Laura Foster’s Body Discovered
On June 18, 1866, the body of Laura Foster was found in a shallow grave in Wilkes County. She had last been seen on May 25 riding a horse down Stony Fork Road. Tom Dula, who had liaisons with both Foster and Ann Melton, was charged with her murder. She had been stabbed in the chest and reportedly was pregnant at the time of her death. Dula, a Confederate veteran, was returned to North Carolina from Tennessee, where he had fled.
Ann Melton and Tom Dula were brought to trial for murder during the fall term of Wilkes County court, but a change of venue removed the trial to Iredell County. Dula was convicted but Ann Melton was found not guilty. The North Carolina Supreme Court overturned Dula’s conviction. He was tried again in January 1868 and was once again convicted. This time the verdict was sustained by the Supreme Court.
Dula was hanged in May 1868 in Statesville. The subject of mountain folk ballads sung even before his execution, Dula and Laura Foster were immortalized in the bestselling song, “The Legend of Tom Dooley,” recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1958.
Other related resources:
- The Ballad of Tom Dooley from NCpedia
- Wilkes County Criminal Action Papers: Tom Dula Case, a digitized version of many of the official court papers from Tom Dula trial, made available by the State Archives and State Library
- Highway marker about Tom Dula in Wilkes County
- A lesson plan on Tom Dula from the State Archives
- Performing Arts from the N.C. Arts Council
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