While researching the Clingenpeels buried in Salem, Virginia’s East Hill Cemetery I ran across an article about the grisly murder of William T. Clingenpeel in another part of the state. What was so gruesome about William Clingenpeel’s death was that he was almost decapitated and shot twice, with various papers reporting “interesting” details about his wounds. Remarkably, William managed to live for several days after the attack.
William was a farmer and Confederate veteran in his 50s, living with his wife Jane in late April 1903 when a distiller named Sawney Arthur appeared at their home, and he wasn’t there for a social call. He was livid over William’s decision to settle a bond dispute by attaching some of Sawney’s land to cover some “alleged irregularities.” One of the papers compared the two physically: William was “small in stature” and Sawney “a giant.”
When Sawney ran into Jane he shot at her thrice. Her husband heard her screams and rushed to the scene, only to turn the other way when he realized that Sawney was armed. Sawney shot William in the back, chased him down, and sliced open his forearm. The way it was described William might have had his arm up in order to defend himself as he “begged for mercy.” Sawney must have been one ruthless guy, because after that he pulled the older man inside of the house, grabbed some money, and then began cutting off his head beginning at the back of his neck. William’s son-in-law Clifton Franklin showed up and shot Sawney, which only subdued him temporarily. When Preston and Jerry Leftwich arrived on the scene Sawney made a motion like he was going to fire upon them, an action to which they responded with their own firepower.
Sawney died at the scene “with his side shot away and his head nearly blown off.”
William’s wounds were described in “Clingenpeel Alive”: “His head is almost severed from the body, all the exterior muscles supporting it being asunder. By a miracle the jugular vein was not cut, although it might be plainly seen through the gaping wound that ran around the neck from the spine on both sides. The two bullet wounds in the back are most feared by the physician, especially the one in the small of the back to the right of the spine, and it will be four or five days before danger from that source can said to be over.” There was actually hope that he would be able to recover from the attack, if you can believe that.
Franklin and the Leftwiches were arrested and soon afterwards acquitted for their part in Sawney’s death.
On May 3, William died and according to the scant information I was able to dig up, he was buried in Huddleston, Virginia on Bethesda Road.
|Alexandria Gazette, 24 Apr. 1903|
|The Times Dispatch, 25 Apr. 1903 (The last part of the article that’s missing here states that the people who killed Arthur were acquitted.)|
|Lexington Gazette, 29 Apr. 1903|
|Lexington Gazette, 6 May 1903|