The murder of Grac Jones: Chapter 18

Published 9:56 pm Friday, August 14, 2015

The gravestone of Samuel Hardy is in Elmwood Cemetery in Norfolk. He died at the age of 60 of influenza.

The gravestone of Samuel Hardy is in Elmwood Cemetery in Norfolk. He died at the age of 60 of influenza.

EDITOR’S NOTE: On the evening of Oct. 26, 1908, five shots rang out in the village of Holland. Tiberius Gracchus “Grac” Jones lay dying on the ground inside the gate leading to his home. “They have killed me and killed me for telling the truth,” he told a friend as his life ebbed away. This is the last in a series of articles about the Jones murder case. Suffolk historian Kermit Hobbs Jr. compiled the 18-part series from personal accounts, newspaper stories and court records he has studied from the period.

By Kermit Hobbs Jr.

Special to the News-Herald

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Fourteen years after the murder of Tiberius Gracchus “Grac” Jones, in the early 1920s, Sam Hardy was released from prison.

He returned to Holland and, picking up where he had left off so many years ago, worked in a grocery store. Sometime later, Hardy moved to Suffolk and opened his own store at the intersection of the Smithfield and Providence Roads (Godwin Boulevard and Pruden Boulevard), a location we now know as Elephant’s Fork.

Sometime in the 1920s, young James L. McLemore Jr. happened to visit Sam Hardy’s store. The man behind the counter asked the boy, “Are you Judge McLemore’s son?” The boy proudly answered, “Yes, I am.” The man behind the counter told him, “A long time ago, your father sent me to prison for a crime I didn’t commit.”

The child knew nothing of the events of the past, and he left the store bewildered at what he had just heard. He later learned the whole story, and he never forgot the time he met Sam Hardy.

Dr. N.G. Newman

Dr. N.G. Newman

At 5:30 in the morning of Feb. 23, 1929, suffering from a severe case of influenza, Sam Hardy quietly passed away in his store. He was 60 years old and left behind “a wide circle of patrons and friends.”

The funeral was conducted by Dr. N.G. Newman, who had served as pastor of Holland Christian Church back in the happier days, when Hardy sang in the church choir. Sam Hardy was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Norfolk.

Grac Jones’ daughter, who on her 10th birthday had witnessed the death of her father, later became Mrs. Mary Jones Howell and was a well-known piano teacher in Holland. She passed away on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 1980.

She was buried in Holland Cemetery beside her mother and her father, just across the road and a few hundred yards from the spot where her father was shot to death 72 years earlier.

The Jones home still stands today.

For decades after these events, the story of Grac Jones and the trial of Sam Hardy remained a sensitive topic in Holland. One living resident recalls that in the 1950s, Mrs. Howell commented publicly that she still had three copies of Bunyan Jones’ book in her possession. Sometime thereafter, someone stole them from her home.

Dr. J.G. Newman, pastor of Holland Christian Church, wrote in retrospect of this period of time in Holland, “People took sides and talked and talked till the community was no longer a good place to live in. Numbers of people were suspected of being in some way connected with the tragedy. Suspicion extended into my church (also the other church in town), even to the official membership. I had a hard place but I kept silent and kept on as best I could.”

He added, “Things got quieter after the commutation of the sentence, high feelings and prejudices subsided somewhat, and my position became less embarrassing and my work less arduous…. The world commits crimes and raises scandals, but the church has to pay the price.”

So the question still remains. Who murdered Tiberius Gracchus Jones?

Probably no person living today will ever know the answer.

Previous: Chapter 17

EDITOR’S NOTE: There has been an incredible amount of interest in this 18-part series. Nearly all of the newspaper’s extra copies have been distributed from each of the past editions in which portions of this account have appeared. We are now planning a softcover book that will compile all 18 parts, along with many extra features. Stay tuned for more information.