Tag Archives: Georgia Crimes

The Alday Murders: 50 Years Later

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.

Ned Alday (7 September 1910-14 May 1973)

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].

Aubrey Alday (10 Mary 1915-14 May 1973)

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.

Jerry Nelson Alday (15 March 1939-14 May 1973)

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.

Mary Estelle Campbell Alday (9 July 1946-14 May 1973)

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.

Chester Addis Alday (7 May 1943-14 May 1973) [Known as Sugie]

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.

Jimmy Cecil Alday (14 October 1947-14 May 1973)

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.


A Last Look at the Georgia Guidestones

After hearing the news of the destruction of the Georgia Guidestones in the early morning hours of 6 July 2022, I decided to revisit my photographs of the place. I’ve talked to people from Elberton and most just thought of them as a curiosity, but they were a tourist attraction; how much impact they actually had on the community in this regard has always been up for debate.

They also fed conspiracy theories, most recently highlighted by gubernatorial candidate Kandiss Taylor (3.4% of the vote in the 2022 Republican primary) who declared them “satanic” and made their removal a tenet of her candidacy.

Elberton mayor Daniel Graves recently told Stephen Fowler, in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition: “[the] county is a solidly conservative and religiously observant, so outside voices claiming Satan’s hold on the stones don’t add up. “Our view of righteousness is not an Almighty God that needs zealots to do his dirty work and destruction,” Graves said. “That’s hatred … all the dynamite in the world can’t change a man’s heart.”

The only controversy regarding this relatively plain monument when it was unveiled on 22 March 1980 had to do with its origins and the identity of its mysterious patron. The man chose his pseudonym, R. C. Christian, because of his faith, but nothing else was ever revealed. Perhaps that’s what helped feed growing theories regarding the “New World Order” and satanism over time.

Occupying the highest point in Elbert County, the Guidestones were sometimes referred to as America’s Stonehenge, even though Stonehenge was laid out in a circular fashion and the Guidestones formed an “x”. There only similarity to Stonehenge was in their use as a sort of celestial sundial.

Elberton is known as the Granite Capital of the World, and is a charming small town. Personally, I prefer the area’s architectural gems, but I think it will be a challenge to draw people to the area on that aspect alone.

As Elberton Star editor Rose Scoggins told NPR: “I do think that we will slowly start to see just how big of an impact they had, because it will affect our tourism…I think we will unfortunately see that decline.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) hasn’t released any updates recently, but they do have video footage of the vehicle that was at the site just before the explosive device was detonated. Elbert County intends to prosecute anyone responsible.

Two slabs were destroyed in the initial explosion and the GBI took out the remaining stones as a safety measure. For now, to my knowledge, there aren’t plans to replace the Guidestones.

Ahmaud Arbery Memorial, Burke County

I recently spent a weekend with a friend documenting historic black churches in Burke County, with the goal of visiting the final resting place of Ahmaud Arbery (8 May 1994-23 February 2020). It was a timely visit, as the three men responsible for his murder had all recently been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for their act of racist vigilantism/lynching.

It gave me pause to think how much work still needs to be done to erase the attitudes that led to this heinous crime, though I’m encouraged that people of all races are just as repulsed by it as I am. While politicians continue to thread the needle with pie-in-the-sky philosophies intended to discourage any discussion of race, a majority white jury finding three white men guilty of lynching a young unarmed black man is proof that we have indeed made progress.

Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church, Spring Bluff

Rising Daughter Missionary Baptist Church is an historic congregation, but other than its association with a tragic unsolved murder case, I haven’t been able to locate any of its history. It’s one of several important early Black churches near the Satilla River in Camden County.I determined it’s an old congregation due to the historic cemetery.

