Fifty years ago today, the relative innocence of rural Georgia was shattered by the brutal murders of six members of the Alday family in Seminole County in what has been called the most gruesome mass murder in the state’s history. [It remains the second largest mass murder in Georgia, after the Woolfolk Murders of 1887]. It’s been said that it’s when people who had never done so began locking their doors in Georgia. It had that big of an effect. Though the nationally publicized Manson murders shocked the nation a few years earlier, that was something far away and hardly seemed like something that could happen here.
19-year-old Carl Isaacs was already a seasoned criminal when he masterminded an escape from the Poplar Hill Correctional Institute in Maryland, enlisting his half-brother and fellow inmate Wayne Coleman. Coleman’s only stipulation was that his friend George Dungee was also brought into the plan. The three prisoners made their escape on the night of 5 May 1973. After stealing a blue Thunderbird in Baltimore and picking up Carl’s brother Billy, the fugitives committed a string of burglaries in Maryland and Pennsylvania to fund their getaway. On 10 May 1973, they stole a pickup truck in McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, and were given chase by Richard Wayne Miller, who recognized the truck as one of his neighbor’s. Though it was not known at the time, Miller was murdered by Carl Isaacs and disposed of in the vicinity of Flintstone, Maryland. The group abandoned the pickup truck in favor of Miller’s 1968 Chevy Super Sport and drove south. [Miller’s remains were recovered after the Alday murders].
The gas pump at the Ned Alday farm property on River Road is what got the attention of the group as they made their way through Seminole County en route to Florida. They found no one at home and began ransacking the trailer on the property. When Ned and Jerry Alday arrived, after having lunch with Ernestine Alday at the family home a little way down the road, they startled the escapees, who forced them inside and shot them execution style. When Jimmy came by the trailer, he became the next victim of the fugitives. The same fate awaited Ned’s brother Aubrey and son Sugie as they arrived at the farm. Jerry’s wife Mary was taken to a wooded location a few miles from the trailer and raped multiple times before being murdered. Her body was recovered several days later, having been left in a large fire ant bed.
The tight-knit community of Seminole County was horrified and outraged by the crimes and law enforcement vowed to act swiftly and to the fullest extent possible. On 17 May 1973, hundreds of their fellow citizens came to Spring Creek Baptist Church, which Ned had helped build, to pay their final respects to the Alday family.
By 24 May 1973, Carl Isaacs, Billy Isaacs, Wayne Coleman, and George Dungee were all in custody, extradited from West Virginia to Seminole County. They were arraigned at the courthouse in Donalsonville, and each was charged with six counts of murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, and the theft of Mary Alday’s car. Authorities were chilled by the lack of concern or remorse displayed by Carl Isaacs and Wayne Coleman.
Carl Isaacs, Wayne Coleman, and George Dungee were found guilty and sentenced to death, with Billy Isaacs receiving a plea deal for testimony against the others. He served 20 years and died in Florida in 2009. While court challenges and legal machinations prolonged justice over the years, Carl Isaacs died by lethal injection in 2003 and for the first time in Georgia history, three members of the victims’ families were allowed to witness the execution. Isaacs never showed remorse, even at the end. George Dungee died at Reidsville in 2006 while serving his life sentence. Wayne Coleman, still alive, will die in prison.
There is never real closure in a case like this. Earlier this year, I made a pilgrimage to the idyllic Spring Creek cemetery to see for myself the cost of this tragedy. Growing up in Southwest Georgia in the 1970s and 1980s, the story of the Alday family was ever present. Each year, on the anniversary of the tragedy, WALB-TV in Albany ran a story about it, focusing on the survivors, while covering all the developments in the case. It always brought great sadness, and fear.
Something positive has come out of the case, in the work of Paige Barber, the granddaughter of Ned Alday and the niece of Jerry Alday, Jimmy Alday, ‘Sugie’ Alday, Mary Alday and the great niece of Aubrey Alday. As a spokesperson for the Alday family she successfully lobbied the passing of the Alday family bill in 2003. The bill makes it mandatory for state officials to contact the families of victims in death penalty cases twice a year. Prior to the passing of the bill, it was difficult for crime victims to gain information about any developments in their cases. She has spent a lot of time sharing the Alday story to spread awareness for victims of crimes.
Note: If you’re looking for photos of the criminals, gruesome photos, or anything like that, a simple search will lead you in that direction online. I’ve chosen to only share the memorials for the victims, while telling the story with as little emphasis on those aspects as possible.