Who killed Grac Jones?

Published 9:40 pm Friday, July 24, 2015

On the unseasonably warm and damp evening of Oct. 26, 1908, five shots rang out beneath the overcast sky along South Quay Road in the village of Holland.

Tiberius Gracchus “Grac” Jones lay on the ground inside the gate leading to his home. His wife cradled the head of her dying husband in her hands. A friend came running to the scene, and Grac Jones looked up and said, “They have killed me and killed me for telling the truth.” He died an hour later in his bed, attended by a physician, his family and a crowd of people curious about what had happened.

Jones was sure he had been shot for attempting to stand in the way of the distribution of a Holland estate worth more than $2 million in today’s values.

Email newsletter signup

Who killed Grac Jones? That question set the village of Holland buzzing.

Jones, a moralist who made a point of proselytizing around town about the evils of alcohol, was not especially well liked. But the man who was pegged as a suspect early in the investigation was popular in Holland. Tensions around the case were probably inevitable.

The Norfolk Virginian Pilot reported on Oct. 28, 1908, “The neighborhood fabric around Holland had been rent for weeks.  The murder has thrown the community into a fever ferment and rumors fly like December hail.”

The Grac Jones murder case has long been a point of historical interest for Suffolk historian and businessman Kermit Hobbs.

Hobbs, who retired from Amadas Industries in 2009 and now serves as a licensed mediator, is known throughout Suffolk for his love of history and his ability to get at its details through careful research of primary and secondary period sources.

His books, “Suffolk: A Pictorial History” and “Suffolk: A Celebration of History,” can be found on coffee tables throughout the city and are required reading for anybody wishing to learn more about how the city came to be the place it is today.

Hobbs worked with the Suffolk News-Herald in 2013 to publish a serialized, 150th-anniversary account of the Siege of Suffolk, along with the events that preceded it and its effects on the city in the months and years following the departure of Federal troops from the old town.

He has reprised the serialized approach to recounting history in an 18-part narrative of the Grac Jones case that relies on eyewitness accounts, court documents and newspaper stories from more than 100 years ago. Hobbs’ stories will appear in consecutive editions of the Suffolk News-Herald, starting tomorrow.

Even Hobbs was surprised at the twists and turns of the story.

“If I had written it as fiction, it would have sounded contrived,” he said. “The fact that it’s true makes it all the more amazing.”

Who killed Grac Jones? Follow along for the next three weeks, as Hobbs lays out a case and paints a historical picture of one of the city’s oldest communities and how it was nearly torn apart by that question.