Fayetteville History: When Fayetteville’s Police Chief was murdered

By Weeks Parker

On the beautiful Sunday afternoon of Feb. 23, 1908, Fayetteville Police Chief James Herbert Benton was shot and killed near the back door of his home on the northwest corner of Grove Street and Barges Lane. 

As the chief and his family were about to sit down to enjoy their dinner, a woman, Ida Johnson, ran into his house and told him that Sam Murchison, who had been drinking, was trying to kill her. Chief Benton, who had just removed his shoes and put on some slippers, immediately put his pistol into his pocket and grabbed his cap. When he had walked only 5 feet from his back door, Sam Murchison, who had been hiding in the stable behind the Benton home, came running toward the chief and shot him in the face before Benton had time to draw his pistol. Within 45 minutes, the chief was pronounced dead from a single bullet that had entered his brain. 

As soon as Chief Benton was shot, his 16-year-old son, Charles, armed with his father’s revolver, started looking for the murderer who had headed toward Cross Creek near the old cemetery on the corner of Grove and Ann streets. As they ran through the cemetery, Charles emptied the revolver, and one bullet hit Murchison’s thigh. By this time, thousands of armed Fayetteville citizens were scouring the area in search of the chief’s killer. Murchison was finally found, soaking wet, in Cross Creek.

A short time later, the Cumberland County Sheriff arrived on the scene and quickly placed Murchison into a buggy for an exciting ride to the county jail behind the courthouse on the northwest corner of Gillespie and Russell streets. Surrounded by a mob of angry citizens on horseback, the buggy dashed up Maultsby Street (later renamed B Street) and then turned onto Person Street. As the buggy sped up the street and whirled around the Market House, one of the wheels fell off. With only three wheels, the driver managed to escape the vengeful crowd as they finally entered the gates of the courthouse yard. The Fayetteville Independent Light Infantry arrived on the scene, and all during the night, under the command of Maj. Vann and Capt. McGeachy, were on duty at the jail and vicinity.