Simpson History



Alexander Hamilton Simpson

The Simpson Brothers Shooting: A Murder Mystery in 1920s Gwinnett

from "The Heritage" a quarterly publication of the Gwinnett Historical Society

Reports of the Shooting by Deputy Sheriff Dowis,
of Joseph and Orion Simpson in 1922

In 1922, Joe and Orien Simpson were stopped by a deputy sheriff in Duluth, GA, who wanted to search their car for illegal whisky (during prohibition). Apparently, an argument began over the lack of the deputy's search warrant and the deputy's authority in that county. Deputy Dowis first shot Orion. Joseph was shot in the back as he turned to run. It was reported that no whisky was found in the car.

According to most reports, after the shootings, the deputy had the sheriff (who was reported to be running moonshine, himself) backdate official credentials by three days. That was supposed to cover him from jurisdictional issues in that county at the time of the shootings.

About nine months after Dowis was released from jail, his wife had a baby. The next week, he was plowing in a field and was killed by a shotgun blast.

A black man was arrested for his murder, but he was later released. Most of the information came from old newspapers and the transcript of the trial.

Dowis Update April 16, 2002

Thank you so much for posting the information regarding the saga of the Dowis murders. I among others have done extensive research on the Dowis family and I can offer the following information:

Deputy "Vic" John Victor Dowis was the second child of 19 of William Calvin Dowis and Hannah Jane Burdette. Both are buried at a "Baptist cemetery at Duluth, Ga.

I interviewed Vic's baby sister, Hannah Lola Dowis Teague two years ago at her home in Milledgeville and have a tape recording of that interview. Wherein she stated she heard the shots when Vic was killed. She was a little girl of about 7 when this happened.

Vic was a Deputy and his cousin was the Sheriff. She did not name the Simpson's but she said that they were known bootleggers as that was a way of life back then. She remembers Vic's older brother, Solomon and his next younger brother Ferdinand bringing Vic's body back to the house. She did not say anything about Vic shooting the Simpson boys, just that he arrested two bootleggers but had to turn them loose cause he found no whiskey.

Reportedly, Vic was fishing down by the river alone and he was ambushed and shot by two men who were never caught. How it is known that there were two, we'll never know. You know how legends grow. But Vic was in fact, killed. His also is buried at Duluth.

Thanks much
Bob Dowis

Important Update from Ralph Simpson
December 12, 2002

I just read the articles in your web site regarding the Simpson brothers' murder in 1922. I was flabbergasted to see this story in print because it was almost exactly the story I heard from my father many years ago but did  not know how much was legend vs. reality. I may even be able to solve the 80 year old mystery of Sheriff Dowis' murder a year later. So, here is my story....

My name is Ralph Henry Simpson, and my father was Alexander Hamilton Simpson, Jr. Alexander Hamilton Simpson Sr. is the young boy in the upper left corner of your picture. Both my father and grandfather have passed away. My father was the youngest of 8 children and was born on Dec. 15, 1925. He tells me he was never told anything about this story until he was a grown man and his oldest brother passed along this family secret. My father never confronted his father about this, so the story line is a bit hazy, but I will pass along what I was told about 20 years ago.

I was told my grandfather's brothers were murdered by a "part-time deputy sheriff, part-time farmer", one of them shot in the back as he tried to escape. They were drunk and disorderly and may have gotten into an argument with the sheriff, but did not deserve to be shot.  The sheriff was arrested but got away with the crime since he was a sheriff and this was 1922. (so far the story closely matches the story in your web site, so I am encouraged that the rest of the story may also be true).  The only differences I can see from your web site is that I was told the Simpson boys were in a horse and buggy (not a car) and that they were stopped for being drunk, not for bootlegging. My father did admit that his father was a bootlegger.

After the Sheriff got away with the murders, my grandfather plotted his revenge. He waited until there was a time of year that there were several hired hands working in his fields. He then went to the Sheriff's farm and waited in the woods as the Sheriff plowed his field. My grandfather positioned himself in the woods aligned with the row the Sheriff was plowing and as he came to the end of the row, shot him. He then fled to his farm and told his hired hands to tell the police that he was at his farm all day working in the fields.

