All Souls’ Day: In Articulo Mortis

Emma Johnekin testified in articulo mortis on 7 March 1949 to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s J.E. Jones, who, in turn testified against Marion during the July Term, 1949 The State vs. Marion W. Stembridge. Through Jones, Emma spoke although she was dead.

Some people are afraid of ghosts; some people aren’t. This writer is fond of ghosts and the dead especially since the dead can speak long after they’ve crossed over. I don’t mean in a haunted house kind of way. To some, ghosts exist. When the dead speak, it’s often not in whispers. Ghosts can be loud. They can echo for centuries, and I’ve known one to bawl for months until his voice faded. Communication doesn’t always need to be spoken. Legally, as in law documents, legal records, and courts, the crucial moment when the dead speak is called in articulo mortis. Medically, it’s “at the moment of death.” Legally, people can marry in articulo mortis, spending brief moments in living matrimony before one dies, or both. The line between the living and the dead is thin. Some commune with the dead. Some appease the dead.


609 A.D.

Our most immediate yesterdays were Halloween and All Saints’ Day. Today is All Souls’ Day. In Mexico and many other places, it’s Día de (Los) Muertos or Day of the Dead. Many believe the liminal space between the living and the dead is thinner right now than on other days of the calendar. This liminal space is often called a veil—a thin cloth between the world of the living and the world of the dead. In these current days, the dead are said to be easier to reach, and the living are more attuned or more vulnerable–depending on one’s perspective. It all began with Samhain, which led the Holy Roman Catholic Church to create All Saints’ Day. In Fasti, Ovid suggests that it began with Lemuria (The Feast of Lemures), which is the supposed ancient holiday named Remuria. That holiday is Romulus attempting to appease his dead brother Remus. Both suckled from a she-wolf and created civilization as we know it when the brothers created Rome. Although pagan, there are effigies in Roman Catholic basilicas across Italia to the brothers. History and religion get complicated, very quickly.

[All Saints Day] formally started by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs on May 13 in 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Soul’s Day, which follows All Saints.

The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the pagan holiday ‘Feast of the Lamures.’ A day which pagans used to placate the restless spirits of the dead.

[All Saints Day] – the holy day was eventually established on November 13 by Pope Gregory III in the mid-eighteenth century as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics. The May 13 celebration was subsequently abandoned.

In Ireland, the Church celebrated All Saints Day on April 20, to avoid associating the day with the traditional harvest festivals and pagan feasts associated with Samhain, celebrated at the same time.

Sometimes ghosts are not easy to find, but sometimes they find you.

7 March 1949

J. E. Jones of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation goes to the hospital to talk with a very wounded Emma Johnekin, who although “oral evidence” from Baldwin Superior Court reports “18 years old” in 1949, is, in the 1940 Federal Census of Putnam County, GA listed as “7 years old”, which makes her 16 or 17 years old, depending on Emma’s birth month, when “oral evidence” was transcribed in adjacent Baldwin County, GA in July of 1949. This writer believes Emma was younger than reported in 1949. At the hospital, Jones notices wounds. He notices bullet holes in Emma’s right arm and abdomen. Jones notices a burn mark on her left backside and an abrasion on the right side of Emma’s head where she was hit. It’s reported that Emma’s aunt, Mary Jane Harrison, pulled Stembridge off of Emma; however, her wounds were mortal. Mary Jane will also be wounded severely, but Mary Jane Harrison will not die until 2004–having lived from 18 August 1904 to 27 February 2004. Mary Jane Harrison, Emma’s aunt, lived 100 years.

“Your name is Mr. J.E. Jones?”

“That is correct.” 

“Mr. Jones, are you with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations as an operator?”



“Did you talk to Emma Johnekin?”


“Did you look at her?” 


“How many wounds were on her, Mr. Jones?”

“I noticed three while I was there; there could have been more.”

“Show the jury on your body where they were?”

“There was one in the right arm.”

“Where did that one range that went in the arm?”

“I understand it went in throughthe elbow.”

Mr. Ennis: I object to what this witness understands.

BY THE COURT: Yes, I sustain the objection. 

(Witness continued) “There was a hole there. In my opinion the projectile did come out through that hole — might have been a stab or some other thing that caused that hole.” 

“Where was the other hoel?” 

“There was another one in the abdomen in this part of the body and then there was another burned mark on the back on the left side.” 

“Did you see her shoulder?”

“I did see it but I couldn’t swear which side of the body it was on.”

“Was there a bullet in that?”

“Yes, there was bullet hole in the shoulder.”

“What is this burned mark on her back — show on my back where it was?”

“There was burned mark on the left shoulder [g]oing down this way (illustrating on Solicitor), beginning about here and ending here. It seemed as it had been caused by a projectile from a pistol.”

“That was how many in all?”

“That was four, three that entered the body and one behind.” 

“Was this girl [Emma] concious that night?

“Yes, she was conscious.”

 “I wil ask you whether or not she realized the condition she was in as to the seriousness of her wounds?”

“Yes, she did.” 

“How do you know she did?” 

“Because I told her when I went into the room that the chief of police through the doctors had asked me to advise her that she was in a very serious condition and probably would not live.” 

Mr. Ennis: I object to what this witness told the deceased not in presence of the defendant and not part of the res gestae. I think the Solicitor should lay the proper foundation for what he is about to prove here now. 

BY THE COURT: I don’t think what the witness told the party in the investigation would be admissible. He can state if he can the facts that surrounded the making of this declaration but what he might have told her I don’t think would be admissible. 

“She had these four wounds on her you say then?” 


“Did she appear to be in pai[n]?”


The dead can speak as Emma did through J.E. Jones.


“All Saints’ Day.” Catholic Online. Accessed 1 Nov. 2016.

Diógenes ;). “Los Novios II (Día de Muertos).” flickr. 19 Sept. 2013. Accessed 2 Nov. 2016.

THE STATE v. Marion W. Stembridge. No. 3839, Criminal Docket F. Baldwin Superior Court. July Term, 1949. Transcript.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s