Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Lamar Potts an Honest Georgia Sheriff and the man that got John Wallace of Meriwether County And the Sad Story of Bonnie and Clyde and Steve McQueen

Georgia Millionaire John Wallace in 1950 on the way to his trial for murder, Sheriff Lamar Potts is to the right, escorting him.

Andy Griffith based the character of Sheriff Andy Taylor on real people. One such person was Sheriff Lamar Potts of Coweta County Georgia who served in office over 32 years. Even though he lived in the Bible Belt, no one ever accused him of prejudice. And this was rural Georgia. He did his job honestly and honorably. Everybody respected him. He was proud of the fact that he never had to fire his gun in the line of duty and his county hadn't had a serious crime in years. When one of the richest men in Georgia committed a murder in his jurisdiction, Sheriff Potts went after him. Politicians, Preachers and Sheriffs asked him to let the case go. John Wallace was a "good" man, a deacon in his church and a friend of the "good people" of Meriwether County and the man he killed, Wilson Turner, was white trash . Sheriff Potts said no, Wilson Turner deserved justice: Potts was relentless, he proved that Wallace was a murderer, even though they couldn't find Turner's body. He said the man he killed was a veteran of WWII and he deserved his day in court. And that was what Sheriff Potts gave him.
Today I read about a 12-year-old boy shot and killed in Cleveland. The caller who spoke to 911 said a child was harassing people in the park with a toy gun. Now, he is dead.

John Wallace was an extremely wealthy landowner in Meriwether County, Georgia, with virtually unlimited power in that county, including having the sheriff, Hardy Collier, under his control. Wilson Turner, a sharecropper tenant, attempted to do extra bootlegging work without Wallace's permission and was fired by Wallace. Turner retaliated by stealing two cows for compensation that Turner felt Wallace owed.
Turner was found and arrested in Carrollton, Georgia, by Chief of Police Threadgill but was transferred from the Carrollton Jail to the Meriwether County jail in Greenville, Wallace arranged for the sheriff to release Turner. John Wallace and three other men were waiting outside the jail. Turner, already[citation needed] realizing that his release was a conspiracy, attempted to escape in his truck, with Wallace and his group in pursuit, two men each in two cars.
Turner's truck, drained of its fuel earlier, ran out of gas just past the county line at the Sunset Tourist camp in Moreland, Coweta County, Georgia. Multiple witnesses reported seeing Wallace pistol-whip Turner so hard that the gun discharged, then Turner going limp and being put in one of the cars. The group then returned to Meriwether County, where Turner's body was first hidden on Wallace's property, then burned in a pit, the ashes and bone fragments scattered in a nearby stream. Wallace forced two black field workers, Albert Brooks and Robert Lee Gates, to assist him in destroying the victim's body.
Because the act of murder, as witnesses testified, took place in Coweta County, the crime was under the jurisdiction of the Coweta County sheriff, Lamar Potts. Potts and his deputies searched for days and then an informant told them of Wallace burning the body and revealed the names of Brooks and Gates. Potts persuaded the two men to take him to the burn site. There were bone fragments found that the crime lab identified as human. Brooks and Gates also took the sheriff to the well where Turner's body had originally been deposited. Ruptured brain tissue was found that was also identified as coming from a human being.
Wallace's trial received wide press coverage in the rural community. It was reported that Wallace's eccentric testimony led to his conviction. After several appeals, John Wallace was executed in the electric chair in 1950. His case was unusual because he was one of the richest men to ever be given the death penalty and his case was the first in Georgia where a white man was given the death sentence upon the testimony of two black men. Mayhayley Lancaster, a feared and respected local fortune-teller, also testified against Wallace.

Celestine Sibley with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House

Pulitzer Prize Winning female journalist and Atlanta Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley wrote about the case. She portrayed Georgia Sheriff Potts as a man who was proud of never having fire his gun in the line of duty. He felt that was a badge of honor. Potts was respected by all residents of Meriwether County because justice was the only thing that mattered to him. He took the words protect and serve to heart, rare for the time, he applied them to the Blacks who lived in his county as well. 
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a very active life filling in for her husband who was crippled by polio. She decided to use it to her advantage. She would give press conferences and briefings, but only open them up to women. During her many travels all over the world, Eleanor demanded women reporters have access too. In fact, no men were allowed at her press conferences at the White House. 
The Atlanta Constitution and other papers went out and hired women like Ms. Sibley in response. For 50 years Celestine Sibley was one of the preeminent Southern Journalists/Columnists in the country, winning the Pulitzer Prize for her work and opening doors for other female journalists of the day. The John Wallace/Lamar Potts case was her first great success. 