The police did come and the hired hands gave my father the alibi he asked for. (This story matches Lynn's account of the Sheriff being shot in his field, but does not match Bob's account of the Sheriff fishing alone. There was also no mention of anyone assisting my grandfather in this crime, so I am not sure about the story of two men murdering the Sheriff). My grandfather was questioned by the police several times but was never charged with the crime.

I was also told that my grandfather was then blackmailed for many years and died penniless. My father was given his first gun (a shotgun) when he was 10 and was told by his father that the gun was "special" and to be sure to take care of it. My father says he still remembered that talk and it seemed strange to him and went beyond the normal "be careful" speech from a father to his son. At 10 years of age in a family of many older brothers, he had shot a gun many times but just never had one to call his own. After my father heard this family secret, he said the conversation with his father made sense if the shotgun he was given was the one used to kill the Sheriff.

Neither story on your web site mentions what kind of gun was used to kill the sheriff, but if it was a shotgun, my father's suspicion may be correct. My father was in the Army at this point and lost the shotgun in one of his many moves.

From Bob Dowis to Ralph Simpson
December 12, 2002

Boy, the world keeps getting smaller and smaller. Obviously this saga is very popular in both families. I have done extensive research on the Dowis family history and here is a portion of what I found regarding the incidents.

First let me introduce you to your cousin that lives in Tucker, Ga. Just north of Atlanta. He is the grandson of Thomas Simpson. Standing next to Alexander. His name is Claude Morton.

I have been to the courthouse at Lithonia, Ga. the county seat of Gwinnette County and read the entire transcript of the trial of Vic Dowis. Lynn's posting of the first 34 pages is accurate word for word. The Simpson boys were in fact, in a car. I believe it was a Ford. It had pull down shades. There is no mention of the Simpson boys being drunk or even disorderly until Vic insisted on searching the car. He had to wait until a warrant was sent for and received. It is believed that Orin was shot first and I think Joe tried to run and Vic shot him about 30 minutes later.

As you know Vic was arrested and tried for murder but acquitted. The story I uncovered from an interview with Lola, Vic's baby sister was that Vic was in fact down on the river plowing when he was shot. She did not mention any other people. She said she heard the shots and saw Vic's older brothers bring his body back to the house. She was 7 at the time. Vic is buried at the Baptist Church cemetery at Duluth, Ga. I have been there several times.

I want to express my sincerest appreciation for clearing up the killing of Vic. That's the first clue I have heard. An 80 year old tale cleared.

Thanks again Bob (Atlanta, Ga. 404-255-7515)

Further Update from Ralph Simpson
December 13, 2002

After sending you the emails yesterday and sending a copy to my mother and siblings, I got a call from my brother giving me additional tidbits about the Sheriff Dowis murder.

So now I believe the chronology is that my father told me this entire story based on information from his brother Paul, as I said in my previous emails. I recall my father telling me this around the time of my grandfather's death and now believe it was slightly before he died. The reason is that I have now learned that my grandfather gave a deathbed confession which slightly alters my original story. This was relayed to me by my brother today. He confirmed that the Simpson brothers were driving a car, not a horse and buggy. Other details emerged that my father did not tell me, since he probably only had his brother's story before his father's confession.

Alexander Hamilton Simpson Sr. gave his deathbed confession to his sons Paul, Weyman, and Alexander Jr. There were also 2 other women present, but my brother couldn't remember if they were Alex Sr.'s daughters or daughters-in-law. Alex Sr. gave a similar story as I relayed yesterday but with additional details. There may have been some hired hands at the Simpson house on the day of the Dowis murder, but there was also a family gathering that day.  Alex Sr. received a telephone call and he immediately left the house with a double-barreled shotgun. He did not say who the call was from but since there was a family gathering, the implication was this call came from a friend, not family.

He went to the Dowis farm and hid behind a fence at the end of a field that Vic Dowis was plowing. The fence was covered in some vegetation and Alexander knew that Vic would be plowing straight toward him. He had to wait for 10-15 minutes for Vic to get around the field to reach him. Vic was plowing with a mule and as he approached the fence, my grandfather shot him with both barrels almost simultaneously. He was a very short distance away, as in a few feet. He said his intent was to blow his head off, but he did not say if he was successful. He then went back to the family gathering at his house. The entire episode was completed in 30-45 minutes.

