One of seven sons ofveteran, landowner, and local official Jeremiah Allen, Floyd Allen was a farmer, storekeeper, and occasional officeholder in Carroll County in southwestern Virginia. As head of a clannish mountain family that had a reputation for feuding, law breaking, moonshining, violence, and even murder, Allen had been charged with assaulting sheriff’s deputies and freeing his nephews, who had been arrested for fighting. According to Roanoke lawyer Robert C. Jackson, Allen was “overbearing, high-tempered, [and] brutal, with no respect for the law and little regard for human life.” But the Allens blamed their troubles on recently elected Republican county officials with whom they had had several run-ins and who, they claimed, were out to get them because they supported the Democratic Party.
Fearing an unfair trial conducted by their political enemies, Floyd and his kinsmen were determined that he not be sent to jail. On the day of his trial, they filled the courtroom, armed with pistols. Court officials, including the county clerk, Dexter Goad, also carried concealed weapons. Found guilty and sentenced to one year in the penitentiary, Allen rose up and proclaimed, “Gentlemen, I ain’t a going.” At that point, shots rang out in the courtroom, killing Judge Thorton Massie, Sheriff Lewis F. Webb, Commonwealth’s Attorney William M. Foster, a juror named C. C. Fowler, and witness Betty Ayers, who died the next day. Several others were wounded, including Allen himself. It was never determined who fired the first shot. Members of the Allen clan fled into the hills, while the wounded Allen hid out in the Hillsville Hotel. All involved in the shooting were apprehended, including two who were captured in Des Moines, Iowa, six months later.
On May 18, 1912, after a brief trial in which he pled self-defense, Allen was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. His son Claude received the same sentence in July and four other family members also received prison sentences. Despite an outpouring of pleas to commute the sentences, Governor William Hodges Mann refused, but he did grant four reprieves, perhaps hoping that the Allens would confess to a conspiracy to murder and eliminate any doubt about their guilt.
The day before their scheduled execution, with the governor traveling to an out of state speaking engagement, a last effort was made to persuade Lieutenant Governor J. Taylor Ellyson to commute the sentences. Mann was informed of this and immediately returned to Richmond, whereupon the executions were carried out as scheduled on March 28, 1913. A progressive commitment to state authority and law and order had prevailed over old-style individualism. Years later, Governorsand . commuted the sentences of those members of the Allen family who were still in prison—the final chapter in the “Hillsville Massacre.”