On a sticky July day in 1919, a 34-year-old black woman is found murdered in the woods of Enterprise, Ala. She leaves behind a husband, a daughter and a tale shrouded in mystery.

The above sentence sums up what I know about Ella Nance Barnes (1884-1919), one of my great-grandfather’s older sisters. I first heard rumblings of her murder after a family reunion in 2009. I requested her death certificate for the state department of health and it confirmed that she was murdered. It didn’t list the manner of death.

The way the story was relayed to me is that one day two sisters went for a walk in the woods. Only one of them came back. According to family history, Ella’s younger sister Lovie (1894-1979), had something to do with it. And the plot thickens: apparently it was over a man.  My oldest relatives– my grandfather’s brothers, sister and cousins– weren’t born when this happened  Aunt Ella’s sister-in-law, Aunt Arnie (she married Marlin Nance, another of Ella’s younger brothers), was a little girl and remembered hearing stories about the killing, but never asked too many questions about it.

I would love to get my hands on a newspaper account of this– if one exists. Even a police record– if it exists– would be a great find.

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