Blood EchoesThomas H. Cook
The True Story of an Infamous Mass Murder and Its Aftermath
Thomas H. Cook
Open Road Integrated Media ebook
First and foremost, the author wishes to express his abiding gratitude to Ernestine, Patricia, and Nancy Alday for their invaluable assistance in the writing of this book. The reliving of these events was understandably difficult and painful, but they never relented in their determination to see the task through to its conclusion.
In addition to surviving members of the Alday family, many others gave unstintingly of themselves, devoting many hours to the completion of this book.
Ronnie Angel, formerly of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, worked tirelessly in helping me reconstruct the investigation that followed the murders on River Road. Others involved in the apprehension and early questioning of the suspects were equally forthcoming in detailing events from their particular perspectives, notably, Larry Good, L. D. Townley, F. E. Thomas, and Wade Watson. In addition, Robert Ingram, of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, was vital in providing information regarding the prison breaks in which Carl Isaacs was involved.
Peter Zack Geer, Charles Ferguson, and Daniel L. Ricketson helped detail the prosecution of the Alday defendants.
Bo McLeod and the staff of the Donalsonville News were most generous in providing space, as well as access to their extensive file on the murders and the trials, with particular reference to their impact upon the community.
Numerous local officials in Donalsonville gave unsparingly of their time and services, notably John Godby and Hurbey Johnson of the Seminole County Sheriff’s Department, and Sylvia James, County Clerk of Seminole County.
At the Georgia Bureau of Corrections, John Siler and Fred Steeples arranged for inmate interviews.
Susan Boylen of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office provided critical documents which pertained to the later appeals process and was always available to be of assistance in leading me through its thorny byways.
Tom West proved a devoted advocate of his client, Wayne Carl Coleman, and his willingness to assist a writer whom he knew to have a different perspective from his own will serve as a testament to his own self-confidence and certainty of purpose.
Starr Holland and others on the staff of the Albany Herald were painstaking in their efforts to provide me with articles and photographs pertaining to the long history of the case.
And finally, in New York, my editor, Michaela Hamilton, leveled a keen eye on the manuscript, providing not one suggestion that did not substantively strengthen and improve it.
To all these various individuals I offer my sincere appreciation.
This is a work of nonfiction. Although much of the dialogue in it is taken directly from court and police transcripts, there are numerous instances in which it has been reconstructed on the basis of the author’s interviews with relevant individuals.
The real names of the people involved in this story have been used, except for Charlie Bowman, Steven Dennis, Tom Fitzgerald, Willie Flynn, Sarah Foster, Sam Hall, Theodore Hall, Bill Maddox, Eddie Phipps, Sylvester Pitts, and Judy Powell, whose names have been changed in the interest of privacy. Any similarity between the fictitious names used and those of living persons is, of course, entirely coincidental.
For them no more the blazing hearth shall burn,
Or busy housewife ply her evening care;
No children run to lisp their sire’s return,
Or climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”
FREE AT LAST
SOMETHING WENT WRONG
TRIAL AND TRIBULATION
“WHAT ABOUT US?”
“WILL THIS NEVER END?”
Seminole County, Georgia
By five-thirty in the afternoon, the smell of scorched gunpowder was thick in every room. No one knew exactly how many shots had been fired, only that the old man had required more than anyone else, rising determinedly from the bed, one side of his forehead already blown open, but rising anyway, as the bullets rained down upon him until he slumped back finally, still breathing, but only for a few seconds more.
Another body lay beside his, thick and husky, the arms made strong by the rigorous farm labor he’d done all his life.
In the next room, a third body sprawled facedown across the small sofa, the legs hung over the side so that the feet touched the floor. In the opposite bedroom, two more men lay on a tiny bed, the blue smoke from the pistols still curling out the half-closed door.
With five men dead, the only question that remained was what to do with the woman.
She lay on her back beneath the kitchen table, whimpering softly, but entirely conscious, her blouse pulled over her breasts, her panties in a crumpled mass beside her.
The four men who moved about the trailer hardly glanced at her as they rifled through the drawers and cabinets and closets, looking for guns and money.
From her place on the floor, it would have been hard to keep track of the men. The tiny windows of the trailer let in very little light, and that was further constricted by the curtains which hung over them. As for the lights inside the trailer, the men had not turned them on, preferring to skulk through the rooms in a gloomy shadow, muttering to each other about their next move, their eyes averted as if they did not want to remind themselves that she was still there, still alive, that there was one to go.
In the end, it was a topic that could not be avoided, however, and they discussed their options quietly while she continued to lie beneath the kitchen table, her eyes combing its low ceiling, or crawling along the walls and windows, lighting from time to time on some little knick-knack she’d bought across the border in Florida or in one of the small shops of nearby Donalsonville.
