The 1906 Will Harris Murders
A Massacre in Asheville
On November 13, 1906 the unthinkable happened in sleepy Asheville, NC. A man
named Will Harris opened fire on innocent people on the streets. Before the dust
settled, two policemen and three people were dead and many more wounded.
Will Harris escaped from a chain gang and came to Asheville looking for his
girlfriend. Along the way, he purchased a rifle and a bottle of whiskey. He was
unable to locate his girlfriend, some say she had been tipped off that Will was in
town and went into hiding. Will Harris arrived at the apartment of his girlfriend's
sister, drunk and belligerent. The apartment was located on Valley Street near
Eagle Street, a part of town known as Hell's Half Acre. Two policemen were
dispatched to the apartment to investigate a disturbance. Will Harris grabbed his
rifle and shot both men, wounding Captain J.L. Page and killing patrolman Charles
Will Harris left the apartment and started shooting at people on the street,
screaming he was the Devil. He killed Jocko Corpening, Ben Addison, and Kelsey
Bell. A neighborhood dog came out of an alley and was shot by the crazed
gunman. Patrolman James W. Bailey ducked behind a wooden telephone pole and
fired a shot at Harris with his service revolver. Unfortunately, he missed. Harris
shot at the pole and the bullet pierced the pole, killing Bailey. Will Harris fled in
the direction of South Asheville.
The angry citizens formed a posse and went after Harris. On November 15th they
cornered Harris in a Rhododendron thicket near Fletcher. He threatened to kill
anyone who came near him. He shot from the thicket until he ran out of
ammunition. The posse then opened fire on the thicket. It's said the body was
riddled with 100 bullets. Harris's body was put on display so the townspeople
could view the infamous madman.
Immediately after the shootings, a reward had been offered for Harris's capture,
dead or alive. The posse that dealt with Harris agreed to give the reward to the
widows of Blackstock and Bailey. Captain Page was presented with Harris's rifle
as he was the first victim of the shootings.
Today, Eagle Street is haunted by the victims of this massacre. Ghostly figures
are seen wandering the street. A policeman dressed in an old fashioned uniform
is seen running down Eagle Street and Biltmore Ave. The sound of a howling dog
is heard in an alley, but no dog is seen. Barley's Taproom reports much
paranormal activity, including apparitions, voices, and an elevator that operates
There is allegedly a bullet hole in the Vance Monument in downtown Asheville, a
permanent reminder of the murderous rampage. According to local writer, Bob
Terrell, a bullet ricocheted off the monument, entered a nearby store, and lodged
in the back wall.
James Bailey is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville. Charles Blackstock is
buried in Blackstock Cemetery in Jupiter, NC. Ben Addison is buried in the
African-American section of Riverside Cemetery. The location of the other two
victims are unknown. There are rumors that Will Harris's body is buried in an
unmarked grave in Riverside Cemetery.
On an historical note, in 1907 Asheville was the first town in North Carolina to
outlaw the sale of alcohol. It was done as a direct result of the Will Harris
Why did Will Harris do what he did? Was he insane, was it a drunken rage, or did
he decide he wouldn't return to the chain gang and instead go out in a blaze of
glory? Only Will Harris knows and he's not telling. The irony is that he
immortalized himself as part of Asheville's history.
By Sarah Harrison
Photos by Sarah
If you are interested in visiting
Riverside Cemetery to see Bailey's
and Addison's grave or the other
famous people buried there, such as
Thomas Wolfe, click below for a great
map of Riverside that shows the
location of graves of interest.
The grave of
by Sarah Harrison
Grave of Ben Addison, Riverside
Cemetery. It is inscribed "Killed
By A Desperado." Photo by