Chapel Hill Murder & Mayhem: An interview with author Rick Jackson
Chapel Hill has seen its share of violence and murder, but it has been able to push those instances aside and keep the ambiance of a Norman Rockwell–style small town. A walk through the campus of the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill can be inspiring, but the school has a darker side that has been well hidden. Over the years, there have been many murders that have taken place among the oak trees and in the dorms and frat houses on campus. Many of the murders are unsolved and remain mysteries to this day. The victims know the truth, though, that evil has no boundaries. Local historian Rick Jackson narrates the mysteries of one of North Carolina’s quaintest towns.
Rick Jackson is a native North Carolinian who grew up in Durham and now lives with his family in Wake Forest, just outside Raleigh. He currently teaches business and economic courses to high school students after spending many years in banking and finance in various positions. He has always had a passion for history and the stories of the people that lived it. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Campbell University and an MBA from The University of Mount Olive.
CC_Rick part 1
Speakers: Benjamin Morris & Rick Jackson
Benjamin Morris (00:00):
Rick, welcome to Crime Capsule. We are delighted to have you join us.
Rick Jackson (00:04):
Thanks so much for having me, Ben. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my book.
Benjamin Morris (00:10):
Now, as I understand it, your background is actually fairly unusual in that you were not an academic, or a police officer, or a judge, or involved in criminal justice in any way before you became an author. You had a bachelor's in history, but your actual background was in the business world. Is that right?
Rick Jackson (00:31):
Yeah, absolutely. When I graduated high school, I had no intention of ever stepping foot in any other school other than probably to pick up a child at some point one day in the far distant future.
Rick Jackson (00:42):
My wife went to UNC, Chapel Hill, and so, I worked full-time. And when she graduated from college, we had us a little house. We got married and just kind of start our lives.
Rick Jackson (00:56):
But just in the business where I was working in a retail grocery store at that point, and I was like, "Man, I could see that ceiling." I could see a ceiling where I'm like, "I'm going to get surpassed by people that were educated.” So, I was like, "I need to get a degree of some kind. But I've always enjoyed history, always loved history."
Rick Jackson (01:16):
And so, I got a bachelor degree in history with the intention of one day possibly teaching because I had really had a great teacher when I was in middle school, guy named Hillis Haygood, my seventh and eighth grade science teacher. And he just really meant a lot to me.
Rick Jackson (01:32):
And I had just always kind of had in the back of my mind, I might like to teach one day. And sure enough, here I am after this time.
Rick Jackson (01:40):
But yeah, then after that, I got my bachelor's degree and I went into banking. So, banking for almost a decade. And my wife just come up, pretty much told me one day, she's like, "Hey, you've talked about being a teacher for years. You should go for it."
Rick Jackson (01:56):
And I did. And I've been ... one thing about being a teacher is you do get time off. We have summers off and things like that and breaks. I was able to get my master's degree. I got an MBA while I was still here.
Rick Jackson (02:07):
But yeah, I came here, I came into teaching and writing, kind of not from a background of ever thinking I would do those things, for sure.
Benjamin Morris (02:17):
Well, so, Chapel Hill Murder & Mayhem, which I kind of call it Chapel Hill M&Ms in the back of my mind. Sort of like because there's a lot of both murder and mayhem in the book. And you get to kind of pick your poison. But it's not actually your first book at all. This is your third book. Tell us about your previous ones.
Rick Jackson (03:29):
Yeah. So, first book I wrote was with my brother, William. We wrote Ghosts of the Triangle. This is back in 2009. And my brother also, is a history guy. He is got a bachelor degree from Campbell University also, just like myself.
Rick Jackson (03:42):
And being Southern, folklore, and ghost stories, and history go hand in hand. Like this is how we remember things, and how we talk about things, and how we tell things.
Rick Jackson (03:55):
And especially with the influx of people coming into the triangle, we just thought it was really important for people to know the history of where they were at.
Rick Jackson (04:04):
Very important area of the triangle area of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill. There's a lot of good ghost stories around here. So, we compiled that together and we wrote that book together in 2009.
Rick Jackson (04:15):
And then I kind of got into the murder stuff. I wrote North Carolina Murder & Mayhem, or North Carolina M&M, if you will. And that just kind of goes from the mountains to the sea, pretty much.
Rick Jackson (04:26):
I have a section for the mountains, the Piedmont, and the coastal plain where I pull out some of the big things that people may have heard of or read about or even remember. But also, some pretty obscure cases that they might not have.
Rick Jackson (04:41):
And again, just to encourage people to learn a lot of the history of our area and just to see — or of our state. I mean, I am a North Carolinian, through and through. I think this is just the best place on face the earth.
