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The True Story of Tom Dooley Book Review

Updated on January 20, 2018

The True Story of Tom Dooley

  • Published: 2013
  • Author: Dr John Edward Fletcher
  • Publisher: The History Press

The Chapters

Forward, by Edith Marie Ferguson Carter



  • The Murder of Laura Foster
  • The Trials of Tom Dula
  • The Adultery
  • The Pox
  • The Trial Documents and Witnesses
  • The Evidence, the Trial and the Conclusions
  • Myths, Errors and Lies
  • The Ballads



Index About the Author

The Book

Over the years there have been many stories about Tom Dooley and even songs written about him. Most famously by The Kingston Trio in 1958 with their hit Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley. But what really happened? Who was actually involved and what happened during the court hearings? This book is the the true story of Tom Dooley, or Tom Dula as he is actually known. Although the passage of time has lost a lot of information, this book is written with indepth information on what happened on that fateful day.

With the civil war now ended, the murder of Laura Foster in Wilkes Country in North Carolina went down in history when Tom Dula was hanged for the murder of Laura Foster. Dr John Fletcher has sifted through court documents, newspaper articles and historical paperwork to find out what happened. The book begins what North Carolina was like after the civil war. The area was mainly farmers and landowners. Although not particularly well off, the community consisted of about 40 families. The landowners were close knit, who were related either by marriage or kinship. The largest landowner Was Captain William Dula, who was a war hero. At the age of 17 Tom Dula joined the army and was in the North Carolina Infantry Regiment.

Tom and Angeline Pauline Triplett (Ann Foster) were neighbours that lived about half a mile from each other. Dr Fletcher states in his book that they may have started being lovers as early as aged 13 or 14. Although no one really knows. After being released from the army in 1865 it is believed he returned to Elksville where he resumed his relationship with Ann. Ann, by this time, was married to James Melton. Ann was just 16 when she married 21 year old James. But, this didn't seem to stop her having an affair with Tom. It is assumed that Tom started courting Laura Foster at around January 1866. Laura was the 4th cousin of Ann Melton (nee Foster.) Laura's father caught them in bed on more than one occasion. This is from the testimony given in court documents. It was in April 1866 that Tom went to see Dr. George Carter and started having treatment for the first stages of syphilis. Tom told him he had contracted the disease from Laura Foster. It wasn't too long after this that Ann Melton also started having treatment for the same disease.

The story of Thomas Dula and the murder of Laura Foster begins very early on in the book. Just a few pages into the book describes the disappearance of Laura. The chapter on the day of the murder itself describes in detail what happened and the subsequent death of Laura. Now, no one will ever know for sure what Tom and Laura did exactly that day, and all that is written is taken from police records and court documents throughout the trial and witness statements. But we do know that Laura was murdered with a knife and buried in a shallow grave in May 1866. The book also goes into great detail into the search of Laura's body and the evidence against him according to records and documents that Dr Fletcher has researched.

Throughout the book there are many pictures of the people involved in the case against Tom Dula and the people that were called up to give evidence in the court case. Ann Melton was also in court, and also spent time in gaol for aiding Tom Dula with the death of Laura and the subsequent aftermath of the murder, although she was not directly responsible for Laura's death. Tom was the sole person who was tried, and found guilty of her murder.

As I said, the song by The Kingston Trio in 1958 brought the Tom Dula case to the limelight. Although in the song the lyrics state that he was hanged in a lonesome valley from a white oak. This certainly was not what happened. In fact, Tom had a very public hanging close to a railway station. There was around 1000 people at the hanging and Tom was able to give a speech before the hanging, which lasted about an hour.

My thoughts on the book

Personally, I really enjoyed this book. I've listened to the Tom Dooley Ballad many times over the years, and this piqued my interest into who Tom Dooley (Dula) really was and what went on. The book contains a lot of pictures of the Dula and Melton family and also diagrams of the area in which they lived and where the murder took place. There's also documents of handwritten letters and notes that were part of the trial. The book is well laid out, and I didn't find each chapter too long.

What is interesting is we learn about the history of Tom Dula and the people around him from evidence that the author was able to get regarding to the trial, his hanging and the leadup to all this. Of course, as I said at the beginning, there's a lot that can't be said due to passage of time and records no longer existing or just weren't written down and documented at the time. There has been a lot of presumptions and if's and maybe's, but Jon Fletcher only deals with the facts from what he has gathered from his research. He also lists all the witnesses and the key witnesses from the first trial and the second trial with who they were, what relation they were to Tom, Laura or Ann, and also in regards to what they witnessed or their role in the case.

This is definitely an interesting book to read on such a historical and well known case. As I say, although we're never going to know the full extent of the whole story, I still think it's a worthwhile read, and with so many pictures and images in the book, it shows you that John Fletcher has done so much research into this case and made a very interesting book on this story.

Just a note that the picture below is of Tom Dula's grave. But it is now closed off to public access due to it being vandalised by people visiting the grave.


The Kingston Trio - Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley

© 2018 Louise Powles


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    • Coffeequeeen profile imageAUTHOR

      Louise Powles 

      14 months ago from Norfolk, England

      Tim, thanyou for the lovely comment. It's been a while since I've read the book now, but I believe it does mention about Tom being in the army. I found the book really informative and interesting. Thankyou for you kind words.

    • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

      Tim Truzy 

      14 months ago from U.S.A.

      Hi, Louise,

      This is definitely an interesting story from my neck of the woods. I don't know if the book goes into details on it, but where this took place, in the mountains of N.C., there was strong Union sentiment and I believe Tom had been in the Confederacy during the Civil War. In fact, N.C. did not wish to leave the Union during the war, but it is surrounded by southern states that did. So, it did.

      Anyway, this was an excellent review of a book I found intriguing from your details and will be worth reading. Superb job, Louise. Loved it.

      Much respect and admiration,


    • Coffeequeeen profile imageAUTHOR

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      Thankyou Linda. Yes, it's an interesting book. I didn't know about this case until I heard the song.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I've never heard of Tom Dooley or the song about him. The story sounds interesting and sad at the same time. Thanks for sharing another book review.

    • JynBranton profile image

      Jennifer B 

      2 years ago from Bolingbrook

      not familiar with this, might be a book i will put on my reading list

    • Penny Sebring profile image

      Penny Leigh Sebring 

      2 years ago from Fort Collins

      Wow, what an interesting article... it does make me want to learn more!

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      2 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      I had never heard of Tom Dooley and found this very interesting.

    • k@ri profile image

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      It sounds like a very interesting book, especially with the letters and pictures.

    • Coffeequeeen profile imageAUTHOR

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      Yes, it was very interesting. The trouble is over the years there's been stories passed down and a lot of the facts have been overshadowed, so this book was particularly useful in finding out the real story.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      Very interesting! I like your choice of books and it seems like a good one. I like history based dramas and whodunnits. I can’t imagine giving a one hour speech prior to being publicly hanged in front of such a large crowd. Now that is drama.


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