Thursday, December 3, 2015

August 15, 1904: Will Cato and Paul Reed

As promised today we learn about the Georgia lynching of Cato and Reed. Our article comes to us through the pages of The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) dated August 17, 1904:


Murderers of White Man and Family Met a Horrible End at Hands of Mob.


Taken From Military Guard to Cornfield in Suburbs of Statesboro Where Pyre Awaited.

AUGUSTA, Ga., Aug. 16.—In the smoke of a funeral pyre, rapidly constructed by members of the mob who had taken them from the military guard at Statesboro yesterday, the souls of Will Cato and Paul Reed went up to face their maker, and answer the charge of cruelly murdering Frank Hodges, his defenseless wife and three helpless children. The attack on the military, the taking of the prisoners from their guards in the very shadow of the court house and the final burning at the stake were the results of long restrained, pent-up, thoroughly outraged feelings and the bursting forth of indignation that could no longer be restrained.

It is possible to image the tense strain under which the people of this settlement have been since the finding of the charred bodies of Frank Hodges and his family among the blazing timbers of their home and the subsequent revelations that this most foul of murders was committed at the instigation of a negro secret order, the Before Day club, and that many of the best, the bravest and fairest people of this section were also marked for slaughter by the same nefarious society and for no other reason than that by thrift and enterprise they had accumulated a goodly store of this world's goods, which were coveted by the band of shiftless, criminal negroes.

There was also an element of fanaticism in the crime of Cato, Reed and their companions which no one can explain, but which Southern people know to exist. It was that desire on the part of certain elements of the negro race to take leading parts in shadowy enterprises and to shine among their fellows as men not afraid of letting the blood of white men.


Will Cato had already been tried and convicted of the murder of Frank Hodges yesterday and this morning Paul Reed was put on trial and convicted. All the time the trial was in progress the Oglethorpe infantry of Savannah and the local military company were on guard over the prisoners, but there have been murmurings and threats on the part of the people all the time since the murder of the Hodges family and the bloodhounds led the searchers for the perpetrators of the crime to the home of Will Cato. But the feeling of the people did not find vent until this afternoon. Just after Reed had been found guilty and Judge Daly had in the court room just finished a speech of congratulations to the people of Statesboro on their splendid regard for the law under very trying conditions a shout went up from a crowd outside.


The cause was soon learned. A mob had charged an outpost of the soldiers, composed of several men, and had overpowered them.

The guns were wrested from the soldiers and were found to contain no ammunition.

This discovery, emboldened the mob and as the prisoner[s] were brought out of the court house to the jail by a strong guard of soldiers the mob, composed of three thousand men, charged on them.

Two or three times the soldiers with fixed bayonets drove the citizens back, inflicting slight wounds on many of the men who had attacked them but the military was soon overwhelmed, and the prisoners taken from them.

As soon as the mob got possession of the murderers the march toward the stake began.

The negroes were carried just out of the city limits, where a halt was made to decide how death should be meted out. The leaders consulted for about forty minutes.

Everything was conducted orderly.


The negroes knew their time had come and asked for time to pray.

This was granted. Both knelt and began to pray in the usual sing song manner of their race.

A rope was thrown around Reed's neck while he was on his knees.

They continued to pray for ten minutes, when they were made to get up and were carried across a corn field about three hundred yards and chained to an old lightwood stump about ten feet high.

Kerosene was then poured over their bodies and pine knots and lightwood rails piled around them.


The heap was fired and in an instant the blaze spread over the entire pyre. The countenance of the negroes assumed an expression of intense pain and horror. The hair began to singe, the skin to roll up and the bodies to writhe with pain. The flames soon hid the bodies from view. A hush fell on the crowd and the murder of the Hodges family was avenged according to the ethics of the sparsely settled rural districts.

Both negroes made statements before they died. Will Cato reiterated the statement made a few days ago that he was only a guard in the cane patch while the murder of the Hodges was being committed.

Paul Reed said that he did all the killing, and that Will Cato told the truth; he watched in the cane patch. He said he did not kill the children; that they were burned to death when he fired the house. He told how he found the little girl Kittie behind a trunk and pulled her out. She asked him what he wanted and he told her money. She offered him five cents, all she had and he told her he would not hurt her. She fell back behind the trunk. He said he then piled the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Hodges together and poured kerosene oil on them, and then fired the house. He added:

"Gentlemen, this is the last talk I will have and I am telling the truth."


