I was hoping to find enough information about this Knoxville, Tennessee murder for my next book because it’s a fascinating story. The case was controversial when it happened, even amongst the friends and family of the victim and the killer. Though there wasn’t enough information available for a full book, I kept thinking about this story and I decided to write about what I could find… voilà!
Even after all the research and writing about this case, my opinion is still shifting about where the guilt lies, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as you read about the case.
Part 1: A Misbegotten Suicide Pact
On September 1, 1907, a young man named Peter Turner stood before the Supreme Court of Tennessee, with his attorney by his side. He was appealing his first-degree murder conviction.
Peter Turner, a handsome young black man, was soft-spoken and well-dressed. He did not deny he shot Minnie Scott three times. Nor that he had caused her death deliberately. But he was not a murderer; they were supposed to have died together. “Malice is required for a first-degree murder conviction, Your Honor,” his attorney said. There was no malice here.
To understand how this came to be, we must return to the scene of the crime.
Little is known about Turner’s life prior to the time he moved to Knoxville. He was from South Carolina. He was an educated man, who had once worked for the former sheriff. He sold newspapers now, and he liked to draw. He was in love with a married woman named Minnie Scott. Her husband, Will Scott, was a waiter at Ashe’s restaurant.
On the evening of March 15, 1907, Mrs. Minnie Scott was visiting her cousin, who lived a short distance from her own home. The sun had gone down some time ago, when she rose and bid her cousin farewell.
Instead of going home, she set out to meet her lover, Peter Turner, at the corner of Lithgow Street and Church Avenue in East Knoxville. Minnie was a very attractive woman, and she dressed neatly. In her gloved hand, she carried a handwritten statement. In it, she detailed her relations with Turner and explained they had decided that since they could not live together, they must die together.
Peter Turner was waiting for her on the corner. They embraced and spoke for a few moments. Then three shots rang out.
When people hurried outside to investigate, they discovered the body of Mrs. Minnie Scott crumpled on the sidewalk. But there was no trace of her killer.