Rick Jackson (04:53):
So, I want other people to know about it, know about the rich history we have here, but some crazy stuff's happened here too also.
Benjamin Morris (05:04):
There's been a quite a good bit over the years. And I guess I have to ask you in the interests of historical both enthusiasm and total lack of objectivity, did you do pirates in the previous book? Because North Carolina has some great pirates deep in its history.
Rick Jackson (05:20):
Yeah, no, I mean, that's the thing. That's a book all in itself. Like North Carolina pirates. My family and I, we go to Beaufort quite regularly and down there that's just like Blackbeard central down there. And we've been to Bath and all up and down the coast. But yeah, that's a book in itself. Maybe that should be one of my next projects, but-
Benjamin Morris (05:43):
That sounds pretty good to me.
Rick Jackson (05:44):
... no power, it’s in the murder books. But I'm sure they were in the business of murder and mayhem, for sure.
Benjamin Morris (05:50):
Oh, I don't think there's any doubt whatsoever about that. Well, tell us a little bit about Chapel Hill M&M. How did this particular one come to be?
Rick Jackson (06:00):
Well, like I said, my wife, who was my girlfriend, then fiance, she spent four years in Chapel Hill. So, I spent four years in Chapel Hill. I think I probably built some of the facilities up there through parking tickets, in all honesty.
Benjamin Morris (06:14):
Rick Jackson (06:15):
By going to see her. But so, I have-
Benjamin Morris (06:19):
Money well spent, I think.
Rick Jackson (06:20):
Yeah, exactly, exactly. So, 20 years later, a marriage later. So, it definitely was well spent. But yeah, I mean, I basically spent four years up there myself without taking the classes, which was probably a better experience than what she had. Because she had to go through the actual schoolwork.
Rick Jackson (06:35):
But it's just a ... I mean, anyone who's ever been to Chapel Hill just knows that it is just a really beautiful place. One of the most beautiful places in North Carolina. It just has a special feel to it. The stone walls, the trees, the old buildings.
Rick Jackson (06:55):
I don't have the years on some of the buildings, but I mean, this university was chartered in 1793. I mean, this is just a part of North Carolina itself.
Rick Jackson (07:04):
So, yeah, it really drew me to the history of it. And also, because it's such a small town, and because I was looking at something that was the murder and the mayhem aspect of it, you don't expect that stuff in a beautiful small town place like Chapel Hill, but it's there. It's like hidden behind the beauty of these stories.
Benjamin Morris (07:29):
It's funny, Rick, I may have mentioned on this show once or twice in the past that I had the good fortune to study as a Blue Devil in the triangle in my earlier years, and got to take a class or two at Chapel Hill while I was living in Durham.
Benjamin Morris (07:46):
They had just started this kind of new program where students at the area universities could kind of take course credit at the other universities so long as you got it approved.
Benjamin Morris (07:56):
I used to ride that Robertson bus a couple days a week, back and forth and down 15-501. And I just loved walking around on the campus, and it just felt different in some of the other areas, as you say. There was kind of a peacefulness and a tranquility to it and a beauty.
Benjamin Morris (08:13):
And I'll say the kinds of cases that you describe in the book, I mean, they would have felt so foreign, so alien, so distant from that kind of tranquil very placid kind of relaxation that you felt as the spring light filters through the trees and the kind of the grass is nice and soft underfoot.
Benjamin Morris (08:39):
I mean, it really is remarkable that contrast that you see between the beauty of the area and the depravity of some of these crimes.
Rick Jackson (08:48):
Yeah. And I think it's almost illustrative of our society's fascination, I think, with true crime, because it's so foreign for a normal person, I would say, to think of doing any of these things to another person, to like hurting people. These things are foreign to us.
Rick Jackson (09:12):
And I think that's what draws people to these stories, it's almost like make believe. Like you can't even imagine these things really happen and in the world that most of us live in.
Rick Jackson (09:23):
And like I said, I think that's Chapel Hill really illustrates that. It's just like you've got this perfect world, but you peel a layer back of that onion and you're like, "Wow, that's pretty terrifying. That's not as perfect as I thought it was."
Benjamin Morris (09:39):
No, you're right. And I think that's one of the reasons that North Carolina has produced so many exceptional novelists, and playwrights, and storytellers over the years. Reynolds Price and William Styron, and just the list is acres long. I mean, you get that sense of folks hunting out that blood in the soil.
Benjamin Morris (09:59):
But let's go ahead and dive into some of these cases that you've got here in the book. The first one is really one that this week we're going to talk about sort of the gown of the town of gown, and next week we're going to go to the town. So, we're going to kind of take a look at a few cases here that took place on the university premises or around them.
