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Friday, August 11, 2017

The Acreman Family Murder


   On May 14, 1906, in the Allentown community, William Glenn Acreman, his wife, and seven children were murdered, and their home burned down over their lifeless bodies.  No one was ever punished for the crime.
     On that morning, a neighbor, living about a quarter a mile away, looked toward the Acreman place, but did not see the house.  He contacted other neighbors, and a group of them found the Acreman house in smoldering ruins.  Upon closer investigation, they found the burned bodies of the family.  One of the group went to a nearby turpentine camp, and called the Sheriff's office in Milton.
Judge Rhoda, Sheriff Mitchell, Dr. H.E. Eldridge, and several others, hurried to the Acreman home.
Upon arrival, the ruins were still smoking. Mrs. Acreman was found on the porch with her three-day old baby. The oldest daughter was found by the door leading to the porch from the room her bed was in.  Three boys were found dead in their bed.  Mr. Acreman was found by one of the doors going to the back porch, his weapon next to his body. (Some accounts say it was a shotgun, one claimed it was a revolver.) It looks as though he was trying to defend his family.  He, his wife, and at least one of his sons had crushed skulls.

     W. G. Acreman was the son of Zebulon Rudolph Acreman, and was most likely born in 1869 in Lowndes County, Alabama. He had eight brothers, and one sister.

     In 1902, the Acreman's were living in Mobile, Alabama near the corner of Selma, and Marine Streets. Described as being in desperate circumstance, they were helped by their church. Mr. Acreman was remembered there as a peaceful, harmless man who was very religious, and a bit eccentric. He had no known enemies.

     Apparently, they left Mobile, and settled in Opp, Alabama for about a year, and sometime in 1903, moved to the area where they eventually died.

     There was a subscription in Milton, and Bagdad to raise money for a reward for information. An amount of $1500 was quickly raised, but there were no immediate developments in the case.

     A year after the horrific murders of the Acreman family, two arrests were made in the case.  In Gonzales, Florida, William C. Smith was arrested and brought to Milton. Some newspaper articles claim that he confessed to taking part in the murders.  In Samson, Alabama, located in Geneva County, and not far from Opp, detectives arrested Joe Stanley.  Stanley must have had a fearsome reputation, because the detectives employed some subterfuge to get the drop on him.  They visited his farm asking if he had any tacks they could use to put up a sign with. When Stanley turned to get some one of the detectives got the drop on him, and he was arrested at gunpoint.  After the warrant was read to him, Stanley asked if he could get some clothes from a trunk. The detectives refused, but opened the trunk themselves, and found no clothes, but did find two pistols there.  Stanley also attempted to get his hands on a shotgun, with no success.  Stanley had a wife and two children, and refused to waive extradition to Florida. After the right paperwork was obtained, he was removed to Santa Rosa County, Florida.  

     There was a hearing scheduled for May 15, 1907 in Judge Rhoda’s courtroom, and it was postponed when state witnesses could not be located, and a stenographer was not available.  I found another article that claimed the prosecutor, and judge were under death threats, and did not show up for court.  Regardless, two days later there was a brief hearing, and both suspects were released. The case is officially unsolved.

    When Stanley was arrested, the Troy (Ala) Messenger published an article that mostly reported the same information as the other papers, but they added that, “Stanley has been under suspicion as he is said to have had trouble with the murdered man.”   No other references to this “trouble” could be found.  When the Acreman’s moved from Mobile to Opp, did Mr. Acreman have some kind of run-in with Stanley? 

     There are many articles, in southern Alabama newspapers about confrontations with the law by Joe Stanley. It’s not possible to know if there were multiple Joe Stanley’s living in the area during the same time frame.  There was an article added to Joe Stanley’s Find A Grave memorial that told the story of Jocephus Stanley’s death on March 8, 1928.  I pretty sure this is the same Joe Stanley that had been arrested in the Acreman murders.  Stanley was a policeman in Phenix City, Alabama, which is just across the Chattahoochee river from Columbus, Georgia.  In the middle of the river on an island that is sometimes claimed by both Alabama, and Georgia, Stanley was shot during a confrontation with a gang of gamblers, and bootleggers that based themselves in the “no man’s land”.  Stanley was attempting to arrest a George Chambers who was a customer of James Jennette.  Stanley had been informed of some threats directed at him and went to ask Jennette about it.  During the confrontation, Jennette pulled a pistol and fired three shots. Two missed, but the third hit Stanley in the stomach. Another officer hit Jennette in the head, and at the same time Stanley backed off a few feet, and fired one time, hitting Jennette in the body.  They were loaded in the same car and taken to the hospital, where both died. His body was brought back to Opp where he was buried.  Nothing more on William C. Smith could be found.

  The Acreman family is interred in one mass grave in the Jay Cemetery.  Their headstone has the quote: 

“No pain, no grief, not anxious fear can reach our loved ones sleeping here.”

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