Tag Archives: Ishams

Poisoned Wedding

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

What should have been a very happy day turned into the worst mass murder to occur in Roane County’s history. The tragic event occurred at the wedding of Joel Dallas Hembree and Mary Jane Dail in November 1880. Mary Jane Dail was the daughter of Col. James I. Dail and the marriage took place at his home near the Emory River, three miles from Kingston. As this was a great social event, many prominent families from this area attended the wedding. Forty-seven guests were in attendance. After the marriage ceremony, the guests were invited to sit down to dinner around noon. That night and the next day, nearly all who ate became sick at the stomach. Six people died: Katie Lowry (age nine years), Robert Dail (the brother of the bride), Rosie Dail (granddaughter of James I. Dail), Albert Gallaher, Mike May (a relative of the groom) and Jim Fields (a colored servant). At least 30 others were sickened.

There was much speculation as to whether the poisoning was accidental or intentional. It was finally decided that it was done on purpose. It was determined that the poison was sprinkled on the turkey and the center cake. All those who became sick partook of at least one of these two items. A month after the event, the body of Katie Lowry was exhumed and tested. The tests showed that it appeared that the poison used was antimony which has the same effect as arsenic. Much speculation was brought forward through the years about the murderer. At the time some said that a man named Jack Isham did the deed. The Ishams were Union while the Hembrees were Confederate and that this was done in revenge for the murder of the father of Jack by rebels. Through research done by Alvin Hembree, there is speculation that a sister of Mary Jane Dail may have done it out of jealousy. Or she may have gotten someone to do it. No one was ever charged, and this mystery will always remain unsolved.

Originally Written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, September 2013.