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Donald F. Paine Papers

 Collection
Identifier: MS-2915

This collection contains Donald F. Paine's research papers documenting four early 20th century Tennessee murder trials, including the supposed death of Tom Buntin in 1931, a possible murder committed by Dr. J. Herman Feist in 1906, the conviction and pardon of Claude Nichols in 1955 and in the 1970s, and the numerous trials and eventual acquittal of Bertie Wrather in the 1940s.

Dates

  • 1907-1908, 1929-1964, 1987-2006

Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library.

Extent

2.5 Linear Feet

Abstract

This collection contains Donald F. Paine's research papers documenting four early 20th century Tennessee murder trials, including the supposed death of Tom Buntin in 1931, a possible murder committed by Dr. J. Herman Feist in 1906, the conviction and pardon of Claude Nichols in 1955 and in the 1970s, and the numerous trials and eventual acquittal of Bertie Wrather in the 1940s.

Biographical/Historical Note

Thomas Buntin disappeared from Nashville, Tennessee, in 1931, leaving behind a wife and three sons. He had been insured for $50,000, which was to be placed in a trust for his family. After seven years and a declaration of legal death, Mrs. Buntin and her trust company sued the insurance company for the money and won. Rumors, however, ran rampant that Buntin had in fact run away with his secretary, Bettie McCuddy, who disappeared several months after Buntin. The insurance company received a tip the couple were living in south Texas, and they were found in 1953 living as Tom and Bettie Palmer with six children in Beaumont, Texas.

Dr. J. Herman Feist was a graduate of the University of Tennessee medical school and was practicing medicine in downtown Knoxville at the turn of the 20th century. On December 14, 1905, his patient and lover Mrs. Rosa Mangrum disappeared with over $1400 and jewelry. A month later her body was discovered near Cairo, Illinois, and the next year Dr. Feist was tried for murder and sentenced to hang. Without clear evidence showing where the crime took place, the case was overturned and Dr. Feist was acquitted in a new trial.

In 1954, Claude Nichols was tried for the murder of Sailer Anderson, from whom he was attempting to buy commercial property. He was found guilty and sentenced to prison for 99 years. In the 1970s, Nichols' sentence was commuted by Governor Winfield Dunn, whose successor Ray Blanton gave him a full pardon. (As an aside, members of Blanton's staff were convicted of selling pardons, though Blanton himself was never charged.)

On September 16, 1939, twenty-three year old Enoch B. Wrather, Jr., died in his parents' home. Nearly a month later, the police arrested his mother Bertie L. Wrather for his, her brother-in-law's, and her father-in-law's murders by arsenic poisoning. Prosecutors believed her motive was financial - she stood to inherit the farm and to receive insurance money. After two mistrials, a jury convicted Wrather for the death of her son in October 1941. The judge, however, had allowed mention of the two other possible murders, which had not been clearly established with Bertie at fault, and the conviction was reversed in April 1943. Two months later, Mrs. Wrather was finally acquitted of the murder of her son Enoch.

Donald Franklin Paine was born in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1939. He earned his B.A. (1961), M.A. (1963), and LL.B. (1963) from the University of Tennessee. Immediately after graduation, Paine served in the Army as a Captain in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He was discharged in 1966 and returned to Tennessee, where he authored the Tennessee Law of Evidence (1974). Currently, Paine practices law with Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers in addition to researching Tennessee's legal history. He is a Reporter to the Supreme Court Advisory Commission on Rules of Practice and Procedure, writes a monthly column for the Tennessee Bar Journal, and lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, the University of Tennessee College of Law, and the Tennessee Judicial Conference. Paine has also served as President of the Knoxville Bar Association (1983) and of the Tennessee Bar Association (1986-1987).

Arrangement

This collection consists of two boxes divided into four series:

Missing Title

  1. Series I: Thomas Buntin, 1929, 1948-1964, 1987-1992, 2006
  2. Series II: Dr. J. Herman Feist, 1907-1908, 1948, 2003-2004
  3. Series III: Claude Nichols, 1953-1956, 1994-1995, 2001, 2006
  4. Series IV: Bertie Wrather, 1939-1943, 1964, 2003 February-March

Acquisition Note

Donald Paine donated these papers to Special Collections in 2007.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

Contact:
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA
865-974-4480