Friday, July 24, 2020

Dennis Perry's Conviction in the Murders of Harold and Thelma Swain Overturned!

In April of this year, I posted a pretty lengthy blog post about the murder of Harold and Thelma Swain, an older African American couple in Waverly, Georgia who were gunned down in cold blood by a white male assailant as they worshiped at Rising Daughters Baptist Church. In 2003, Dennis Perry was convicted of the murder, and he has served almost 17 years of two life sentences for the double homicide. This week, Dennis's conviction was overturned, and he is out on bond after the judge ordered that he be released on his own recognizance.

Reports from Fox News indicate a judge overturned Perry's 2003 conviction based on DNA evidence from the crime scene that matched another suspect, Erik Sparre, aged 57. Sparre, who was originally a suspect, was dropped from the list of suspects by police when he was able to produce an alibi for the time of the murders; however, his alibi was recently proven to be false. Once Dennis Perry's attorney found out that the alibi was not legitimate, they requested DNA tests. The tests revealed DNA found at the scene did not match Perry, and instead matched Erik Sparre. The DNA sample used to match the DNA found at the scene of the murders was provided by Sparre's mother, Gladys Sparre. In a strange twist to this story, Gladys Sparre was found dead in her Waynesville home on Sunday, July 19th. She had been seen alive as recently as Friday, July 17th. At this time, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations is investigating and awaiting the results of an autopsy.

So what happens to Dennis Perry? Keep in mind that at this point, he is out on bond. For now, it is up to the District Attorney for that judicial circuit as to whether or not Dennis Perry will be retried. Judging from all the evidence stacking up against Erik Parre, I doubt that Perry will be retried, and it is likely that an indictment of Parre could be an option.  The Georgia Innocence Project was behind Perry much of they way. My earlier blog in April about this case outlines the problems with evidence presented by prosecutors, as well as the information about the attempts to free Dennis Perry. The GBI reopened the case in May, and the district attorney commented they were waiting on the GBI to wrap-up that investigation before making a decision either way. Perry's attorneys from the Georgia Innocence Project are calling on the district attorney and state to drop all charges against Perry in light of the evidence discovered recently pointing to the fact his DNA did NOT match any DNA found at the murder scene.

So, as I always do, I pose a few questions.
1. Why was the alibi for Erik Parre not thoroughly investigated? Or was it?
2. Where is all that missing evidence that supposedly pointed to Dennis Perry as the killer?
3. Have the sheriff and district attorney in the original case commented on the recent findings?
4. What motive might Erik Parre have had to kill the Swains? Did he know them at all?
5. What happened to Gladys Parre? Was she murdered? If so, could it have been in retaliation for providing a hair sample for DNA testing?
6. Did Gladys Parre willfully provide the DNA sample?

Hopefully, the GBI will wrap-up their investigation soon. Here is a clip from First Coast News out of Jacksonville, Florida, the major metropolitan area nearest Waverly.
https://www.firstcoastnews.com/article/news/crime/man-to-be-released-from-prison-after-20-years-following-discovery-of-new-evidence/77-9ad8c316-12eb-4e9b-b5e9-338733b87add

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Atlanta Ripper Episode on The Fall Line Podcast

Back in the early winter of 2020, well before the world seemed to come to an end, I was contacted by Laura Norton and Brooke Hargrove, the creators and hosts of The Fall Line Podcast. If you have never listed to their podcasts, you are certainly missing out. I like to say that it is the Unsolved Mysteries of the podcasting world; however, Laura and Brooke are much lovelier than the esteemed Robert Stack was, and I am sure if our favorite mystery show host were still with us today, he would agree.
At any rate, the ladies asked me if I would be willing to participate in recording their upcoming series on The Atlanta Ripper. After having read my book on the murders and conducting their own research, they felt strongly compelled to do a series on the grisly episode that often gets overlooked in Atlanta history. I agreed, and the pair traveled to Milledgeville on a rainy February day to interview me for the podcast. The episode released last week. So far only part one is available with part two coming soon. If part two is ANYTHING like part one, you won't want to miss out. The link to their website is here https://www.thefalllinepodcast.com/.  To listen to their podcast, I simply logged on to the Podcast app on my IPhone. However, there are a number of places where the podcast is available including Spotify. Check out their website for more details! The first part of the series will get you hooked. While you are at it, check out their other seasons. Of particular interest to me are the series about The Millbrook Twins and Shy'Kemmia Pate. My heart breaks for these lost young girls each time I listen to these episodes.
From my understanding from talking with Laura and Brooke, more episode are on the way about both well-known and not so well-known missing person cases in Georgia, some of which I have written about on this very blog site. Again, if you have not tuned in, you are missing a great podcast.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Did Dennis Perry Really Murder Harold and Thelma Swain, or Did the Court Convict the Wrong Man?