He further said that Preacher Gaines, Preacher Tolbert and S. Bill Golden planned the crime and several others were in it.

That Gaines and Tolbert were the ringleaders and that the lot fell on him to do the job.

He asserted that if there was any money secured he never saw any of it.

After the fire around the bodies had begun to subside, a cry was made:

"Let's go back and get the others, and finish the job while we are at it," but it was overruled, some of the men saying they had done enough for one day.

Many of the leading citizens of the community headed by Judge Daly used every endeavor to stop the mob, but their efforts were futile.


The Hodges murder was perhaps one of the most brutal that has ever been committed in the south, a whole family was butchered, and their bodies and home cremated. Robbery was the supposed instigation of the crime. Reports had been circulated that Hodges had money hoarded. It was even said that Hodges had a pot of gold hidden in his front yard.

On Friday, July 29, the whole community was shocked by the story of the crime. Shortly after midnight neighbors discovered the home of Mr. Hodges in flames.

The members of the family were no where to be seen. An investigation of the ruins the following day revealed a horrible scene.

Mr. Hodges was found with his skull crushed in as though from the blow of an axe. Mr. Hodges' head and body had been beaten with some blunt instrument. The body of a little girl was horribly mangled.

The two other children's bodies did not show any signs of violence, and it is supposed they were victims of the flames and not the murderous blows of their assailants.

On pieces of timber in the yard were found many bloody stains and bloody finger prints.

It developed that Hodges went to a neighbor's about 8 o'clock the same night to bring his little child back, who had been spending the day.

It is believed that he was met at the gate by his assailants and murdered.

As soon as the crime was made known, a large posse was found and bloodhounds put on the trail.

As reported at the trial, the bloodhounds followed the trail during the day to a picnic, at which several hundred negroes were assembled. Without warning the dogs pounced on two negroes. The officers ran to the dogs, and in attempting to arrest the two negroes they were immediately surrounded by the crowd.

The crowd sought to prevent the arrest of the two men, and the officers drew their guns.


Within a short time thirteen negroes were placed under arrest and carried to the Statesboro jail. Prior to the arrests of the thirteen, Paul Reed and his wife and Will Cato, other negroes, were placed in jail. In a confession made later by the wife of Paul Reed she declared her husband and Will Cato committed the murder.

The woman said that her husband and Will Cato were impressed that Mr. Hodges had about three hundred dollars in money and had planned to kill him and rob the house the Saturday night before. They went to the house and called Mr. Hodges out, but their courage failed them.

She said her husband and Will Cato left the house together on the night of the murder, and she thinks there were two or three others with them, but did not now who, as they never came into the house where she was.

They were gone about an hour and a half. When they returned her husband said he had committed an awful crime, and was in trouble about it.

They said they had killed Mr. Hodges and wife and two children, but remembered that the little girl had escaped and would tell who they were.

According to the woman, the negroes then returned to the house and found the little girl hid behind a trunk. She pleaded with them to save her life, but her pleadings were in vain. A blow from an axe ended her life.

The woman then said that the bodies of the five victims were then piled in a heap and the house set on fire.

The town of Statesboro is very quiet tonight. All the prisoners who have been arrested in connection with the Hodges murders were released tonight by the order of Judge Daly and sent out of the city on trains with military escort. None of the negroes implicated in the confession of Reed are even held for trial. it is understood that several negroes on the outskirts of the city have been whipped by white cappers, but it cannot be learned as to why this punishment was given them.

Sheriff Kendry of Bullock county, it is believed, has secured the minute books and a roster of the "Before Day" club, and will begin a thorough investigation of its affairs at once. Gaines, who was implicated by Reed in his confession just before death, is the president of the club, but Judge Daly has put him far out of harm's way by this time.

It has developed here that the deputy sheriffs were in league with the lynchers.

The deputies helped to overpower the soldiers, and, it is said, unlocked the door of the room in which the prisoners were confined.

In the room the deputies pointed out Reed and Cato.

Paul Reed, on left, and Will Cato, on right
Negroes lynched by being burned alive at Statesboro, Georgia.

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