Vollie Belle Haston Raymond - Mysterious Death by a 12 Gauge Pump Shotgun

Co-Authors: Becky Hitchcock Harris and Wayne Haston

I have learned that there is a lot of information “out there” (be it factual or inaccurate lore) about Vollie Belle Haston’s life and tragic death.  I’d love to hear anything you have heard or know about Vollie Belle’s life or her death.  WayneH37@aol.com

The News Story - Chattanooga Times, October 7, 1947

The story of Vollie Belle’s death was reported in several Tennessee newspapers, but this October 7, 1947 article in the Chattanooga Times is the most complete single article I have found.

The State frankly confesses that upon the facts of the case, it is one of the most puzzling that has reached the desk of the writer in a long time.

Timeline of the Events at the Scene of Vollie Belle's Death

Sunday Morning - October 5, 1947

Most of the stated times were taken from the various testimonies given in court.  The details regarding the death of Vollie Belle were given by Clarke Raymond.  There were no other onsite witnesses at the time of her death to vouch for him or contradict him.  Whether or not his testimony was honest and accurate was (and still is) open to question–the crucial issue in the trial. 

About Daylight
Light Rain

There was a light rain during the night (about daylight), but enough rain that tracks could have been seen in areas where there was no grass.

About 7:00 a.m.
Clarke Got Out of Bed

Clarke said he got up and built a fire in the kitchen stove.  Vollie Belle was still in bed.  He went to the barn to do the chores--feed the livestock, etc.

About 7:30-7:45 a.m.
Vollie Belle Was Up and Met Clarke

Clarke said he went back to the barn to feed the chickens and a hog and turn the livestock out to water.  Vollie Belle came out of the door laughing and said, "You think you weren't going to get any breakfast?"  He said, "No, I wasn't worried about that."  Clarke went in to the bedroom and started reading a Time magazine and Vollie Belle brought him a cup of coffee, a few (10-15) minutes later (about 8:00 a.m.).

About 8:15-8:20 a.m.
Vollie Belle Told Clarke Breakfast Was Ready

Clarke said they ate breakfast together.

About 8:45 a.m.
Finished Breakfast

Clark said they finished breakfast and drank some coffee.

About 8:45-8:55 a.m.
Clarke Retrieved Her Handkerchief

Clark said: While Vollie Belle was washing the dishes she discovered that she had dropped her handkerchief out at the toilet (out house).  Clarke said he went out to get it, returned inside the house (presumably gave her the handkerchief), helped her finish with the dishes, sprayed some fly spray, and swept the bedroom.  

Clarke Went to the Toilet

Clark said he told her if she would sweep some of the floors, he would mop the bed rooms and the living room when he got back from the toilet.

Vollie Belle Said She Saw a Hawk

Clark said: While he was in the toilet (urinating) she yelled for him - "Honey, I see that hawk."  Note: Mrs. Perry Smith, testified in court that he told her he was the one who saw the hawk and yelled to Vollie Belle to bring the shotgun.  Clarke denied that.

Approximately 9:00 a.m.
Gun Shots

Clarke said he heard footsteps in the hall, the screen door slammed and he said he heard a (single) shot.  He said he was surprised because she didn't ever want to shoot the gun - it kicked too hard.  Neighbor Perry Smith and other neighbors heard two shots fired, one soon (seconds) after the other.

Coincidence?  The Swiss watch that James Hurd Cruise gave Vollie Belle for her high school graduation - notice that (1) the glass is cracked and (2) the watch stopped at 9:01.  Was this watch with her when she was killed and the incident leading to her death the cause of the broken glass and the stopping of the watch?  The watch was not mentioned in the trial. 

Clarke Finished in the Toilet

Clarke said he finished urinating, turned to go out and turned his foot on a warped board, almost fell, grabbed for the door but missed and caught himself from falling - in the process the toilet door closed hard.  The toilet was about 40-42 feet from the house.