     In one of the farthest corners of the state of Georgia in Camden County, two older African Americans were gunned down in cold blood by an assailant later believed to be Dennis Perry. However, there is much controversy surrounding his accusation and subsequent conviction. The events in question have mystified local residents, legal scholars, and amateur sleuths alike.
     In the small area of Waverly, Georgia, not far from the Georgia/Florida Line, African Americans gathered for Bible study at Rising Daughters Baptist Church on March 11, 1985. The meeting included both Harold and Thelma Swain, a married couple from the area who were stalwarts in the community and faithful, active members of the church. Swain was conducting the Bible study and missionary meeting where almost a dozen people were in attendance. Around 9:00 PM, one of the worshipers in attendance had to leave due to a prior commitment. As she left the area of the church where the meeting convened, she encountered something strange. A young white male approached her and said he needed to see someone. When questioned about who he needed to see, the young man pointed to Harold Swain, who had since entered the area. According to others on the scene, several of the other women in attendance saw the young man, but like the first woman he approached, no one recognized him. Very shortly after Harold approached the young white man, gunshots were heard, and after all was over, Harold Swain was shot several times. Hearing the gunshots, Thelma, Harold's wife, rushed out to see what was going on, and as a result, the young man shot her. Afraid for their lives, the other women who were part of the meeting rushed in to the pastor's office for protection. It was there they tried to phone the police; however, the phone did not work because the phone lines at the church had been cut. Finally, one of the women in the pastor's study summoned the courage to dash to the car and drive for help (Masee-Yost, 2007; Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d).
     Shortly afterwards, police arrived where they found Harold mortally wounded; he was shot four times-three times in the chest and one time in the head. Thelma fared no better but was shot only once in the upper right side of her chest. She too died of her wounds. Harold Swain was sixty-six years old, and his wife, Thelma, was sixty-two (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d). They were well-respected members of the community, and their death horrified their family, friends, neighbors, and members of the congregation and community. There was no apparent reason for the murders, and because the young man who did the deed asked to speak to Harold, albeit not by name but by sight in the vestibule, it was apparent this was not a random act of violence (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d.; Masee-Yost, 2007).
     The Georgia Bureau of Investigations teamed up with local authorities in Camden County to investigate the case. At the scene of the crime, investigators found bullet casings and three pairs of eyeglasses. One pair belonged to Mr. Swain, the other to Mrs. Swain, and the other was believed to have belonged to the assailant. Joe Gregory of the GBI was one of the first investigators on the scene. He proceeded to collect evidence and interview witnesses, gaining a description of the assailant from the women who were with the Swains on the night of the attack. However, he soon found that most of the witnesses only got a brief look at the man, and that was from a distance. This is logical given the chaos and fear that riveted through the group at the sound of gunfire and the sight of their beloved friends massacred by a madman. Agent Gregory commented the lenses of the set of glasses that must have belonged to the shooter were fairly thick, and the surface of the frames had been impacted by the use of a blowtorch. The earpieces did not match. It was further deduced the wearer was farsighted with astigmatism in the right eye (Rush, 2015).  All this led Agent Gregory and police to believe the perpetrator could not afford a decent pair of glasses, so he modified these to fit him. There was some speculation this was a robbery gone wrong; however, the assailant left $300.00 in Harold Swain's pocket which led investigators to frown on this theory. Other evidence found at the scene were five bullet casings, five blue plastic shirt buttons, a white plastic button, four pieces of cut telephone wire, human hair in the hinges of the eyeglass frames, and Pepsi bottles-both of which were found in the parking lot of the church. Blood spatters at the scene were assumed to be the Swains, so no samples were ever taken (Masee-Yost, 2007; Greene, 2007; Rush, 2015). Investigators also collected the top of the telephone connection box and a smudged mirror from the church vestibule (Rush, 2015). Of course, notes on the eyewitness accounts and crime scene photos were part of the evidence collected.
     Some have been led to suggest the murder was premeditated given the phone lines to the church were cut. If the assailant had done this, and it is logical to assume he did, as there were no reports of a malfunctioning phone or interruption in service prior to the murder, then this could have indicated premeditation. A composite sketch was made and circulated, and police began to mount a widespread manhunt for the assailant. About 135 miles away in Telfair County (near McRae-Helena), police pulled over the driver of a car for minor traffic violations, and they arrested him and two passengers when they found a few weapons in the trunk of the car. One of those arrested was Donnie Barrentine, a man who had reportedly bragged about murdering a black preacher and his wife in a church; however, when questioned intensely about the statements, Barrentine claimed he had been lying and only trying to get attention by doing so (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d). It just so happens one of the weapons found in the trunk of the car was a .25 caliber pistol, similar to the one used in the murder of the Swains. One might ask why Barrentine was not tried for the murder of the Swains. He was asked to be part of a lineup, and the woman who had encountered the murderer at the church on the night in question could not positively identify the assailant from anyone in the lineup. Nonetheless, it should be noted the lady did claim the boots Barrentine wore were identical to the ones the assailant wore the night the Swains were murdered (Masee-Yost, 2007). Barrentine failed a polygraph exam, but the composite drawing made by sketch artists based on the eyewitnesses at the scene of the crime did not match Barrentine, albeit some seemed to think it resembled him slightly (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d). Barrentine, while serving five years for weapons charges associated with his arrest in Telfair County, was not charged with the murder of the Swains. The district attorney who eventually tried the case also felt the witnesses who heard Barrentine state he had murdered a black couple in a church in Georgia were unreliable, with most of them being "dope-heads and prostitutes," (Greene, 2007, para. 35).