Before today, my brother never told anyone this story and it very closely matches my original. I did not know of the confession and my father never said anything to me about it. So the essential elements are the same, my brother added some details I did not know, and I believe I know why the discrepancies happened. The story I heard was from my father via Paul, the story my brother heard was from my father via the deathbed confession of my grandfather.

Please keep me updated if you have any other information on this case.

Ralph Simpson's conversation with Weyman Penn Simpson

Weyman was only 2 years old when his father murdered Vic Dowis, and was told the story at the time of his mother's death in 1958. His father told this story to Paul, Weyman, Alex Jr., and Herbert. Some new and interesting information came from this discussion. The Simpson farm was on Pleasant Hill Road in Duluth.  Some of the land was given to the Church and cemetery which stands there today. Weyman remembers plowing that land.

The story of the phone call to Alex Sr. just before he left the house is wrong because they did not have a phone in 1923 and, in fact, did not have a phone when they left that house to move to south Georgia in 1936. He remembers the Dowis farm as being about 6-7 miles away. Weyman also says that Dr. O. O. Simpson (Alex Sr.'s uncle) was very upset with the innocent verdict for sheriff Dowis and on the courthouse steps offered $10,000 to anyone who would kill Vic Dowis (this was a fortune in 1922).

Apparently, Alex Sr. did collect this money after killing Vic. Dr. O. O. Simpson was considered wealthy and owned a car which he had a problem driving. One day to stop the car he tried to pull up on the wheel as if driving a horse and buggy, and the car didn't stop. Instead it went into a field and that was the last he drove his car, which sat in a shed and was never driven again. The chickens roosted on this car and he called it the most expensive chicken coop in Georgia.

Vic Dowis moved to Kentucky shortly after the verdict to escape the threats to his life, but returned about 6 months later. He had a wife and 3 children in Duluth and did not want to live a life on the run. The day of his death, he went to plow the fields near the Chattahoochee River. He told his mother it would be a good time to plant some pumpkin there, but he doubted if he would be around to eat any pumpkin pie. There were several attempts on his life and he was usually protected by his father or some brothers. This time he went to plow the field alone.

Alex. Sr. killed Vic with 2 shotgun blasts at short range to the head. Alex claimed that neither shot missed. When the sheriff arrived to investigate the murder, he followed some footprints to the river. The footprints went into the river and he stated that there was no way to follow them from there.

Tape recorded interview between Bob Dowis and Lola Dowis (sister of Vic Dowis)

An "ear witness" to this murder was the sister of Vic, Lola Dowis, who was the last of 19 children of William Calvin Dowis. She was seven years old at the time and recounted the murder in 2001 to a relative, Bob Dowis. She passed away later that year. I have a copy of the tape recording of that conversation. She verified that there were several previous attempts on Vic's life and that he was being protected by the family.

Lola says that she heard 2 gunshots go off in the field where Vic was plowing and that two of her brothers went into the car to check into the situation. Her mother, fearing the worst, told her to go upstairs to her back bedroom and remain there until she was called for.

Lola instead went upstairs and stood on the front balcony and saw her brothers carry in her very bloodied and lifeless brother. Her voice was shaking at this re-telling of the story almost 80 years later. She says that after that experience, she followed her mother's instructions exactly for many years.

Dowis Family 1919
Pictures courtesy of Bob Dowis

Solomon Franklin, Ferdinand Fenton
John Victor, William Herbert


Solomon, Frances Freeman (1st wife), John Victor, Burdette, Ferdinand, Susie, William Herbert
Carrie Belle, Olice, William Calvin, Hanna Lola, Hanna Jane, Mary Mae


William C. "W. C." DOWIS was born on 13 Jan 1861 in Fulton County, Georgia. He died on 8 Jun 1933 in Fulton County, Georgia. He was buried in Baptist Cemetery, Duluth, Georgia. He was married to Hannah Jane BURDETT on 17 Jul 1890. Hannah Jane BURDETT was born on 26 Feb 1875. She died on 9 May 1927. She was buried in Baptist Cemetery, Duluth, Georgia.  William C. "W. C." DOWIS and Hannah Jane BURDETT had the following children:

