Main Street Murder

a murder on main street

On the morning of Saturday July 8th, 1905 there was a murder on Main Street. J.E. Fowler shot and killed Dr. E.W. Ridings in cold blood right in the middle of the street in downtown Dickson.

At first it was unclear what exactly had happened, but as the dust began to settle, more details about the incident began to emerge. Apparently there had been some issues between the two men for a long time.

Fowler, who lived in West Dickson, had come to town that morning as he usually did. According to people who ran into him the morning of the shooting, he did not appear to act strange at all, he seemed to be having a normal day.

Dr. E.W. Ridings

He sat down near the entrance to Dr. Ridings office on Main Street and waited on the doctor to arrive. After some time, Fowler saw Ridings approaching from across the street. When Dr. Ridings got about 30 feet away, Fowler calmly stated...“You have ruined my home, you will die like a dog.” He then proceeded to shoot Dr. Ridings at least 7 times with a 32 caliber colt pistol. Ridings fell to the ground. While on the ground in pain, he proclaimed his innocence by making a statement to several witnesses.

Fowler, who appeared calm and collected, reloaded his gun and patiently waited for the police. He surrendered himself to the authorities when they arrived. Fowler was immediately taken into custody.

Dr. Ridings appeared to know he was going to die. From his deathbed, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong and that he was shot for no reason.

Dr. Ridings was an alderman and very well liked. The deputy sheriff, afraid that tensions would be high on Main Street after the shooting, decided to transport Fowler to Nashville to be held in the Davidson County jail.

Fowler was charged with first degree murder after Dr. Ridings died of his injuries late Saturday night. It was unclear at the time exactly why Fowler would have done this, but he didn’t seem to be denying the charges.

The shooting was big news all across Middle Tennessee. Dr. Ridings funeral was one of the largest the town of Dickson had ever seen. He was a native of Humphreys County, but he had moved to Dickson and become one of the town's most popular citizens. He was a physician and surgeon who had graduated from the University of Nashville. He was 36 years old when he died, leaving behind a wife and a child.

Dr. Ridings had made his home in Dickson and his house was one of the most beautiful in town. It still stands today. It is the core of the Dickson Funeral Home. It has undergone several additions and extensive remodeling over the years, but the original walls are still there, deep inside the building.

Fowler was also well known in Dickson. He had been living in the area for 10-12 years before the incident occured. He moved to Tennessee after living in Chicago and seemed to like living in Dickson. He was a carpenter and skilled machinist who worked at a local business. He had a good reputation as a hard worker.

Fowler spoke to local reporters a few days after the incident while still in a Nashville jail. He appeared very composed for a man who had been involved in a tragedy only 24 hours before. He acknowledged that a man in his position shouldn’t say much, but wanted to set the record straight.

He admitted to the shooting and insisted that everyone in Dickson knew why he did it. Fowler stated that he believed his wife and Dr. Ridings had an inappropriate relationship going back two years, and he had warned Dr. Ridings, but he wouldn’t stay away.

Fowler explained that he didn’t want to hurt anyone else, and he was very careful to shoot Dr. Ridings at a time when Main Street wouldn’t be very busy.

Fowler stated that he never tried to run and he never feared a mob because he thought everyone knew why he shot Dr. Ridings and he figured they’d be on his side.

Fowler didn’t say anything else. He felt as if he had explained everything adequately. He expressed a desire to be returned to Dickson. He said he wanted to make bail and be released.

But the story takes a tragic turn from there. A few months later, the local newspapers reported that early in the morning on September 27, 1905, J.E. Fowler had committed suicide “with a handkerchief” in the Dickson County jail in Charlotte.

The story had finally came to a dramatic end, but it left a lot of people wondering… what really happened?