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Willie Earle Mugshot 1947

Source: GREENVILLE POLICE DEPT / GREENVILLE POLICE DEPT

There is a ghost roaming the halls of Pickens County Museum in South Carolina and his name is Willie Earle. His intriguing tale is very much a sad American horror story filled with racism, tragedy, murder, and injustice.  We created Black folklore to tell fascinating stories from American history that aren’t told in the history books.

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Here is the story of the ghost of Willie Earle and the haunting of the Pickens County Museum.

The Haunting Of Pickens County Museum 

About 20 miles west of Greenville, South Carolina is the home of the Pickens County Museum. What was once the county’s only prison, is now an art and history museum dedicated to, “preserving the rich artistic and historical heritage of Pickens County so that it may be enjoyed by future generations.”

But what if I told you that for 75 years a ghost has been wandering the halls of the prison, calling out from the cells, pleading his innocence? There have even been accounts of horrible manly moans coming from the walls that can be heard saying, “I didn’t do it!”

The ghost of Willie Earle has been a popular topic among paranormal investigators. For decades ghost hunters have flocked to Pickens County trying to find evidence of Willie’s haunting. Some have said they can hear Willie pleading for his innocence through the walls. Others have said they’ve seen shadowy figures at night peering through the windows. Ghost hunters from all over the country have attempted to make contact with the ghost of Willie. 

Raven Investigations of the Paranormal recently headed to the old brick museum to live stream their attempt at finding and making contact with the ghost of Willie. But how did this 24-year-old black man end up beaten to a bloody pulp with a bullet hole in his head?

The Lynching Willie Earle 

On February 15, 1947, a Black man hailed a cab in Greenville headed to Pickens County, South Carolina.

The Black man was eventually picked up by a white cabbie named Thomas Watson Brown and the two made their way towards Pickens. 

As they drove towards their destination, Brown began to berate his passenger trying to get a rise out of him, using racial slurs and profanity, but the man stayed calm. When they arrived in Pickens, the passenger calmly exited the cab and began to walk away from the cabbie. Brown was infuriated that the man didn’t pay. Brown jumped from the cab yelling at the Black man that he didn’t pay, the two began to scuffle and Thomas Watson Brown was beaten and stabbed to death. 

In the 1940s, if a Black man killed a white man and got away with it, another innocent Black person was doomed to pay the price. 

Willie Earle would end up being that Black person. 

No one knows if Willie Earle was the Black man who killed the cabbie, but the white men in Pickens and Greenville really didn’t care. 

He was charged in Brown’s attack, arrested at his mother’s house the next day, and taken to Pickens Country Jail. The next night a white mob of cabbie drivers stormed the jailhouse, dragged Earle from his cell, kidnapping the young Black man. Earle was taken to a remote location where the men beat him, cut him up, then shot him in the face with a shotgun. 

Lynching Trial Of Willie Earle

In what is known as the nation’s largest lynching case, over 150 suspects were questioned in the days after Earle’s murder, and 31 white men were charged with the murder of Willie Earle. Many of the men signed confessions and some even named the person who shot Earle in the face. One testimony from the court said, “The tissue of Willie Earle’s brain was left hanging on the bushes,” and that after the murder, “The lynchers went back to Greenville and drank coffee.”

Ultimately the justice system and the courts failed Earle and his family.

An all-white jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts in less than 5 1/2 hours of deliberations. According to some accounts, the verdict disgusted the Judge so much so that he refused to thank the jury for their service after the trial.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, Willie Earle’s injustice deserves to be heard. They say a ghost is just a soul that can not find rest. As we share his story more and more, hopefully, this will help the ghost of Willie find the closure he so rightfully deserves. 

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