Fancy Gap, Virginia: Local author Thomas D. “Tom” Perry’s new work, Murder In A Rear View Mirror looks to help local history preservation based on one simple principle. A lot of people just love a good murder story. A portion from the sales of the books will go to help the ongoing restoration of the historic Sidna Allen House, which adorns the front cover of the new book.
“The title of this book, Murder In A Rear View Mirror, means two things. It means looking back at the past, obviously, a rear view. It came from one of my authors I publish other people’s books. We were at a book festival, a lady whose children’s books I publish, and I were talking. You run out of things to talk about at a festival, and we were talking about murders. She said, “I saw a murder once.” I said, “You…what?” Perry said. “She said I saw a murder, over in Collinsville, Virginia. She was at a stoplight, in a parking lot and she saw a man go over after his estranged wife and kill her. She saw it in her rear view mirror. I thought, murder in a rear view mirror. That was where I got my idea for the title.”
Perry said he had been letting the idea simmer on his creative back burner for a while and had written stories about different murders and crimes but hadn’t thought of putting them together under one title. Last fall at Draper Mercantile, Howard Sadler’s program The Last Witness (about the Hillsville shootout) drew him and local history enthusiast Mark Harmon. They discussed the “murder book” in progress. Just like a coincidence in a whodunit, a chapter already included Hillsville.
“The question I would get at almost every book event I’d go to was, ‘Do you have anything on the Hillsville shootout?’ I never did. Most of my books are about Patrick and Henry counties and J. E. B. Stuart. Now I can say, “Yes I do!’” Perry said, “it’s important in the books I do they help preserve history. I’ve donated the proceeds to non-profits over the years from several of my books. I started the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace thirty years ago. One thing led to another, and I said, ‘How about I give you some of the proceeds from every book I sell?’”
Perry said the main thing is drawing attention to restoring the home. He said one lesson he’s learned from previous projects is to “keep the PR going,” making sure people know what is being done.
“Each chapter is a different murder or crime story. There’s two in Ararat where I grew up, three in Mount Airy, a couple in Martinsville, and of course, the Hillsville Shootout. Things that had always interested me. It’s my take on it. I don’t pretend to be an expert on all these things,” Perry said. “The chapter that was the hardest to write was about Virginia Tech, and that one hit close to home if you are an alumnus. I hate to say some of them were fun to write but some were. You kill people over money, over politics, you kill people over love, and I’ve covered almost all of that.”
He said the last one is about embracing the Virginia Tech shootings.
“I go from the Hillsville Shootout to what happened at Virginia Tech. I use Frank Beamer as my connector,” Perry said. “Frank, of course, is an Allen I believe he wrote a high school or college term paper on the shootout, an interesting take. Frank talked about one of the hardest things he did in his life was going to meet the survivors and the families of people who died. It’s in the book. I found a great interview with him. I go from the end of the shootout to how you embrace, if you can embrace, the tragedy of something like Virginia Tech, and I used Frank as my bridge. I don’t know how Frank’s going to feel about that, but I sent him a lot of my Mayberry books.”
Perry noted the power of a good story to move from narration to becoming a folk tale which is why he included a story from Ararat, Virginia about the “murder in Lynch Hollow,” so named because a Lynch mob took justice into their own hands there following a girl’s murder.
“One of my friend’s fathers growing up took that story and turned it into a kind of why a boy should be home before dark,” Perry said. “If you didn’t get home before dark the monster in Lynch Hollow might get you. If you’re down on the river fishing, swimming or whatever and you don’t get home in time…He had the whole thing worked out where this monster was called Raw Headed Bloody Bones, an old Scottish boogeyman. He had sound effects and the whole shebang going on. He used to scare some of my buddies to death when he would tell the story. It’s in the book. This is serious stuff. I hate to make light of it, but after a hundred years or more, everyone has a theory. These are my theories, and it’s my take on it. The idea is to bring attention to the history and to help them save this house. If my book does that, then I’ll be pretty pleased with it.”
Carroll County Historical Society President Ed Stanley said they appreciate any funding they can get to help restore the historic Sidna Allen Home. Stanley said beadboard for the front porch ceiling and front porch columns had been purchased but installing this is on hold, while repairs are made to the roof.
“You know, as long as I can remember, they’d say I wish they’d do something with this house. I wish they would save it. Okay, folks here’s something you can do about it. You get this book, and it gives them money, and maybe you’ll give more money if you’re really interested,” Perry said. “I know some people don’t want this house saved and didn’t want to hear about the Hillsville Shootout. It’s like Mount Airy. There are people who don’t want to hear about Andy Griffith, but Andy Griffith keeps Mount Airy going. You can say what you want about him, but the tourism is real. This could potentially be a showplace that would draw people to Carroll County.”
This story, written by David Broyles, was published in The Carroll News on page four of the June 13, 2018 issue. Since it was NOT available online, I have edited the story and present it here corrected.