Who was buried behind Highland Cotton Mill in 1952?

Mar. 4—EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the first story in a two-part High Point Confidential series.


A murderer he was not.

Or was he?

By the time he was 20, Ray Hilton Jessup had quite a rap sheet — auto theft, breaking and entering, larceny, assault with a deadly weapon — and even at that young age, he had developed a reputation as a prison escape artist. But nowhere on Jessup’s rap sheet was there any suggestion the young, habitual convict might be a murderer.

That changed in the fall of 1953, when Jessup — a Guilford County native whose criminal exploits were well known to High Point police — confessed to the September 1952 slaying of a young female dope dealer in the city, after a drug deal with the woman had gone bad.

Apparently riddled with guilt, Jessup made his confession while locked up in solitary confinement at Craggy Prison Camp in Buncombe County, where he was serving time for assault and a previous prison escape. Detail by grim detail, Jessup gave prison officials a hair-raising account of the killing, which he said had been troubling his conscience for more than a year.

According to Jessup’s confession, he had come to High Point in September 1952 with a traveling carnival. He met a young dope dealer from Chicago and gave her $35 to buy some drugs for a friend of his, a dope addict, but the woman took the money and disappeared.

Several nights later, Jessup said, he happened upon the woman in a cafe on English Street, and lured her into his car to go for a ride. They drove to a secluded spot off the old Greensboro Highway, where Jessup stopped the car, accused the woman of fleecing him, and slapped her.

She promptly slapped him back.

This so enraged Jessup, he told authorities, that he began choking the woman, until she slumped in the front seat beside him. He thought the woman had merely passed out, but after driving her back to town, he discovered she was dead, and he panicked.

“I couldn’t face the music,” Jessup told prison officials.

Frantic to dispose of the woman’s body, Jessup continued, he drove to the Highland Cotton Mill property. Behind the mill, in a thickly overgrown area, Jessup used tire tools from his trunk to dig a shallow grave and bury the woman. It took him nearly three hours. Then he skipped town.

Jessup added that he could not remember his victim’s name, but he was able to describe her.

Naturally, when High Point police learned of Jessup’s confession, Chief CC Stoker had the inmate transferred to Guilford County so he could be questioned and, presumably, charged with the woman’s murder. Also, the police needed Jessup in town so he could point them to the grave site behind the mill.

“‘Behind the mill’ covers a lot of ground,” Stoker told The High Point Enterprise. “It would be useless to dig for the body (without Jessup’s guidance).”

Meanwhile, police searched their records from September 1952 to see if there were any reports of a missing person. They found none, but that wasn’t necessarily a red flag. It wasn’t that far-fetched to think that a missing drug dealer from Chicago might go unreported in little ol’ High Point.

Jessup arrived back in High Point on Oct. 6, and officers began interrogating him about his murder confession. The convict repeated his story and agreed to take officers to the spot where he had buried his victim.

That must’ve made for quite a scene out behind Highland Cotton Mill that fall day, as officers spent most of the afternoon digging for the remains of a murder victim … a murder victim who wasn’t there.

When Jessup and the excavation team failed to find the woman’s remains, police became suspicious of a hoax and began grilling the convict again the next morning. After about three hours, Jessup finally broke down and confessed, “I made up the whole thing.”

His explanation was that he had been mistreated at Craggy Prison Camp — guards wouldn’t even let him write to his mother, he said — so he concocted the murder story to get himself transferred to High Point, where his mother lived, so he could get word to her to find him an attorney.

“There isn’t one word of truth in it,” Jessup told police in the presence of a High Point Enterprise reporter, “but it was a pretty good story, wasn’t it?”

Indeed, it was — so good, in fact, that The Enterprise described Jessup as a “prevaricator extraordinaire.”

Which made us wonder … with Jessup’s life of crime, his reputation as an escape artist, and his obvious lying skills, whatever became of High Point’s notorious pseudo-killer?

jtomlin@hpenews.com — 336-888-3579

EDITOR’S NOTE: Part two of “The Pseudo-Killer” will be published in Tuesday’s High Point Enterprise.

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