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In the early morning hours of April 20, 1956, someone shot Doc Workman in the abdomen with a 20-gauge shotgun as he stood at the doorway to his little house on Workman Fork. “I heard the shot fired that killed him,” said Gene Wilson Dingess, a neighbor, in a 2004 interview. “It was way up in the morning. My sister Mildred and Mommy heard it, too. No one thought anything about it. People roamed all hours of the night with guns and shot rabbits and possoms.”
Upon learning the true nature of the incident, residents of Workman Fork reacted with shock and surprise. Nothing like this had ever happened on Workman Fork. Located somewhat remotely in the headwaters of Harts Creek, the fork constituted one of the most peaceful sections of the community. Moonshining was quite common, but murder? Doc’s killing — any killing — was unprecedented on Workman Fork. People were horrified.
Most everyone agreed that Doc knew the identity of his killer. “Doc knew the person at his door,” Dingess said. “He answered the door in his pajamas.” The killer’s choice of weaponry was a source of great interest. First of all, the 20-gauge shotgun used to commit the murder reportely belonged to Mr. Workman himself. Secondly, a 20-gauge shotgun was the type of low-powered firearm that a teenager or woman (or an old man) might use at close range, say, within 30-40 yards. And, oddly, it was left lying across Workman’s leg presumably without fingerprints. “It looked like someone had been standing by his door where they stood and plotted,” said the late late Roma Elkins in a 2004 interview.
One of the initial suspects in the murder was Doc’s former wife, Flora Lilly. Police also questioned Doc’s former brother-in-law, Weddie Mullins, a son of Harlen Mullins. Buster Stollings, who boarded with Flora, was another suspect. Other suspects were two men named Jake and Bill who were out that night riding mules and stealing corn. Apparently locals were so incensed by the tragedy that they investigated the matter themselves. Early the morning of the murder, one eyewitness saw two young men, dubbed as “Frank” and “Jesse” here to hide their true identities, run by as she milked cows on Abbott’s Branch. “Ben Workman said he saw tracks from a woman in high-heeled shoes leading from the mouth of Workman Fork up to the mouth of Long Branch,” Dingess said. “Now who would’ve wore high heels on this creek back then?”
Today, so many years later, it appears that two young men dubbed as “Frank” and “Jesse” were involved in the murder. Although suspects at the time of the killing, they were never questioned by authorities. Jesse’s own mother believed him to be the killer. “When Jesse come in at the house that morning he had a whole roll of money as big as your fist,” his mother later said. “Him and Wed Mullins was in on that killing together.” Reportedly, Frank was haunted by the murder years later when he was on his deathbed. “My uncle went up to Logan and Frank was in the hospital about to die,” Dingess said. “There was a preacher there and Frank said he couldn’t get forgiveness because he’d helped kill a man.”
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Doc Workman was born on January 20, 1893 at Halcyon in Logan County, West Virginia. His parents were Thomas B. and Martha (Hill) Workman. Doc served in the First World War. According to his draft registration record, he was blue-eyed, had dark brown hair and was of medium build. “I think he got gased over there and he just barely made it,” said Gene Wilson Dingess, a close relative and namesake, in a 2004 interview. “They were in foxholes most of the time.” A decorated veteran and prisoner of war, Mr. Workman spoke little of his war experience after returning home. “He never told big tales about his service,” Dingess said. “If you asked him about it, he’d answer you in about thirty seconds and then change the subject.”
In 1919, Doc married Flora Mullins, the pretty red-haired daughter of Harlen Mullins, a local farmer. For many years, the couple enjoyed a happy marriage. By the early 1930s however, according to neighborhood gossip, both began affairs. Doc, who some called “Slick” because of his charms with women, reportedly courted a sister-in-law, while Flora reportedly sparked a Dingess. The family remained intact until at least 1940. Some time thereafter, Doc and Flora separated and eventually divorced. Mr. Workman built himself a small dwelling house just below his wife where he lived with a stepson, Dennie. Around that time, perhaps in related events, a few homes were burned in the neighborhood.
A 1942 draft registration record described Dock as six-feet tall, 178 pounds, of ruddy complexion, with gray hair and blue eyes. In the opinion of most people on Workman Fork, he made for a good neighbor. Lloyd Farley, a son-in-law, in a 2005 interview, said, “Doc was a fine fellow. He was hard to get to know but he would give you the shirt off of his back.” Mr. Dingess also had fond memories of the old gentleman. “We stopped there at Doc’s every day after school to see him,” he said. “He had candy and marshmallows and he always offered us a dollar to let him bust an egg between our eyes.” Dingess recalled that Doc was an excellent marksman. “Doc kept a loaded gun just inside his door to shoot foxes when they got after his chickens,” Dingess said. “He could shoot a fox from 100 yards away.”
In his last days, Doc received a pension for his service in the Great War and began to carry a significant amount of cash on his person. “He drew a veteran’s pension,” said Mr. Farley. “He often packed one-thousand dollars on him.” Not long before his murder, he loaned fifty dollars to his brother-in-law, Buck Mullins, who then lived in Logan. (Mullins soon repaid the loan.) Neighbors spoke of Dock’s money, of his pension… Family members cautioned him against keeping so much cash on hand, afraid that someone might rob him. Adding fuel to the fire of neighborhood gossip, Doc occasionally disappeared from the creek. “Doc would go out of here and be gone for a month at a time when I was young,” Dingess said. “We never did know why he left.” Just a few weeks before the murder, his son Dennie moved away to find a job. “Dennie had just left to work away from here two or three weeks when Dock was killed,” Dingess said. About one week before the killing, according to Farley, Weddie Mullins, Doc’s former brother-in-law, caught him with his arm around his wife’s waist. He told him that he “better not do it again.”
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Fifty-six years ago, someone shot Wilson “Doc” Workman in cold blood at the front door of his little frame house on Harts Creek. Today, his unsolved murder is largely forgotten.
“Workman, 63, was found dead by his estranged wife, Mrs. Flora Workman, at 6 a.m. Friday at his home on Workman Fork of the West Fork of Harts Creek in Logan County,” the Logan Banner reported on Monday, April 23, 1956. “The victim died as a result of a stomach wound inflicted by a 20-gauge single barrel shotgun which was found lying across his left leg.”
Doc Workman was a man in the twilight of his life. By all accounts, he was a well-liked resident of the community. He was a quiet farmer, a former timberman, a veteran of the Great War and the father of nine children.
“Daddy and Mommy sure liked him,” said the late Roma Elkins, a native of nearby Ferrellsburg, in a 2004 interview. “He’d bring us a big water bucket full of eggs and wouldn’t let us pay him for them.”
Initially, Logan County sheriff Ray Watts and state law enforcement officers suspected robbery as the motive for Workman’s murder.
“Reports said Workman had been known to carry large sums of money around on his person and was believed to have between $400 and $500 at the time of his death,” the Banner reported. “Only a few dollars was found in the home after the shooting.”
On Sunday, April 22, Workman’s funeral was held at his home on Workman Fork. The service began at 2 p.m. and concluded with the burial at Simpkins Cemetery on West Fork.
On Monday, the Banner ran Workman’s obituary on its front page, listing his wife, nine children, four brothers and three sisters, most of whom lived in Logan County.