Tucked away on a rural road at the very northernmost extent of Iredell county is a small, nondescript bridge over the dark waters of Hunting Creek. While the bridge is in Iredell county, crossing over it heading northbound means entering Wilkes on the other side.
It’s a rural area, and always has been, with a smattering of farms and houses in the area, but mostly just wooded land on the Wilkes county side for a couple miles.
It was just 100 yards or so to the west of this bridge in 1916 that one of Iredell’s most notorious murders took place, and few people today know anything about it.
June of that year, Claude Warren and his sister Mary (though some accounts say it was actually his wife) were working one of their corn fields along Hunting Creek. Claude was harvesting corn with a mule and Mary was helping him in some capacity. As Claude came to the end of a row and turned to go back up another, his brother in law, Homer Matheson, who had been concealed in a ditch or gully, raised up and shot Claude in the back of the head at close range with either a shotgun or rifle.
Mary must have been hysterical and started screaming, because not only had her brother been murdered, but the killer was her own husband.
No one is entirely sure what was the cause of the murder, but there had apparently been a feud of sorts going on, and Homer was entirely unrepentant for the crime, claiming that Claude had threatened him first, and so he was only defending himself.
If the rumors were true, Claude had turned in Homer for moonshining along the creek, probably for a cash reward. Not hard to believe considering stories of moonshiners cooking along the creek persisted in the area well into the 1950’s. The rural location and reliable water source made it a good spot for such activities.
Matheson was tried for the crime but managed to avoid the death penalty, pleading guilty to manslaughter in the 2nd degree and receiving a sentence of 30 years. For reasons unknown, he only served seven before being freed. Mary sought a divorce and Homer ended up moving to Catawba county and remarrying.
Somewhere along the line, a ghost story sprung up. Daniel W Barefoot, in his book “Piedmont Phantoms”, recounts the story and then makes the claim that a woman’s scream can be heard near the bridge at times. Where this story came from and what year it began, I have not been able to find out. Most locals don’t know about the ghost story and have never heard much of anything scream except for the occasional fox.
It’s always amazing what legs these sorts of stories have. They live on in print or the internet long after the people who’s parents and grandparents were telling them to each other have lost track of them.
However, talking with the current land owner, he at least is aware of the murder, and claims that the spot where Claude was killed is actually marked with the barrel of a firearm stuck into the earth. I have not seen this myself, but I doubt he has reason to lie.
If you’re in the area during the summer, he happens to sell produce from his shop, which is just across the bridge on the Iredell county side. Pick up a watermelon and see if he’ll tell the story to you.