i. Solomon Franklin DOWIS was born on 19 May 1891. He died on 4 Nov 1967. He was buried in Westview Cemetery, Atlanta, GA
ii. John Victor DOWIS was born on 8 Aug 1892. He died on 5 May 1923. He was buried in Duluth, GA
iii. Ferdinand Fenton DOWIS was born on 22 Aug 1893. He died on 19 Mar 1958. He was buried in Gwinnett County, GA
iv. Susie Beatrice DOWIS was born on 21 Oct 1894. She died on 8 Nov 1894. She was buried in Mount Paran Cemetery, Atlanta, GA
v. William Herbert "Hub" DOWIS
vi. Carrie Belle DOWIS was born on 13 Apr 1897. She died on 27 Jun 1984. She was buried in Duluth, GA
vii. Seaborn Everett DOWIS was born on 23 May 1898. He died on 2 Sep 1898. He was buried in Mount Paran Cemetery, Atlanta, GA
viii. Ezra B. DOWIS was born on 18 Jan 1900. She died on 9 Jun 1900. She was buried in Mount Paran Cemetery, Atlanta, GA
ix. Alice Vivian DOWIS was born on 15 Oct 1901. She died on 11 Feb 1967. She was buried in Bon-A-Venture Cemetery, Savannah, GA
x. Olice Bonnie DOWIS was born on 16 Jan 1903. She died on 14 Aug 1968. She was buried in Columbus, GA
xi. Ruth Pauline DOWIS was born on 8 Feb 1905. She died on 5 Apr 1953. She was buried in Cairo, GA
xii. Jettie Lee DOWIS (Private).
xiii. Curtis Edward DOWIS was born on 7 Dec 1908. He died on 17 Jan 1978. He was buried in Duluth, GA
xiv. Bertha DOWIS was born on 31 Aug 1910. She died on 17 Nov 1910. She was buried in Duluth, GA
xv. Burdette DOWIS was born on 31 Aug 1910. She died on 17 Nov 1910. She was buried in Duluth, GA
xvi. Mary Mae DOWIS was born on 23 Sep 1912. She died on 25 Jan 1991.
xvii. James Calvin DOWIS was born on 13 Sep 1914. He died on 21 Dec 1914. He was buried in Duluth, GA
xviii. Hannah Lola DOWIS

Newspaper Articles contributed by Delicia Reynolds

Gwinnett Journal

Lawrenceville, Georgia
Saturday, February 22, 1922
Page 1


Deputy Sheriff Claims Joe and Orin Simpson Attacked Him and He Shot in Self Defense.

Duluth, Ga. February 20. - Joe Simpson and Orin Simpson, brothers, prominent farmers of this county, were shot and killed this afternoon by Deputy Sheriff Victor Dowis, when they refused to allow the officer to search their automobile for whiskey. Dowis surrendered to the sheriff in Lawrenceville tonight. After the shooting, the automobile was searched and no liquor was found. Orin Simpson was killed instantly, while his brother died two hours later. Just before he died, he is said to have made a statement denying that any whiskey was in the car and accusing Dowis of murder.

Dowis received information this afternoon, it was stated, that someone was loading whiskey into an automobile just outside the corporate limits of Duluth, and was requested to make a search. Proceeding to the place, he found the automobile of the Simpson brothers and attempted to search it.

Object to Search.

The two brothers are said to have refused permission to make the search unless a proper warrant was produced, witnesses stated, and Dowis sent to Duluth for a warrant. When he presented his warrant, the Simpson brothers asserted that it was not the proper paper authorizing a search of the automobile.

Dowis then attempted to proceed with his search, eye-witnesses stated, and the two farmers objected, forcing the officer from the automobile. Dowis drew his pistol and started shooting, it was asserted, killing Orin Simpson instantly and fatally wounding Joe Simpson.

Meets Sheriff.

There was no one in Duluth to arrest the deputy sheriff and the sheriff was summoned from Lawrenceville. In the meanwhile, Dowis left Duluth and met the sheriff en route to the town, and surrendered. The two dead men were prominently connected throughout this immediate section of the state and were considered wealthy. They were related to Dr. O. O. Simpson, of Norcross, who has represented Gwinnett county in the state legislature several terms.

Both were married. Joe Simpson is survived by his widow and three children, while his brother leaves a widow. Both reside near this city. Relatives of the men tonight declared that they would charge Dowis with murder and prosecute the case to the finish.

