Floyd Allen
Convicted murderer
Floyd Allen
Floyd Allen was an American landowner and patriarch of the Allen clan of Carroll County, Virginia. He was convicted and executed for murder in 1913 after a sensational courthouse shootout that left a judge, prosecutor, sheriff, and two others dead, although doubt has been expressed about the validity of the conviction.
Biography
Floyd Allen's personal information overview.
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Floyd Allen
    FIFTIES
  • 1913
    Age 56
    He began his sentence in August 1913, and died of pneumonia in prison on November 25, 1913.
    More Details Hide Details The Carroll County prosecutor placed liens on all property owned by Floyd and Sidna Allen for the heirs of the victims. After three wrongful death lawsuits by the victims' estates and survivors, that property was confiscated and sold at auction, forcing Sidna Allen's wife and two small daughters to live in rented quarters and work at menial jobs until Sidna's eventual pardon. Floyd Allen's son, Victor, bought his father's house so that his mother would not have to move. In 1921, however, he moved his family to Tabernacle Township, New Jersey. Floyd Allen's brother Jasper (Jack) Allen lost his job as constable as a result of the Hillsville shooting, and soon his life. On March 17, 1916, Jack Allen had stopped for the night in a roadhouse near Mt. Airy, North Carolina where he encountered Will McGraw, a moonshine hauler. A dispute arose between McGraw and Jack Allen about the Hillsville tragedy; during the confrontation McGraw drew a gun and shot Allen twice, killing him on the spot. Jack Allen was buried near his home in Carroll County, in the presence of a thousand mourners.
    Governor Mann refused a request to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment, and Floyd Allen was electrocuted on March 28, 1913 at 1:20PM.
    More Details Hide Details Eleven minutes later, his son Claud followed Allen to his death in the electric chair.
  • 1912
    Age 55
    Friel Allen was tried in August 1912 and after confessing to shooting prosecutor Foster, was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
    More Details Hide Details Democratic Governor Elbert Lee Trinkle pardoned Friel Allen and Sidna Edwards in 1922. Governor Harry Flood Byrd in April, 1926 pardoned Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards. Victor Allen and Barnett Allen were acquitted. Burden "Byrd" Marion, a cousin and neighbor, had all charges against him dropped. Accounts differ as to whether this was for a lack of evidence, or because Marion became a state's witness and admitted his role in aiding the Allens. Shortly after the Allen trials, law enforcement officers found a still in an old house on Burden Marion's farm, and he was arrested for making illegal liquor. He was tried in federal court, found guilty, and sentenced to a year in federal prison at Moundsville, West Virginia.
    In July 1912, after three separate trials, Claud Allen was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Commonwealth's Attorney Foster, and for second-degree murder for the killing of Judge Massie.
    More Details Hide Details For their roles in the shooting, Floyd and Claude Allen were sentenced to death by electrocution. Allen's death sentence was deeply unpopular with Allen supporters in the county, but many other residents were unsympathetic, surprised by the deaths of so many people over Floyd Allen's refusal to serve a year in prison. Governor Mann, who had received death threats in the same handwriting as the threats previously delivered to the trial judge, had to cut short a trip to Pennsylvania after learning his Lieutenant Governor, James Taylor Ellyson (1847–1919), had attempted to commute the Allens' sentences in his absence, instigating a brief constitutional power struggle between the two men.
    Floyd Allen was tried for the first-degree murder of Commonwealth's Attorney Foster. On May 18, 1912, the jury found Floyd Allen guilty.
    More Details Hide Details His stoic exterior gone, Floyd Allen wept freely as the verdict was read.
    The Commonwealth's attorney, William Foster had served as Carroll County's prosecutor for eight years, having been first elected on the Democratic ticket. Later, Foster changed to the Republican party, and by 1912 was a prominent leader in the GOP in Carroll County, being elected the last time on the Republican ticket.
    More Details Hide Details Foster was a political enemy of the Allens, who had supported Constable Jack Allen's son Walter as Democratic candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney against Foster in the last election (Walter Allen had lost the bitterly fought race). Foster called upon a grand jury to investigate the escape/pistol-whipping incident. Floyd Allen agreed to testify and admitted 'roughing up' Samuel, but denied intending to release the prisoners: "That there Samuels was abusing the boys. He had them handcuffed and tied up with a rope. I just can't bear to see anyone drug around." Nonetheless, the grand jury indicted Floyd Allen, Sidna Allen and Barnett Allen for interfering with the deputies, and Floyd Allen was also indicted for assault and battery upon deputy Samuel. Sidna Allen was never tried for his part in the altercation, while Barnett Allen was acquitted at trial. When Floyd Allen's case was set for trial, rumors arose that he had sent word to Deputy Samuel that he would kill Samuel if the deputy testified against him. Allen later denied this, but the threat, whoever sent it, caused Deputy Samuel to leave the state the same night the threat was delivered.
    Allen triggered the shooting at the Carroll County Courthouse in Hillsville, Virginia on March 14, 1912, in which five people were killed and seven wounded.
    More Details Hide Details The incident is one of the rare times when an American criminal defendant attempted to avoid justice by assassinating the trial judge.
