‘Omie Wise,’ early tale of true crime

“You’d be forgiven for thinking this was the plot of a moody drama or a Dateline special. Actually, it’s the story told in ‘Omie Wise,’ one of the many murder ballads that swept nineteenth-century America. After Wise became pregnant by an engaged man, he (allegedly) killed her to cover up the indiscretion. Court records of Jonathan Lewis’ trial [in Randolph County, N.C.] exist, so we know the tale is, chillingly, true….”

— From “The Murder Ballad Was the Original True Crime Podcast” by Jody Amable at JSTOR Daily (Jan. 30)

“All of North America eventually knew the story (by a number of different titles: ‘Naomi Wise,’ ‘Little Omie,’ ‘Oxford Girl’ or ‘Tragic Romance’), but only the town of Randleman, North Carolina, could embrace the murder as its own. And it did. Not only is Naomi’s grave located in Randleman but the town has named streets, churches, even mills and manufacturing plants after her. Its river is spanned by the Naomi Bridge and downstream its waters tumble over Naomi’s Falls.”

— From “Little Omie: America’s oldest murder ballad about a romance that for whatever reason just didn’t work out” by Tom Leonardi at kzfr.org (May 27, 2015)

Of course, “Omie” isn’t even North Carolina’s most famous murder ballad.

Don’t hang down your head, Dr. Dooley

“It began to appear on the charts in late September [1958], and before Christmas [the Kingston Trio’s recording of ‘Tom Dooley’] hit No. 1.

“The public erroneously connected ‘Tom Dooley’ with Thomas A. Dooley, the Navy doctor recently in the news for his missionary and medical roles in Vietnam and Laos following the French defeat in 1954 [rather than with Tom Dula, the Wilkes County man hanged in 1868 for murdering his pregnant girlfriend].

“Dr. Dooley had published his story ‘Deliver Us from Evil,’  in 1956, helping fan the flames of Catholic anticommunism. Thus accidentally the trio reaped the fruits of anticommunism while drawing inspiration and songs from the [leftist] Weavers and Gateway Singers.”

— From  “Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970” [2002]  by Ronald D. Cohen