     Another lead came in about a year later. Agent Gregory realized the composite drawing which had helped lead investigators to not charge Barrentine did resemble a transient from Kansas who had been involved in a church robbery there in 1981. This lead led nowhere, as no one was ever able to find or identify the transient in Kansas, and the only thing known about him was he drove a car with Florida license plates (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d). It should be noted Rising Daughters Baptist Church is very near the Georgia/Florida line. Furthermore, although some believed the murder was a result of a robbery gone wrong, Camden County Sheriff Bill Smith did not believe that to be the case. He pointed to the cut phone lines and the $300.00 remaining in Harold Swain's pocket as proof this was a hit on Harold Swain and not a robbery gone wrong. Smith felt the killer probably knew Swain and he came there to kill him; Smith also felt Thelma Swain was killed only because she rushed in to help her husband and may not have necessarily been the target of the murder, although he could not definitively prove the assertion. Smith was a personal friend of the Swains, and he was familiar with Rising Daughters Baptist Church. Because of its location in a rural part of the county, the church often had transients stop in asking for help. Sheriff Smith did not feel this was the case with the man who murdered his friends (Masee-Yost, 2007).
     In 1988, the Swain's murders were part of a weekly telecast on the popular true crime show Unsolved Mysteries. While it would not be unusual for a murder case like the Swain's to be featured on the popular program, which is my favorite show of all time, I might add, followed closely by Murder, She Wrote, one thing about the episode was quite unusual-it featured the use of the actual glasses found at the crime scene and thought to be the ones worn by the perpetrator.  In one scene on the show, Robert Stack, the series' popular host, can be seen holding them in his hand. While other episodes have featured the showing of actual evidence, this was unusual because the evidence was sent to the producers and was physically present on the set. Sadly enough, that was the last time the glasses were ever seen (Masee-Yost, 2007)! Agent Gregory was not happy the sheriff sent those glasses to the show's producers, particularly given the case was unsolved at the time. In fact, much of the evidence collected from the original investigation is missing, with only the bullet casings, bullets from the bodies, three pieces of phone wire, and one blue button remaining (Rush, 2015).
     Although the eyeglasses were lost and could possibly still be sitting in a studio somewhere in Hollywood unidentified, the case's appearance on the popular show did bring in quite a few leads. One lead came from a resident in Camden County named Jane Beaver. She saw the show and said the composite sketch shown on the episode looked similar to Dennis Perry, a man who once dated her daughter (Greene, 2007). Beaver also contended Perry tried to borrow money from Harold Swain unsuccessfully. She told investigators that Perry told her Swain had laughed in his face, which infuriated Perry who swore to seek revenge on Swain and threatened to "kill that n****r" (Perry vs. Upton, Writ of Habeas Corpus, 2019). One thing to note about the composite drawing and the description given by eyewitnesses at the scene is there are only a few details about the assailant which all of the witnesses could agree upon-namely it was a young white male. However, the rest of the witnesses gave descriptions which were slightly different; none of them could totally agree on what the man actually looked like. This is problematic, as in a court of law, only consistent, positive identifications by eyewitnesses can withstand scrutiny and challenge.
     Beaver claimed Perry bore a strong resemblance to the man in the drawing, and he had lived in Camden County at one time, moving to Jonesboro, Georgia in 1984. He worked for a concrete company there, and after interviewing him and his supervisor, investigators found he was not in the vicinity of Camden County when the murder took place. Also, Vanzola Williams, the eyewitness who the assailant met in the vestibule and said he needed to speak to someone, failed to pick Perry out of a line-up (Rush, 2015). Agents were unable to muster enough evidence to arrest Perry, and in fact, they did not think he was their man based on the interviews and the lack of a positive ID from Williams in the lineup.
     The case remained open for ten more years after the 1988 Unsolved Mysteries episode, and in 1998, Dale Bundy was assigned to the case. In the ten year interim, Jane Beaver continued calling the show's  hotline as it went in to reruns claiming the assailant was Dennis Perry. In fact, she even approached the ladies at Rising Daughters Baptist Church who were witnesses to the crime and showed them Perry's photograph (Greene, 2007). One of the women to whom Beaver showed the photo of Dennis Perry was Cora Fisher, who claimed when she saw his picture, she was rattled and stricken with fear, as this was the man she remembered from the church who had shot the Swains (Rush, 2015). Some researchers have also suggested Beaver showed the photo of Perry to the ladies at the church and claimed he was the father of her grandson who was also shown in the picture; however, Perry did not father a child with Beaver's daughter, and in fact, the child in the photo was Perry's little brother, according to Helen Umphrey, Perry's mother (Masee-Yost, 2007). When Bundy showed both Fisher and Williams a single photo of Perry, both women identified him as the man who burst in to the church on March 11, 1985, shot Harold and Thelma Swain, and left them for dead. Bundy went to Florida where he interviewed Perry, but Perry maintained he had lived and was working in the Atlanta area at the time, knew of Harold Swain but never met him, and did not even own a  handgun. Bundy nor any other investigator spoke with Perry for another two years. On January 13, 2000, Perry was arrested at his home after returning from work and charged with the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain (Rush, 2015).
     To many, this is where the mystery of the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain ended; however, the group who believe this grows smaller and smaller each time the case is discussed. Perry was put on trial in 2003 and convicted of the murder, and because he struck a plea deal for two life sentences to avoid the death penalty, he cannot appeal the decisions due to the deal. There are quite a few who believe Perry is innocent of the crimes, and one group seeking to prove he is innocent is the Georgia Innocence Project. The family of Dennis Perry, as well as amateur sleuths feel Donnie Barrentine could be more involved in the crime than investigators at the GBI and Camden County Sheriff's Department believe him to be, and in fact, they believe he is the man who shot the Swains. According to some writers, the murder was a tactic to get the attention of Harold Swain's son-in-law who was said to have owed a debt to Barrentine's cousin (Rush, 2015). Interestingly enough, Barrentine testified for the defense at the 2003 trial, but he maintained he knew nor had anything to do with the murders. An investigation in to his work records showed he reported to work on March 11th and March 13th but was mysteriously absent from work on March 12th, the day after the murder.
     Although the district attorney did not focus much attention on Barrentine, they did feel they investigated him thoroughly. Perry's defense attorneys presented a defense they felt surely would result in an acquittal based on the legal requirement of "beyond a shadow of a doubt" as the benchmark for convicting a defendant. However, the jury returned a guilty verdict.  Did they get it right? Was Dennis Perry the killer? There are some things that stick out about this case.

