The Ambush Assassin
Albert Ringold Dean (1854–1930)
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1909, Albert Dean was waiting for his family doctor to enter Lafayette, Tennessee’s public square. It was a mild evening, about suppertime, and few folks were about.
At 6:30, the doctor arrived on horseback. He had been visiting a patient in Red Boiling Springs, about 12 miles east of the square. As horse and rider neared Lafayette Bank, Dean raised his gun and fired three shots.
Dr. William E. King reeled in his saddle and fell dead to the ground. He was 37 years, 8 months, and 29 days old.
The news of King’s “assassination by ambush” not only made headlines in Nashville, Little Rock, New Orleans and Natchez, but as far north as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
The Nashville Tennessean reported that the murder of the eminent doctor from a respected family — King’s father was a Civil War veteran and former Macon County sheriff — had “created the most intensive excitement” in Lafayette, the seat of Macon County.
Pathos inspired some of that interest. Married 19 years to Lillian Flora Cornwell, King left his widow with six children, ranging in age from 18 to two years. Mrs. King lived nearly a half-century beyond her husband’s death; she never remarried.
Sympathy for King’s family, however, could not compete with the she-done-him-wrong stories so prominent in town that they made their way immediately into the press.
The day after the shooting, The Tennessean reported that Dean and his wife had separated exactly one year earlier and, during that time, King had left the county “but remained away only a short time.” Dean was “not friendly” toward King, and locals had known that, should they meet, “trouble would be likely to follow.”
On Monday, November 29, King was buried at Haysville Cemetery. On the same day, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Albert Dean.
Albert Ringold Dean, born in Smith County, Tennessee the day after Christmas 1854, was 55 years old when he was accused of murder. Like King, he came from a prominent family.
Albert’s grandfather, Willis Dean, migrated from South Carolina to Smith County in 1805 and established a sizeable farm near Pleasant Shade. He left his large family there in 1835 to stake a claim in Texas and died there 13 years later, allegedly murdered behind his grocery in Red River County.
Willis Dean’s youngest child was Albert’s father. At 39, Jefferson Dean joined the Confederate Army and, within weeks, he was captured and incarcerated in a Union Army prison. He died of diarrhea on Valentine’s Day 1864.
Albert, fatherless at 10, was the middle child of seven. His mother, Sophia Agnes Holland, raised him and his siblings on the family’s farm on Dean Hill, in proximity to his grandmother Dean and numerous aunts and uncles. The 1880 census shows Albert, at 25, enrolled in school.
Six years later, Albert married Cyprissia Vance Brooks, the daughter of a respected Jackson County farmer, Richard Vance Brooks. His obituary praised him as a man who “had accommodated more men, when they were in need, than any other man who has ever lived in the county.” Prissie’s mother, Leann Dorty, died when the girl was 16.
The 1900 census shows Albert and Prissie, married 14 years, living near her family in Jackson County, Albert employed as a merchant, Prissie at home with a servant. They had no children. A few years later, the Deans moved to Lafayette; by 1905, Albert was the cashier of Lafayette Bank.
In 1907, the couple became charter members of the town’s first Southern Methodist Church. The banker’s respectability was undeniable when the county formed a board of directors in 1909 to promote the establishment of a railroad linking Westmoreland to Lafayette via Red Boiling Springs. Albert was named the board’s treasurer.
Two months later, he gunned down Dr. King.
On December 11, exactly two weeks after the shooting, Albert was arrested for murder not in Lafayette, but in Carthage, in Smith County. Acting on legal advice, he requested retention in Smith County to avoid “violence on the part of King’s friends” in Macon County. The judge placed him in the custody of Smith County’s sheriff.
In The Tennessean’s account of Albert’s arrest, the reporter foresees a sensational and hard-fought trial, given the victim’s large family and the perpetrator’s position and number of friends. And, he points to a motive for the shooting:
“It is claimed that the killing grew out of the fact that King, while family physician of Dean and intimate friend, had had improper relations with Dean’s wife.”
It would be 16 months before Albert learned his fate in a court of law. It’s unlikely he spent much, if any, of that time in jail. In April 1910, the census shows he was employed and a boarder in the home of William Goad on Main Street in Scottsville, Kentucky. Prissie had long since moved back to Jackson County to live with her father.
Goad, 41, seemingly made a good living as a lawyer: his household included a wife, three sons, two daughters, his mother-in-law, two boarders, and six servants. It’s not clear whether he was part of Albert’s legal team — one news story estimated 30 lawyers worked on his defense — or whether Goad simply opened his home to a man who, like himself, had marital difficulties. Goad and his wife divorced between 1910 and 1915.
In July 1910, Albert’s defense filed a motion for a change of venue from a Lafayette court to one in nearby Trousdale County. The motion was denied. Four months later — and a full year after the shooting — his lawyers filed another motion, arguing that “the strong feeling which the killing has provoked in this locality” would make it impossible for Albert to secure a fair and impartial trial in Macon County. And, he would not be safe during the proceedings.
Despite these enemies, Albert retained respectability in middle Tennessee: in December 1910, he was a guest at a wedding considered significant at the time, and perhaps even more so today. The bride was Bertha Osbourne and the groom John Jackson Gore, whose brother Allen became grandfather to future Vice President Al Gore, Jr.
And, surprisingly, after his arrest for murder, Albert was employed as a cashier at the First National Bank in Carthage; in fact, at some point before his trial, he was promoted to bank president. After the long delay in setting the trial venue, it ultimately took place in a Carthage courtroom, across the street from the First National Bank.
On April 23, 1911, Albert Dean was acquitted of the murder of Dr. William E. King. The Tennessean noted the “strong array of counsel” engaged in the trial. And, the jury agreed with the defense team that King had “wrecked” Albert’s home — destroyed his marriage to Prissie — while acting in the capacity of family physician.
Prissie and Albert divorced sometime between the shooting and December 16, 1915, when she married a Smith County farmer named Wade Dillehay. They remained a couple until she died from heart disease in 1934.
As for Albert, a few months after the trial, he accepted a position with the Cookeville (Tennessee) Bank. In 1914, he moved to Nashville, married Nannie Baggett, entered the real estate business, joined a Methodist church, and died at 2 p.m. June 5, 1930 of a heart attack. His obituary doesn’t mention the murder of Dr. King.
Albert Ringold Dean was 75 years, 4 months, and 10 days old. He was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville.