Georgia Cold Cases

James Brazier

James C. Brazier, a husband and father, a 31-year-old striver who worked two and sometimes three jobs, spent most of his Sunday, April 20, 1958, as he usually did: with his extended family, in church, in Terrell County in rural southwest Georgia. The Brazier family started the day at I Hope Baptist Church in Dawson, then drove 20 miles past cotton and peanut fields to Mt. Mary Baptist Church in Sasser.

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Willie Countryman

Little more than a month after he brutally and fatally beat James Brazier, Police Officer Weyman Burchle Cherry was still on duty, patrolling the black neighborhoods during the night shift in Dawson, Terrell County. At about 1:30 a.m. on May 24, 1958, he and his partner Robert Terrell Hancock walked onto the property where 32-year-old Willie “Wootie” Countryman, a truck driver and Army veteran, lived with his grandmother. There, in the backyard, Cherry encountered Countryman. In what Cherry said was self-defense, and others labeled as murder, Officer Cherry shot Countryman in the abdomen and killed him.

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Mattie Green

Mattie Green, a 32-year-old mother of six, died from the impact of a bomb that exploded under her family’s home on May 19, 1960, in Ringgold. Her husband and son were both injured in the explosion. Although Gov. Ernest Vandiver posted a $500 reward for information in her death, investigations never revealed the perpetrator. Possible explanations for the seemingly random bombing include recent KKK activity in the area and the possibility that the bomb may have really been intended for a neighbor who had been in an altercation with several young white men. Although Mattie Green’s husband, Jethro Green, had connections to the local NAACP, the Green family was not known for civil rights activity or showing what white residents might have considered “uppity” behavior. The FBI investigated the Green case more thoroughly in 2009, but never officially uncovered the real motive for Mattie Green’s death.

A.C. Hall

On October 13, 1962, at around 9:30 p.m., seventeen-year-old A.C. Hall left the Middle Georgia Veterans Club in Macon, GA, with his friend Eloise Franklin and began walking to their homes. They stopped in the driveway of the G. W. Carver Elementary School so Franklin could rest her feet. Almost immediately, Macon Police Officers James L. Durden and Josh T. Brown pulled into the driveway, their cruiser’s headlights directed at the pair. Frightened, Hall pleaded with Franklin to run. She refused. Hall then fled the scene on foot alone.

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Alphonso Harris

In a 2010 letter to Alphonso Harris’s surviving family, the FBI wrote that its investigation into Harris’s 1966 death concluded that he died in an altercation at an Albany club. The FBI told the Harris family that his death did not appear to be racially motivated, so was not under the purview of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center lists Harris in its display about “the Forgotten”: civil rights martyrs whose deaths remain ambiguous. The SPLC found that Harris was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he died on Dec. 1, 1966, possibly in connection with his work in organizing a student walkout protest. The SPLC notes that Harris was killed in Georgia because of his civil rights activity.

Ernest Hunter

Police officer Billy Carter shot Ernest Hunter in a physical altercation at the Camden County jail in St. Mary’s on Sept. 13, 1958. Carter had arrested Hunter for interfering when Carter pulled over Hunter’s wife, Vernell Hunter, for a traffic violation. A coroner’s jury ruled the death a justifiable homicide, and the FBI dropped the case.

Joseph Jeter

Weeks of tension between police and residents of the Perry Homes housing project in northwest Atlanta peaked on September 13, 1958, when several hundred residents protested police handling of a suspect. By the time the confrontation was over, Officer W.O. Dempsey had shot Joseph H. Jeter, superintendent of buildings and grounds at Perry Homes, through the chest, killing him. Perry residents said they had been pleading with police to stop pistol-whipping the suspect in the back seat of a police vehicle and that Jeter was shot as he tried to explain that the pleas were coming from responsible adults. But police said Jeter, 40, and others had tried to wrest the suspect from them and threatened them. A Fulton County grand jury concluded Dempsey acted in self-defense. But a citizens committee that included Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., developer Herman Russell, Morehouse President Benjamin Mays, Atlanta Daily World Publisher C.A. Scott, and businessman Jesse Hill Jr. said they believed the shooting was unjustified. ​

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Maybelle Mahone

On the morning of December 5, 1956, B.T. Dukes, a 71-year-old white retired farmer from Molena, Georgia, a small farming town sixty miles south of Atlanta, drove to Maybelle Mahone’s house, two miles outside of Molena. Dukes had worked with Mahone, a 30 year-old black mother of six, at a plantation near Molena and “sometimes went by the Mahone home to talk to them,” according to then-Pike County Sheriff J. Astor Riggins. Dukes spent the unseasonably warm day drinking whiskey with Mahone, whose husband had left for work earlier that morning.  By the end of the day, Dukes had shot Mahone dead in front of her young children – he told the sheriff she “sassed” him – triggering a murder trial and conviction in rural Pike County Superior Court, and a retrial with an unexpected outcome. In 2006, fifty years after Maybelle Mahone was killed, then-United States Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced a civil rights cold case initiative, with the pledge to re-examine more than 120 unsolved civil rights-era killings that appeared to be racially motivated. The events that led to Mahone’s death placed her on the FBI list of victims.

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Hosie Miller

Hosie Miller, a farmer in Baker County, was shot in the back by a neighboring farmer, Cal Hall, Jr., on March 25, 1965. Some of Hall’s cows had wandered onto Miller’s property. According to the results of an FBI investigation, Hall tried to take one of Miller’s cows and Miller objected. Hall then fatally shot Miller in front of three witnesses. An all-white jury refused to indict Hall. After a second unsuccessful attempt to bring murder charges against Hall, the Miller family enlisted Albany civil rights lawyer C.B. King to file an ultimately unsuccessful wrongful death lawsuit against Hall. This case regained prominence in 2010 when Miller’s daughter, Shirley Sherrod, was controversially terminated from her position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture when a conservative blogger posted a tampered video that misrepresented her views and made her appear racist.  Shirley Sherrod is married to Charles Sherrod, who in the 1960s was leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in southwest Georgia; he focused considerable attention on voter registration in Terrell County.

James Andrew Miller

James Andrew Miller, 19, was shot and killed by John Lo Whitaker, 44, on Aug. 30, 1964, following a confrontation that occurred during overnight racial tensions in Jackson, Butts County. The day before, some whites had beaten Miller, the Jackson Progress-Argus reported at the time. On Aug. 30, whites blockaded an intersection and blacks, including Miller, raced to the scene of the blockade. Whites reported that Miller and other blacks attacked a car that a white family was driving. Whitaker, in another car, claimed he shot Miller twice when Miller attempted to open his truck door.  Within a few hours, a Butts County coroner’s jury was convened and ruled that Whitaker, described by the newspaper as “a widely known resident of Jenkinsburg,” was justified in killing Miller.

Lemuel Penn

On July 11, 1964, nine days after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn and two friends – all World War II veterans — wrapped up their Army Reserve camp at Ft. Benning and decided to drive all night back to their homes in Washington, D.C. Outside Athens, Penn, an assistant superintendent in the Washington schools who had three young children, had just taken over the driving duties when a station wagon began tailing them, then pulled up next to their car as it crossed the Broad River Bridge separating Madison and Elberton counties.

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Clarence Horatious Pickett

Four days before Christmas in 1957, on a Saturday morning, Clarence Horatious Pickett, a preacher and advertising salesman in Columbus, Georgia, walked into town to pick up his paycheck. About 42 years old and known as “Reverend” to many, the tall, lean man with the mustache and glasses left his home and headed toward The Columbus World, a black newspaper where Pickett worked as a part-time, commissioned advertising salesman.

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Willie Joe Sanford

Willie Joe Sanford’s decomposed body was pulled out of Limestone Creek in Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, on March 1, 1957, after it had been in the water for nearly a month, trussed to underwater growth. His head had been struck with a sharp instrument and his body had many stab wounds. He had been missing a month. “Certainly it did not take a brave man or men to accomplish this execution,” Circuit Judge John K. Whaley said in instructing a grand jury. “Only a frenzied mob could have accomplished it.” He later called in reporters to clarify that while he thought at least two people were involved, he was not calling it a lynching.  The prosecutor, J. Wade Johnson, told a reporter he believed two white people had been involved in the killing, but said he did not think it was racially motivated. “Had there been a racial issue, it would not have been concealed. They’d have riddled him with bullets in the middle of the road or strung him up to a tree and made no effort to hide it.” The Afro-American newspaper reported that the local grand jury investigation had been “futile.”

Maceo Snipes

Maceo Snipes must have felt a great sense of pride after he cast his first vote in the contentious 1946 Democratic primary for governor. Like many black World War II veterans, Snipes returned home, to Butler – a town in western Georgia with 1,972 residents – with an honorable discharge and a determination to exercise his rights as a citizen.

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Hulet Varner

On September 6, 1966, hours after Atlanta police shot and seriously wounded a black suspected car thief, hundreds of blacks rioted in the area around the newly built Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the $18 million project Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. had supported to lure a major league baseball team to the city. Crying, “Black power!” and decrying “the white bastards!” protestors hurled rocks and bottles and overturned police cars and television trucks. At least fifteen people were injured in the violence, including four policemen. Mayor Allen rushed to the scene and pleaded for calm from atop a police car, but protestors chanted “white devil, white devil!” Police arrested sixty-three people, including Stokely Carmichael, the fiery leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and other SNCC officials.

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George Dorsey, Mae Dorsey, Dorothy Malcom, and Roger Malcom

The infamous killing of the Malcoms and the Dorseys, two couples, later became known as the “Monroe Massacre” or the “Lynching at Moore’s Ford Bridge.” The two couples were sharecroppers on the farm of J. Loy Harrison. Harrison drove a pregnant Dorothy Malcom and the Dorseys to pick up Roger Malcom from jail, where he had been serving time for stabbing a white farmer. On their drive back, a group of 15 to 20 white men stopped the truck. The gang tied all four men and women to an oak tree and fired an estimated 60 bullets into them. The killings spurred national outrage and even action, as President Truman created the President’s Commission on Civil Rights and attempted to pass anti-lynching legislation. No one was ever tried for the crime.

Dr. Thomas H. Brewer

Dr. Thomas H. Brewer was Columbus’s most prominent civil rights activist and the founder of the city’s NAACP chapter. He was also a practicing physician, with an office sharing a building with the F&B Department store. Brewer and Luico Flowers, the owner of the department store, both witnessed a police officer beating a black man outside of their building. The two men apparently argued about the incident: Brewer thought the officer had used excessive force, but Flowers disagreed. Flowers informed the local police that Brewer had threatened him. A week later, on Feb. 18, 1956, Flowers shot Brewer seven times inside the department store, in what Flowers said was self defense. Flowers was acquitted of murder by a grand jury. He was found dead from gunshot wounds a year later under mysterious circumstances, in what investigators ruled a suicide. Dr. Brewer’s death decimated local Columbus black political leadership and caused many black professionals to flee the city.

Isaac “Ike” Crawford

A month before his death on May 21, 1948, Isaac Crawford of Augusta had been arrested for public drunkenness. He was sentenced to laboring in ditches at the Richmond County Stockade. While working in a ditch, he spotted a rattlesnake and asked Stockade Warden David Turner to kill it. Turner refused to kill the snake, and when Crawford hesitated to return to the ditch, Turner began beating the prisoner with a stick. When that broke, Turner began using a rubber hose until Crawford’s face and body were swollen and virtually unrecognizable. Turner was ultimately charged with nine counts of assault and battery, but a grand jury refused to indict him for homicide. Turner was punished for Crawford’s death with a $50 fine and six months of parole.

Willie Lee Davis

Police Chief James Mitchell Bohannon of Summit, Eamuel County, shot and killed Army Corporal Willie Lee Davis at a juke joint on July 3, 1943. Davis, 26, had been on a two-week-long Army furlough and was visiting his mother. Bohannon, apparently responding to a call at the roadhouse, attempted to search Davis. When Bohannon put his hands on Davis, Davis objected. The two began to fight, and Bohannon shot Davis as he ran down an alleyway. When local authorities would not take action, the War Department initiated an investigation and U.S. Attorney J. Saxton Daniel pressed federal charges. But the recently decided case “Screws v. United States,” which involved the killing of a black man by the sheriff of Baker County, Georgia, set a precedent that the Davis case was unable to meet. No other legal action was taken against Davis’s killer.

Caleb Hill Jr.

Caleb Hill Jr. of Irwinton was pulled from Wilkinson County jail in the middle of the night on May 30, 1949, and was shot to death by a lynch mob. Sheriff George Hatcher had arrested Hill for stabbing another black man. According to Hatcher, Hill had removed Hatcher’s gun while the sheriff was questioning a witness and attempted to shoot him. The next morning, Hill’s body was found on the side of a road — three miles from the jail. The GBI initiated an investigation and brought charges against two white men, Dennis Lamar Purvis and Malcolm “Mack” Vivian Pierce, but an all-white grand jury refused to indict. The FBI investigated the case, interviewing about 165 possible witnesses, but met hostility from both the GBI and the local community. The case remains unsolved and Hill’s death certificate (where his name was spelled Calib) remains the final word: “…shot through the head by hands unknown.”

Robert Mallard

On Nov. 20, 1948, Robert “Duck” Mallard was driving to his home in Lyons, Toombs County with his wife, son, and two relatives when his car was stopped by a group of about twenty men wearing white robes. When Mallard’s wife, Amy, recognized one of the men, the group opened fire on the car, killing Mallard. When Toombs County Sheriff R.E. Gray arrived at the scene, he searched Amy Mallard instead of searching for suspects. Governor Herman Talmadge ordered the GBI to investigate the case. GBI agents subsequently showed up at Mallard’s funeral and arrested Amy Mallard for her husband’s murder. They detained her for nine hours before letting her go. Although five white men surrendered in the case and two were indicted, no one was ever convicted for the crime since the county dropped the charges. Mallard’s family moved to Buffalo, New York, and the Ku Klux Klan allegedly burned down their old home in Lyons.

Isaiah Nixon

Isaiah Nixon was shot on his front porch in front of his wife and six children in Mt. Vernon, Montgomery County, on Sept. 8, 1948, after voting in the Georgia statewide Democratic primary. Two white men, Jim A. Johnson and Johnny Johnson, arrived at the Nixon home in the evening to confront him. They ordered Nixon to step off his porch. When Nixon refused, Jim Johnson shot him three times. The NAACP quickly took up the case and it received local and national publicity. The two brothers were quickly arrested and charged, one with murder and the other to being an accessory to a murder. But a jury acquitted them on the grounds that they acted in self-defense.