Almost a century ago, the tranquility of rural, southern Iredell County was shattered by a murder. I came upon the following story of William Westmoreland and the death of Jim Nantz purely by accident while reading through some 1921 issues of the “Mooresville Enterprises” online. In that weekly newspaper, the really interesting local news was usually to be found on page four, under the heading, Local Briefs.
This is what I read in The Enterprise of November 24, 1921:
“The body of W. Y. Westmoreland, who was electrocuted at the State Prison Monday, was interred at St. James Graveyard, near Shinnville, Tuesday afternoon. A large crowd of people were present, although no services were held.”
I knew where the St. James Graveyard was, and had worshiped in the St. James Episcopal Church, but had never heard about Mr. W. Y. Westmoreland or his execution at the State Prison in Raleigh. The surname “Westmoreland,” however, is fairly common in Iredell County.
You can guess, of course, what I did next; I began to research the Westmoreland story. What you are now reading is the result of my research. Several questions about this case remain unanswered after a century, particularly the motive for the homicide. As to the question of Mr. Westmoreland’s guilt, I have no opinion, but testimony and evidence seem to point to him as the guilty party, and the jury reached a “guilty” verdict fairly promptly.
A taxi at the Statesville Depot
The tragic story begins a little more than a year before in Statesville. It was Wednesday night, October 20, 1920. Three men, William Y. “Will” Westmoreland, Ivey S. Sims and A. S. Alley had just gotten off train No. 35 at the Statesville depot. They had come to Statesville from Landis, where they worked in a textile mill.
Mr. J. H. “Jim” Nantz operated a taxi service — called a “jitney” — at the Statesville depot. He was hired to drive Sims and Westmoreland to the home of Westmoreland’s mother, south of Troutman. Besides Nantz and Westmoreland and Sims, the jitney would also carry Mr. Alley, who had also been on train No. 35 and who also needed a ride south from Statesville. The three decided to share the cab.
According to Sims’ testimony to a coroner’s jury, Mr. Alley got in the front seat beside the driver, Nantz, while he, that is Sims, and Westmoreland rode in the back of the vehicle.
“They drove on to Troutman, everybody conversing pleasantly. Alley got out of the car at his home in Troutman,” recalled Sims.
After letting Mr. Alley out, the taxi proceeded to the Westmoreland home. Westmoreland’s mother, Mrs. Margaret E. Westmoreland, a widow, lived about four miles southeast of Troutman. Westmoreland’s father, G. Washington “Wash” Westmoreland, had died in February of 1904.
William Westmoreland had a criminal record. He had been arrested and convicted of “worthless check flashing” in 1915. As a result, he had served two years in the state prison.
On arriving in front of Mrs. Westmoreland’s home, according to Sims, Will Westmoreland had Nantz stop the taxi. Westmoreland went into the house and then came out some 15 minutes later and got back into the cab with Nantz and Sims. In the interval, Sims, in the back seat, had dozed off.
Shortly after Westmoreland resumed his seat on the backbench seat, Westmoreland drew a pistol and, for no apparent reason, shot Nantz just behind the ear, then fired a second shot. The shooting happened on a road that leads in a southeasterly direction from the main road at Ostwalt, some nine miles out in the country from Statesville.
The pistol’s loud discharge roused a dumbfounded Sims, who asked, “Why did you do that?”
Again, according to Sims’ sworn court testimony, Westmoreland simply replied that he “had had it in for Nantz” for a long time.
The day Mr. Nantz was shot was a memorable day for him in two ways: It was his last day and it was also his birthday. He was 34 years old on October 20, 1920.
(To Be Continued)