Hoke C. Secrest: Murderer and Fugitive

From the Felix Hickerson Photograph Collection, State Archives; Raleigh, NC

The pastoral scene is the homestead of Hoke C. Secrest — a murderous scoundrel and fugitive who gripped the readers of North Carolina newspapers for many months.

In January of 1878 near Marion, a gruesome discovery was made, two bodies — exhumed from their shallow graves by hungry dogs. The bodies were later identified as Maggie Stephenson and her 4-year-old daughter Minnie —they were the wife and step-daughter of Secrest.

Ten months earlier, Hoke, Maggie and Minnie set off for Hickory with packed bags. While there, the couple married, but the marriage was short-lived and ended with the death his new bride.

After the murders, Secrest concealed the crime and returned to Marion, insisting that Maggie had run off. His story quelled suspicion for nearly a year until several dogs found the bodies. Locals gossiped, suspicions grew, and eventually fingers pointed toward Secrest. After his trial, he was judged to be insane and sent to the State Lunatic Asylum in Raleigh (Dorothea Dix Hospital). A short time later, Secrest escaped and fled to Spartanburg, SC, making his home for several years on the farm seen here. His identity was discovered after being prosecuted for stealing a cow from a neighboring property and he was sent back to Raleigh.

Upon the completion of Broughton Hospital in Morganton, he was transferred there — from which he escaped a second time.

After two escapes, authorities were properly fed up with Secrest. Another trial was requested, with the aim of eventual execution. The Hickory Press reported, “It is quite evident that public confidence in the insanity plea heretofore made for Secrest is lost and that he will now die on the scaffold.”

As it turned out, his fate did not include the gallows. He died of natural causes in 1902 at the Caledonia State Prison Farm — likely working on a chain gang.