1. Why was Jane Beaver so adamant that Dennis Perry was the murderer? Did she have a vendetta against Perry? There was some bad blood between Perry and her family, particularly over his time dating her daughter. Why did she tell people Perry was the father of her grandchild? Did she taint the photo identification process with Williams and Fisher by showing them a single photo-that of Perry? Did Perry really tell Jane Beaver he tried to borrow money from Harold Swain only to be laughed at by Swain and that Perry planned to seek revenge on Swain by killing him using a racial epitaph for Swain? Did Perry ever use Harold Swain's name? From her description of the event, she said he only referred to the man as his grandfather's black neighbor (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d).
2. The eyewitnesses could not agree on the description of the shooter. In fact, the eyewitnesses could not agree on whether or not the assailant was wearing glasses. Cora Fisher, who was a key witness for the prosecution kept changing her description of the assailant. At first, she said he had light, medium brown hair, then told investigators it was brownish or black and was curly before finally settling on yellowish or white. The jury was never presented with the contradictory testimony, only that three of the witnesses agreed he had blonde hair. The defense attorneys argued the eyewitness testimony suffered from cross-race effect where eyewitnesses have problems remembering descriptions of people who are not members of their own race-research which dates back to the early 1900s. Eyewitnesses have been more apt to remember descriptions of people of their own race. Also, only two of the eyewitnesses-Fisher and Williams-identified Perry as the shooter and they only did that after Jane Beaver showed them a photo of Perry and a period of 13 years had passed. The other eyewitnesses were not asked to identify Dennis Perry at the trial (Rush, 2015).
3. Why was so much evidence lost from the original investigation? Also, why did Sheriff Bill Smith agree to send the actual set of eyeglasses found at the scene off to the producers of Unsolved Mysteries for Robert Stack to use in the broadcast? Further, why did no one tightly supervise their return to the evidence file at the Camden County Sheriff's department? Apparently, Agent Gregory was not happy about the decision to do this. Also, what happened to the hairs found on those glasses, some of the buttons, parts of the telephone wire cut outside, the top of the telephone connection box and smudged mirror found in the vestibule?
4. Did Harold Swain know his assailant? The eyewitness testimony conflicted there too. Some witnesses said Harold acted as if he knew the assailant, where others said he acted as if he didn't. Also, Vandora Baker, one of the witnesses, claimed the assailant came down the aisle of the sanctuary, but all the others maintained he simply stuck his head through the door but remained in the vestibule (Sloan, from The Georgia Innocence Project, 2020).
5. The hairs on the glasses were from a Caucasian, but when they were tested for DNA, Perry's did not match the DNA from the hair, thus eliminating him as the provider of the hairs.
6. The eyeglasses found at the scene were designed to correct farsightedness. The GBI ordered an eye exam on Perry. He was found not to have farsightedness and in fact was found to have 20/20 vision. Research by the defense found that if Perry had farsightedness, he would have MUCH worse vision in each eye than 20/20; therefore, the glasses did not belong to Perry, or if they were his, they did not match his eye conditions and thus would have been problematic for him to wear (Dennis Perry, 2020). Logically, it could have been assumed that Perry could have worn the glasses as a disguise, but this would have impaired his vision, and he might not have been able to pull off a premeditated murder with impaired vision. There would have been a risk of misfiring or even making mistakes in a struggle with Swain resulting in getting tangled up and getting caught. There were too many risks with that. If a set of eyeglasses were going to be part of a disguise, why not simply use a pair of sunglasses or a pair of glasses with non-prescription lenses or no magnification at all? Or why not wear a mustache or fake beard? Why not wear a hat? I doubt Perry was using glasses to try to disguise himself if he were the assailant. It appears the person who owned the glasses needed them, and they even were modified to fit the assailant given the things investigators found on and about them.
7. Perry had an alibi. A Mr. Charlie Williamson drove Perry to work each day because Perry had no car in 1985. Williamson testified he took Perry to work the days in question and that he did not remember Perry not showing up for work around the time of the murders (Masee-Yost, 2007). In fact, investigators ruled out Perry after receiving the tip that Perry resembled the man in the drawings and was possibly the assailant because they deemed him to have a solid alibi-namely that he was hundreds of miles away working on his job (Dennis Perry, 2020).
8. What happened to the Pepsi bottles found in the parking lot? They were unable to do DNA tests on them because they were lost. What happened to them? Were they possibly used by the assailant(s) as he or they waited in the parking lot to make their move on the church and take out Harold Swain?
9. Detectives stated Dennis Perry "confessed" to the crime. Perry claims he was merely telling detectives what he thought might have happened. He felt that the murders were the result of an attempted robbery gone wrong and the assailant fled. However, regardless of what Perry said or intended to say, why was his "confession" not video taped or recorded? In fact, Masee-Yost (2007) posited no notes from the interview were ever made. Why? Perry contended the confession was coerced.
10. Why did the sketches made by the police artist based on the eyewitness accounts vary so much? The first four were indeed similar, but the final composite looked nothing like those four. Why was that the case?
11. The first four drawings made from the eyewitness accounts looked eerily similar to the transient in Kansas who robbed a church there in 1981. Was it possible that the man had come to Georgia on a crime spree? He was supposedly driving a car with a Florida license plate. This means he could have been in the area. Did he know Swain? Or had he been following Swain and knew he had money on him?
12. Why did two of Perry's acquaintances claim Perry used reading glasses that were similar to the ones found at the scene? Did he? Were those his glasses? Could they have been used for reading?
13. Was Perry indeed in Waverly visiting his grandparents who lived near Rising Daughters Baptist Church the day of the murders as claimed by Perry's girlfriend (Harold and Thelma Swain, n.d)?
14. Why did Perry claim to be at a party in Texas during the murders when there really was no party?
15. Why did Perry claim to have murdered the Swains but then claimed it to be an accident only later to recant that?
16. Was it known that Jane Beaver was seeking a substantial reward for her role in the arrest and conviction of Perry, and that she did receive $12,000.00 for her testimony at the trial (Perry vs. Upton, Write of Habeas Corpus, 2019).
17. Why did some eyewitnesses at the scene state the shooter had a mustache while others did not? Perry did have a mustache, but none of the composite drawings included one. The four composite drawings made before the final one all looked VERY similar to the transient from Kansas who robbed a church in 1981, and he did not have a mustache (Dennis Perry, 2020).