She’d married her husband, Jerry, only a few years before in a ceremony at the Spring Creek Baptist Church, a small, wood-framed sanctuary that sat on a shady hill a few miles from the trailer. All Jerry’s relatives had crowded into the church that day, the whole Alday clan. Among them: Ned, Jerry’s father, dressed in his Sunday best; Aubrey, Ned’s brother, beaming from the front pew; Shuggie and Jimmy, the two brothers who kidded Jerry mercilessly, their faces grinning over their roughly knotted ties. All their bodies were with her now, their feet dangling from the beds or off the sofa, their shoes still encrusted with the rich topsoil of their farm.
The strangers told her to get up, and one of them stepped over and jerked her roughly from the floor. He was a short man, hardly more than a b
oy, with long dark hair that swept over one eye. Earlier, he’d called her a bitch and slapped her while the others looked on, waiting their turn. Then he’d forced her down, first to her knees, then on to her back, ripping at her clothes, his hands all over her, his teeth sinking into her breast, breaking the skin, leaving a jagged purple mark.
“Get dressed,” he barked.
She’d worn turquoise pants and a matching sweater to work that day, and she put them back on slowly, already exhausted, standing completely still, except for the trembling, while the blindfold was pulled tightly over her eyes, then another cloth stuffed into her mouth.
A few seconds later she was outside, the last light of afternoon pouring over the undulating rows of freshly planted corn and beans and peanuts as they pushed her toward the waiting car.
Once in the car, she crouched down in the back seat floorboard, moaning softly, her knees against her chest, while the one black man among the three white ones held the gun on her, staring silently from over the barrel, his brown eyes wide and bulging behind the thick black-framed glasses.
The car moved in a zigzag pattern for a time, then turned off the road entirely and headed into the woods, its wheels bumping across the rutted ground, weeds and branches slapping noisily at its sides until it finally came to a halt.
In a moment she was outside again, first perched on the hood of the car, like an ornament for the men to gaze at, then on her knees, dragged to them by her hair, and finally on her back again, with the dark-haired man on top of her, the black man watching from above, while the other two moved quickly around and inside a second car, wiping it with brightly colored bits of cloth.
Soon the other two returned to the car, one of them sucking at a bottle of whiskey. The other one, blond and lanky, the youngest of them all, stood away, slumped against the back of the car, as if keeping his distance from the others.
She felt the dark-haired man pull himself off her, his eyes now trained on the others. He laughed and nodded toward her, his gaze still fixed upon the other men. “Any of you want some more of this?” he asked casually, as if offering his companions one last sip from the nearly empty glass.
Several days before, on May 11, at approximately two o’clock in the afternoon, Riley Miller walked into the headquarters of the McConnellsburg Police Department and worriedly filed a Missing Persons report on his nineteen-year-old son, Richard Wayne Miller, a senior at the local high school.
Police officials asked Miller the usual questions. Had the boy acted strangely in recent days? Was he having personal problems? Had conditions deteriorated in his home life? In other words, was it possible Richard had run away?
Mr. Miller was adamant. His son was a good student, a member of the Future Farmers of America. He held down a job at the local Exxon station. He was an all-American boy.
But he had not come home the previous night, and Riley Miller wanted to know why. “I thought he might have gone to stay with a friend,” he told police.
But he hadn’t, Mr. Miller went on, his voice darkening with each passing second, a gloomy apprehension now rising in the faces of the policemen who surrounded him. As they listened, Richard Miller began to take shape in their minds, no longer a name on a form, but a young man with an easy smile and helpful manner, friendly, modest, a perfect son.
“I called all of Richard’s friends,” Mr. Miller insisted. “But none of them have seen him.”
Mr. Miller had also called the Exxon station where Richard worked, but none of his coworkers had seen him since his departure the previous afternoon.
“When did he leave the station?” one of the officers asked.
“Around the middle of the afternoon.”
“What was he driving?”
“A green Chevy Super Sport,” Mr. Miller answered. “He was going into town to buy some auto parts.”
“Did he buy them?”
“Yes, he did. Then got in his car and headed down U.S. 30.”
Down U.S. 30, and into oblivion.
At 9:00 A.M. the next day, Pennsylvania State Trooper Larry Good received an urgent telephone call from Riley Miller.
“Someone saw Richard,” Mr. Miller told him.
“Her name is Deborah Poole. She’s with me now.”
Good drove immediately to Miller’s house and listened as Poole told her story.
