It was the early hours of August 6, 1887 when nine people, including an 18-month-old baby, were found bludgeoned to death with an ax at the Woolfolk plantation. It would become known as the most gruesome murder in Georgia’s history and in its wake, only Tom Woolfolk managed to make it out alive.
It wouldn’t be until daybreak that Tom would rush to a neighbor’s home in order to report that his entire family had been brutally massacred, himself narrowly escaping the attack by jumping out of a second story window. Tom was covered in blood and gore, and bloody hand prints could be seen on his legs.
He rushed back to the home before help was able to arrive. There he quickly changed, threw his bloodied clothes down a well and washed himself up.
Within several hours thousands had gathered in the home. Among the crowd was the county coroner, who examined the bodies immediately on the scene. It didn’t take long for suspicions to immediately turn to Tom as the perpetrator behind the brutal murders.
There were no signs of forced entry, and the blood spatter on his ear, as well as bloody footprints matching his in one of the rooms were all indications that Tom had been the murderer. His indifferent attitude heightened suspicions and before he even had his day in court, the court of public opinion had already deemed him guilty. The sheriff had no choice but to rush Tom off to jail before he was lynched right there in his living room.
In December of 1887 Tom Woolfolk was facing first degree murder charges. Woolfolk was fortunate enough to secure attorney John C. Rutherford, who agreed to work on the case with no pay. The evidence against Tom was strictly circumstantial, but was strong enough to land a conviction. With no other suspects to call into question, the jury found Tom “Bloody” Woolfolk guilty and sentenced him to death.
From the crowd of court spectators shouts of, “Hang him! Hang him!” could be heard throughout the prosecutor’s closing arguments. The Supreme Court of Georgia had no choice but to grant Woolfolk a retrial in another county.
In June 1889, Woolfolk once again stood accused for the murder of nine people. After nearly a month of testimony, the jury would only need 15 minutes of deliberation in order to find Tom guilty as charged. This time the charges would stick.
On October 29, 1890 Tom Woolfork walked his last mile. A crowd of 10,000 gathered to witness what would be one of the last public hangings in Georgia’s history. Many hoped for a last-minute confession, but Woolfolk maintained his innocence, even as the noose tightened around his neck. After 15 minutes of sheer agony as he struggled to breathe just one final breath, Tom “Bloody” Woolfolk was pronounced dead.