Skip to main content

John Victau Dowis: A Tale of Murder & Revenge (Tombstone Tuesday)

One of the nineteen children of William and Hannah Dowis buried in the family plot at Duluth Church Cemetery in Gwinnett County, Georgia is their son John Victau. He was more commonly known as Victor or Vic Dowis, and he attended the Duluth Baptist Church as a young man. Victor died at the prime of life age of 30 years. In fact, his death came just over a month before his 31st birthday. He left behind a wife and children, including a daughter born just days before his death.

I first found there was an interesting story surrounding the death of Victor with a simple search at Ancestry. Several user-submitted family trees mentioned a tale of murder and revenge. Most were telling the story from the "other" side, the side of the Simpson brothers. Both were victims of a traffic stop gone bad, at the hands of Victor Dowis.

In 1922 Duluth, Georgia, Victor Dowis was a deputy sheriff. An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (viewed online at Fold3) dated 21 February tells of the events of the previous afternoon:

Deputy Sheriff Claims Joe and Orin Simpson Attacked Him and He Shot in Defense.

Duluth, Ga, February 20 -- (Special) Joe Simpson and Orin Simpson, brothers, prominent farmers of this county, were shot and killed this afternoon by Deputy Sheriff Victor Dowis, when they refused to allow the officer to search their automobile for whisky. Dowis surrendered to the sheriff in Lawrenceville tonight.

After the shooting, the automobile was searched and no liquor was found. Orin Simpson was killed instantly, while his brother died two hours later. Just before he died, he is said to have made a statement denying that any whisky was in the car and accusing Dowis of murder.

Dowis received information this afternoon, it was stated, that someone was loading whisky into a automobile just outside the corporate limits of Duluth, and was requested to make a search. Proceeding to the place, he found the automobile of the Simpson brothers and attempted to search it.

Object to Search.
The two brothers are said to have refused permission to make the search unless a proper warrant was produced, witnesses stated, and Dowis sent to Duluth for a warrant. When he presented his warrant, the Simpson brothers asserted that it was not the proper paper authorizing a search of the automobile.

Dowis then attempted to proceed with his search, eye-witnesses stated, and the two farmers objected, forcing the officer from the automobile. Dowis drew his pistol and started shooting, it was asserted, killing Orin Simpson instantly and fatally wounding Joe Simpson.

Meets Sheriff
There was no one in Duluth to arrest the deputy sheriff and the sheriff was summoned from Lawrenceville. In the meanwhile, Dowis left Duluth and met the sheriff en route to the town, and surrendered.

The two dead men were prominently connected throughout this immediate section of the state and were considered wealthy. They were related to Dr. O. O. Simpson, of Norcross, who has represented Gwinnett county in the state legislature several terms...

Relatives of the men tonight declared that they would charge Dowis with murder and prosecute the case to the finish.

Lawrenceville, GA, February 20 -- (Special) -- After a conference with Deputy Sheriff Victor Dowis, who is held in jail here following the killing of Joe Simpson and Orin Simpson near Duluth yesterday, Senator O. A. Nix, attorney for the officer, issued a statement tonight to the effect that Dowis had shot in self defense, and that both of his alleged assailants were partially intoxicated at the time of shooting.

"Mr. Dowis, who is marshal at Duluth, as well as deputy sheriff, was requested to search the Simpson automobile by a citizen of the county," said Senator Nix. "When he approached the car, he was denied permission. He then sent back to town for a warrant, and when it arrived started to make the search for the liquor.

"Both of the men had been drinking -- one was half drunk -- and attacked Mr. Dowis, according to his statement and those of eye witnesses with whom I have talked. One of the Simpson brothers struck him over the head with an automobile wrench and he then pulled his pistol and shot in self-protection...

