Daniel Keith, a hulking mountain of a man, never said a word after he was hanged.
No one reported seeing his ghost either. No strange lights in upper-story windows, and no phantom bells heard upon the winds in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. But the soul of an innocent man cast a long shadow that was seen through the years.
Back when corporal punishment was carried out in public, when several innocent men and women were arrested for felonious deeds on less evidence than is today needed to bring a case to trial, no one on the jury hearing the trial of Daniel Keith believed him in November 9, 1880.
An eight-year-old girl had been murdered. Her body had been found the previous February. It was the type of brutal murder that caused the citizens' desire for justice to overtake their common sense. She had been beaten several times in succession with a large boulder until no life was left in her frail body. Someone reported seeing Daniel near the child's home on the day of her grisly murder. Witnesses testified he had been drinking that day, and it was enough to send the sheriff, N. E. Walker, over to Dan's home.
According to the sheriff, Dan was perfectly sober and claimed no knowledge of the murder. But the sheriff found a bloodied shirt hanging on his clothesline. Though Dan protested that he was cleaning rabbits, all Rutherfordton suspected him as the murderer. He went quietly with Walker to the courthouse, certain that innocence would be proven.
As days turned to weeks, passersby often reported hearing angry shouts from the jail where Dan was being kept in a cell against the south wall. Dan was questioned again and again in an attempt to elicit confession. Throughout the months between arrest and trial, he maintained his innocence.
"I have killed nobody," he vowed. "And all them what say I did will pay the devil every day for saying it."
The trial was short. A number of citizens testified against Daniel Keith. A sixteen-year-old boy swore he heard the little lass scream and that he saw Dan lumbering away from the scene. In the witness chair, Dan's voice as he proclaimed his innocence was said to be heard clearly across the street.
The prosecutor informed the jury that Daniel Keith was a monster, a beast. Less than an hour of recess was needed for the jury to decide. Daniel Keith was to be hanged. His last words were, "The soul of an innocent man don't rest." Several townsfolk gathered for the event, but by the end of the hanging, an entirely new subject was the main topic of conversation. A mysterious shadow had appeared on the south wall of the jail. It remained throughout the night and the next day. Several attempts were made to remove it, but it stayed.
In 1949, something happened that ended the story of Daniel Keith and the shadow. An eighty-five-year-old man passed away. The only important detail is that he was the sixteen-year-old who had testified against Daniel Keith so long ago.
He was the last of those cursed by big Dan to die. After his passing, the shadow disappeared, never to return.