Though the congregation has not allowed itself to be defined by a well-known tragedy, and has thrived in fact, Rising Daughter has been known to the outside world for the events of 11 March 1985. At a missionary meeting on that date, a white man interrupted the proceedings and senselessly shot and killed Deacon Harold Swain and his wife Thelma inside the church, with no apparent motive. Witnesses noted that the intruder pointed to Harold Swain and specifically asked to speak to him. As Mr. Swain walked toward the entryway to speak to man, his wife followed. She was shot once and Mr. Swain was shot four times. The only real evidence was a pair of glasses left by the shooter at the scene, and a composite sketch made by descriptions from some of the ladies who were in the church for the meeting. No one was arrested for nearly 15 years.

A new investigator came on the scene in 1998 and his focus turned to Dennis Perry, who was arrested and ultimately convicted of the crime in 2000, an election year. Perry had been an early suspect, based on an identification made from the composite sketch and the presumably false testimony of a woman (now deceased) who collected a reward, unbeknownst to jurors at the time. Fast forward to 2020, and Dennis Perry has been exonerated, thanks to the work of the Georgia Innocence Project and irrefutable DNA evidence. Today, he is a free man.

A possible DNA match is being investigated by those who have reopened the case and hopefully justice will finally be done, most importantly for the loved ones of the Swain family.

Rising Daughter Cemetery

Rising Daughter Cemetery has quite a few important vernacular monuments, including two of the Madonna monuments detailed here. A few random examples are documented below.

Butler Baker (23 March 1906-11 December 1970)
David Scott (22 March 1895-15 August 1958)
Bertha Ann Hampton (20 May 1952-17 September 1952). The headstones of the two Hampton children feature a cross made from readily available bathroom tile. A nice touch is the pink tile for the daughter and the blue tile for the son.
Michael E. Hampton (5 July 1952-18 July 1958)
Sylvia Scott (6 January 1860-27 March 1938)
Ester Flagg (9 December 1915-1 July 1943). The name on the headstone is “Easter”.

Anjette Lyles, Georgia’s Most Infamous Female Serial Killer

Though largely forgotten today, the story of Anjette Lyles and her morbid crime spree was one of the most sensational in 20th-century Georgia. Lyles was born Anjette Donovan in 1925 to a relatively prosperous family. She married Ben Lyles in 1947 and soon after the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Marcia, went to work in the Lyles family’s popular downtown Macon restaurant with Ben’s mother, Julia. Ben, a veteran of World War II, apparently had a drinking and gambling problem and sold the restaurant far below market value in 1951 to pay off a gambling debt. Anjette, who had recently given birth to the couple’s second daughter, Carla, was furious that Ben hadn’t consulted her before the sale. Ben suddenly fell ill in December 1951. Doctors at the Veterans Administration ran a battery of tests but were unable to determine the cause of his sickness. He never recovered and died on 25 January 1952. After his death, Anjette moved in with her parents while learning the ins-and-outs of the restaurant business and saving money. She bought back the Lyles Restaurant in 1955 and renamed it “Anjette’s”. It quickly became one of Macon’s most popular eateries. She hired her mother-in-law, Julia, to help bring back some of the old Lyles customers.

In July 1955, Anjette went on a vacation with one of the restaurants new regulars, pilot Joe Neal [Buddy] Gabbert and upon their return to Macon, many were shocked to learn that they had been married on the trip. Rumors began to circulate almost immediately, as Buddy was gone most of the time. It didn’t help that Anjette was a big flirt and was known to dabble in “black magic”. Restaurant staff reported that she had been seen whispering to black candles when she thought no one was around. In October 1955, Buddy went to the hospital for a minor operation on his wrist. When he returned home to convalesce, he developed a fever and a rash which spread over his body. Doctors were at a loss as to explain the origin of the rash and after his condition continued to deteriorate, he died on 2 December 1955. Shortly after Buddy’s death, Anjette changed her name back to Lyles and bought a house and new car with the insurance settlement. This raised eyebrows in Macon. Julia Lyles moved in with Anjette to be with her grandchildren but the women did not get along well. Anjette wanted Julia to make a will but Julia refused. In 1957, Julia became ill and was hospitalized, dying on 29 September 1957.

