Friday, September 18, 2015

The Death of Ella Maude Cropsey

In November of 1901, the body of Ella Maude Cropsey was found floating in the Pasquotank River, she had been missing for six weeks.

Seven Pines
This river flowed passed her family’s home, Seven Pines, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Ella was nineteen at the time of her death. Her family called her Nell.

The Cropsey family moved to Elizabeth City in 1898 from Brooklyn, New York. The family had four children. Their lovely daughters, Nell and Olive called Ollie immediately attracted two local suitors.

Ollie dated a man by the name of Roy Crawford and Nell who was 16 at the time the family moved dated Jim Wilcox, the son of the local sheriff.

Nell Cropsey
Three years later, Nell who was anxious to marry and have a family of her own had become disenchanted with the relationship because Jim who was five years her senior had no interest in marriage.

Jim Wilcox
On the night of November 20, 1901 Jim showed up at the Cropsey house and requested to speak to Nell alone. Nell followed him out to the front porch as he shut the home’s front door.

Shortly after the two went outside Ollie heard a loud thump on the front porch but ignored it.

Jim Wilcox was the last person to see Nell alive. Later when he was arrested for her murder he stated that he had broken off the relationship with her—giving back a keepsake photo he kept of her-- and left her standing on the porch around 11:00 p.m. crying her eyes out.

When Ollie’s boyfriend, Roy Crawford left he claimed he saw no sign of Nell or Jim in the front yard.

The family did not suspect anything was amiss until later that night. They were awakened when they heard a neighbor call out that someone was “stealing their hogs” which they kept pinned in the backyard. When Mr. Cropsey investigated there were no pigs missing.

Ollie discovered Nell was not in her bedroom. It was late so the family called the police stating Nell had disappeared.

The porch.
Jim immediately came under suspicious since he was the last person to see Nell. He told the local chief of police that he had joined a friend at a bar for a beer after leaving Seven Pines. The sheriff stated his son had been home abed since midnight.

The chief did not believe him—one reason being the photo Wilcox claimed to return to Nell was not found.

Yet another reason, discovered later, was that an empty bottle of whiskey had been found on the riverbank near where the body was found. A local clerk stated he had sold a similar bottle to Wilcox on the day of the disappearance.

Wilcox was arrested and placed in jail.

In a strange twist, the family received an anonymous note a month later in December that stated a witness had seen Nell go to the back of the house to discover someone trying to steal the pigs—she was then knocked unconscious and the witness stated he saw this man put her in a boat and row away.

During the search for Nell a psychic got involved in the case and stated she had seen Nell’s body being thrown down a well. This information distracted the searchers for a while.

Pasquotank River
The day Nell’s body was pulled from the Pasquotank River a lynch mod headed for the jail that held Jim Wilcox, ironically it was Nell’s father, William Cropsey who prevented this.

When an autopsy was performed on the body it was discovered that Nell did not drown but rather died from a blow to her forehead. This injury indicated that she had been murdered.

The community ignored the “pig thief” story and instead Jim Wilcox was tried and convicted twice * for Nell’s murder. After serving 17 years of his sentence he was pardoned in 1920 by the state’s governor.

* In the first trial Wilcox was sentenced to death. There was an appeal and in his second trial he was sentenced to 30 years in 1902.

When he returned home he found himself ostracized by the community. He could not find work and began to drink. In 1934, he shot and killed himself.

To this day it is not known for certain who murdered Nell.

Published in New York Times
January of 1902
Click to enlarge

Nell is buried in the family plot in Brooklyn, New York. The Cropsey family left Elizabeth City after Wilcox’s trials. But tragedy continued to follow them.

Supposedly, Nell’s mother Mary Cropsey lost her mind and died in an asylum. her sister, Ollie became a recluse and one of Nell’s brothers, William Jr. committed suicide by ingesting poison in 1913.

In one bizarre twist, it is said Roy Crawford Ollie’s former suitor, also committed suicide in 1908. It was whispered at the time he did this out of guilt. He supposedly found Jim Wilcox standing over Nell’s body and helped him move the body to the river.

It appears Nell’s ghost has never left Elizabeth City. She is seen in her bedroom at Seven Pines wearing a white dress.

She also appears in the front parlor of the home. She is seen standing and looking out the window toward the front porch.

Witnesses have also stated they saw her ghost walking along the riverbank where her body was found.

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