Eugene Beck Kills Addie Bailey and Ella Beck

Beck Case Summary.pdf

An excerpt from the Georgia Supreme Court outlining the details of the murder.

On October 28, 1884, Ella N. Beck and Addie E. Bailey were killed by Eugene Beck, Ella’s husband in their house in Clayton, Georgia. Accounts of the murder are varied based on the authors’ degree of bias towards temperance, but the basic sequence of events has been gleaned from various newspaper articles published at the time. 

On the night of the murder, Eugene Beck went to the police station next door and asked Captain William Dillingham to borrow his pistol to shoot some dogs. Dillingham obliged, having lent his weapon to Beck on previous occasions to shoot dogs and hogs that would come onto his property at night. Dillingham’s lending of his pistol to Beck is one of the only undisputed facts of the murder. Some accounts say that Beck then shot the two women in a fit of raging drunkenness. Others say that it was a quiet, premeditated murder to prevent Ella from returning home to live with Addie in Cumming, Georgia.1  Others still claim that it was a bout of delirium tremens caused by alcohol withdrawal that made Beck kill the sisters. The full summary from the Georgia Supreme Court is included. The summary states that, drunk or not, 

“The servant testified that the defendant [Beck] talked sensibly the night of the shooting; that she never heard any fuss between the husband and wife… that about a month before the shooting, she told her husband that if he did not quit drinking, she was going home to stay with her father until he did quit….that Mrs. Beck and her sister had not packed ‘their trunks preparatory to leaving; there wasn’t a thing packed until that night that they was [sic] both lying there corpses.’”2 

After the murder, Beck ran back to the police station and told Dillingham “Cap, they run in on me, two of them, and I shot them. Beck went to trial in Rabun County and was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in 1885. The following year Beck’s attorneys attempted to appeal the case to the Georgia Supreme Court to no avail, and Beck died shortly thereafter from lead poisoning. Being generally reputable in Rabun County, Beck was known to be a moonshiner and reportedly drank from a young age.3  Beck also most likely suffered from mental illness, his mother and two of his cousins were known to act unusually,4  and Beck himself died from lead poisoning, a condition known to have stemmed from drinking moonshine. Finding a motive for the murder of Ella Beck and Addie Bailey is nigh impossible, as it seems that Beck himself did not know why he did it.  In William F. Holmes’ “Moonshining and Collective Violence: Georgia, 1889-1895,” he states, “Instead of viewing violence as an irrational phenomenon that defies explanation, they have presented it as an integral part of the political, social, and economic forces shaping the history of a people at a particular time.”5 This exhibit aims not to answer the question of why Beck committed the murder, but to explore the context of his occupation as a moonshiner and the misconceptions surrounding mental health in the South and in the Gilded Age and Progressive Era to illustrate the anxieties that may have subconsciously motivated Beck to do such a thing. 

  1. Jay, Pea. “On Trial For Life: Eugene Beck Brought to Rabun Superior Court.” Atlanta Constitution, September 23, 1885.

  2. Beck v State, 76 Ga. 452, Caselaw Access Project (Supreme Court of Georgia 1886), p. 456.

  3. Jay, "On Trial For Life."

  4. Beck v State, p. 457.

  5. Holmes, William F. “Moonshining and Collective Violence: Georgia, 1889-1895.” The Journal of American History 67, no. 3 (1980): 590.