In March 1958, Marcia became violently sick at the restaurant and people in Macon began to be suspicious about Anjette. Marcia remained hospitalized with hallucinations and failing kidneys. She died on 4 April 1958. A coroner’s inquest initially found no indication of foul play but an anonymous letter from a restaurant employee suggested that Anjette had kept ant poison on hand and perhaps this should be investigated. The ant poison contained arsenic and this led the coroner to order the exhumation of the prior victims, who all showed signs of arsenic poisoning. A month after Marcia’s death, while Anjette was in the hospital for varicose veins, she was arrested and charged with the murders of both her husbands, her mother-in-law, and Marcia. Her trial in October 1958 was a media frenzy. She was found guilty and sentenced to death but Governor Ernest Vandiver, unwilling to be responsible for executing a white woman, had her declared insane and placed in Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, where she died in 1977.

Ironically, she was buried alongside Marcia and Ben, in the Donovan family plot at Coleman’s Chapel United Methodist Church cemetery near Wadley.

Jaclyn Weldon White’s Whisper to the Black Candle is the most comprehensive book on the subject to date.

Old Webster County Jail, Circa 1856, Preston

This wooden jail was built soon after Kinchafoonee County became Webster County and served that purpose until 1910. It’s among the only antebellum jails still standing in Georgia. Dr. Fay Stapleton Burnett writes: This is the jail in which Susan Eberhart and Enoch Spann were housed from 1872-1873, when they both were hanged for murdering Spann’s invalid wife. This is a tragic tale of justice, mercy, ignorance, poverty and mental illness. 

It was unheard of for a white woman to be executed in 19th-century Georgia, and many, though aware of Eberhart’s guilt, were opposed to it. The case was a media sensation, prompting former Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens to opine in his newspaper, the Atlanta Daily Sun: “the most interesting case of crime that ever occurred in Georgia, and which is certainly one of the strangest in history of crimes.”

Dr. Burnett has just published a book about this case and you can contact her here for information on ordering.

National Register of Historic Places

Blount-McCoy-Maxwell House, 1855, Talbotton


Built for John Thomas Blount, this Greek Revival cottage was later owned by the McCoy and Maxwell families. It became a focus of statewide attention when, on 5 April 1896, Emma Owen was shot and killed while visiting Jenny McCoy here. A local dentist, Dr. Will Ryder, had become enamored of Ms. Owen and had apparently been stalking her. At the time of the murder, Emma was sitting beside the front window of the home, in the company of her boyfriend, when Ryder fired shots into the parlor.  After committing the act, the doctor fled to his nearby office and attempted suicide, but was rescued by friends. He was later charged with murder but was lynched while awaiting sentencing. Blood stains from the murder are still visible on the wood floorboards and the house is widely believed to be haunted.

Old Macon County Courthouse, 1850s, Oglethorpe

oglethorpe ga 19th century commercial architecture photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2016

Though best remembered as Taylor’s Pharmacy, this is said to have been the first courthouse constructed in Oglethorpe. The long lost town of Lanier was the county seat when Macon County was created in 1837 and the courthouse there burned in 1857. Oglethorpe was assuming the status of new county seat at this time and that is when this structure is believed to have been constructed. Colonel George W. Fish was murdered on the west side of the building in 1871 after returning home from business in Macon. The first floor presently serves as the law office of Jon Coogle. [This information needs further documentation, but I believe it to be accurate at this time].

The Dawson Five: 40 Years Later

Dawson Five 1976 Bridges Crossroads Tinys Grocery Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2016

Tiny’s Grocery – Bridges Crossroads

I’ve passed this unspectacular structure many times and never assigned it any importance. Located at a busy intersection a few miles east of Dawson on Highway 32, it doesn’t stand out. But on the bitterly cold morning of 22 January 1976, forty years ago today, it became the epicenter of some very unwanted national attention. Anonymous messages suggested I investigate the “story” behind this place. They didn’t want to say much about what happened here, but they said I could easily find it. And find it I did. From what I’ve read, the surviving actors in the case want little do with it and I certainly can’t blame them for that. This tragedy happened at a time of promise, a time when Jim Crow was supposed to be dead and buried and a progressive new South was lurching forward to catch up with the rest of the world. We certainly didn’t need the national media meddling in our local affairs. But in this case, they came knocking, loudly.

