Virgil Bowers was an African American man residing in London, Kentucky.  Information about his life, including birth and census records, is not available.  The information about the lynching of Virgil Bowers is provided by several contemporaneous news sources.

 Bowers was prosecuted in two trials for the shooting and killing of George Farris, a notable lumber dealer from Knox County, while at the London Fair on August 26, 1905. The first trial resulted in ten jurors voting for the death penalty and two jurors voting for a life sentence. He then faced his second trial with jurors gathered from Rock Castle County. The second trial resulted in the verdict of a life sentence, although ten jurors voted for the hanging of Bowers. Although he was tried and convicted, some newspapers mention that his appeal was being organized.

In August 1905, two newspapers said that Bowers was under strong police protection, predicting that no mob would be able to reach him. However, while Bowers was detained in the Laurel County jail, a large mob, numbered between 40 to 200 men, gathered in front of the jail. On October 16, 1905 the masked mob broke into Laurel County Jail and kidnapped Bowers. The mob dragged him to an apple tree about half a mile from the jail, along a road leading to the city of Barbourville, where Bowers‘s hands were tied and he was hung from a noose.

His body was found by James Bowling, a hotel porter within the early hours of October 17, 1905. Pinned to his body was a handwritten note. One writer of an article about the lynching explained that since the note quoted Abraham Lincoln –  “The voice of the people must rule in all instances” – the lynching of Bowers should be the end of the matter.

However, the murder of Bowers caused a local uproar among the African American residents. They condemned the hanging and pressured the London police force to find and arrest the killers. Warrants were issued for five of the mob members, most from Knox county, in early February of 1906.  According to the Stanford (KY) Interior Journal, over 100 indictments were issued in the Bowers case.  However, the case was dismissed on insufficient evidence. 

Please see the following website and blogpost, Shaking Paper and “Man Convicted of Murder Lynched by Mob, Laurel, 1905,” for more articles and information on the lynching of Virgil Bowers.

Location of the Lynching

Multiple locations related to the lynching of Virgil Bowers. Map created and developed by Hayden Hancock (2023).