The deputy sheriff is a brother of Rev. Solomon Dowis, pastor of the Baptist church at Duluth; F. F. Dowis, cashier of the Bank of Suwanee; and W. H. Dowis, a member of the G. M. C. faculty. He is married and has three children.
Later that year, on 11 September 1922, Deputy Sheriff Victor Dowis went on trial for murder "in connection with the shooting by him of Joseph and Orin Simpson, brothers." Victor Dowis was acquitted of the charge.

Family lore states Dr. O. O. Simpson stood on the courthouse steps after the disappointing verdict and offered $10,000 to anyone who would kill Vic Dowis.

The following January (1923) there was an attempt made on Victor's life. Again, from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Duluth, Ga, January 27 -- (Special) -- Victor Dowis, former deputy sheriff of this county, narrowly escaped death before daylight this morning when he was fired on as he was driving to Atlanta in his automobile.

He is employed in Atlanta, but his family still reside near here. He was returning to Atlanta from an overnight visit home when the attack took place.

About a mile from here at Carolina crossing two shots shattered the windshield, the flying glass inflicting slight scratches. No clue as to the identity of the ambushers has been found.
Apparently, someone made good on another attempt when Victor was shot and killed less than six months later. His death certificate states the cause of death as "Murdered by gun shot by unknown person."

Simpson family history suggests Joseph and Orin's older brother Alexander Hamilton Simpson committed the act of murderous revenge on Victor Dowis. And it is asserted that yes, he collected the $10,000.

Mamie Lantham Dowis, Victor's wife, gave birth to a daughter just four days before Victor was killed. Little Jonnie V. died a year later. She, too, is buried in the Dowis family plot at Duluth Church Cemetery.

Search Military Records - Fold3


Taphophile said…
Wow! Incredible story!! Amazing, the things you find from researching tombstones you find in a churchyard.

Popular posts from this blog

Rocks, Rocks, and More Rocks

Why do people put rocks on grave stones? Some time ago, I learned that the rocks signified a visitor. That is true enough, but I decided to learn a little more about the custom and share my findings with you. Putting rocks on tombstones is most often described as a Jewish custom. There are many "Ask a Rabbi" columns out there, but I did not find one that knew for sure where the custom originated. They all agreed, however, that a rock symbolized a visitor and when put on a tombstone said, "I remember you." I also read that some people pick up a rock wherever they are when they think of a person that has passed. Then, the next time they visit the grave, they place the rock to say, "I wish you were here." Rabbi Shraga Simmons offers a deeper meaning: "We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. H

Southern Cross of Honor

I'm late to this discussion, but it's one I'd like to join. :-) Terry Thornton at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Hill Country started with Grave Marker Symbols: The Southern Cross of Honor and UCV (link no longer available). Judith Shubert at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Covered Bridges continued with Hood County Texas: C.S.A. Veterans & Southern Cross of Honor Symbol . [UPDATE, 1 June 2009: Judith has moved this post to the blog, Cemeteries with Texas Ties . The link has been corrected to reflect this move. You may also link to her article via her nice comment on this post.] Wikipedia states: The Southern Cross of Honor was a military decoration meant to honor the officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates for their valor in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. It was formally approved by the Congress of the Confederate States on October 13, 1862, and was originally intended to be on par with the Union Arm

Thursday Link Love: EyeWitness To History

Yesterday, a link was added to the Genealogy Research Resources Group at Diigo. The link was to the website titled EyeWitness to History through the eyes of those who lived it . It's a great site, and I encourage all to visit it. Here are several items I found while snooping around. - Inside a Nazi Death Camp, 1944 : "Hitler established the first concentration camp soon after he came to power in 1933. The system grew to include about 100 camps divided into two types: concentration camps for slave labor in nearby factories and death camps for the systematic extermination of "undesirables" including Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally retarded and others." - Crash of the Hindenburg, 1937 : "Radio reporter Herbert Morrison, sent to cover the airship's arrival, watched in horror. His eye witness description of the disaster was the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast and has become a classic piece of audio history." [You ca

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

So I answered, "O Lord God, You know."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!' Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live...'" (Ezekiel 37:1-5, NKJV)