A generation ago, this place was known as Tiny’s Grocery. Linward “Tiny” Denton sold gas, ice cold beer, cigarettes and snacks and lived in a trailer behind the store. At 10:00 on the morning in question, 61-year-old Gordon D. “Bubba” Howell, Jr., a farm foreman from nearby Lee County and regular customer, was shot in the back of the head in what Denton reported as an armed robbery by five black youths wearing ski masks. Tiny kept a gun behind the counter and later claimed it was stolen during the commission of the crime. That gun nor any other weapon related to the case was ever recovered. $150 was stolen from the store and Bubba Howell’s pockets were cleaned out. Then the alleged perpetrators sped away in Howell’s truck and abandoned it at a pond less than a mile away. Howell died later at an Albany hospital. As Ben Holcombe wrote on the 25th anniversary of the case in the  Albany Herald in 2001, “somebody got away with murder.”

A day after the incident, Tiny Denton called Terrell County Sheriff Jerry Dean and reported that he recognized one of the alleged perpetrators as 18-year-old Roosevelt Watson, who lived nearby with his parents. Watson was immediately taken into custody by Terrell County deputies and an agent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). During his interrogation, Watson allegedly confessed to the shooting and implicated four others: his brother, Henderson; a cousin, J. D. Davenport; and two friends, James “Junior” Jackson and his brother Johnny. Doubts about their guilt emerged almost immediately. Roosevelt Watson said his admission of guilt was coerced. None of the defendants ever signed a confession. He told reporters at the time that they “told me they gonna put me in the electric chair…They had these two things hooked up to my fingers. Had a thing on my arm, real tight. Said they gonna electrocute me if I didn’t tell ’em.”  This was later revealed to be part of the routine polygraph test, but a GBI agent did concede that in the process “there was talk of electrocution.” All five defendants were indicted on charges of armed robbery and first-degree murder, and if convicted, they faced the death penalty.

National media attention quickly followed, perhaps due to Dawson’s proximity to Plains and the burgeoning presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter. The defendants were dubbed “The Dawson Five”. All of this caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). They turned the case over to Atlanta-based Team Defense (an SPLC affiliate at the time), headed by Millard Farmer. Farmer was a white Newnan-born attorney who had gained notoriety for successfully defending blacks accused of killing whites in the South. Team Defense barraged the court with enough defense motions to delay the case for months.

After serving nine months in jail, Roosevelt Watson and James E. Jackson, Jr.,  were released on $100,000 bond, raised by the SPLC. No physical evidence linking any of the men to the crime was ever found; no gun, no fingerprints, nothing. None of the men had prior criminal records. Alibi witnesses stated that the defendants were two miles away when the shooting took place, drawing water from a neighbor’s well to haul to the Watson home.

In the months leading to the trial, national publicity persisted, with much ado about racial issues in Terrell County. A Dawson police officer testified in pre-trial motions that he saw Terrell County Deputy Jack Hammack point a gun at James E. Jackson, Jr. Mr. Jackson then testified that he only confessed after Deputy Jack Hammack threatened to kill him if he didn’t reveal the location of the murder weapon. Roosevelt Watson testified that his confession came only after threats of castration and electrocution.

Bridges Crossroads GA Terrell County Tinys Grocery Goolsby Livestock Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2016

Tiny’s Grocery – Bridges Crossroads

Superior Court Judge Walter Idus Geer ended pre-trial motions on 11 August 1977 and after deliberation, set a trial date for Roosevelt Watson to 29 August. Judge Geer withdrew himself from the trial, however, citing ill health. Dougherty Superior Court Judge Leonard Farkas succeeded him on the case. In jury proceedings for State v. Roosevelt Watson, Farkas suppressed Watson’s confession and the state appealed. The Georgia Court of Appeals then overturned Farkas’s ruling on grounds that he didn’t preside over the previous evidentiary hearings. Judge Geer returned to the case in mid-November and, like Farkas, decided the confessions were improperly obtained. He also suppressed them, stating ”The evidence taken as a whole showed that the statements were not freely, voluntarily and intelligently made.”‘ On 19 December the prosecution rested and didn’t seek further appeal, citing that they didn’t “have much to go on.” And that was the end of the legal aspect of the case.

