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Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 30

Deputy John H. Miller Dies in the Line of Duty

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 9:02 AM by Jenny Levins

It is fitting as we remember our nation’s heroes that lost their lives during 9/11 that we also remember some of our local heroes. The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office website at http://www.iredellsheriff.com/ now offers a history section containing information and photographs of Iredell County Sheriff’s throughout the department’s 222 year history. The information was gathered by retired Iredell County Deputy Mac Lackey and Crime Prevention Officer Lt. Rick Eades. Another site of interest is the Officer Down Memorial Page at http://www.odmp.org/. The Officer Down site is dedicated to honoring America's fallen law enforcement heroes. More than 20,000 officers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the United States, including three with the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Godfrey “Click” Kimball, Deputy Sheriff Robert Lloyd Cloaninger, and Deputy Sheriff John H. Miller were all killed by gunfire while performing their duties.


Deputy Miller of Chambersburg traveled to Mooresville by horseback on Saturday, June 30, 1917, to serve a warrant on a black tenant farmer named Charlie Williams. He met with A.Y. Neal, Deputy Sheriff from the Davidson Township around 5 p.m. and together they traveled in Neal’s automobile to the farm of James Steele about two miles out of Mooresville. The two officers then traveled by foot one-fourth mile to the tenant home of Roxie Massey where Williams was staying. Massey told the officers that Williams had gone squirrel hunting and was not there. After checking around the two officers started back toward the Steele farm when they saw Williams coming out of the woods and heading toward the house carrying a wooden plank and a shotgun.


Deputy Neal testified that the officers approached Williams informing him of the warrant, but he ignored them and continued walking toward the house.  Deputy Miller called again to Williams at which time Williams turned, dropped the plank, and raised his single-barrel shotgun aiming at Miller and warned him to stay away. Neal testified that Deputy Miller stepped backward dropping his right hand to his side at which time Williams fired hitting the officer in the throat and chest. Williams immediately began to reload while Deputy Neal, who was unarmed, went for help back at the Steele farm. On his return, he found that Williams had fled, taking Miller’s 38-calibur revolver out of his belt. Miller was dead by the time Dr. W.D. Gilmore of Mooresville arrived on the scene.


Iredell County Sheriff Moffatt Alexander led a search party for Williams that lasted overnight until he was finally captured Sunday at 12:45 p.m. a few miles below Mooresville near the Linwood School - about four miles southeast from where Miller had been shot. Williams was slightly wounded during the capture and after treatment was transferred to jail in Winston-Salem for safekeeping. The Grand Jury returned a true bill for first degree murder and Williams was returned to Iredell County for trail. 


Charley Williams, age 61, had moved to the Amity area from South Carolina several years prior to the shooting. He had been working for a Mr. G. Whit Dry, of Amity and had been given provisions (food, etc.) to work a crop, but had later abandoned the crop without paying back what had been advanced to him. Dry had taken out a warrant against Williams and the warrant had been given to Deputy Miller to serve. Dry testified that he had heard Williams make previous threats against Miller after Miller had taken Williams gun away when Williams got into a fight with L.C. Wilhelm over corn gathering. Williams was found guilty of first-degree murder.  Judge Miller sentenced Williams to be electrocuted on Friday, September 14, 1917 in the State prison in Raleigh. At his sentencing Williams spoke saying, “That would suit me judge, if the folks had just told the truth. It was a made-up thing. As to toting my gun, I done that because I had nothin’ else to do. I never killed a man and never did any one any harm.” After a delay for an appeal Williams was scheduled to be executed on Sept. 24, 1917, but the execution was again delayed till the following day on the 25th due to a defect with the electric chair.  


Mrs. Miller was notified of her husband’s death at the couple’s home two miles north of Amity on Third Creek by Dr. Ross McElwee of Statesville. She was confined to bed at the time due to her pregnancy and gave birth the following week. The couple had three boys and four girls. Deputy Miller’s body was taken to the Mooresville Furniture Company undertaking rooms after his death. He was buried at Amity Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery beside a daughter named Madie Maud who had died at 18 months. Deputy Sheriff John H. Miller was born in Rowan County, below Amity, Feb. 26, 1881 to Mr. and Mrs. J. William Miller and Nessie Cook who lived in the Centenary neighborhood. His wife was the former Miss Maggie Overcash daughter of A.C. Overcash of Amity.


Deputy Miller’s daughter Elizabeth Miller Talbert, now 96, is the only living child of the couple. She was two when he was killed. With a newborn and a two-year-old, her mother had no choice but to put her three older sisters, Margaret, Mary Ellen, and Beatrice in an orphanage.  Her three older brothers were old enough to take care of themselves.  Deputy Miller’s wife Maggie was a midwife and later caught tuberculosis, dying at the age of 52. Elizabeth Miller often told stories to her children about the hard life they endured after her father’s death and still remembers picking cotton in the fields with her mother while growing up.  


At the time of his death Sheriff Alexander described Miller as a special friend and one of the most faithful deputies in the county. The Iredell County Sheriff’s Office placed a plaque at Deputy Miller’s grave a few years ago. If you have or know of other photos or information on Deputy John H. Miller please contact Joel Reese at the library at (704)-878-3093.



Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library


This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “The death of an Iredell deputy, nearly a century on” on Sept. 17, 2011