When tragedies occur such as the Wednesday murder and robbery of an elderly woman on Franklin Street in Mount Airy, people typically react in the same ways.
They’ll say things such as “society is going to hell,” or “this type of thing never happened in the good old days.”
My answer to that is “oh yeah?” — at least the part about how everything supposedly was so great in olden times when nothing bad ever happened.
While the family structure in this country certainly has deteriorated over the past 100 years and various other social ills have surfaced, the desire of human beings to kill other humans has existed through the centuries — starting with Cain and Abel.
And this goes for every place on Earth, be it “Mayberry” or Muskogee.
So in examining this week’s tragic crime that shocked the community, my mind hearkened back to other events occurring here years ago which far exceeded it in terms of horrific circumstances.
I have drawn upon material from old newspaper files, including accounts from the late R.J. Berrier, a longtime journalist in Mount Airy who wrote a weekly column on local history which sometimes focused on the city’s darker chapters.
The case involving Dr. H.R. Hege in the mid-1930s definitely fits that category.
Dr. Hege was a prominent local dentist who lived in a Spanish Mission-style house built around 1925 at the corner of Cherry and South Main streets, across from where the Mount Airy Municipal Building is now.
The house no longer stands, but the story of Dr. Hege still lingers with old-timers.
Dr. Hege had an office downtown, and was highly regarded for the dental services he provided and his civic and philanthropic efforts in the community, including donating land for the God’s Acre cemetery at Grace Moravian Church.
Yet historical sources also show that Dr. Hege had a crush on a young woman from Virginia who worked in his office. He apparently became devastated after she met a man at a party and decided to marry that individual, a planter from eastern Virginia.
Dr. Hege reacted by sending the woman special-delivery telegrams saying that if he couldn’t have her, no one else would.
After the couple wed and moved to Cape Charles, Virginia, Dr. Hege concocted a plot that involved constructing a bomb using two sticks of dynamite bought from a hardware store located underneath his office. An investigation by postal inspectors also would reveal that he had meticulously assembled the various components of the death device.
He then mailed it as a “gift” to the couple and the package exploded when opened by the husband in their vehicle, killing him instantly. The wife, though seriously injured, would recall hearing the click of a mousetrap in the package and a crackling sound beforehand.
Dr. Hege subsequently was arrested, but never came to trial. While behind bars, Hege used glass from his spectacles to cut an artery in a wrist, dying on Oct. 11, 1936, by his own hand. He was buried at God’s Acre on North Main Street, where Hege’s tombstone denotes his as the cemetery’s first grave.
Then there was the heinous early 1950s murder of William H. Cochrane Jr., a popular agriculture teacher at White Plains School. Cochrane, 24, was fatally wounded while leaving for work on the morning of Dec. 31, 1951, when a bomb that had been wired to the ignition of his pickup exploded.
This ironically happened at the Franklin Apartments — not far from the scene of this week’s murder.
Eleanor Powell, retired lifestyles editor of The Mount Airy News, remembered Friday that the force of the blast was felt at the newspaper office.
One of Cochrane’s legs was blown off and the other badly mangled and he died 13 hours later from blood loss and shock.
The case went unsolved for several years until the suicide of a Chatham County man, who had been interested in Cochrane’s wife, was linked to the crime.
I also will mention the murder of retired local pharmacist and dog breeder A.P. Turnmyre in December 1967 — since it occurred on a sidewalk at the corner of Main and Franklin streets, within sight of the location of Wednesday’s slaying.
Five bullets from a small-caliber pistol were fired into Turnmyre’s back by a man named Jack Frost Timmons, who was quickly taken into custody by police.
Those are just three memorable crimes of old.
I guess one saving grace from all this is that while Mount Airy has had its share of violent murders, they do tend to be few and far between.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.