President Roosevelt

Bonnie and Clyde
Shortly before she died, Bonnie Parker wrote the following poem. Most people don't know that Bonnie was an honors student in high school:

The Story of Bonnie and Clyde

You've read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;...
If you're still in need
Of something to read,
Here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I'm sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.
There's lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They're not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.
They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.
But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
"I'll never be free,
So I'll meet a few of them in hell."
The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn't give up till they died.
The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it's fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.
From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.
If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can't find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.
There's two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.
A newsboy once said to his buddy;
"I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We'd make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped."
The police haven't got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, "Don't start any fights
We aren't working nights
We're joining the NRA."
From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won't "stool" on Bonnie and Clyde.
If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat.
They don't think they're too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They've been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.
Some day they'll go down together;
And they'll bury them side by side;
To few it'll be grief
To the law a relief
But it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.
-- Bonnie Parker

Prison usually makes things worse, sometimes it destroys people, like Clyde Barrow

Clyde committed burglaries starting when he was 16 to help feed his family during the Depression. Everyone was broke and a lot of desperate families went hungry. Clyde finally got caught for a burglary at age 17, then sent to a state prison for almost 20 years. He was a young, good looking boy and horrible things happened to him in Prison: His life was a living hell from the moment he walked in the door of Eastham Prison in Huntsville, Texas.  After a couple of years, Clyde was given a parole, but he never forgot that hell hole. A few years later, Clyde broke into that Texas State Prison and summarily executed his tormentors. He wouldn't talk about what they did to him, but we know. At least one of them was a guard.

Prison drove him over the edge, this mug shot shows why. His sister, Marie, said this about Clyde when he got out of jail. "There’s a new air about him. A funny sort of something I can’t put my finger on." Sister Nell said: "I’m afraid he’s not going to go straight." Years later, Marie was more blunt. "Something awful sure must have happened to him in prison, because he wasn’t the same person when he got out." and, in the 1970s, Ralph Fults, who knew Barrow inside Eastham and would later join Barrow's gang for a short time, said he watched Barrow "change from a friendly schoolboy to a rattlesnake, the most vicious man I ever met." That isn't to say he wasn't capable of kindness. ordinary people, his family and friends all describe him as kind, even sweet, until the day he died.  Prison caused him to go into a rage whenever he saw a man with a badge. His experiences in prison, repeated beatings, rape and torture by the guards and other prisoners made Clyde mentally ill. A good kid got in trouble out of necessity, then we destroyed him.

When someone talks about us being too easy on crime, tell them that they are stupid and have no idea of what they speak.

Justice doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.

The Dozier School for Boys in Conservative Bible Belt Florida. Boys as young as 10-years-old were sent to Dozier after Juvenile Court hearings for truancy, shoplifting, even stealing a candy bar, for being disrespectful to their parents or a teacher, smoking cigarettes, drinking a beer, etc. If there ever was a living hell, Dozier was it. Guards would beat the crap out of the boys for minor offenses, a smart remark to a guard, wetting the bed, talking after lights out, missing church, refusing to do hard labor in the citrus fields around the facility where the boys were farmed out as slave  labor. They worked 16 hour days for no money, though the warden made money on the deal, he got a kickback from the owners of the orchards. For repeat offenses, serious offenses or if you were sick and couldn’t work in the fields or shirked on the job, you were sent to the "White House" for serious torture.  That was when the beating and worse began, screams of the boys  would fill the night air almost every night at the facility. Sometimes you knew that sudden silence meant that the guards had sent a kid to intensive care in the primitive infirmary or possibly murdered a boy. 

After extended vicious torture, including sexual torture, some of the boys died. The guards then dumped the boy's body  in what they called the garbage pit. Those screams would be the one thing that none of the boys would ever forget. They were terrified and had nightmares the rest of their tortured lives. Beatings and torture were a part of every boy's life there.  If one of the boys was murdered, the warden would then write a letter to his Mom and Dad saying their boy had run away. Everyone who worked there heard screams of the boys  as they were beaten, tortured and murdered, they knew the truth. The guards would send a squad of boys weekly into the "White House" to wash the blood, brains, urine and feces off the floor and walls.

