Despite some gusty rain and the impending threat of Hurricane Ian, it was another full house at Harper Library last Thursday for FOLSOI’s popular Meet the Author program. Even the author’s mother came down from Sanford to support her son, proving you’re never too old to make your parents proud!
Charles Oldham, a criminal attorney and writer from the Charlotte area, made the trip to his old stomping ground in Southport to discuss his books, “The Senator’s Son” and “Ship of Blood,” both works of historical fiction surrounding events that took place in southeastern NC during the year 1905. The author spoke at length about the subject matter of both books, one an unsolved crime and the other a crime with a lot of loose ends.
Oldham described the heartbreaking disappearance of an eight-year-old boy, the son of an NC state senator, who was last seen entering the woods at the edge of the schoolyard during recess. Rumors about what might have happened swirled around for more than a year; did he fall into a nearby creak, was he killed by an animal, murdered by a vagrant?
Eventually, a political rival was arrested and charged with kidnapping. The accused was a bootlegger who had ties to some very powerful people, while the senator was a staunch prohibitionist. Sadly, the suspect committed suicide and the child was never found.
In “Ship of Blood,” Oldham recounts a mysterious mutiny aboard a ship named the Berwind, which was spotted adrift just outside the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Three surviving sailors were accused of murdering the ship’s captain, its three officers, and one of the crew. Two of the suspects accused the third, and despite conflicting stories and two separate trials, all three were found guilty.
Oldham roused the audience when he read a compelling handwritten confession, which he located in the National Archives. He discussed many other fascinating details of the trial including racial biases and requests for presidential pardons from both FDR and Taft.
With the precision of a historian – or a trial lawyer – Oldham walked the audience through his methodical research into both cases, explaining that much of his information came from archived case files and old newspaper clippings, some of which were displayed in his PowerPoint presentation. Most of us in the room were hooked on the cases and left the library with two new books on our reading list!
“The Senator’s Son” and “Ship of Blood” by Charles Oldham can be purchased online or found at Harper Library in the section reserved for “local authors.”