This case is quite interesting and has as many twists and turns as a bucket of snakes. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is quite informative. Any amateur sleuth researching this case should read it, as well as the trial transcript. The Georgia Innocence Project has taken up this case, and is now partnering with the producers of the podcast Undisclosed. The case is receiving a great deal of attention. I am not sure if Dennis Perry is completely innocent of the murders of Harold and Thelma Swain, but I am also not sure he is the man who committed the deeds. From the eyewitness testimony, the collection of evidence, the DNA tests, and the eye exam, I am led to believe Dennis Perry was not the man who wrestled with Swain and shot him and subsequently, his wife Thelma, in the vestibule of the church that night. Could he have been with the assailant? Possibly. Was he one of two people in the parking lot who drank Pepsi and discarded the bottles in the parking lot? Possibly. DNA testing, while emerging on the scene in 1985, was not something the average person knew about in 1985, particularly not the criminal elements of the world, so it is possible the assailants figured they could drink from the bottles and throw them down at the scene of the crime without fearing the bottles would reveal their identities as long as they wiped off the fingerprints. But what happened to those bottles? Modern DNA testing could be done on the bottles to see if they contained traces of saliva and if DNA could be traced to them. However, their disappearance prevents that.
This case is far from resolved in my mind. I certainly hope the case is reopened. I am not saying Perry was not involved at all, but I do not think he was the shooter. Therefore, his sentence is completely unjustified.