Dowis Says He Shot in Self Defense.

After a conference with Deputy Sheriff Victor Dowis, who is held in jail here following the killing of Joe Simpson and Orin Simpson near Duluth yesterday, Senator O. A. Nix, attorney for the officer, issued a statement tonight to the effect that Dowis had shot in self defense, and that both of his alleged assailants were partially intoxicated at the time of shooting.

"Mr. Dowis, who is marshal at Duluth, as well as deputy sheriff, was requested to search the Simpson automobile by a citizen of the county," said Senator Nix. "When he approached the car, he was denied permission. He then sent back to town for a warrant, and when it arrived started to make the search for the liquor. "Both of the men had been drinking - one was half drunk - and attacked Mr. Dowis, according to his statement and those of eye witnesses with whom I have talked. One of the Simpson brothers struck him over the head with an automobile wrench and he then pulled his pistol and shot in self protection.

"No formal warrant charging Mr. Dowis with murder has yet been issued, so far as we know. After the shooting the officer called the sheriff over long distance and told him of the affair and that he was coming to Lawrenceville to surrender. He was met while en route by the sheriff. I will ask for bail for the officer within the next day or so," he said.

The deputy sheriff is a brother of Rev. Solomon Dowis, pastor of the Baptist church at Duluth; F. F. Dowis, cashier of the Bank of Suwanee; and W. H. Dowis, a member of the G. M. C. faculty. He is married and has three children.

[This article also appeared verbatim on front page of the Atlanta Constitution Tuesday February 21, 1922.

Atlanta Constitution

February 24, 1922

Page 14


Deputy Sheriff Victor Dowis, lodged since last Monday in the Gwinnett county jail at Lawrenceville, charged with having shot and killed Joe and Orin Simpson, brothers, of that county, Monday afternoon, was brought by officers to the Fulton county Tower for safekeeping just before midnight Thursday. It is alleged that the deputy opened fire on the brothers in their automobile when they resisted his attempt to search the car for whisky. The killing occurred near Duluth, Ga. Deputies who accompanied the prisoner to the Tower would make no statement and Dowis would not talk.

Gwinnett Journal

Lawrenceville, Georgia
Saturday, February 25, 1922
Page 1


Funeral services over the remains of Joe and Orin Simpson, who were shot by Deputy Victor Dowis during a search of their aumobile for whisky Monday afternoon at 4:30 on the Duluth road, were held Wednesday at 4:30 at Mr. Carmel.

The young men were sons of Mr. Joesph H. and Mrs. Naomi Moon Simpson, deceased, and were farmers residing near Cruce's Store. Joseph H. Simpson was 32 years of age and is said to have borne an excellent reputation. He married Miss Ella Corley and is the father of three small children. Oliver O. Simpson married Miss Pearl Paden, was 25 years of age and served in the world war.

A large ? of people assembled to pay the last and tribute of respect to the young men. It is estimated that there were between two and three thousand people at the funeral.

Services were conducted by Rev. Walker Davis.

Ode to Joe and Orien Simpson
Email from Wanda Snyder (7/13/03)

Find attached a transcription of a song written about the murder of Joseph Harrison Simpson (Joe) and Oliver Orien Simpson (Orien). I had been looking for a copy for years. A cousin (Reba Mays Paden) found a typed copy in an old scrapbook that a relative had borrowed from someone else. I have no idea what the tune was, but another cousin remembers it being sung by her aunt.

A neighbor and friend of the Simpson's, John A Casey, wrote the song (date unknown). A niece of Mr. Casey said that he wasn't a teacher, but had a lovely voice and taught singing during the summer to the pupils at Pleasant Hill School. This school was located near the current intersection of I-85 and Pleasant Hill Road, Gwinnett Co., GA. Mr. Casey served in the Army during WW1 (as did Orien), and later moved to Fulton Co., GA.

Ode to Joe and Orien Simpson

Joe and Olan Simpson
the boys are dead and gone.
The slayer was Vick Douse,
he was free from harm.

It was on a Monday evening,
the boys had started home.
When the car ran out of gasoline,
and the preacher came along.

He had started with the children
to a tennis game of ball.
He stopped and called his brother, Vick,
and that was what caused it all.

He drove up beside them,
smoking his cheap cigar.
He said, "Stand around you Simpson boys,
I am bound to search your car".

