Upland Chronicles: Sensational murder stirred county 80 years ago
Dee Stamey was a handsome, debonair young man. Born Nov. 23, 1897, he was a dapper dresser and extremely popular with the young ladies in Emert’s Cove and Copeland Creek.
Dee was a son of Jesse Stamey and Bertha Springs Stamey. His maternal grandfather was the hangman who administered the hanging of Pleas Wynn and J. Catlett Tipton in 1899.
Dee was a member of a well respected family but was known as somewhat of a black sheep in his family due to his irresponsibility and carousing. Although he had many prospects, Dee Stamey proposed marriage to a divorcee, Minnie Reagan Taffer, of Copeland Creek. They married on June 21, 1920. Dee was 22 and Minnie was 26.
Born Jan. 13, 1894, Minnie was a daughter of Tilman Reagan and Barbara Ridings Reagan although there were rumors some of Barbara’s children were fathered by Jerome Russell, a dentist who practiced at Copeland Creek and Big Greenbrier Cove.
Minnie’s father Tilman Reagan divorced her mother Barbara, remarried and moved to New Mexico. Barbara married John Cardwell on November 11, 1897. Together John and Barbara raised 8 children. John was the father of the two youngest.
Dee and Minnie Stamey never had children and they did not live in wedded bliss very long. As a matter of fact, the marriage was very stormy and Minnie’s mother Barbara involved herself in the couple’s affairs adding to their marital discord.
After about a decade the unhappy couple divorced. By this time there were bitter feelings on each side. Harsh words had been exchanged between them and some of her family members as well. Dee Stamey was especially acrimonious toward his ex-mother-in-law Barbara Ridings Reagan Cardwell.
The tension escalated to the point in which Dee Stamey vowed in a colorful rendition of the King’s English that when Barbara died he would dance and urinate on her grave.
On Saturday, March 11, 1933, Barbara passed away at the age of 70. By this time John Cardwell had died and the national park was acquisitioning the land on Copeland Creek. Barbara and some of her children moved from Copeland Creek to a small place on Pittman Center Road near the bridge crossing Bird’s Creek.
The day following her death, Barbara Ridings Reagan Cardwell was laid to rest in the Kear Cemetery (now called Kear-Loveday Cemetery). Later that Sunday afternoon Dee Stamey set out to make good his pledge to desecrate Barbara’s grave.
On the way to the graveyard, Dee Stamey decided to stop at the Cardwell house where the family was gathered following the funeral. Standing outside the house, Stamey began shouting for Minnie to come out of the house and talk to him. Minnie never came out but a young man named Lloyd Whaley who was living there as a boarder appeared and asked Stamey to leave.
Stamey kept insisting that he intended to talk to his ex-wife. Whaley explained that Minnie was distraught over losing her mother and refused to see him. At this point Whaley ran into the house and retrieved a loaded shotgun which was hanging above the fireplace.
When Whaley returned with the shotgun, Stamey laughed and walked closer to the house. A shot rang out! Wearing a white shirt and dress pants, Dee Stamey fell in a ditch beside Pittman Center Road with a fatal wound to the back of his neck.
Accompanied by Minnie’s brother Walter Reagan, Lloyd Whaley was driven to the Sevier County Jail where he “turned himself in” to Sherriff Roy Fox.
According to an account in the local newspaper both Lloyd Whaley, 27, and Minnie Stamey, 39, were held in jail pending a special grand jury investigation of the slaying.
The newspaper account mentioned that the three got into an argument after returning from the funeral of Mrs. Stamey’s mother. Sheriff Fox stated Mrs. Stamey had been staying at her mother’s home and Whaley had been boarding there.
On Tuesday March 14, 1933, a funeral service was conducted in the Pittman Center School chapel for Dee Stamey followed by interment in Headrick Cemetery.
All charges against Minnie were dropped and Lloyd Whaley entered a plea guilty. A punishment was imposed of one year and one day in the state penitentiary. Whaley served his sentence and returned to Sevier County.
Shortly after he was released from prison, Lloyd Chris Whaley and Minnie Reagan Taffer Stamey married on May 19, 1934. They lived together on Jones Cove Road until Minnie passed away in 1966 on her 72nd birthday. Although they never had children, Minnie and Lloyd helped raise some of Minnie’s brother’s children. Lloyd Whaley died in 1972 at the age of 67.
Eight decades have passed since that fateful confrontation in March, 1933 and the principle characters have passed on. But at the time the story was the talk of the county, rumors and speculation were rampant and several lives were irreversibly affected by the unfortunate turn of events.
— Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County Historian. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions or would like to submit a column; call Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to email@example.com.