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Phil Connelly

When North Carolina farmer James Chaffin died as the result of a fall in September 1921, he left all of his property to his third son Marshall – even though he was survived by his widow and three other sons. The will had been duly attested by two witnesses in November 1905.

Nearly four years after Chaffin’s death, James Pinckney Chaffin, the farmer’s second son, saw the spirit of his deceased dad standing at his bedside and stated, “You will find a will in my overcoat pocket.”

Since his father’s black overcoat had been passed on to another brother, John Chaffin, James traveled to John’s home to examine the coat. The two brothers discovered that the lining of the inside pocket had been sewn together. After cutting the stitches, they found a rolled-up piece of paper that bore the message: “Read the 27th chapter of Genesis in my daddie’s old Bible.”

James, along with several witnesses, then went to the home of his mother where, after a brief search, they were able to locate the nearly

worn-out Bible. Looking through the Bible, one of the witnesses found a piece of paper inside a makeshift pocket, which had been created by folding two pages of the Bible together. The paper turned out to be a new will that was dated just two years before James Chaffin’s death. In this new document, the farmer divided his property equally among his four sons but also stated that they must provide for their mother as long as she lived.

Under North Carolina law, even though the will had not been attested, it would be considered valid - provided it could be proven beyond doubt that it had been written in James Chaffin’s own handwriting.

Marshall Chaffin, the sole beneficiary under the conditions of the old will, had passed away within a year of his father’s death. Marshall’s widow and son decided to contest the validity of the second will. Fellow residents of the county eagerly anticipated a long and bitter legal battle; after all, people often enjoy real-life soap operas that involve disputes among family members. However, they would soon be disappointed when 10 witnesses arrived in the courtroom and gave evidence that the second will was in fact in James Chaffin’s handwriting. After seeing the will and hearing the testimony, Marshall Chaffin’s wife and son withdrew their opposition.

Looking back, why did Chaffin keep his second will a secret? Perhaps he had expected to reveal the new will on his deathbed, but had this plan go awry due to his sudden death? And so, was it necessary for his spirit to appear to correct the injustice?

But this raises the question as why his spirit waited four years after his death to come back from the grave. And, why didn’t his ghost just tell his son to go directly to the Bible, skipping the cryptic note in his overcoat?

Is it possible that during those four years, son James Chaffin perfected forging his father’s handwriting? Could James and his brother John – who had their father’s overcoat - have worked together to make up the story of finding the Bible-directing note? After all, both had been left nothing in the original will.

So, believable ghost story or conspiracy between brothers?