One boy told a poignant story. He met a 10-year-old. He had just been sent there for being truant. Apparently the kids in school found out that he wet the bed. They started teasing him unmercifully. He finally stopped going to school. A judge quickly sent him to Dozier. The guards immediately started beating and torturing him for wetting the bed. They broke his arm during one torture session. Doctors know that bed wetting is a medical condition over which the boy had no control. The guards and staff didn't care. He created a problem for them and he was going to pay for it.  They took him, stripped him naked and then raped him with a mop handle. In the process they ripped his intestines. This 10-year-old truant was murdered by these Southern Christian guards, sworn officers of the law, because he wet the bed and they didn't want to deal with it anymore.  The warden sent this boy’s parents his usual threatening letter saying that he had run away and they would be arrested if they hid him, while at the same time he knew that this boy’s corpse had already started rotting in the facility "garbage pit".  A lot of boys were sent to jail, but some ended up with the death penalty. A penalty for some things which weren't even crimes. Getting tough on crime and juvenile delinquents obviously means something very different to conservatives and liberals. This was what Law and Order meant in the Bible Belt for God Fearing Conservatives.

A boy apparently from the 1950's who didn't make it out alive and his buddies in death. The crosses are a much later addition.

Charles Manson, future mass murderer, right before he got sent to hell in Juvenile Hall in Indiana

Two similar stories of two boys growing up in horrible circumstance with two radically different endings. No excuses for what Charles Manson did, but once you know about his childhood, neglect, alcoholism, horrific beatings and physical abuse by his prostitute mother, then being sold by his Mom for a pitcher of beer and the horrific time he spent in Juvenile Hall, you probably won't be able to forgive him, but his life will make sense to you. At the age of 13, Manson was sent to the Gibault School for Boys in Terre Haute, Indiana and it was a nightmare beyond comprehension. Can't even begin to discuss what happened to him there. But we know that he was viciously beaten and tortured by the cruel, sadistic guards, as all the boys were, and repeatedly raped by the older boys. Charles repeatedly tried to escape, but failed, bringing even worse torture and beatings down upon himself. There is even a report that he tried to kill himself.  Not surprisingly he immediately became a career criminal when he escaped. You do that to a kid and that is what you end up with.

Same story, different ending. Steve McQueen's mother was an alcoholic prostitute who actually tried to put him to work in the business once when she was short of rent. She literally tried to sell him for sex to a neighbor for money. She had a hard life and always saw Steve as part of the reason, a burden. She was never consistently capable of taking care of her kid. Luckily for Steve, she periodically left him with her uncle Claude and his family, who gladly took Steve in. Steve would tell people that the happiest times in his childhood were with his uncle Claude in Slater, Missouri. Steve lived with his uncle on his farm in the country and was  finally happy. Steve made  a lot of friends and reveled in the simple country life. Then, regrettably, for whatever reason, his Mother would come and get him, then Steve would be miserable again. Then she would get tired of him and ship him back to Uncle Claude. Uncle Claude begged her to let Steve stay, but family disapproval of a mother abandoning her son always brought her back to reclaim him. This happened repeatedly up until she and his stepfather moved to California when Steve was 14. 

"The day I left the farm Uncle Claude gave me a personal going-away present−a gold pocket watch, with an inscription inside the case. The inscription read: "To Steve – who has been a son to me.""  Steve kept that watch the rest of his life and considered it his most valuable possession. His son now has Steve's watch.

Mom married a series of cruel vicious bullies, who would beat the crap out of Steve repeatedly. Not to say Steve wasn't a handful. He got caught by police for stealing hubcaps, truancy and other offenses. Basically it was a toxic relationship all around. Finally, for convenience sake, so they wouldn't have to support him anymore, they had Steve committed to the state of California as an incorrigible juvenile delinquent. For the second time Steve caught a break. He got sent to the Boy's Republic in Chino. It was a well run facility where the boy's felt cared about by a supportive staff and administration who always put the boy's best interest first. Steve was happy for the first time since he left Uncle Claude's farm. Additionally Steve received a good education and training. Steve said that being sent to the Boy's Republic saved his life. Every year he would go back and talk to the boys, bring them presents and encourage them and help them anyway he could. He would play flag football and shoot baskets with the boys and answer any questions they had. He said that the boys there made him feel like he belonged, that they were all his brothers. When he went back, he was just a big brother checking on his little brothers. He felt that paying that debt might save another kid's life, like one decent, compassionate judge had saved his. Steve was more than willing to repay that debt and proud to do it.

1 comment:

Keith Turner said...

Nice Blog Brian, I have links to the outlaw Jesse James and to some old county judges as well. Best Wishes Keith Pott Turner