A Bloody Night in Downtown Asheville, Part Two

by Bruce Whitaker

Captain John R. Page was in charge of the city police station that night. Two patrolman, James W. Bailey and Charles R. Blackstock, where also there when Tony Johnson, Pearl Maxwell’s boyfriend, ran into the station. Johnson said, “I am Tony Johnson. There is a man trying to kill me!” Captain Page tried to calm Johnson down in order to question him. Slowly, they got him to tell them what was going on. He told them that a man who called himself Will Harris had just threatened to shoot him with a rifle in Pearl Maxwell’s basement apartment. Page told Blackstock to come with him and told Bailey to stay in the office.

Page and Blackstock walked toward Maxwell’s apartment. They knew the way because they had been called there several times before. They could hear angry voices coming from the apartment before they got there. They had heard of Will Harris, so Page told Blackstock to go to the front door while he watched the back door to keep Harris from escaping out the back. Blackstock turned on his flashlight and stepped on the front porch.

Harris saw the flashlight through the window. He grabbed his rifle and shot point blank through the center of the door. Blackstock had just raised his fist to knock on the door when the bullet hit him in the chest. He fell backward off the porch and died. Page heard the shot and saw Blackstock fall off the porch. He grabbed his pistol and jumped onto the porch. Harris saw him and shot through the door again. He hit Page in the upper right arm. Harris bolted through the door and ran toward Eagle Street. Page fired his gun with his left hand three times but missed.

Page saw that Blackstock was dead. He managed to get to his feet and run to the police station, holding his gun in his left hand, as his right arm was dangling. Bailey thought he had heard gun shots but wasn’t sure, and then Page ran in. He told him Blackstock had died. “There is a crazy man shooting up Eagle Street,” he said. “Get as many officers as you can and cordon off South Main. Keep him from getting to Pack Square.” Bailey ignored his bloody arm, reloaded his gun, and headed back out on the street.

Harris ran up Eagle Street toward South Main Street. Benjamin Addison, who ran a store at 53 Eagle Street, came out of his store, and Harris shot him in the right eye and killed him. Walter “Jakko” Corpening, a young man heading home from work, stepped out onto Eagle Street. Harris shot him in the stomach, and Corpening ran but fell over in an alley and died.

Tom Neil was walking down Market Street toward Eagle. Harris shot at him. The bullet went in Neil’s right pants pocket, hit a silver quarter, and then passed upward through his body. Neil stumbled backward and fell in a doorway. Harris screamed, “Nobody cares who I am! I am from hell and don’t care who sends me back!”

George W. Jackson, a bartender at the Laurel Valley Saloon, heard the shooting and went out to investigate. Harris drove him back into the saloon with a shot between Jackson’s legs. The bullet went through Jackson’s pants and underwear but did not hit him. Jackson didn’t give Harris a chance for a second shot. He leaped inside the saloon and laid on the floor. Harris shot at another man and missed. He tried to shoot at another person, but his gun was empty. He then reloaded.

The attendant at the British American Club on South Main heard the shooting and went to see what was going on. After peeking out, he ran upstairs, where G. Spears Reynolds (brother of NC Senator Robert Reynolds) was talking with two Northern businessmen. He told Reynolds there was a man shooting up the town. Reynolds drew his gun and went downstairs and out onto the street. He shot at Harris and missed. Harris shot at Reynolds and hit the bricks a short distance above Reynolds’ head. Reynolds ducked back into the building. Captain Page then started firing (left-handed) at Harris from Pack Square, but he was too far away.

Patrolman Bailey heard the shooting and ran into Shirriff’s Café at the corner of Patton Avenue and Lexington to deputize four men. He sent one to ring the fire bell to wake people up and let them know there was emergency. Bailey then ran back to Pack Square and saw Captain Page go back to the police station for more ammunition.

Bailey started shooting at Harris from behind a telegraph pole. Harris dropped to his knee and shot back. Harris’s bullet went through the telegraph pole, into Bailey’s mouth and out the back of his head. It continued on and hit the Vance Monument and ricocheted through a window into the Brown Building across the street, piercing a box of cigars and a tin of tobacco before hitting the back wall of the store.

Bruce Whitaker documents Fairview area genealogy. To get in touch with him, contact the Crier at [email protected] or 828-771-6983 (call/text).

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