At around 12:30 P.M. on May 10, Poole told him, she’d been on her way to pick up her children at her mother’s house just off U.S. 30 when she’d seen Richard Miller traveling west in his green Chevy Super Sport. As their two cars approached Patterson Run Road and slowed down to make a left turn, she and Miller had glanced to the left and seen three white men and one black one as they hustled around the cab of a pickup truck. Both Miller and she had recognized the truck as belonging to a local resident, Lawrence Schooley. But Schooley had been nowhere around the truck, Poole added, and so she had become suspicious.
“Why?” Good asked.
“Because of the men around it,” Poole said. “They didn’t seem like they ought to have been in Mr. Schooley’s truck.”
“What did the men look like?” Good asked.
“The black one wore thick dark-rimmed glasses,” Poole answered. “And one of the white ones had long light-brown hair.”
Miller had become suspicious of the men too, Poole added, and after they’d made the left turn, they’d both stopped on Patterson Run Road to look at what was going on around Schooley’s truck. Poole had remained in her car, but Richard had gotten out of his and walked up to where she had stopped.
“Did he say anything to you?” Good asked.
“Yes,” Poole answered. “He asked me if I knew any of the men we could see around Lawrence’s truck. I told him that I’d never seen any of them before.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“Yes,” Poole said. “He told me that he was going to hang around and watch where they went. If they pulled away, he was going to follow them.”
According to Poole, Miller had then returned to his car and backed down the road to U.S. 30, from which position he would be able to observe the men at the truck, then follow them should they pull back out onto the highway.
“And that’s where you left him?” Good asked. “Sitting in his car?”
Poole nodded. “I didn’t think anything else about it until I heard he was missing.”
Later that same afternoon, Good consulted a recent Maryland State Police bulletin about a breakout at the Poplar Hill Correctional Institute, a minimum-security prison outside Baltimore. Three men had simply walked off the grounds at three in the morning on May 5. Two of the men, Carl Junior Isaacs and his half-brother, Wayne Carl Coleman, were white. The third, George Elder Dungee, was black. A fourth man, the younger brother of one of the escapees, was suspected of having joined the gang.
The next day, suspecting that the men Poole had seen around Lawrence Schooley’s truck might be the same as those who had escaped from Poplar Hill, Good presented her with two separate photographic lineups. One consisted of six pictures of black men, all were wearing glasses. She identified George Elder Dungee as the man she’d seen sitting placidly in the back of Schooley’s truck.
Next Good presented her with a second lineup consisting of seven photographs of young white males. Poole picked William Carroll (“Billy”) Isaacs as the long-haired youth she’d seen three days before. Billy Isaacs was the fifteen-year-old brother of Carl Junior Isaacs.
Some time later, a second witness came forward. His name was Norman Strait, and he told Good that as he’d been coming down U.S. 30, he’d seen several men loading material from a blue Chevrolet into Schooley’s truck. He’d stopped to observe them more closely, and taken his hunting rifle from the gun rack and drawn a bead on each of the four men. Through the powerful lens of his hunting scope, he had watched them haul things back and forth between the two vehic
les. One had remained idle while the others hustled about, and Strait had been able to get a good look at him. He was short, with long dark hair that often fell over one eye.
In a photographic lineup, Strait identified Carl Isaacs as the man he had sighted through the cross-hairs of his hunting scope. “I guess I should have shot that son-of-a-bitch right there,” he would tell Good only three weeks later. “It would have saved a lot of lives.”
One thing was sure, and Carl Junior Isaacs must have known it as he led Wayne and George out of Poplar Hill on the morning of May 5, 1973. He was in command, a position he reveled in.
Born on August 9, 1953, Carl was the son of a father who abandoned him and a mother he despised. His father, George Archie Isaacs, had drifted up from Mountain City, Tennessee, where he’d worked as a delivery man and a service station attendant before finally coming north.
Once in Maryland, George took a variety of odd jobs, everything from working at a mushroom plant to plying his skills as a carpenter.
A woman proved his undoing, as far as remaining in the North was concerned. Her name was Betty, and when George met her she was already married to Carl Coleman, the father of her four children. Such incidental facts did not stop Archie and Betty from deepening their relationship, however, and when Coleman realized he was being cuckolded, he promptly signed a warrant against George, charging him with “breaking peace” between Betty and himself. As a result, George spent forty days in jail.
Once released, he went back to Betty. By then, Coleman had disappeared into the wilds of West Virginia, where he was later rumored to have been shot.
Though George would later describe Betty as a faithless wife who did “nothing but sit around and drink,” he fathered so many children by her during the next few years that in 1988, when interviewed by a defense team psychologist, he could remember neither the names nor the exact number of his offspring. Their separate personal identities equally eluded him. “I’m just trying to remember which one that was,” he said, when asked about the early life of Carl Junior, the son who would bring to the Isaacs name a singularly dark renown.