February 27, 2014

Traces of Laurel: E.K. Wilson

By Jan Sparkman

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — One of the prominent citizens of Laurel County that Charles Kellogg must have been sorry he wrote about was E.K. Wilson.  Of course he could not know, when he penned his glowing profile of Wilson in 1895, that all the fine qualities he detailed about that young man would come into question, or that Wilson would bring disgrace upon himself and the community.

Kellogg wrote:  “Mr. E.K. Wilson . . . was born in Williamstown, Grant County Ky., February 2, 1869.  His earlier education was received in the common schools of his native county, after which he went to Centre College, from which institution he graduated at the age of 18.” 

Wilson went on to attend lectures at the Law Department of the University of Louisville where he got a law degree in 1890.  Kellogg says that Wilson came to London on business and liked “the town and the community so well he determined to make it his future home.”  This was in 1890 and by 1894 Wilson was so well-known in Laurel County that he was elected County Attorney and was greatly respected by the Republican Party. 

Kellogg ends his sketch of Wilson by saying:  “Mr. Wilson is one of the most popular men in the county, and we feel justified in predicting that his future will be a bright one, as it is full of promise.”

That promise was not realized because in January, 1899, the Mountain Echo reported that Wilson had been charged in the death of a young woman servant at a London hotel.  That article reads:  “A sensation that has been smoldering and brewing in London the past four weeks burst forth with all its hideousness and desolating fury upon the peaceful inhabitants of our usually quiet little mountain city last Saturday and Sunday.  It was the exposure of one of the most hideous, black and damnable crimes that ever disgraced our favorite town or blacked the record of our court.  It was the story of the bewitching conduct of a wily, cultured, daring and handsome young barrister, the betrayal, seduction, ruin and agonizing death of a sweet, innocent, confiding, pretty, though unlettered, young lady and servant girl at the Catching Hotel.”

            “The young man implicated and charged with the crime is none less than E.K. Wilson who, though he has been a citizen of our county only about nine years, has been honored more than once by the good citizens of this county . . .”

According to the Mountain Echo, which covered the criminal charges and the long, drawn out trial, Wilson became intimate with the young servant and when she got pregnant he promised to marry her but, instead, obtained medicines and an instrument of some kind and performed an abortion on her that caused her death.   This is a fascinating story that was covered in detail by the newspaper but which is much too long to go into here.  Wilson came from a noted and well-to-do family who fought the charges with all their might.  At one point the trial was moved from Laurel County to neighboring Rockcastle where Wilson was finally convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.  His lawyers filed at least two petitions for a pardon from the governor but these were denied and Wilson was moved to the state penitentiary in 1901.  He did not serve out his whole sentence, however, because in October of 1904 the Mountain Echo reports that “Mr. E.K. Wilson, formerly County Attorney of Laurel County, was here a few days this week.”

In reading the accounts of this incident in the Mountain Echo it is interesting to see how public opinion, at first outraged, subtly changed to reflect Wilson’s social standing vs. the young woman’s lack of it.  I’m guessing she was soon not only dead but forgotten.

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The Laurel County Historical Society is located at 310 W. 3rd St., London, (formerly the Laurel County Health Department). The society is open on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 12 noon. Visit the historical society’s website at