Saturday, December 11, 2010
New evidence re Meriwether Lewis’s death revealed on History Channel
Brad Meltzer, bestselling author of thriller mysteries, has a 10 part series on the History Channel called Brad Meltzer’s Decoded. In episode two, Presidential Secret Codes, he argues for the exhumation of Meriwether Lewis’s remains to determine whether he was murdered or committed suicide. In this episode, new evidence supporting the murder theory is presented for the first time. Meltzer’s team of investigators, Buddy Levy, Christine McKinley and Scott Rolle, investigate the case while driving a black Porsche around the Tennessee countryside. (Porsche is a sponsor of the series.) The new evidence is presented by Tony Turnbow, a lawyer, who has researched the death of Lewis for many years. Turnbow, who practices law in Franklin, Tennessee, examined court house records concerning James Neelly, who was accompanying Lewis on his travels just before his death. Major Neelly has long been a prime suspect in the conspiracy to assassinate Lewis.
Turnbow discovered that Neelly had been sued for debt in several court cases. But he was astonished to learn that on the day of Lewis’s death, October 11, 1809, Neelly appeared in court in Franklin, Tennessee on a suit to recover a debt from him. Neelly’s signature on these court records has been confirmed by document specialist Jerry Richards, former head of the FBI documents operation. Until discovery of these court records, it was believed that Neelly had stayed behind looking for “lost horses” while Lewis continued traveling on to Grinder’s Stand, the wayside inn and tavern on the Natchez Trace, where he met his death.
Neelly wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated October 18th, containing the news of Lewis’s death by suicide. In the letter he said that because he was looking for “lost horses,” he was not riding with Lewis on the days preceding Lewis’s death. The letter is deliberately vague on several points. He said that he “came up some time after & had him as decently Buried as I could in that place.” Franklin is approximately 55 miles from Grinder’s Stand (now the site of the Meriwether Lewis National Monument and Gravesite near Hohenwald, Tennessee.) It took 1 ½ to 2 days to travel that distance by horseback. Neelly most likely arrived at Grinder’s Stand on October 13th.
The new evidence serves an ironic double purpose—it clearly gave James Neelly a solid alibi for where he was on the day of Lewis’s death. However, since it was never used and he lied about where he was, it is a strong indication that he was a party to the conspiracy to murder Lewis. Neelly’s letter to Jefferson is considered the primary account of Lewis’s death, even though it was based on the hearsay evidence of what Mrs. Grinder supposedly told Neelly.
Local tradition has it that Mr. Grinder actually participated in the killing of Lewis. It is known that the family came into a substantial sum of money and moved to central Tennessee. “Grinder’s Switch,” the fictional hometown of Grand Old Oprey star Minnie Pearl, was a real railroad switching track near Centerville, named for the Grinders.
I also appear in this Decoded episode, presenting my theory that General James Wilkinson, the Commanding General of the United States Army, was the mastermind behind the plot to assassinate Lewis. In the course of preparing for the show, I discovered new evidence, which I will reveal in my next blog post, A motive for Wilkinson’s forgery re the death of Meriwether Lewis.
Kira Gale is the co-author with James E. Starrs of The Death of Meriwether Lewis: A Historic Crime Scene Investigation. It is available both in paperback and e-book formats.
Posted by Kira Gale on 12/11/2010 at 03:46 PM
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