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Unsolved murder
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Heritage Alliance will offer a Ghost Walk this Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. through Riverside Cemetery. The walk will reenact a factual whodunit in Warren County history.
“It’s murder and mayhem in McMinnville,” said Heritage Alliance member and event organizer Jimmy Haley. “We will reenact a post-Civil War saga about the murder of Enoch Cooksey, a former Confederate soldier and town marshal, and his accused killer, Fletch Woodward.”
Cooksey was shot at a “bawdy house” in Depot Bottom on Nov. 15, 1873. Haley says he was summoned to the house of ill repute by culprits unknown.
“There were no witnesses to the murder,” Haley said. “He was set up and killed. He was a popular guy, but he had a few enemies. What followed was one of the most notorious incidents in Warren County history.”
The murder led to many of the town’s leading citizens being cited into court. One of those, Woodward, was arrested and charged with the murder.
Woodward was a photographer and the son of a prominent resident and preacher, Isaac Woodward. He was also a licensed physician, but did not practice. He published books on photography and medicine.
“Woodward was an interesting character,” said Haley. “He was eccentric. He loved to drink and was prone to voice his opinions publicly, which didn’t make him popular.”
During the trial, many prominent citizens came forward to testify for and against Woodward. A long list of witnesses were heard. A Confederate general and most of the attorneys in town were involved in the trial.
After being convicted of murder and sentenced to death, Woodward was transported to Nashville where he bribed a guard to be released. Petitions for a mistrial eventually resulted in the verdict being overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. A new trial exonerated him.
Woodward returned to Warren County a free man. Haley says he returned with a grudge.
“He came back and raged war on those he believed had set him up,” Haley said. “In a tell-all book about the case, he pointed to the Odd Fellows Society, of which Cooksey was a member, of plotting against him. He became a social pariah and the ordeal haunted him for the rest of his life.”
Cooksey’s murder was never solved, and he was buried in Riverside Cemetery. The costumed reenactment of the saga will be offered there from 3 to 6 p.m., with tours staggered every 15 minutes. Tours are a $5 donation. Children under age 10 are free.
The event is being conducted by Heritage Alliance and Main Street McMinnville. April’s Cafe in Depot Bottom will be open for dinner and refreshments.