"Clay Murder Case Remains Unsolved"

Newspaper Article from Raleigh Register, 14 Dec. 1913

--No Clue To Unknown Party Held Responsible By The Coroner's Jury--
--Body Found In Pool Of Blood--
--Basement to H. J. Lilly Grocery Store Scene of Ghastly Tragedy on Last Thursday Morning--
--Two Bullet Holes Indicate Murder Instead of Original Suicide Theory--
H. J. Lilly, local groceryman, on entering the basement of his store onThursday morning of last week, was confronted with a tragedy that has stirred Beckley people as nothing else in years. There before his startled gaze lay the dead body of James N. Clay, his chief clerk, in a pool of his own life's blood. Life had evidently been extinct for only a short time, as the body was still warm.
The body was lying prone on the concrete basement floor, face down, near a number of bales of hay, on top of which his hat had been deposited. Near the body was the pistol generally kept near the cash register in the store upstairs. One chamber had been discharged and a bullet hole showed near the center of the forehead. Every indication pointed to suicide.
But a closer examination of the body by physicians revealed another bullet hole at the corner of one eye. It seemed also to have been made by a bullet of smaller calibre. Either shot would undoubtedly have been fatal, said the doctors and both could not by any stretch of possibilities have been fired by the victim himself.
From Mr. Clay's home it was learned that he had left for the store at the usual hour that morning, and that nothing untoward had occurred. The only departure from the usual routine was noted by Mr. Lilly, in that the front door of the store was locked when he arrived at his place of business shortly after 8 o'clock. It was this fact that caused Mr. Lilly to make a hurried survey of the premises, including the basement where he came upon the body.
As soon as the circumstances of the tragedy had been ascertained a coroner's jury composed of the following citizens was summoned: P. L. Blankenship, J. W. McDowell, A. P. Farley, Thomas Williams, R. S. Taylor, and A. D. Johnson. Coroner L. C. Shrewsbury presided. The testimony of Dr. W. W. Hume, Dr. Robert Wriston, and Dr. U. G. Cook and others was admitted. The bullet that had entered the forehead was removed from the back of the skull. The second shot, entering the eye, apparently ranged downward through the head, but was not located.
Unable to agree as to the manner of death, the jury did not render a verdict that day, but adjourned to meet Friday morning, when they again adjourned until one o'clock that afternoon. The verdict was then that the deceased had come to his death by murder at the hands of some person unknown.
One of the many theories advanced in connection with the case, is that some maurader or sneak thief may have entered the basement of the grocery store through a rear door for the purpose of robbery. Mr. Clay, arriving at the store and hearing some commotion in the basement would have taken the gun lying near the cash register and gone down to investigate. Here the theory has it he would have frightened the thief, who would have shot and killed him with the bullet that entered the eye. Then in order to hide the crime and advance the plausible theory of suicide he would have taken the gun carried by Mr. Clay and shot him in the forehead.
The foregoing theory is credited by many as somewhere near the manner in which the ill fated man met his death, but many others have been advanced. Not a single clue, other than the bare facts related here, has been unearthed by the authorities. Nothing that would give the slightest thread of evidence along that the store was being robbed.
Mr. Clay was fifty-two years of age. He was held in high esteem by hosts of friends throughout this county and all with whom he came in daily contact.
His death is survived by thirteen children, all of whom are splendid young men and women, and his wife who was Miss Delia J. Daniel. The children are as follows: Mrs. R. H. Bragg, Mrs. H. E. Stover, Misses Lottie, Anna, Julia, Ora, Mabel and Marie, and Deck, Phillip, George, Wayman, and Hunter. Lewis Clay of Lanes Bottom, a brother, and one sister are also numbered among the sorrowing relatives. Mr. Clay was a first cousin of J. P. Clay, former owner of the Lilly grocery store.
Funeral services over the remains of Mr. Clay were conducted Saturday morning at the M. E. Church. Interment was made the same day in the family burying ground on Sand Lick where Mr. Clay had spent his boyhood.

Transcribed by Rita O'Brien