What are your thoughts?

References:
Dennis Perry. (2020). Georgia Innocence Project, Retrieved from https://www.georgiainnocenceproject.org/cases/active-cases/dennis-perry/

Greene, S. (2007). Key evidence goes missing in Georgia church murders. The Denver Post, Retrieved from https://injusticebusters.org/04/Perry_Dennis.shtml

Harold and Thelma Swain. (n.d.). Unsolved Mysteries Wiki, Retrieved from https://unsolvedmysteries.fandom.com/wiki/Harold_and_Thelma_Swain

Masee-Yost, T. (2007). A law students thesis on Dennis Perry's case. Free Dennis Perry, Retrieved from http://freedennisperry.blogspot.com/2007/10/law-students-thesis-on-dennis-perrys.html

Rush, J.S. (2015). Attorney seeks DNA testing in murder case. Tribune & Georgian, Retrieved from
https://www.georgiainnocenceproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2015-3-19-PERRY-combined.pdf

   

Sunday, January 5, 2020

What Happened to Christopher Thompkins?



Missing persons and abduction cases are quite perplexing, and they often confound authorities, terrorize families, and mystify sleuths. In Georgia, one of the strangest missing persons cases is that of Christopher Thompkins.  Chris disappeared from Ellerslie, Georgia-a small community in Harris County not far from Columbus on Hwy 27. Thompkins, who had gotten a job with a surveying company owned by a friend of his mother Ann, was working on Hwy 85 with a four man crew on Friday, January 25, 2002. The site on Hwy 85 where his crew was working was a wooded area. He left home that morning around 8:10 AM and rode to the site with the owner of the survey business. The morning went along without incident, and the four man team broke for lunch. After lunch, around 1:30, the four workers were walking along Hwy 85 near County Line Road and Warm Springs Road. The men were about fifty feet apart, and Chris was at the rear of the group close to the road. According to the men who were on the crew with Chris, this was the last time they saw him and in the last location. The next thing they knew, he was gone.

According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Chris was wearing a pair of navy blue pants, a plaid jacket with a hood, and a black skull cap. On his right arm there appears a tattoo of an ice cream cone with his name written vertically inside the cone. The top of the cone where the ice cream scoop would normally be is not an ice cream scoop but rather the head of a joker wearing a hat.

