November 2, 1942
Six members of the Pulliam family are found dead in the burned wreckage of their home
On the morning of November 2, neighbors noticed the Pulliam house in flames and immediately formed a bucket brigade. It was initially suspected the family had stayed the night with Mark Pulliam’s brother, whom they had visited the evening before. This suspicion was erased when the bodies of Winnie Pulliam and five of her eight children were found in the burnt remains of the house. The remaining three children, ages 6, 13, and 17, were away from the home at the time of the fire and were spared.
The victims of the fire were Winnie Pulliam and her children: Alvie Jean (also spelled in papers as Arigene or Alma Jean), 11; Katherine, 9; Martha, 7; and twins Wayne and Worth, 3. The family was later buried together in a single grave.
Mark Pulliam was arrested at his place of employment, a sawmill roughly 35 miles (58 km) from his house. When he was informed of the murder charges against him, he simply responded, “I don’t know what they mean,” and told reporters he was unaware of the deaths of his family “until the law came for me.”
According to Mark, he had spent the weekend with his sister and her family in Dalton, Georgia, approximately 13 miles (21 km) from his home. He returned on the evening of November 1 and last saw his wife as he left their home at 3 a.m. on November 2 to go to work at the sawmill. One of the twin boys woke and went into the kitchen. Mark placed the toddler back into bed, chatted briefly with his wife about the brightness of the moon and the chill morning air, kissed her on the cheek, and left. “That’s all I know,” Mark concluded.
The deaths of the Pulliam family were deemed to be murder on the basis of a substance appearing to be blood in and around the home, as well as the testimony of two of Mark’s surviving children. A piece of bedding beneath Winnie, soaked in a “dark substance,” had been left undamaged from flame. It was believed it had been so thoroughly saturated with blood the fire was unable to consume it. Furthermore, Dr. E. H. Dickie, one of the doctors who examined the bodies, declared Winnie “undoubtedly has been slashed across the stomach with a knife.” As neighbors noted a heavy smell of kerosene at the site of the fire, it was theorized someone had killed the family and set fire to their home to destroy the evidence. In addition, the two older surviving children appeared during the coroner’s jury to testify against their father. “Pa was always beating Ma, ‘specially after she found that he was going over to Dalton to see Della Hall,” one of the children stated. “And more than once he said he’d kill us all.”
Della Hall, more commonly referred to as Ella Mae Hall, was questioned about Mark and his whereabouts before the fire. While Mark had claimed to have been spending the weekend in Dalton with his sister and her family, Hall stated he had spent the evening of October 30, the whole of October 31, and most of the day of November 1 with Mark. She mentioned she did not see him again after 8 p.m. on November 1.
During the course of investigation it was revealed Mark had purchased life insurance policies for his twin sons and 9-year-old Katherine four months before the fire. The policy lapsed the day before the blaze, though it was paid that same day, renewing it. The combined total of the policies was for $1,200 with a double indemnity clause, which would double the payout to $2,400 (roughly $38,000 today) in the event of an accidental death, including house fires. The insurance agent identified Mark and Hall as the pair who had come in to pay the premiums.
Hall was charged with being an accessory before the fact, though the grand jury dropped the charges against her and she was released. Hall later sued Sheriff John W. Morrison for $10,000 (approx. $160,000 today), stating she had been “forced out of employment by reason of the humiliation which was brought upon her by reason of the arrest.” I could find no documentation of the result of the lawsuit, however.
The jury deliberated 6 hours before convicting Mark of the murders of his family, and recommended mercy. He was sentenced to two life terms in prison. Mark was paroled in 1955 after serving 13.5 years in prison and continued to proclaim his innocence, suggesting his family had been killed after a kerosene lamp had been knocked over during the night.
Winnie Charles Pulliam. Find a Grave. Accessed: November 2, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/131595173/winnie-pulliam
“Georgia Paroles Murray ‘Lifer’.” The Chattanooga Times. June 20, 1955
“Murray County Characters: Mark Pulliam Family Murder.” Murray County Museum. Accessed: November 2, 2020. https://www.murraycountymuseum.com/mcc_10.html
Reynolds, Ruth. “Mysterious Death Of Six Quickly Solved.” The Knoxville Journal. January 4, 1948
“Sheriff in Murray is Sued for $10,000.” The Chattanooga Times. September 10, 1943
“Pulliam New Trial Plea Is Denied.” The Atlanta Constitution. July 13, 1943
“Mercy Granted In Case Of Slayer.” The Kilgore News Herald. February 14, 1943
M’Ginty, Sara Lawson. “Pulliam Denies Murder of Wife.” The Chattanooga Times. February 12, 1943
“Autopsy Is Held In Pulliam Case.” The Chattanooga Times. December 23, 1942
“Woman Believed Slain Before Fire.” The Troy Messenger. November 5, 1942
“6 Fire Victims Are Buried in Single Grave.” The Atlanta Constitution. November 5, 1942
“Bones Of Six Found In Fire Debris.” The Chatsworth Times. November 5, 1942
McCartney, Keeler. “Sawmiller, in Jail, Denies He Burned Wife, Five Children.” The Atlanta Constitution. November 4, 1942