Sun, May 21, 1884


Moral -- Murder

Onancock, Va., May 19. -- Tangier Island, which has a remarkably temperate and order-loving population, was thrown into a state of intense excitement on Saturday by the fatal shooting of Dr. Thomas Walter by Dr. Jas. Dennis Pitts. Dr. Walter was a young man, about 25 years old, sober, energetic and of good business habits. A graduate of the Maryland University Medical School, he had succeeded in building up a flourishing practice in a very short time, and was highly esteemed for his professional skill both on the island and the mainland. He settled on the island last year, but during the summer was stricken down with malarial fever and removed to his house near Pungoteague, where for a long time it was thought his illness would terminate fatally. He finally recovered, and, in compliance with the earnest solicitations of the islanders, about three weeks ago returned to Tangier. During the interval of his sickness and absence Dr. Pitts, son of Judge Pitts, deceased, graduated in medicine and located on the island. Until Dr. Walter's return Dr. Pitts was getting most of the practice, but after the arrival of Dr. Walter the preference, it is said, was given to the latter.

Last week Dr. Walter went to Craddockville, Accomac county, for his wife, to whom he was married last summer. On Thursday they left Onancock on the steamer for the island via Crisfield, Md. They reached the island Friday morning, and as they were proceeding to their boarding-house were met by Dr. Pitts, who spoke and greeted Dr. and Mrs. Walter with his usual courtesy, and borrowed five dollars from Dr. Walter. Mrs. Walter states that he had frequently borrowed money from her husband and always returned it promptly. Dr. Pitts boarded with a lady known on the island as the Widow Thomas. Mrs. Mary J. Thomas, who lived down the island about 400 yards from Widow Thomas's, is subject to protracted attacks of sickness, and during Dr. Walter's absence had been under the treatment of Dr. Pitts. On Saturday morning, having learned of his return, she sent for Dr. Walter, who had attended and relieved her prior to his departure from the island. About 3 o'clock that afternoon he called to see her, and remained some twenty or thirty minutes. On leaving her house he passed the Widow Thomas's place, where Dr. Pitts resided. The latter opened his door, called to Dr. Walter and insisted upon his coming in. Dr. Walter at first declined, saying he was in a hurry, but finally entered and the door was closed.

The Widow Thomas, who was out in the yard when Walter entered, thinks it was hardly two minutes afterward before she heard a pistol shot, followed by three similar reports. Whether there had been any altercation between the two men before the shooting is unknown. Dr. Walter fell outside the door, and died within ten steps of where he was shot. As he was falling he said, "I am dying." In a few minutes he ceased to breathe. Pitts then left the house and walked up the island as far as Crockett & Chambers's store, where he held a crowd at bay until about 7 P.M., when the constable on the island, Patrick Connorton, arrived and Pitts was seized, disarmed and tied.

Dr. Walter had no weapons of any kind, and had his gloves on when killed. Capt John Parks, who was present ten minutes after the tragedy, states that he said: "For God's sake, Mr. Pitts, what is the matter?" and that Pitts replied: "A good deal is the matter. Wipe the blood off his face; he is not fit for his wife to see in that condition."

At ten o'clock on Saturday night Dr. Walter's body was brought to this place from the island in a canoe in charge of Capt. John Parks. Mrs. Walter and several friends accompanied the remains. As the boat neared the wharf the shrieks of Mrs. Walter, who was frantic with grief, aroused the entire town, and created much excitement, which was intensified when the particulars of the tragedy became generally known. Dr. Walter had many friends and was very popular here, and his sad fate excites general sympathy. The brothers of the deceased residing here took charge of the remains. A post-mortem examination made by Drs. Charles L. Harmanson and O. B. Finney showed that one ball entered the left shoulder and passed diagonally out at the right side, another passed through the left arm near the main artery, another entered the breast and passed through the lower portion of the heart, and the fourth entered the back from behind and passed through the upper portion of the heart. An inquest was held, and the jury returned a verdict of death from pistol shot wounds.

Constable Connorton reached Onancock early yesterday morning with Dr. Pitts in charge. He delivered his prisoner to Bailiff West, who immediately conveyed him to the county jail at Drummondtown. Pitts seemed perfectly cool and collected, and on arriving at the jail sat down and made out his bills for professional services and sent them back to the island for collection. His relatives are among the best people of the county, and of course are greatly shocked and grieved at the occurrence.

Pitts's statement of the affair is to the effect that he invited Walter into his room with a view of arranging a schedule of professional fees; that they disputed about the matter, whereupon Walter called him a d__d liar and struck him, the shooting of Walter by Pitts followed the blow. On the other hand, Mrs. Thomas, the lady of the house where Pitts boarded, and where the shooting took place, says, as heretofore stated, that Walter had been in Pitts's room but a few moments when the firing commenced, and that no loud language was heard previous to the shooting. After being shot, Walter ran through the house and fell in the yard, Pitts pursuing with revolver in hand. When Pitts reached Walter he felt the latter's pulse to see if he was dead, remarking that if he was not he (Pitts) would finish him.

Walter was married eight months ago to Miss Toppin, an estimable young lady of Accomac county. His remains have been taken to Craddockville for interment.

Dr. Pitts, who is a single man, is a son of the late E. P. Pitts, a distinguished lawyer and jurist of the Eastern Shore. His mother is the sister of the late Hon. George R. Dennis of Maryland and he is a brother of Sidney Pitts, who was killed in an affray by A. P. Thom, at Eastville, Northampton county, several years ago. Dr. Pitts has been addicted to the use of morphia and whisky, and spent a month in a Baltimore hospital for treatment, returning to Tangier Island about six weeks ago.

It is thought by some that his mind was affected by the use of drugs and stimulants, and that the killing may have been done in a moment of frenzy resulting from the effect of professional jealousy on a disordered brain. The parties to the tragedy are each about 25 years of age. The widow of Dr. Walter is in a prostrate condition, and it is feared she will lose her mind.

[Dr. Walter's four sisters reside at No. 180 Linden avenue, this city. One of them is Mrs. Nock and another Mrs. Tawes, widow of Capt. Henry Tawes, for many years a well-known shipmaster of this port. The other two sisters are unmarried. Dr. Walter has a brother, and recently lost by death another brother, who was studying for the ministry. The deceased is described as being tall and slim, and very quiet in disposition and habits.]

May 21, 1884