A few weeks ago, I wrote about the four Hill brothers from Jackson County, each of whom died in the service of their country. I received a lot of response to that article, including some additional info.
To recap, the first son, Hoyt Hill, died in 1917 after he got sick while in the Army chasing Pancho Villa around the Texas border area. The next year, brother Jewel T. Hill was KIA in France in WWI.
In 1933, brother William T. Hill died in the nation’s worst airship disaster, the crash of the USS Akron off the coast of New Jersey.
The fourth brother, Lawrence H. Hill, was electrocuted at the WWII shipyard in Brunswick, Ga. in 1945 while trying to save a co-worker — for that, he was designated a Carnegie Hero that year.
The four brothers were the sons of Charles T. and Minnie Hill and all are buried, or have markers, in the Thyatira Church cemetery located between Jefferson and Commerce.
But those tragedies weren’t the only ones in the immediate Hill family. Two other family members were murdered and three young siblings of the four brothers died in childhood. (There was a total of 11 children in the family.)
Bryan Hill was five years old when he died in 1887. An infant daughter died at childbirth in 1907 and another daughter died at just four-months-old in 1910.
And then there was sister Ollie Belle Hill who was murdered in January 1918 in an infamous incident on the campus of the University of Georgia.
There is some mystery about Belle Hill and why she was on the UGA campus the night of Jan. 29-30, 1918. She had gone with Jamie Johnson on the train from Jefferson to Athens that afternoon. Neither were students at UGA.
Some reports indicate the two got a hotel room in Athens and had eaten supper at a local restaurant. Reportedly, they were going to catch the 5?a.m. train from Athens to Atlanta the following morning. Perhaps the two were eloping, but that isn’t clear.
Around midnight, Jamie and Belle went to a UGA room on North Campus where three of Jamie’s friends from Jefferson — students Alva Pendergrass, Tom Holliday and H.D. Dadisman — lived. Jamie asked if he and Belle could spend the night there. The three students balked at first, but because it was raining hard outside, they relented.
The five people talked for a while, then went to sleep. Belle and Jamie shared a bed at the far corner of the room while the other three boys slept on another bed.
Around 2?a.m., Jamie asked one of the other boys for a pen and some paper, saying he wanted to write something. At 3:30?a.m., the three boys woke to the sound of gunshots and saw Jamie fall to the floor.
Both Belle Hill and Jamie Johnson were dead.
Jamie had shot Belle in the heart, apparently while she was sleeping. He then turned the gun on himself, shooting twice into his chest.
The other boys called the police and an inquest was held early that morning. Both Jamie and Belle were taken to a local undertaker, where a crowd gathered to see the bodies before they were put into caskets and sent by train to Jefferson that afternoon, about 12 hours after the murder-suicide.
Belle’s body was accompanied by her brother, Lawrence. Lawrence told some people that Belle had secretly been married the year before to a man from Chattanooga who was serving in the military in France. There are other reports that at the time of her death, she had been living in Atlanta and working as a waitress at a restaurant.
The murder on the campus caused a sensation in Athens. Before he killed Belle and himself, Jamie had written a rambling suicide letter to his mother. But he didn’t mention Belle or why he planned to kill her. To this day, why she was killed remains a mystery.
The three boys who allowed Jamie and Belle to stay in their room were all expelled from UGA for having violated campus rules.
Belle was buried at the Thyatira Church cemetery next to brother Hoyt, who had died the year before. The wrong death date was put on her tombstone (it says Jan. 22, 1918 but it was really Jan. 30, 1918.)
The back of the tombstone reads:
“We trust our loss will be her gain and that with Christ she’s gone to reign.”
Within a year’s time (1917-1918) three of the Hill children had died tragically. One can only imagine the pain it cause their parents. By that time, mother Minnie Hill had become an invalid and we don’t know for sure if she was even able to attend her children’s funerals.
Three other sisters in the family survived to adulthood. Jessie Hill married R. L. Woodward and in 1945, was living in Chattanooga. Ada Hill married a Sanders and was living in Alabama in 1945; she apparently died in 1981, according to an engraving on the stones that surround the Hill family plot. The third sister married O.E. Darnell and lived on the old Hill family farm near Jefferson. Part of what was the Hill-Darnell farm is where the new Jackson County Courthouse now stands.
But the killing of Belle Hill wasn’t the only murder to hit the family. Some years before, in 1880, Susan Hill, a sister of Belle’s father, Charles T. Hill, was murdered in a farm field near Jefferson in what became a sensational local murder case of the late 1800s.
In mid-July 1880, Susan Hill’s body was found lying in the farm field of George Freeman. She had been shot twice, once in the chest and then from close range in the forehead.
Freeman told authorities that a young man who worked for him on the farm, John Arthur (or Arter) had left the farm on foot. A posse was formed and the group eventually found Arthur fishing on a river in Greene County. They brought him back to Jefferson and put him in jail.
Hill lived next door to the Freeman farm. In the 1880 census, she was listed as a housekeeper with two young children in the house. She apparently had both children out of wedlock.
Other men were initially arrested as well. Three of the men from the posse were charged, including George Freeman. But a preliminary hearing dropped the charges against them, lacking evidence they were involved in the murder.
Not long after Arthur was captured, he confessed to the murder, saying that Sarah Freeman, the mother of Georgie Freeman, had promised to pay him $50 to kill Susan Hill and supplied him with a rifle to do the murder. When she didn’t pay him, he ran away, he said.
Arthur was convicted in August 1880 of the murder. The jury was out only 45 minutes and didn’t recommend mercy, so the judge sentenced him to hang.
The hanging was delayed in October following an order from the governor, based on information that Arthur might have been mentally ill.
But in November 1880, that stay was lifted and on a rainy, muddy day, John Arthur was hung as over 1,000 people watched. The hanging reportedly took place in the area where the water tank and Jefferson Academy now stand. From the gallows, he recanted his confession and said he hadn’t murdered Susan Hill.
Sarah Freeman was apparently never convicted of being involved in the murder.
The Arthur hanging was remembered for years in Jefferson and referred to several times in later newspaper articles. In 1887, the Jackson County grand jury took another look at the case, reportedly based on new information. Nothing came of that review.
We don’t know exactly where Susan Hill was buried. There is a lonely rock marking a grave next to her brother, C.T. Hill, and that could be where she was put to rest.
Her murder was the first of many tragic deaths that would haunt the Hill family over the next 65 years.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.