Roosevelt Watson died at the age of 34 in Albany in 1990. He had been working as a janitor at Albany State College before his death. His remaining family members told Albany Herald writer Ben Holcombe in 2001 that they didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Most of the other defendants felt the same way. They had nothing to hide, but they were past it. It understandably had a deep impact on all their lives. Johnny B. Jackson told Holcombe, “That gave a lot of people that didn’t have hope some hope to stand up for was was right. Sitting in jail for something you know you didn’t do and the people who have you behind bars know you didn’t do, that’s hard.”

Tiny Denton died at the age of 73, alone. The publicity of the case brought too much attention to Tiny’s Grocery and he kept irregular hours at the store. In “Town on Trial” Ben Holcombe wrote:  Beverly Harrell, who often traded at Tiny’s…recalls Denton as a sad, reclusive loner. Out-of-town reporters often “harassed” Denton, she said, and others openly wondered if he had killed Howell, then fabricated a story to frame the Dawson Five. “They turned the story around like Mr. Denton did it,” Harrell said.

The families and loved ones of all the people involved were victims for a time, but Terrell County has moved on.

Various sources, with more reading can be accessed at the links below.

National Black Law Journal, 1983, via the University of California.

The New York Times, 1990, Roosevelt Watson Obituary.

Washington Post, 1977.

The following recounting of some particulars of the case were shared with me in 2018. The writer requested anonymity and I have granted and will continue to honor that request. It adds another layer to an already complicated case and wasn’t shared to change any minds or for publicity, just as a recollection:

I belatedly read your article, which brought back many memories.  The District Attorney, John Irwin, became very ill during the preliminary stages of the prosecution. Originally the defendants had separate sets of lawyers, and Mr. Irwin was trying to work with the different lawyers.  For some reason I never learned, he then asked for the death penalty.  That is when Team Defense took over the case…The history I recall is that Tiny Roberts told the GBI agent assigned to the case, upon their first interview on the day of the incident, a description of the perpetrators, who were wearing ski masks, but it was not noted by the agent, who was working on one of his first cases.  Several days later, another more experienced agent re-interviewed Mr. Roberts, who said that the perpetrators might have been the Jacksons, who lived down a dirt road quite close to the store.  The investigators drove toward the residence, and saw where a truck had stopped on the dirt road.  When interviewed, one of the defendants said that they had stopped, gotten out, and thrown the gun into the swamp.  After the arrest, one of the defendants, Roosevelt Jackson, I think, waded in the swamp, looking for the gun.  This was pictured by the defense as a very cruel tactic.  One of the Terrell County deputies, Jack Hammack, said he showed his pistol to one of the defendants, asking if the pistol used looked like his. The deputy did not admit…pointing the pistol at anyone. The confessions were eventually thrown out on the basis that the legalese used in the waiver forms was too complicated for the educational background of the defendants.  It never was revealed in court, but the search warrant that was executed at the farm house, and which found ski masks similar to the ones worn in the incident, was signed by a justice of the peace, who also went on the warrant’s execution.  When I inquired about why he went on the raid, I was informed that the JP was also a deputy sheriff.  When I learned that, I told Mr. Irwin we had to nolle pros [abandon] the case.  The search warrant had also been thrown by Judge Geer out on unspecified grounds, and I was considering another appeal. This was after the judge-switching episode.  The only evidence we had available after the confessions and the search warrant were thrown out was Mr. Robert’s eyewitness identification.  Unfortunately, he had become quite upset from the publicity, and we could not vouch for his credibility. 

Central Hallway Farmhouse, Washington County

Washington County GA Abandoned Chartreuse Farmhouse Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2016

This is located between Harrison and Pringle. It was the scene of a murder about ten years ago and has been empty ever since.