John Honeycutt–A Killer or a Star-Crossed Lover?

This post was written by contributor Allie Maynard (MC’24). The post was edited by N. Locklin.

John Honeycutt was a local man of the Knoxville area. A simpleton if you will, he had the simple everyday life of the 1915 era he’d go to work, come home, drink a little and repeat. He was a mill worker in the area, there wasn’t very much that was unique to the man. In November 1921 police officers volunteered to help with a curfew in the area since the Night Marauder was still at large. The Night Marauder had been taking advantage of this area for months and had still not been caught. The Night Marauder was causing terror and fright to the people of the Knoxville area.

On the night of November 25, 1921, into the morning of the 26th John Honeycutt was out and about. During this time, a curfew was still in effect. It was known you needed to be in your house during these times. However, John Honeycutt claims that he needed some whiskey and he was just making a trip to the store. It was also claimed by John Honeycutt that he was working in the mill around midnight that night. While going to the store Honeycutt says he heard shots and he feared that he would be connected with it. At the same time, a man was trying to break and enter into Arthur Young’s house and that man fled when discovered. The man shot at Captain Schneider and then fired at patrolman Clifton and escaped. Captain J.J Schneider volunteered to be on patrol that night in the mill district with patrolman officer Clifton. Captain Schneider was shot in the lung but fortunately Schneider survived and would live a long life.

John Honeycutt, worried that he was the one that would be blamed for the shooting, asked his lover Nettie Myers to flee with him back to her home in Alabama. The day after Christmas, Nettie Myers told her husband that she was leaving. Nettie Myers and John Honeycutt left for Alabama and eloped, changing their names so that John could continue to work at a mill. Nettie testified to cops that it was John’s idea to change their name to Murray. In early February 1922, John Honeycutt was found at the mill in Alabama by the police. Patrolman Clifton claims that he could pick Honeycutt out of 500 men. When John was caught, the patrolman said that John asked not to be hanged. The police took Honeycutt and his lover back up to Tennessee where they were held in jail. Nettie Myers was released while John Honeycutt was Kept in custody. Myers was able to go back home to her husband Robert and live without any consequences.

On April 16, 1922, John Honeycutt was officially convicted on one count of shooting a police officer, Captain JJ Schneider. Honeycutt was sentenced to one to five years in jail. It took the jury 45 minutes to decide a verdict. At 6:10 pm they announced the verdict of Honeycutt being guilty. He was taken to jail and was ready to await further charges for the Night Marauder cases. His case was especially easy to be convicted of shooting a police officer since his Star-crossed lover and her husband testified against him in court. Captain Schneider also came to court and identified John Honeycutt as the one who had shot him on the night of November 25th.

Sadly in December 1922, John was found dead in his cell. Reporters were told that Honeycutt was not believed to be seriously ill and police had thought he would be fine. The next morning, they found him lying still, not breathing. They said he took his secrets to the grave because the courts never had the chance to try him for the Night Marauder cases. Reporters at the time implied Honeycutt had been the prime suspect for all of the recent attacks. They declared that the victims would never get the justice they deserve. He possibly could’ve taken very many secrets to the grave on things like; was he actually going to get whiskey or working in the mill that night? The world will never know because John Honeycutt took those secrets to the grave, literally.

When we look at the case of John Honeycutt now, it is hard to believe he was the Night Marauder. The marauder attacks continued while Honeycutt was in jail and long after his death. It is possible that someone else continued his work but it seems more likely he was not the killer. John Honeycutt’s death is another mystery. His illness was never quite explained and it was strange that he was not found until morning because the officers patrolled the jailhouse during the night.

The story is a classic tale of star-crossed lovers, crime, tragic death, and murder. This has seemed to become like something out of a good book. Almost seems that it was a story too good to be true. If the shots weren’t fired and Honeycutt wasn’t out and about he never would have been a suspect in the night marauder case. The trials of love and death were too much for Honeycutt and his lover. In the end, Nettie betrayed Honeycutt, going back to the man she didn’t love and then served as a witness at his trial. Maybe it wasn’t love yet fear. Fear of danger and consequences. Her fear to leave or do something wrong, Fear of the world. Luckily it seems her life was able to calm down like an ocean after a storm. No rough waves or breaking of ships, only peace, and nothing but silence. Nettie Myers seems to disappear after the trial. It is just assumed that she lived her life out with her husband after John was dead.

Published by Nancy Locklin

I am a professor of history at Maryville College in east Tennessee.

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