, sent his two boys Will and Eugene over to the hotel to investigate the goings on with the Wiygle’s. William Gaither was a nephew of Trannie Wiygle. Will and Eugene were twins and age 21 at the time. My grandmother said they were home from Mississippi A&M. (Will was my grandfather)
Will and Eugene were not successful in getting anyone to come to the door when they knocked. The door was locked. The Wiygle’s living quarters were on the ground floor, so Will and Eugene went outside and they noted that one of the window shades was not pulled totally down. There was an inch or two that they were able to peer inside. They noted a body on the floor and could see bits of blood splattered on the window. (The body on the floor turned out to be Purdy)
Will and Eugene rushed back to their father’s store and reported what they had discovered. They immediately went to get the Sheriff, Thomas Gregory.
Sheriff Thomas Gregory found both doors leading into the living quarters locked thus forced his way in. What he saw was gruesome! Jennie Wiygle was lying in the bed as if she had been asleep with the top half her head blown off. She was dressed for bed and did not appear to have moved after being shot. Trannie was dead lying on his back in the same room. Both sides of his neck had been slit, an open bloody knife near his left foot and a double barrel shot gun containing two spent shells was lying on the floor near him. In the adjoining room with the door ajar was Purdy’s body with his head half shot off lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood.
According to the newspaper account, Sheriff Gregory immediately
summonsed the following citizens under oath to investigate; JG Nanney, Ben Stovall, HG Moore, Sam Moore, Tobe Morrow, and Jack Wheeler. Dr. William Lawrence Orr, Dr. Oscar Copeland, and Dr. John Senter assisted in the investigation.
The investigation concluded that Mrs. Jennie Wiygle and Purdy Wiygle had died from shotgun blasts fired by Trannie Wiygle and Trannie had died from knife wounds inflicted by his own hand.
All outside doors leading into the rooms were sham bolted on the inside with the exception of one, which was locked from the inside with a key left in the lock. The investigators concluded from the condition of the windows that no one had entered or exited the windows. A box of knives was found in Trannie Wiygle’s store like the bloodstained one found on the floor. The two rooms except for the beds were undisturbed. Three pocket books containing over $20 were found in a trunk which was locked and the key was found. There was a great deal of blood on Trannie’s side of the bed and a trail of blood leading the investigators to believe that Trannie had a light slit on one side of his throat while in bed, got up and got his shotgun and shot Jennie Wiygle first. Purdy who was in the adjoining room heard the shot and appeared to have gotten out of bed or was sitting on the edge of the bed when shot. It is believed Trannie then finished himself off by slitting the other side of his throat. A lamp had been broken in Trannie’s room on the hearth and a match box was bloody. The investigation, according to the newspaper account lasted an hour or longer and concluded if anyone else committed the killings other than Trannie Wiygle their tracks were well covered up.
Trannie, Jennie and Purdy Wiygle were buried the same afternoon Tuesday January 2, 1913 in the Fulton C
emetery. My grandmother’s father and one of my great grandfathers, Joseph E. Sandlin conducted the funeral services.
On the crest of the hill in the Fulton Cemetery are the three grave markers side by side. The one thing that really stands out are the death dates on all three stones was January 1, 1913. (New Years Day) January 1st was also Trannie Wiygle’s birthday.
Our minds can speculate as to what must have occurred as a prelude to a horrific event as a double murder, suicide. We will never really know.
I will conclude the story with the newspaper account into their characterization of the three. Mr. Trannie Wiygle was a man of many friends. He had always resided in this county and had been a good law-abiding citizen. He drank some but was very moderate in drinking. We have never known or heard of his being down or to any alarming extent under the influence of whiskey. He was about 70 years of age, a confederate soldier and admired by many friends. His financial affairs were flourishing, and it seems that there was no cause for his being disconnected. If it were another who did the killings, their tracks were well covered up.
Mrs. Wiygle was a most excellent lady. She was a Miss Turner before her first marriage to Mr. Haughton who has been dead many years. Mr. Wiygle was her second husband.
They appeared to always live happily as man and wife should. She was a devoted member of the Methodist church.
Purdy, their adopted son, so far as we have ever been able to discern, was treated as well as if he had been their biological child.
One thing that sticks in my mind that my grandmother said in her story that was not reported in the newspaper account of the event was that Trannie Wiygle had kicked his pants off to around his ankles when they found him. My grandmother always believed that Trannie was under the influence of whiskey.
PS: Tranquillas (Trannie) Wiygul was born January 1, 1842 to Reuben (1805 – 1889) and Tarley Stegall Wiygle (1810 – 1899).
Trannie served in the confederate army during the civil war, Company B, 10th Mississippi Infantry.( Ben Bullard Rifles). He married Sallie C. Walker December 27, 1866. Sallie died in 1892 and is buried in the Maxey Cemetery.
Jeannie A. Turner’s first marriage was to James Daniel Haughton (b. 1849 in Aberdeen, MS d. 1891 in Birmingham, AL. They married March 28, 1889. Of this marriage was one daughter, Gracia (Grace) Haughton b.1890.
Gracia married William J. Schumpert on 12/10/12 just 21 days before the murder - suicide. In the 1910 census Gracia was living in the Wiygle household. I presumed Gracia lived with the Wiygle’s until her marriage. My sister Kay recalled my grandmother telling her that leading up to the days of the murder-suicide that Trannie;s wife, Jeannie, had been depressed and crying a lot after her daughter had married and left home. Could this be a clue??