The spot where Chris was last seen was wooded, but there was a barbed wire fence between the road and private property that bordered the road itself. According to David Paulides (2011) in his book, Missing 411: Eastern United States, Chris' coworkers returned to the area to search and there they found one of the boots he had been wearing when he disappeared. It was lying next to the fence that bordered the road and the private property nearby, and strangely enough, there were coins lying near the boot. Also scattered about on the grass nearby were the tools that Chris had been using when he was last seen. The man who owned the business called Chris' mother, Ann, not long afterwards, and around 4:15 PM, they reported Chris' disappearance to the local sheriff's office; however, as is customary, local authorities do not classify a person as missing until s/he has been gone for over 24 hours. Once this time had passed, the local sheriff's department started conducting an official investigation where they found part of the cloth from Chris' blue pants on the barbed wire fence near the area where his coworkers had found his boot. In July, nearly five months after he disappeared, someone said to be the owner of the property on the other side of the barbed wire fence, found the other boot that Chris was wearing the day he disappeared. Interestingly enough, the owner of the survey company for whom Chris worked mentioned that he had been acting odd in the days leading up to the disappearance. On the other hand, Chris' mother said she has no recollection of him acting any differently or strange, and in fact, she mentioned that he was acting quite normal.

This disappearance has some baffling elements. Beyond the big question of what happened to Christopher Thompkins, there are a few things that should be asked.
1. Why were Chris' shoes removed from his feet?
2. If Chris had been determined to run away and disappear, why did he remove one shoe at the fence and one in the field a short ways off? In fact, why did he remove his shoes anyway if he fled on foot or even in a car?
3. Why were coins and tools that had been in his pockets or in his person found in the grass and near the area where he was last seen? If he decided to empty his pockets, why did he dispense with the coins? One would think he would keep money he had on him if he were going to disappear on his own, and one would definitely think if he were being robbed or abducted, the captor robber/captor would keep what money s/he found on Chris.
4. Since items that were in his pockets and on his person were found scattered at the scene of his disappearance, if someone had rifled through his pockets during an abduction, how could his coworkers, who were only about fifty feet away by their own admission not hear that, or more so, if someone snatched him where he stood and then riffled through his pockets, why was the scuffle and ordeal not heard by those coworkers? If someone took the time to accost Chris and then rifle through his pockets, wouldn't they have risked being seen by those coworkers or even someone passing by in a car? It is strange that someone would take that kind of risk. So if he were accosted and abducted on site and the abductors did not rifle through his pockets, why were his belongings on the ground nearby? Did he throw them down? If so, why?
5. Was Chris attacked by an animal? If so, why was there no blood found at the scene commensurate with what we know accompanies an animal attack? Also, why would his coworkers not have heard any screams or cries for help in the midst of an animal attack?

This case is quite strange! It was as if Chris Thompkins was snatched up without anyone noticing or hearing a thing. I say that it was as if he were snatched up because of the way part of the fabric from his pants was found in the barbed wire fence, as well as the fact that one of his shoes was found at the scene of the disappearance. When one takes in to consideration that his coworkers heard nor saw anything, it makes the disappearance even more mystifying. One of the saddest elements of this story is that his mother has been left with no answers whatsoever. A murder at least has some sense of closure in that the families know that their loved one is gone and cannot come back. A disappearance such as Chris Thompkins brings no sense of closure. His mother and loved ones are left to wonder where he is, if he is ever coming back or can, and what happened on that roadside that January day. Perhaps one day soon, we will have answers to these questions, and Chris' mother can have some sense of closure.

References
The Charley Project (2004). Christopher Carlton Thompkins. The Charley Project. Retrieved from:
http://charleyproject.org/case/christopher-carlton-thompkins.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations. (n.d.). Missing Persons: Christopher Thompkins. Georgia Bureau of Investigations. Retrieved from: https://gbi.georgia.gov/cases/missing-persons/christopher-thompkins.

Paulides, D. (2011). Missing 411: Eastern United States, Charleston, South Carolina: CreateSpace.

Happy New Year!