He pulled out his pistol
and shot both boys dead.
And turned to Bill McGee,
"Are you my friend?" he said.

There was a very slender guy,
Greshum was his name.
For a living he ran a shoe shop
but bankrupt was his game.

The judge passed the jury,
you bet he ever failed.
But how his heart will quiver
when he meets Vick Douse in Hell.

John A. Casey

The Simpson Brothers Shooting:
A Murder Mystery in 1920s Gwinnett

Written by Gene Ramsey
Contributed by Wanda Snyder

Reprinted from The Heritage, the Gwinnett Historical Society












Contributed by Wanda Snyder

32.  ALEXANDER HAMILTON8 SIMPSON, SR. (WILLIAM PENN7, WILLIAM RANDOLPH6, JOHN5, GEORGE4, GEORGE3, RICHARD2, JOHN1)266 was born 11 Nov 1882 in Milton (now Fulton) Co., GA, and died 13 Feb 1974 in Colquitt Co., GA.  He married EMMA JANE YOUNGBLOOD266 02 Sep 1905 in Etowah Co., AL266, daughter of ROBERT YOUNGBLOOD and MARY HAYNIE.  She was born 04 Oct 1886 in Gwinnett Co., GA, and died 22 Oct 1958 in Bay Co., FL.


1920 Census -

Martin's District.  A.H. Simpson, Emma (wife), Paul (son), Herbert (son), Lila (dau)


Burial: Oak Grove Cemetery, Moultrie, GA

Census 1: 1920, Martin's District, Gwinnett Co., Georgia267

Census 2: 1910, Pinkneyville Dist. #406  p.89 Gwinnett Co. Tax Digests - Gwinnett Historial Society


Burial: Oak Grove Cemetery, Moultrie, GA


    i.          BLANCHE9 SIMPSON268, b. 02 May 1906, Etowah County, Alabama; d. 20 Feb 1917, Gwinnett Co., Georgia.


Burial: Unknown, Mt Carmel Meth, Gwinnett Co., GA

    ii.          PAUL JOHN SIMPSON, b. 02 Dec 1908, Gwinnett Co., GA; d. 18 Mar 1996, Troup Co., GA.

    iii.         HERBERT POWELL SIMPSON268, b. 14 Nov 1912, Gwinnett Co., GA; d. 24 Nov 1963, Colquitt Co., GA.

    iv.         LILA LAURA SIMPSON268, b. 26 Dec 1917, Gwinnett Co., Georgia; d. Jul 1937, Texas.

    v.         WEYMAN PENN SIMPSON, b. Private.

    vi.         NONA ALICE SIMPSON, b. Private.

    vii.        ALEXANDER HAMILTON SIMPSON, JR.268, b. 15 Dec 1925, Gwinnett Co., Georgia; d. 5 Oct 1992, Muscogee County,                             Georgia           (burial 10/5/1992)

    viii.       CORA JANICE SIMPSON, b. Private.

The following 219 pages are the exact trial transcripts...
Courtesy of Delicia Reynolds



The Old Gwinnett County Courthouse, built 1885



The State of Georgia Vs. VICK DOWIS

Indictment for Murder.

Gwinnett Superior Court.

September Term 1922.

Verdict of not Guilty.


Before his Honor, Judge Blanton Fortson, and a Jury:


For the State:

W. O. Dean, Solicitor General W.C.;

Mess. W. A. Charters, D. K. Johnson, M. D. Irwin and R. N. Holt.

For the Defendant:

Judge I. L. Oakes, Hon. O.A. Nix and Mess. Kelley & Kelley.

1. F. M. Moore,
2. J. F. Despain,
3. H. T. Bailey,
4. M. W. Corbin,
5. S. N. Edmonds,
6. W. R. Wages,
7. W. H. Malbie,
8. C. M. Bailey,
9. P. L. Keown,
10. E. L. Gresham,
11. W. H. Bowman,
12. W. O. Weathers.

Click here to see the 219 pages of trial transcripts

WWI Draft Registration Card

Contributed by Wanda Snyder World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards,

1917-18 [database online] Provo, UT:, 2002.

National Archives and Records Administration. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards,

1917-1918. M1509, 20,243 rolls. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration.



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