A Search for Answers: Where Lies Farris and Does He Deserve a Flag?

April 29, 2024

Harry Edwar Farris Born September 13, 1915 Died October 15, 1943 He was a Soldier of Democracy, Inset RTD

On Friday April 26, 2024, as part of my work with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Tribute Project I set out to visit the grave of Harry Farris in North Henrico, VA. I located the cemetery easily but my search for his grave proved a bit more complicated. I had the section he is buried in, but rather less precise information on the exact grave site.

I arrived, parked, and went to the approximate location I had plotted on my map. After walking Section 4 for more than an hour, I decided I needed more information. Thankfully, Forrest Lawn Cemetery is active, and they have an office on site. The gentleman manning the desk looked up Farris in a card catalog. He provided two maps, one of the entire cemetery and one identifying the graves in Section 4. With the location circled on the map, I returned to Section 4, compared the map to the physical ground, and arrived at the identified site. Again, no grave. I walked back to the other end and retraced my earlier steps checking each marker. Finally, I got to the last marker in the section, about 30 feet from the site identified on the map, I located Harry Farris’s final resting spot.

I placed a flower from my wife’s garden on the marker but was torn for a moment about placing the flag. Farris was executed for murder, did he still deserved to be honored? It was a tough decision. I finally decided that he should be recognized for what he did right in his life not just what he did wrong. I placed a Republican flag alongside the flower, snapped a few photos, and head back to my car. Having walked through the shadow of death, I silently wished him to rest in peace.

Harry Edward Farris was the oldest of five children born to Harry O. Farris and the former Daisy Bell Townsend. Harry was born on September 13, 1915, in Rockport, Missouri and came of age during the Depression. He worked a variety of hospitality jobs. Farris married Gertrude May Hunt (1920-1975) and had a daughter Marilyn Martha Farris (1936-1985) before leaving for Spain.[1]

Farris arrived in Spain in July 1937. After training he was assigned to the XVth Brigade scouts. Farris later served as a brigade armorer before being transferred to the Lincoln-Washington Battalion. He returned to the US on December 20, 1938 aboard the Ausonia. Records indicate that in 1939 he was likely still married to Gertrude in 1939 but they soon divorced.[2] In October 1940, Farris was working for a traveling show as a Ferris Wheel operator, a job he may have held prior to going to Spain.[3]

Farris joined the US Army Medical Services sometime after 1940.[4] By 1942 he was stationed at the Richmond Army Airfield (now Richmond International Airport) and held the rank of Corporal.

Farris went AWOL in June 1942. He began keeping compony with two women with long criminal records that included attempted murder: Violet Merryman (1905 – 1988) and Emma Dooms (1916 – 1989). The women appear to have first met while incarcerated in the Virginia Prison for Women in Goochland, County.

The summer of 1942 was sweltering and nights offered little respite from the heat. Farris, Merryman, and Dooms sought relief in bars and dance halls that thrived outside City of Richmond boundaries.

The three plotted to finance “liquor, gasoline and a general good time” at the expense of single men whom they suspected of having cash. The threesome’s plan consisted luring a man to take a seat at their table, inviting him to join them at a dance hall, then stopping in a secluded spot, knocking him out and stealing his cash. They tried to pick individuals who would not “squawk”[5]

Having had some success with their plan but fearing their victims might identify them, the trio elected to kill their prey instead. In line with this plan, they robbed and murdered two men: Frank Harvey on July 17, 1942, and Vinicio Bichi two days later. In both cases the men were enticed in the same manner as their earlier victims but instead of leaving them unconscious Farris, Merryman, and Dooms slit their victim’s throats.

During the second murderous assault, a man in the neighborhood, Alonzo Brown heard Bichi’s cry and ran to him. Farris told Brown to leave or he would also be killed. The witness retreated but came forward to describe Bichi’s attackers after police arrived. Brown’s witness account led the police to Farris, Merryman, and Dooms.

Police arrested the trio at Dooms’s apartment. Farris was charged with first-degree murder along with the lesser charge of larceny. He pled not guilty and was defended admirably by L. Gleason Gianniny, a court-appointed attorney. Farris was convicted on the testimony of Dooms who sought leniency providing state’s evidence blaming Merryman and Farris for the killings. Despite filing six appeals Gianniny was unable to sway the court or governor to amend the verdict. Farris was sentenced to death by electrocution and was executed on October 15, 1943. His lawyer collected funds to purchase a plot for Farris in Forrest Hill Cemetery.

Merryman and Dooms were convicted for the murder and robbery of Harvey and Binichi. Dooms received little leniency from the court for testifying against her co-conspirators. After serving most of her sentence, Dooms’s mental health declined and she was transferred to a mental hospital. Merryman was one of the longest serving prisoners in the state of Virginia. She obtained parole when she was 66.

Gianniny recalled after Farris’s death that “I believed him when he said he did not remember the week of crime when Bichi was killed. However, he was the strangest man I have ever known.”[6] His attorney also said Farris told him that his ex-wife was now married to a friend who had also served in Spain and they were raising his daughter.[7]

If you have an interest in finding and visiting the graves of any of the veterans you can find information on the known graves around the country.  If you choose to visit please download a Spanish republican flag and leave it along with a flower on the grave. Please take a photograph and share it on social media. Please send a copy to ALB Tribute as well. Lists can be found on the ALB Tribute sites on Facebook and WordPress.


[1] Ancestry.com indicates a potential second marriage for Farris. In 1940 a Harry Edward Farris, age 22, widowed married Peggy Carson Miller, age 22.  Farris is indicated to be a US Navy sailor assigned to the USS Charleston. His father is listed as Harry Farris and his mother’s maiden name is listed as Clara Mary ____ (unknown maiden name).  Eight years later Peggy Farris filed for divorce citing abandonment in 1942. The divorce was uncontested, no children were involved, nor alimony payments assigned.  Based on the age listed and the difference in mother’s maiden name it is likely that this was not the same Farris.

[2] In the 1939 Omaha, Nebraska city directory Farris and his wife are listed as “Farris, Harry E. (Gertrude) emp Smart Spot h2112 Chicago.” Ancestry.com.

[3] Holter, Em. “Richmond’s Femme Fatale: City’s First Female Serial Killer or Chance Accomplice?” Richmond Times Dispatch, October 1, 2023, Archive Edition. Indicates that Farris had known Merryman before Spain.

[4] Draft Card dated October 16, 1940, notes he was working for Bud Nelson , Parsons Kansas Traveling Shows. His mother Mrs. Daisy Bell Pike was listed as the person who would always know his address. Ancestry.com.

[5] Richardson, Selden. Richmond Murder and Mayhem, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia The History Press, 2023, 98. Chapter 8 covers the criminal rampage

[6] Richardson, 106.

[7] Farris death certificate lists Gertrude Glickman as his ex-wife. Ancestry.com. Her husband is most likely Herman Louis Glickman (1914-1980) whose real name was I. J. Falader. Glickman served in the John Brown Battery in Spain so it is not clear when the two men met. It may have been post-Spain.  I have not been able to find any documentation that Gertrude Farris actually married Glickman. Glickman married Bernice Fingerman on January 28, 1946, Bronx, New York.


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