Who killed Minnie Barbee?

Saturday May 07, 1932

Minnie Barbee was widowed and lived alone in her home on Margin Street in Grenada, Mississippi. The house had been built by her grandfather George Shall Golladay and later owned by her parents Davidella Golladay Lake and George Lake.

Apparently Minnie did not feel safe in her house, as she hired a woman named Savilla Hogan to stay overnight with her. Savilla was with Minnie in the afternoon on the day of the murder, but Savilla left to spend time with her family during the early evening.

Savilla returned to Minnie's house around 8 pm. Before entering the house, Savilla would always yell to let Minnie know that she was coming inside. This night there was no reply from Minnie. Savilla sensed that something was wrong. Savilla went to get her husband and Miss Eva Ray. They went inside Minnie’s house and found Minnie’s body. The authorities were notified.

The Grenada Sentinel wrote that it was “the most atrocious and horrible crime that Grenada has experienced in the memory of its present inhabitants.” A town meeting to address this crime was held at City Hall in Grenada on Monday. An overflow crowd of both white and black citizens attended. According to the Grenada Sentinel, the sentiment of the meeting was that the law should be allowed to take its course. The members of the black Church of God in Christ committed to a three-day fast as part of their prayer appeal to God to find Minnie Barbee’s killer. Minnie’s brother Harper Lake had helped with the financing of their church building.

The evidence pointed to a man named Robert Williams. He had several aliases including Leon Bradford, Clarence Williams, Price Williams, and M.L. Osborn. He had come to Grenada several weeks earlier. Minnie had hired him for odd jobs, but became afraid of him after he started hanging around her yard. On the evening of the murder, one of the neighbors saw Robert entering Minnie’s house.

Robert left Grenada after the murder. A police manhunt began to find him. Several men were detained and then released once it was determined that they were not the suspect.

A man who identified himself as Robert Lewis was detained by Officer C.E. Aldridge in Tallahatchie County on an unrelated matter. He was believed to an escaped prisoner and was not considered to be a suspect in the Minnie Barbee murder. He was handcuffed and taken to the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Sunflower County. This prison is known as Parchman Farms. When the handcuffs were being removed, Officer Aldridge noticed scratch marks on Lewis’s wrists. When questioned about these scratches, Robert Lewis replied “Didn’t no white woman do that.” At this point, he became a suspect.

During an interrogation, Robert Lewis confessed to taking part in the murder of Minnie Barbee. Robert Lewis claimed that he had escaped from prison in Okolona and that he had met Robert Williams while in prison there.

Grenada Sheriff J.E. Carpenter was initially skeptical of this confession. District Attorney A.L. Ford went with Sheriff Carpenter to hear the details of the confession and it was then deemed credible.

Lewis said that Robert Williams asked him to go with him to the Barbee house where he had yard work to do. Once they got to the Grenada train depot, Williams told him of a plan to rape and rob Minnie Barbee. Williams entered through the front door and Lewis entered through the back door. They both sexually assaulted Minnie before she was strangled to death. Williams took the money in her purse on the bed and they fled.

Robert Lewis was turned over to Sheriff Carpenter for indictment in Grenada. A prisoner named Robert Lewis had escaped from Okolona, but his description did not completely match that of the person in custody. Apparently it was discovered that Robert Lewis was an alias. Harry Freeman was the name that was used for him in the Court records.

The police were given some tips as to where Robert Williams was heading. He had a cross-eye and an unusual smile, so these distinctive characteristics aided law enforcement in their search for him. Robert Williams was arrested in Falls County, Texas near Waco in late May.

Both Robert Williams and Harry Freeman (aka Robert Lewis) were found guilty of the willful murder of Minnie Barbee by the Circuit Court in Grenada County in July, 1932. They were given life sentences to be served in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.

There was no evidence that pointed to anyone else. The case was closed.

This page last updated on February 16, 2015