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March 6, 2010

Murder in Alex: One family's heritage

(More information can be found HERE)


ALEXANDRIA — All Janet Ellis wanted was the story behind the guns.

The Alexandria native, 56, had heard for years the story about her husband’s family, how a great-uncle, John Ellis, the police chief in town, had been shot and killed in the line of duty, along with Patrolman Virgil Kirkman, in 1911.

James Walker was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1916, however, he was granted a brief furlough to visit his family in Alexandria. Townspeople were outraged, and John Ellis’ three brothers, Tom, Jake and Ed, bought handguns in a plan to kill Walker.

It never happened, but one night, the then-resident of the old Ellis homestead, on 900 North and Madison Avenue, approached Janet’s husband, Barry, at the family’s bowling alley, Norwood Bowl.

“She said she had found three guns on the inside of the wall, between the walls,” Janet Ellis said last week. “They were doing some remodeling and found these guns: three pistols. They were wrapped in linen cloth, next to a 1915 or 1916 Sears, Roebuck catalog.”

The discovery set Ellis off on a genealogical journey, to track the story in historical documents. She began at the Anderson Public Library, in the microfilm archives of county newspapers.

“I really didn’t know how to go about it, because I’d never done any genealogy before,” Ellis said. “Really, I was interested in the guns more than the genealogy part of it. I just started going through anything I could get my hands on, until I pieced the story together as much as I could.”

As has happened to countless others, Ellis grew fascinated by the world of genealogy, especially this story that was known to descendants only in pieces.

“It hadn’t been really forgotten, because that older generation, of my husband’s father, they knew more, and when I prompted them, they would tell me more,” Ellis said. “It wasn’t something that was talked about much.”

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