(This is the second in a series of articles about the 1910 murder of Janie Sharp in Winston County, Ms.)
The Main Suspect
Even before Janie’s body was found, those who suspected foul play began to speculate about who might be responsible. Apparently there was no evidence of strangers in the area and suspicion was almost immediately turned to members of the community; one member in particular. Swinton Permenter was a young man of the same age as Janie and the youngest son of Edward Permenter, another local farmer.
Swinton’s behavior during the search aroused suspicion amongst the crowd and what happened after the body was recovered made him the prime suspect. He had been swimming that afternoon with several other individuals in a swimming hole not far from the Post Office and along or near the road that Janie would have traveled. This put him in the vicinity of the crime near the time of attack. Later, during the search, he discouraged others from checking a particular patch of underbrush – having claimed to have already searched the area himself. This later proved to be the general location where Janie’s body was found.
From reading testimony and accounts, it seemed others believed that Swinton appeared disinterested in the search at times and in general acted strangely. Upon learning that bloodhounds were being brought in, Permenter commented that he was sure the dogs would track him as he had been in the woods hunting for Janie.
When Janie’s body was removed to the Sharp home, a crowd gathered including Swinton Permenter. Shortly thereafter, he returned to his Father's house with at least one other individual with the intent of changing clothes. He was observed washing on the front porch. He then entered a side room where he changed clothes and possibly shoes.
J.T. Hanna from Kosciusko soon arrived with a bloodhound named Ruth Hindoo. He started where Janie’s body was found. The dog tracked through several areas and a pair of tracks were observed – a man and a woman’s. The dog eventually tracked to the Permenter home as a crowd gathered. The dog trailed around the property and at one time reared upon the front gate. She scented upon a group of men that included Swinton Permenter. According to Hanna, the dog looked at Swinton and threw her head back and scented him specifically.
Based upon the dog’s actions and Swinton’s behavior, a search was made for Swinton’s clothes. In the side room were found the clothes he had worn previously and in the pocket- a barlow knife, piece of tobacco and two handkerchiefs- a man’s and a woman’s.
By the time the sheriff and a local judge arrived with a small group of men, a mob had formed and they were apparently in an ugly mood. Sheriff Hull telephoned Louisville for additional help as they feared the mob might try to take the law into their own hands. The sheriff’s party headed to Louisville not only with Swinton Permenter but also Alonzo Burchfield and Walter Cummings who were two of the individuals swimming with Swinton that afternoon. They were followed by a loud mob of about 75 individuals according to newspaper reports.
Apparently during the day, folks gathered in town and threats were made. There was fear of an attempt to lynch the prisoners. At 11:00 pm, a special train arrived and took the prisoners to Winona for safekeeping. By the next week, Burchfield and Cummings were released due to lack of evidence as to involvement in the crime and returned to Louisville. Swinton Permenter was held to be tried for the murder of Jamie Sharp in October.
By reading trial transcripts and denoting the behavior of some of the community, it seems apparent that at least some folk expected Swinton Permenter to be involved. According to trial testimony, Dr Clemmons, after failing to find the Methodist Minister, set off to the Permenter home looking for Swinton in the belief that he may know something about Janie’s whereabouts. Several others who participated in the search made trips to the Permenter home looking for Swinton including at least one individual at the request of Janie Sharp’s Father.
This would lead one to believe that either some individuals knew of or suspected a relationship of some kind between Swinton and Janie or her family or that something in Permenter’s past made local folk suspicious of him. Later trial testimony concerning Swinton’s comments about desiring Janie’s affection, anger toward her Father and accusations of a previous assault against a seven year old girl may have fostered this suspicion. Regardless, Swinton Permenter was about to stand trial in Louisville for the murder.