Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Velma Barfield

Stuart Taylor's Agony

Velma Barfield (Cindy Burnham/Fayetteville Observer-Times)
Velma Barfield
(Cindy Burnham/Fayetteville

Big, hulking, Stuart Taylor was happy as he drove his girlfriend, plump and bosomy 46-year-old Velma Barfield, to a revival meeting of the famous preacher Rex Humbard. Although Stuart was not extremely religious, he knew that his girlfriend was a devoutly pious Christian and she would love hearing the respected evangelist in person. Stuart was aware that there were contradictory aspects of Velma's personality. She was living out of wedlock with him, a move that had shocked her children. She also had a criminal record for forgery, a fact that Taylor had discovered by accident and led him to decide he did not want to legally marry her. However, as Christians say, it's a Fallen World and many people do not live up to their own ideals.

Fayetteville on N.C. map
Fayetteville on N.C. map

Both Stuart and Velma were crisply attired in their Sunday best as they settled into chairs at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The service had just begun when a wave of nausea rolled over Stuart. "I'm feeling sick," he whispered to Velma. "Maybe it's something I ate."

As Humbard preached, Stuart began feeling worse. Fierce pains gripped his stomach. "I've got to go to the truck and lie down," he told his sweetheart in a weak voice.

The 56-year-old farmer rushed out of the packed room and into the coolness of the evening air. He opened up his truck and lay down on a seat. The feelings inside him grew worse. He could hardly think as words were pushed out of his mind by sheer awful physical pain.

Still miserable with nausea when the meeting was finished and Velma got into the car with him, Stuart lay back and writhed in pain as she drove them home.

"Stop," he said at one point, his skin clammy with sweat.

She pulled over to the side of the road. A pale and sweaty Stuart stumbled out of the vehicle and vomited on the dirt.

At home, he was in too much pain to sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, Velma phoned his pregnant daughter, Alice Storms, to tell her of her father's disturbing condition. It was Alice's husband, Bill, who answered the phone. Velma apologized for waking him up but said she thought it important that Stuart's daughter know that he was frighteningly sick. Later, Alice phoned to ask Velma about Taylor's illness. They both concurred that it was probably just the flu.

Still later, Velma visited one of her boyfriend's best friends, a man named Sonny Johnson. "Stuart's sick and he wants to see you," an obviously distressed Velma told him.

Johnson rushed over to see his friends. He found an ashen-faced, weakened Stuart Taylor, lying in bed with a washbasin beside it to throw up in. "Could you take care of the pigs for me until I'm over the flu?" Stuart requested.

His friend assured him that he would.

Stuart's condition got worse. His chest, stomach and arms were all racked by pain and he vomited incessantly. He felt like he was on fire from inside.

The next day, Velma drove her terribly sick lover to the hospital. While the doctors examined and tried to treat the man, she discussed what she knew of his medical history. She was not well-informed about it but she knew he was a heavy drinker.

After answering the physician's questions, Velma called Alice. She in turn phoned her brother Billy who went to the hospital.

Together with Velma, he heard a doctor say his father's dreadful condition was "gastritis." The doctor prescribed medicine and told Velma she could take Stuart home that night, which she did.

Stuart Taylor's residence
Stuart Taylor's residence

Sonny Johnson again visited his friend at the latter's large, white, steeple-topped farmhouse that afternoon. Stuart had finally improved. He still looked wan but was sitting up in bed, chatting and smoking. He asked Johnson to talk to him from the doorway because he didn't want to transmit his flu.

The next day was a Friday. At around 8 p.m., Stuart had taken a drastic turn for the worse. Velma phoned John McPherson, a neighbor and friend. "Stuart needs an ambulance!" she told him in a voice that sounded full of fear. McPherson called an ambulance, then drove to the house himself.

He found Stuart Taylor looking terrible. The room had a nauseating odor because the sick man had suffered an attack of diarrhea in his bed. The arms and legs of the sweaty and chalk-faced man thrashed around and he made incoherent moaning noises. From time to time, he screamed. Velma had surrounded the bed with chairs, their backs to the bed, to prevent him from falling out of it.

The rescue squad worked quickly and efficiently to bundle him into the ambulance. Its siren wailed as it raced to the hospital. His concerned lover followed in Stuart's truck.

Doctors rushed to his side but Taylor died an hour after arriving at the hospital.

In the waiting room were Stuart's children, Alice and Billy, and the girlfriend who had nursed him through the illness, Velma Barfield. The doctor said he was puzzled by the man's sudden death and suggested an autopsy.

Stuart Taylor's grave
Stuart Taylor's grave

Both Alice and Billy asked Velma what she thought. "If you don't do it," she said, "you'll always wonder."

Stuart Taylor's adult kids told the physician to perform an autopsy.


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