Jul. 30—HIGH POINT — Ask High Point old-timers about the old S.H. Kress & Co., a popular dime store downtown, and watch their eyes light up.
They’ll tell you about all the warm childhood memories they made there — from the snack bar with its fresh popcorn and hot-roasted peanuts to those tasty lunch-counter hot dogs and an amazing candy selection. From the coloring books and paper dolls to sewing items, cosmetics and Christmas decorations. Some old-timers probably even remember how the old wooden floors creaked as they walked from aisle to aisle.
But this story is about an incident at Kress that most High Pointers won’t remember, because they’re not old enough. But the people who were there when it happened — on Jan. 30, 1945 — probably never forgot.
We doubt Vera Hall ever forgot it. The 35-year-old High Point woman was just doing a little shopping when she encountered something she never expected in one of the city’s most popular downtown establishments — violence. It wasn’t the sound of creaking floors she remembered from that afternoon — it was the sound of gunfire.
“I was petrified when I heard the shots,” Hall told The High Point Enterprise at the time. “I didn’t know what was happening and didn’t realize I had been shot at first.”
Hall was one of four individuals who were shot at Kress that afternoon, victims of an angry estranged husband — armed with a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver — aiming to settle a score with his wife.
The man was John William “Bill” Reavis, a 35-year-old furniture factory worker, and his wife was Grace Marion Reavis, 28. Grace apparently had become unhappy in their marriage, so she and her daughter from a previous marriage — 11-year-old Marie Cutting — had moved in with Grace’s mother. In the days leading up to the Kress shooting, she’d been telling friends she was planning to move to Reidsville.
That was apparently more than Bill could take. On the afternoon of Jan. 30, shortly after noon, he confronted Grace on Wrenn Street, as she was leaving Kress through the rear entrance. Grace could tell Bill had been drinking, and when she saw the revolver in his hand, she rushed into the store, with her husband in hot pursuit. She dashed from aisle to aisle in the crowded store, screaming for someone — anyone — to help her.
Before customers could even figure out what was happening, gunshots rang out. Bill fired five or six shots at his wife, hitting her and three customers who happened to be in the line of fire.
That day’s Enterprise described the chaos: “Bedlam broke loose. Women and men screamed, and the wounded fell to the floor. In the excitement, (Bill) Reavis turned and made his escape through the door which he had entered.”
Grace was shot in the back, the upper right arm and right wrist. Vera Hall was shot in the right leg and heel. Luther Rooks was shot in the shoulder. Ernestine Hedrick received a flesh wound in the back. All four victims were treated at High Point Memorial Hospital, but their injuries were not life-threatening.
Meanwhile, a citywide manhunt ensued for Bill, and police nabbed him within a matter of hours. He was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, inflicting serious injury.
From his jail cell, Bill explained to an Enterprise reporter why he’d shot Grace.
“I loved my wife — she is the only woman I ever loved — but she left me,” he said. “She done me wrong.”
Bill went on to express remorse — well, partial remorse — for his actions.
“I am sorry I shot the other people in the store,” he said. “It was a mistake. I shouldn’t have followed her into the store to do the shooting.”
He conveniently didn’t express any remorse for shooting his wife.
According to The Enterprise, Bill was a pitiful man in the courtroom.
“Throughout the entire trial, Reavis sat with bowed head beside his attorney, biting his fingernails and trying to keep his hands from shaking,” the paper reported. “Not once did he speak or look up to face the court, and when his attorney pleaded with him to take the stand in his own defense, he refused.”
Bill was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
After the shooting, the old Kress store survived several more decades. But for those who were there that winter day in 1945, it’s hard to imagine the place ever felt the same again.
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