  • 1910
    Age 53
    One night in December 1910 (some sources say 1911), two of Allen's nephews, Wesley Edwards and Sidna Edwards, attended a corn shucking bee in Hillsville.
    More Details Hide Details While there, Wesley kissed a girl who was romantically linked to a local youth, Will Thomas. This soon led to an altercation between Thomas and Edwards. At a church service the next morning conducted by Wesley Edwards' uncle, Garland Allen, Will Thomas reportedly called out Wesley Edwards into a fight. According to Wesley Edwards, Thomas and three friends assaulted him and he defended himself with the help of his brother Sidna, who rushed to join the fight. Following a complaint lodged by Wesley Edwards' father, George, Wesley and his brother Sidna Edwards were charged with disorderly conduct, assault with a deadly weapon, disturbing a public worship service, and other violations. Rather than face arrest, the two men fled over the state line to Mt. Airy in Surry County, North Carolina, where they found jobs in a granite quarry. The Deputy Clerk of Carroll County, Dexter Goad, obtained a new warrant for the brothers' arrest, notifying the sheriff in Surry County, who soon arrested both men. Deputy Clerk Goad then sent a deputy (Thomas F. Samuel) with a driver (Peter Easter) to the North Carolina border to receive the Edwards brothers.
    In 1910 Sidna Allen, Floyd's brother, was tried in the United States court at Greensboro, North Carolina, for making twenty-dollar counterfeit coins.
    More Details Hide Details The federal court in Greensboro found him not guilty, while Sidna's alleged accomplice, Preston Dickens, was found guilty and sentenced to serve five years in federal prison. Sidna was retried and found guilty of perjury in his trial testimony, and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment. Sidna promptly appealed and gained a new trial on the perjury charge. The next year, after the Allens complained that they could not expect justice from William Foster, the Republican Commonwealth Attorney of the county (who had recently switched parties), Judge Thornton L. Massie had appointed both Floyd and H. C. (Henry) Allen to the post of police officer for the New River section of the county. However, times were changing: Virginia's judicial structure was altered in a series of legal reforms, particularly the county court system, which was replaced by circuit courts. The new system appointed a full-time judge to hold court at scheduled intervals in a circuit of several counties. While the state legislature still appointed circuit judges, the new system reduced the ability of individual delegates to ensure that their preferred judge was selected for their particular county; furthermore, judges could no longer practice law for private clients while on the bench, and as regional judges their susceptibility to local influence and public opinion was reduced.
  • 1908
    Age 51
    On February 1, 1908 the Allens were convicted of the charge and sentenced to ten days in jail and a fine of $10.
    More Details Hide Details Only a month later, their petition for executive clemency was granted by Governor Claude A. Swanson, restoring their political rights to hold office.
    Despite their history of violence, the Allens held considerable political power, and Floyd had a reputation for courage. In 1908, while serving as special deputies, Floyd and H.C. (Henry) Allen, a relative of Floyd, were charged with unlawful assault upon prisoners held in their custody who had reportedly resisted arrest.
    More Details Hide Details
  • THIRTIES
  • 1889
    Age 32
    Floyd had a history of violent altercations, including shooting a black man in North Carolina, beating a police officer in Mount Airy, and later shooting his own cousin. In May 1889, Floyd's brothers, Garland and Sidna Allen, were tried for carrying concealed pistols and assaulting a group of thirteen men.
    More Details Hide Details In July 1889 the Carroll County court indicted Floyd for assault as well, but in December of that year the Commonwealth's Attorney dropped the case. In September 1889, after pleading no contest to the assault, Garland and Sidna were fined $5 each plus court costs, and the prosecutor dropped the weapons charges. Judge Robert C. Jackson, an attorney in Roanoke and Judge Thornton Massie's predecessor in the Carroll County courtroom, stated that "Floyd Allen was perhaps the worst man of the clan--overbearing, vindictive, high tempered, brutal, with no respect for law and little or no regard for human life. During my term of office Floyd Allen was several times charged with violations of law. In several instances he escaped indictment, I am satisfied, because the witnesses were afraid to testify to the facts before the grand jury." Judge Jackson recalled a trial in 1904 in which Floyd was convicted of assaulting a neighbor, Noah Combs. That year, Floyd wanted to buy a farm owned by one of his brothers, but could not agree on a price. Combs wanted the land badly enough to pay the asking price and bought it despite Floyd’s warnings not to “butt in.” Not long afterward Floyd shot Combs (who recovered), and was indicted and tried on charges of assault. Sentenced by the jury to an hour in jail and a $100 fine, plus costs, Floyd immediately posted bail pending an appeal.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1856
    Born
    Floyd Allen was born in 1856 and spent much of his life living in Cana, below Fancy Gap Mountain in Carroll County, Virginia.
    More Details Hide Details He was the patriarch of Carroll County's leading family, which in addition to owning large tracts of farmland and a prosperous general store, were also active in local politics. Both Floyd Allen and Sidna Allen held legal licenses for the production of alcohol (Prohibition not taking effect until 1920). Allen was noted for his generosity, but also his quick temper, and easily injured pride. The Allens were proud Democrats and active in local politics in Carroll County. As a result, many of Allens held local offices (such as constable, tax collector, or deputy sheriff) and supported various political friends for office.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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