Joseph bought his brother Thomas's share of their father's (John) bequest in 1891, the 400-acre farm called The Retreat and located somewhere northwest of Port Tobacco. He and his wife Fannie paid Thomas and Emily Cocking $1,200. Two years later, in August of 1893, they sold the farm to J. Benjamin Mattingly for $1,600. With a $400 profit, one might assume that they fared well; however, that April they had purchased 9.3 acres from a 55-acre parcel that Harriet Rennoe inherited from her father, Edmund Perry. The subdivided estate was just east of the hamlet of Hill Top, as depicted below.
The Cockings took a $600 mortgage from the Baltimore Building & Loan Company in October 1895 and a $220 mortgage from White, Daly & Company in January 1896. On July 22, 1896, Sheriff George A. Wade sold the Cockings' land to White, Daly & Company (they satisfied the debt to the Baltimore Building & Loan Company in 1902). Joseph had been lynched on June 27.
There are more threads of the story to be pursued, but it appears that the Cockleys had not fared well financially. a 400-acre farm in Maryland was a substantially holding and to have sold it...it was their home and that of Joseph's father before his death in 1890...must have been a difficult matter. Then, despite a significant profit on the sale...$400, equivalent to a year and a half wages for a laborer...they took two mortgages on their newly acquired homelot, presumably to build and stock their new store.
Of course, their timing in setting up a store was not good. The country was in the midst of the Panic of 1893, a severe depression wrought principally by railroad speculation. Unemployment reached crushing levels until the economy rebounded, helped perhaps by the short-lived Spanish-American War, in 1898.
We may never know what compelled Joseph to murder Fannie and Daisy, and it is overly simple to attribute the violence to financial problems, but clearly there were problems in the household and financial loss and indebtedness didn't help.