Full Layout of the House and Backyard

Created by Hoyte Cook from descriptions in the court records and memories of Becky Hitchcock Harris

Excerpts from the "Statement of the Case" Presented to the Tennessee Supreme Court

A discharged shotgun shell was found about 2 feet from the steps leading from the back of the home of the couple and another empty shell was found in the chamber of the gun.  The gun was found lying in the yard near the porch and about 6 feet from the gun some blood was likewise found.  


The body of the deceased contained two series of wounds.  One entered on the left side below the nipple and did not emerge.  A considerable portion of the muscle of her left arm was shot away and also a slight wound apparently made by the shotgun was obvious on her right wrist.  In the weatherboarding of the house, there was a considerable amount of shot found.  Likewise, stuck on this wall and carried there by this discharge, there was some of her flesh and part of a house coat which she was wearing.  Two buttons from this housecoat were also found by the investigating parties.  One of them was found substantially where the body was lying and the other found near a gate leading in to the garden and thence to the outdoor toilet of the premises.  The only witness who undertakes to testify in the record as to the interval of time between the shots places them as being from two to three seconds apart.


The testimony of the plaintiff in error [Clarke Raymond] himself very definitely shows that the deceased had no suicidal intentions of which he was ever aware and he also testifies that as far as he knew the couple were the only two persons on the premises that morning.

Put Yourself in the Role of an Investigator at a Crime Scene

Based on the description of the death scene above compared to the image below, see if you can make sense of the shots, the wounds, the locations, the sequence of happenings, and the evidence found at the scene.  See if you can re-enact – in your own mind – what happened there on that fateful Sunday morning.

Zoomed-in View of the Scene Where the Shooting Occurred

The screen door shown in the back steps picture (below) is not the same door that was there in 1947.  The house was modified later by the Hitchcock family.  That particular door was apparently cut out where the window (that was hit by shotgun pellets) was located at the time of the shooting.  The size of the wound in Vollie Belle’s side (“about the size of a half dollar”) … based on my personal observations long ago … suggest that the muzzle was less than ten feet away when the second shot was fired.  And likely less than five feet. -Hoyte Cook

Compare this photo to the drawing above.

The man in the photo was standing near where Vollie Belle entered the back yard.
Clarke Discovered the Body

According to Clarke, when he started back to the house he went around the smokehouse (that blocked his view from the toilet to the back porch of the house) and saw Vollie Belle lying in the yard.  He picked her body up and took her inside and placed her on a bed.  He used a sheet to attempt to stop the bleeding.

Two or Three Minutes after 2nd Shot
Clarke Ran to His Neighbor for Help

Clarke said he ran out the front door and across a field to Perry Smith's house.  He saw Perry Smith in the back yard and told him Vollie had shot herself and yelled for him to go get a doctor, which Perry did.

Clarke Returned to His House

Clarke said he bathed Vollie Belle's face with water, but realized she was dead.

"Shortly Afterwards"
Mrs. Perry Smith and two Mrs. Connells (neighbor friend and her daughter-in-law) Arrived

Mrs. Perry Smith chose to go her neighbor-friend (Mrs. Connell) instead of going with Perry to get a doctor.  Together Mrs. Smith and the Connell women were the first people to arrive at the scene.  The McConnells went into the room where Vollie Belle's body was lying on the bed.  Mrs. Smith (a close lifelong friend of Vollie Belle) was so disturbed she did not enter the bedroom to see the body.

15-30 Minutes Later (about 9:30 a.m.)
Doctor C. P. Page Arrived from Spencer

Dr. Page and his wife rode back to the Raymonds' house with Perry Smith.

Vollie Belle's Mother and Father Arrived

Vollie Belle's mother arrived with Deputy Claude Baker.  Her father came a bit later.

Between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m.
A.C. Measles Arrived

By the time Mr. Measles arrived, a few people ("not very many") had already arrived at the Raymonds' house.  He found one shotgun shell near the back porch.  He picked it up and handed it to Deputy Baker.

