This is the 4th in the series of articles in the Janie Sharp series. To this point, after Janie's murder, the young man Swinton Permenter was accused, tried and convicted of the crime. The State Supreme Court threw out the verdict and a new trial was scheduled but it would be more than a year from his release before the final trial began. In that year, events seemed to spiral out of control.
Between the Trials
Little is known about Ben Walker. His qualifications as an investigator, exactly where he came from and how he became involved in the Janie Sharp affair are unclear, but his short role in the case was mysterious, confounding and tragic.
Some records (Commercial Appeal) indicate that Ben Walker testified in the first Permenter trial. If accurate, in his testimony he claimed to be from Cleveland, Ms. and was "instructed" by the Governor to make inquiries into the crime. The newspaper story indicated that Walker's testimony was inconsequential and that he left a poor impression upon the court.
Most accounts indicate that Walker was actually hired by the Permenter family. He possibly misrepresented himself under oath about his official status or he was later hired by the family in a non-official capacity.
In November, 1911, a little over a year after the first trial, Detective Ben Walker created a stir in the community when he returned from Greenville, Texas with Thomas McElroy and his family. Walker "arrested" McElroy for the murder of Janie Sharp.
McElroy was a previous resident of Rural Hill and strangely enough, a son-in-law to Cyrus Ray ( the uncle and neighbor of Janie & her fiancee). He and his family had moved to Texas in September ,1910 after Janie's murder. No suspicion had been cast upon McElroy prior to this time and his arrest by Walker was met with a great deal of skepticism.
A preliminary hearing was quickly scheduled and then delayed for a few days as a second suspect, Hulett Ray, was arrested upon an affidavit of Elbert Vowell. When the hearing took place in late November, the County Attorney, J. B. Gully quickly asked that all charges be dropped and stated that there was no evidence that these two men were involved in Janie Sharp's murder. McElroy & Ray were released and almost immediately, Ben Walker was arrested and charged with attempting to bribe witnesses. Walker claimed that his witnesses were intimidated and afraid to testify. As a result of the bribery charges, his already questionable reputation was further damaged and it certainly increased animosity toward him and his actions. No records indicate if these bribery charges were pursued or later dropped.
Walker remained in the area and it was assumed that he continued to work on the case, although he may have pursued other activities as well. While in the area, he stayed in the home of Elbert Vowell. (who had filed the affidavit against Hulett Ray). On the evening of March 21, , Walker was reading by lamplight in the Vowell home when a shotgun blast shattered the nearby window. Walker was struck in the head by buck shot and fell dead immediately. Vowell quickly grabbed a weapon and exchanged fire with two men leaving the house on horseback. No one else was wounded and no suspects were ever named in the death of Detective Ben Walker. He was buried in the Wood (Smallwood) Cemetery.
The second trial of Swinton Permenter was scheduled for early August,1912. The publicity and the threats that permeated the first trial led to a change of venue to Winona, Ms. about 45 miles northwest of Louisville. As the defense prepared their case, Swinton Permenter's brother Walter had become highly involved and some said that he had information gathered by Ben Walker that was material to the defense.
On Friday, August 2, 1912, Walter Permenter joined his brother Swinton at the home of Eugene Shewmake (possibly Shumaker) in the town of Eupora. Shewmake was apparently a brother-in-law to the Permenters. The brothers intended to leave Eupora on the next day and arrive at Winona where the trial was to begin on the following Monday.
Around nine o'clock, Swinton retired for the night. A short while later, Walter took a bucket outside to the back porch for some water. As he was drawing the water, he was struck by a shotgun blast. He was hit in the head, neck and chest, fell off the porch and quickly expired. Shewmake doused all the lights in the home fearing more shots from the assailant. Neighbors quickly appeared and rushed to the scene. The only witness was a young man who saw a single individual running across a vacant lot away from the Shewmake house just moments after the shot was fired.
The next day, bloodhounds were brought to the scene and soon picked up a trail that led southward around a cotton house at the local gin and further south into the Big Black Swamp. The dogs eventually lost the trail in the hills south of town. The next day, a young boy stumbled upon a shotgun hidden in the cotton house; a shotgun with one spent shell and several others loaded with buckshot.
Edward Walter Permenter had not lived to see his 31st birthday. He left a wife and three children. His remains were returned to Winston County and he was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Louisville. No one was ever charged in his death. Some speculated that in the darkness,Walter was mistaken for Swinton while others claimed that Walter was actually the target because of information he might disclose at the upcoming trial.
It had been more than two years since Janie Sharp's murder. Now, there were two more unsolved murders of people associated with the case.