Greetings readers and fellow bloggers!
It has been almost two years since I have posted on this blog, but I plan to reengage and give a great deal more attention to it this coming year and beyond. Frankly, it has been about three years since I have been able to turn my attention to much else besides working my way through a doctoral program, and as of now, I am in the final term and about to defend my dissertation. What better time to reignite the fire that burns within when it comes to mysteries, true crime, and the 'just plain weird?' I hope that all of you are having a great start to the New Year. There are some interesting things happening now in terms of my book-The Atlanta Ripper. I may have neglected to post this, but a few years ago a production company from California purchased the rights to the book, and for the past year or so the owner has been working to get the book turned in to a mini-series or full-length film. While there has been some movement in that direction, Hollywood is its own universe, and like things in Washington D.C., progress is a slow moving giant there. I am quite patient, and if I receive updates from the production company, I will post them.
On another front, back in October 2019, The Atlanta History Center featured my book,and ME, at the first ever author event at The Georgia Beer Garden. This was a great venue, and we had about 50 people who turned out to hear me talk about the book and my thoughts on the murders. I am so grateful to The History Press, The Atlanta History Center, and The Georgia Beer Garden for collaborating on this and inviting me. The coolest part of the entire thing was that The Georgia Beer Garden sits right in the Old Fourth Ward in Atlanta-the ward where most of the Atlanta Ripper murders took place.
Keeping that momentum going, over the Christmas holidays, I was contacted by the creators of the Fall Line Podcast to participate in a series about The Atlanta Ripper that they are planning for April. In January, I will be doing an interview with Laura and Brooke-the hosts and producers-about the book and the murders. I had a great conversation with Laura on New Year's Eve, and I can say that I have found kindred spirits when it comes to mysteries and true crime. She and Brooke are as interested as I am in missing person cases, abductions, and other mysteries that baffle the minds of investigators in the Peach State. If you have not listened to their podcast, check them out at their website: www.thefalllinepodcast.com.

I do hope all of you are having a Happy 2020 so far, and I am actually going to be posting my first post of 2020 (other than this one, I suppose) right away. Please continue to follow, and if you have ideas or items you want to pass along, please feel free. My email is georgiaspooks@yahoo.com.

Jeff

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Missing Georgia Teen-Aubrey Carroll-Found Alive and Well. This Georgia Mystery is Solved!

Usually, my posts are about unsolved mysteries in Georgia-ones that we would love to solve but cannot seem to do so. This one is different, and it is perhaps the first post I have made here about one that was solved.
In May 2016, in Spaulding County (Griffin), about 45 minutes south of Atlanta, 15 year old Aubrey Carroll seemed to disappear off the face of the earth. On May 24, 2016, fifteen year old Aubrey left school early and did not show up at home when he was supposed to do so. He lived with his father in Griffin. There were rumors that he decided to leave and go to Jones County, Georgia where he has family, but no one had seen him there either. After being missing for a few days, a huge search that involved the Griffin County Sheriff's Department and the FBI began. There were some rumors that surfaced of where he might have gone, and there were family members who searched for him all over the areas they thought he might have gone, but no word. Finally, in April of this year, authorities made contact with his family to report that he was indeed alive and well. He apparently left and was living "off the grid" in the western part of the United States. The authorities had been tracking him for the last little while, and they had even found a Facebook page he had set up under an alias name. He was alive, well, in no danger, and seemed to be happy.
Photo courtesy of SCSD. Aubrey is pictured above with Lt. Mike Morris (Left) and Spaulding County Sheriff Darrell Dix (right).
   Aubrey has since made contact with his family, even visiting some of them in Georgia. The GRIP, a local news outlet in the Griffin area carried the full story of Aubrey's return home. Lt. Morris and Sheriff Dix said that their jaws dropped at hearing some of the stories Aubrey told about his travels and what all he experienced. However, nothing they report indicates that Aubrey was in any danger nor was in any trouble. The link to the story is here:
 https://the-grip.net/2018/04/17/missing-spalding-teen-aubrey-carroll-returns-home/

We are glad you are safe, Aubrey, and we hope you get to spend time with your family to make up for lost days. Stay safe and happy, young man. This was a true happy ending to a Georgia Mystery!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Body of Creature Washes Ashore at Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge-Hoax, Mistaken Identity, or Altamaha-Ha?

For those that have read my blog before, you know that I have posted about a Georgia legend known as Altamaha-ha. Also called, Altie, the alleged creature is said to be Georgia's Loch Ness Monster, which, is itself a tribute to one of the most well-known cryptids in history. As of recent, the press has been abuzz with a recent report involving the carcass of an unidentified creature that washed ashore at Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia Coast.
Media outlets such as USA Today carried the story. National Geographic also offered up a story about the carcass and presented speculations as to what it might be. Some experts claimed that the whole thing was nothing more than a not so complex hoax. Others claimed that the carcass belonged to a frilled shark, albeit the absence of gills causes some problems with that interpretation. Other marine scientists express concern with lack of a body to examine, and the fact that the legend of Altamaha-ha pervades in the area, and that it is too coincidental.

There are some issues with this report. For one, there is no body left to examine-only photos. Second, the carcass does seem quite similar to models made of Altie, and third, the first two issues combined with the fact that this washed up in an area not too far from the birthplace of the Altie legend, make it somewhat unbelievable.

Here is the National Geographic report and photos submitted. You decide!
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/mysterious-sea-creature-washes-ashore-georgia-monster-spd/