About 10:00 a.m.
Sheriff McCoy's Deputy Claude Baker Arrived

Claude Baker, few minutes after arriving, picked up and handled the shotgun from where it was lying in the back yard and "worked it."  James Simmons (on the coroner's jury) said "There was a pretty good crowd" there at about 10:00 a.m.

After Baker Picked Up the Gun
Jury of Inquest Empannelled

A group of men appointed to a jury of inquest called for Clarke Raymond and questioned him.  Clarke said that a cat might have tripped her.  He said that he only heard one shot.  The jury "investigated around there a while," then made a decision.  Van Buren County, TN Sheriff Lester McCoy and Deputy Baker then made an arrest of Clarke Raymond, following the inquest.

"Wasn't long till..."
Ambulance Arrived

Based on What You Now Know - What Do You Think Happened to Vollie Belle?

[socialpoll id="2861880"]
Winchester Model 1897

The Winchester Model 1897 is probably one of the most well-known and widely recognized pump-action shotguns ever created.  Known not only for its widespread use in the Old West (as well as movies, shows, and even games centered around the Old West), but also for its notable use by US Soldiers in both World Wars and even the Vietnam War, the M1897 can be seen both as a military and police shotgun as well as just a good all-around shotgun for hunting and recreation.  -Jakes Gun Reviews  In World War I, the Germans protested the U.S. Army’s using of this shotgun, claiming it was illegal under the international rules of war.

Not the gun that killed Vollie Belle, but the same model: Winchester Model 1897

History and Features of the Winchester M1897 Shotgun

Short but very interesting information about the model of shotgun that killed Vollie Belle.

Being a pump action I could see a possible accidental discharge once but then to work the action to reload another shell into the chamber to accidentally fire the firearm again sounds highly unlikely.

Site of Vollie Belle's Death on a 1939 Aerial Image

The site where Vollie Belle was shot is shown with a red circle around it.  At the time that I visited the place in the 1950s the Coffman Hitchcock family lived in the house.  The murder took place in the back yard.  There were several shotgun pellet holes in the weatherboarding of the back of the house (the side facing westward) that, according to the Hitchcocks, were put there in the murder incident.  A wire fence separated the small back yard from the garden; and some bushes were growing in that fence row.  The Hitchcocks also reported that several years after the murder they were clearing junk out of the garage, and found a blood-soaked sheet stuffed into a lard can. 
-Hoyte Cook

*However, the size of the shot entry into Vollie Belle’s chest indicates that she was shot at close range.

Site of Vollie Belle's Death on a 2022 Aerial Image

Vollie Belle's Grave in the Molloy Cemetery, Outside of Spencer, TN (2022)

The Mysterious Man Who Left Red Roses at Vollie Belle's Grave

It was just a normal day in the 1950s at the farm when Granny Hitchcock received a phone call.  The caller informed her there was a man at Vollie Belle’s grave as they had driven by Molloy Cemetery.  She expressed some curiosity surrounding the phone conversation to the point that she asked Pa to take her to Spencer to Malloy cemetery.  Granny Hitchcock gathered Pa from the field and they drove to Spencer hoping the man would still be there.  He was not, but they discovered red roses left on Vollie Belle’s grave.  They never knew who the man was and as far as we know he never returned to leave red roses on her grave again.  

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3 thoughts on “4 – Vollie Belle Haston – Her Death by a 12 Gauge Shotgun

  1. I think her husband killed her, because he was jealous of her and he was a foreigner in Spencer Tennessee

  2. Clarke Raymond’s story of Vollie Belle’s shooting herself accidentally, him tripping on his way out of the toilet and panting the door hard is totally unbelievable. A practically non-existent crime scene “search” by untrained law enforcement, possible crime scene contamination by friends and neighbors and contradictory statements between him and at least one witness – all this leads me to believe she was murdered by Raymond.

  3. This mystery, and true story, is so intriguing. The history, the pictures, the court testimonies, all of it so well written and laid out for us ‘true crime’ junkies to ponder and surmise as to what really happened. I can’t wait until the next chapter. Great work Wayne Haston!

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