Sep. 30—HIGH POINT — Prior to his death, Homer Alderson wasn’t exactly a household name in High Point. He was just a 19-year-old kid who worked in a local furniture factory, and he came from a not-very-prominent family.
But when the young man died in the early morning hours of Dec. 28, 1929, under suspicious circumstances, Homer’s name was whispered on the lips of High Pointers all across town. Thousands of strangers reportedly lined up to view his body at Sechrest Funeral Home, and hundreds attended his funeral there.
Which just goes to show you, sometimes even murder victims can become celebrities. But was Homer’s death really a murder? Or was it self-defense?
Here’s what we know: Homer was shot to death around 4 a.m. outside the old West End Cafe, on West Point Avenue. The cafe’s owner, L.G. Campbell, readily admitted to firing the fatal bullet from inside his business.
That’s where a discrepancy arose.
According to newspaper accounts, Homer and his brother, Kyle Alderson, walked from their rooming house on English Road to West Point Avenue. Kyle said they were headed toward the railroad tracks, in hopes of catching a freight train to Virginia to look for work. They were walking in the middle of the road, he said, but as they passed the cafe, Homer ambled over and peered in a window to see if the cafe was open. Seeing that it wasn’t, he rejoined Kyle.
The two brothers walked up the street a ways, saw there was no train coming, then turned back and passed the cafe again. That’s when Homer was shot in the back of the head.
“All at once, I heard a shot,” Kyle testified at the coroner’s inquest. “It frightened me, and I kinda ducked my head — it sounded so close. Then I heard some glass breaking and another shot. I heard Homer grunt, and I ran (back to the rooming house). … I thought Homer was killed, but I was frightened.”
When Campbell testified, he told a much different story, explaining he had been guarding his cafe at night because of several recent break-in attempts. Prior to the shooting, Campbell said, he heard someone trying to pry open the cafe door, and he saw what he assumed were flashlight beams.
According to Campbell’s story, he fired a shot from inside the cafe to scare the intruders. When he saw two men running away, he fired another warning shot, but this time he saw one of the men fall. He walked outside, found Homer dead in the street and called police to tell them what had happened.
Unfortunately for Campbell, police found several holes in his story. For one thing, they never found the tools the brothers supposedly used to pry open the door.
Even more damaging, though, Homer’s body was found about 15 feet from the door that Campbell claimed Homer and Kyle had tried to open, his head lying in a pool of blood. The coroner determined that, based on where the bullet entered Homer’s brain, he would’ve died instantly and could not have staggered to the spot where he was found. Furthermore, the coroner said, there should’ve been bloodstains on the ground between the door and Homer’s body, but there weren’t.
Police charged Campbell with manslaughter, but a grand jury later would indict him on a charge of first-degree murder.
It probably didn’t help matters that this was not Campbell’s first run-in with police. Prior to this incident, he’d been brought up on charges of violating the Prohibition law, and once during a police raid on his establishment, he pulled a butcher knife on an officer.
In fact, before Campbell could even be tried on the murder charge, he was convicted on the Prohibition charge and sentenced to serve a year in federal prison. When he was released, High Point had a murder trial waiting for him.
During the trial, which took place in January 1931, the most dramatic testimony came from Campbell, who emphatically denied aiming at the Alderson brothers. He claimed “he aimed merely to scare them and shot through the pane of glass with his pistol held over his head while he crouched out of view, for self-protection,” The High Point Enterprise reported.
Meanwhile, prosecutors, who had reduced the charge to second-degree murder, could not find Kyle Alderson — he apparently had gone into hiding — so he didn’t testify against Campbell.
That may have damaged the state’s case because, after about three hours of deliberation, the jury returned with a not-guilty verdict, apparently buying Campbell’s story that he was merely trying to protect his cafe from being robbed.
Poor Homer Alderson. He was shot to death and his killer went free, in part because his own brother didn’t testify on his behalf. And today, nearly a century later, the young man lies buried at Oakwood Memorial Cemetery — apparently in an unmarked grave — as just another sad footnote in High Point history.
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