Tom Dula was hanged in 1868 for murdering Laura Foster, but the woman who was charged and found not guilty of being an accomplice in the death hasn’t faired much better in the court of popular opinion.
Anne Melton is still believed by some to be the actual murderer in the famous Wilkes County love triangle. Even award winning author Sharon McCrumb’s, “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” published last year, concludes that Anne killed Laura out of jealousy.
Terry Melton of Lenoir, a great-grandson of Anne’s brother-in-law, Frances A. Melton, recalled how older family members at Melton family reunions at Mariah’s Chapel United Methodist Church in Grandin didn’t like to talk about Anne.
“We knew she was promiscuous and hot-headed,” said Melton, adding that enough time has passed now so that younger descendants don’t mind talking about her.
Wednesday afternoon, Melton and other descendants gathered for the placement of an inscribed gravestone for Anne where she is buried on a hill above Reedy Branch and the western end of Gladys Fork Road in Ferguson.
A small nondescript rock was replaced by a granite stone inscribed with “Anne P. (Foster) Melton.” The stone lists her birth date as May 8, 1843, says she died “Abt. 1874.”
It identified her as the wife of James G. Melton and said she was the mother of “Martha Jane” and “Ida Vaughn,” referring to Martha Jane Allen and Ida Vaughn Winkler.
Dr. John E. Fletcher of Berryville, Va., a direct descendant of Martha Jane and Edmond Columbus Allen, said descendants secured the inscribed gravestone as a way of “completing the so-called eternal triangle between Tom Dula, Laura Foster and Anne Melton.”
Fletcher, a retired research scientist at the National Institute of Health, explained that Laura and Tom have inscribed gravestones and so Anne needed one also.
He has been conducting research for a book on the Laura Foster murder for about 10 years and plans to publish it soon. The title is, “The True Legend of Tom Dula: Debunking the Myths, Relating the Facts and Correcting the Myths, 1866-1870.”
Fletcher said not a lot is known about Anne after she was found not guilty in the Laura Foster murder case, except that she and James Melton continued living on Reedy Branch. She was the daughter of Carlotta Foster and Francis Triplett.
He said it’s known that she was shunned in the community because of her connection to Laura’s murder, but flaunted the fact that she lived well with her husband’s income as a cobbler, wagon maker and carpenter.
“I don’t want to glorify or excuse her behavior, but as far as I can tell, she (Anne) was loyal to both” Tom Dula and James Melton, said Fletcher, referring to the relationships she had with both.
“I am convinced that she helped plan the murder and helped Tom carry it out,” but didn’t actually commit the murder, he said.
Although it’s known that she had syphilis, the most common story about her death is that it resulted from a horse-drawn cart accident. According to some accounts, she suffered from injuries received in this accident for several days before her death.
James Melton married a second time and moved to Watauga County, where he is buried.
Anne’s descendants identified what they believe are about 20 gravesites in the Melton cemetery, which is below the former Turner Marley home.
Fletcher said he and his brother, Bob Fletcher of Lenoir, had a description of the location of the Melton family cemetery and where Anne was buried there from their great-uncles, Grady Allen and Hill Allen. The location was confirmed by Edith Marie Carter of Ferguson, whose Whippoorwill Academy in Ferguson includes the “Tom Dooley Museum” and tells the story of Laura Foster’s murder.
Tony and Ted Foster of Pennsylvania, direct descendants of Anne’s brother, Pinkney Andrew Foster, are in the gravestone business. They supplied and delivered the stone placed on Anne’s grave Wednesday.
The Foster brothers and Fletcher brothers are cousins through Pinkney Foster and became acquainted through genealogical research on the Internet. All four visited several places in the Ferguson area that connected to their family this week.
Tom’s gravestone, off Tom Dula Road in Ferguson, has been stolen and recovered a few times and chipped away by souvenir hunters. Motorists on N.C. 268 in Caldwell County, near the Wilkes line, can see Laura’s gravestone. Both graves are near the Yadkin River.
Anne’s grave is about a half mile northwest of where Laura’s body was found in a shallow grave on what now is called Laura Foster Ridge and about the same distance southwest of the Bates Place, an abandoned blacksmith shop where Laura Foster was supposed to meet Tom Dula before she was stabbed to death in May 1866.
Reedy Branch flows through a narrow valley between Anne’s grave on the west and Laura’s Ridge and the site of the Bate’s Place on the east. Anne and her husband, James Melton, lived farther upstream on Reedy Branch and Dula lived farther downstream.
The graveled Bill Horton Road, a little over a mile long, now goes along the east side of Reedy Branch between N.C. 268 West and Gladys Fork Road.