A Vicious Gentleman

Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was October 1907, and Ed Turner was being led out of the Hamilton County Jail across the lawn to the Hamilton County Courthouse. There he would be tried for the murder of his wife, Lillie.

Ed Turner’s story was salacious. He claimed to be 24 years old, but he was probably at least 30. He readily admitted he killed his beautiful 16-year-old wife. Before he murdered her, Ed forced the young girl into “a life of sin and degradation,” as she put it, and she hated him for it. But when Ed discovered Lillie was planning to leave him, the idea did not appeal to him. Instead, he decided to murder her. It was an elaborately planned murder. How cold he was in the days leading up to the murder, and how calculating.

Despite the savagery of the murder, Ed was a charming gentleman throughout his incarceration. He was confident people would see his side of it, once he explained, and he would be set free. He set about planning for his triumphant release.

The murder of Lillie Turner and the trial of her husband was a spectacle. The scandalous story that came out in court fascinated turn-of-the-century Chattanooga even though the details made seasoned newspaper reporters blush. The sordid life they led and the brutal crime were at odds with the unflappably polite man on trial for the murder of his wife.

The Turners’ story is only one element in the madness unfolding in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the early 1900s captured in the new book, Grievous Deeds, which will be released on March 30. Want to win an early signed copy of the book? Scroll down past the picture and click the link to enter the drawing.

Photography at trials was still a rarity in 1907. The prisoner was startled when he saw a photographer waiting outside the jail to take his picture as he headed into court. Fortunately for Ed, it took a while for a photographer to set up a shot and it required the subject’s cooperation. This, Ed would not give. Instead, he lowered his head, resulting in this unusual picture of him:

Ed Turner heads into court

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