Benjamin Morris (10:23):
And the first one that I wanted to ask you about, really, it was almost like it kind of came straight out of a 1930s era gangster movie with this-
Rick Jackson (10:36):
Benjamin Morris (10:37):
... kind of brazen kind of car chase and so forth. You call this case the hot dog stand robbery, but it was way more than that, wasn't it?
Rick Jackson (10:49):
Yeah, it's definitely more than that. I really shouldn't have used the word robbery, but I think that's what they kind of pinned it on at the time, is they tried to say it was a robbery. But really it's like you said, it really has a lot more to it than that.
Rick Jackson (11:03):
What a lot of people don't realize about North Carolina in 1920, the Volstead Act, they had prohibition, and you really you had the rise of Al Capon and these gangsters and the crime wave kind of that hit the country.
Rick Jackson (11:18):
But North Carolina had been dry since 1908. Like we had voted like way before that to be a dry state.
Benjamin Morris (11:26):
Rick Jackson (11:27):
Yeah, that's right.
Benjamin Morris (11:28):
As we say, with big old scare quotes around it.
Rick Jackson (11:30):
Yeah, exactly. But I will say that when the '20s and '30s came around, you did see an uptick in crime. Like people were ... it became a bigger business. And of course, the newspapers had a lot to do with that too, because if you are seeing reports of crime in your newspapers, you're going to feel like that there's a crime wave. And that's kind of the era we were in by the time we get to '32.
Rick Jackson (11:52):
But Chapel Hill definitely had their share of speakeasies, if you will. There was a famous restaurant called Brady's there. I think it's back where I think like a Siena Hotel or something is there now, off of Franklin Street. But that was a speakeasy.
Rick Jackson (12:11):
There was a place called The Blind Tiger, where the village apartments are at. And the village apartments were pretty famous out there. And 15-501, you talked about driving into there, there was a shack that was a pretty famous speakeasy right where that building was as people drove in.
Rick Jackson (12:31):
So, there were definitely places where people would go and drink and do stuff that they were not allowed to do. And that leads us to kind of the story, this quote, unquote, robbery.
Rick Jackson (12:44):
What happened is, on March 31st, 1932, again, there was a university hotdog stand on Franklin Street, and I'm not exactly sure what building is there now, like where it was. This is definitely, on Franklin Street.
Rick Jackson (13:00):
But a black car sort of pulls up in front of it, couple guys get out. They dressed in the air. Like again, you can imagine Humphrey Bogart with his hat on and he comes in and he just kind of ... they sit at the counter, but they have their eyes on the manager named George Coleman. They're just staring a hole through this guy.
Rick Jackson (13:20):
They order, get some Dr. Peppers, but they're just staring a hole right through this guy. It's later in the evening, it's about nine o'clock at night. And the back door's open to the ... it's again, before the air conditioning stuff. So, they're trying to air the place out.
Rick Jackson (13:38):
And they just get up and walk right through the kitchen and walk out of the back door. And George Coleman, of course, being the manager, well, he's the one that's got to find out what these guys are doing. And he follows them out there.
Rick Jackson (13:49):
And one of the guys is looking at an old cooler that's been thrown out there. And George Coleman comes up and he's like, "What's going on?" He's like, "Man, I'd like to buy this cooler." And he just kind of scratches his head, like, "What in the ... what are you talking about?"
Rick Jackson (14:03):
And the next thing he gets whacked across the back of the head by the other guy with a stick that had been laying out there, and they just start brawling. Well, the reason they're doing this is because Coleman was not just a manager of a hotdog stand. This guy was big into running illegal booze around Chapel Hill. So, this guy's connected to different stuff.
Rick Jackson (14:22):
So, we're not exactly sure. This definitely it sounds like a robbery, but they're not trying to rob this old cooler. Like they're trying to kind of send a message to Coleman.
Rick Jackson (14:33):
But what they didn't realize is that apparently this guy Coleman, was some kind of UFC fighter before that even exists. Because he just starts throwing a beating to both of these guys. Like he is just fighting these guys off, and they're screaming, he's screaming.
Rick Jackson (14:50):
But finally, he gets to the point where, because of that one whack with the stick, he's bleeding so bad, he can't see. And so, he can't see, he ends up getting off of him. And he kind of staggers out into the street. The guys run off, because I mean, again, their plan was a foiled because this guy's beat them up, they jump in their car and they take off.
Benjamin Morris (15:15):
And this is funny because, Rick, your case here has so many twists and turns. It's a short case in the book. It's only a few pages. But it was full of twists just about in every paragraph. And this was the first one when I was reading it, I thought, "These guys, they got the drop on him."
Benjamin Morris (15:35):
And typically, when you get the drop on somebody, element of surprise and all that, you come out ahead. But no, he manages to take the blow, shake it off, and turn the tables right on it. This just did not go how they thought it would go, did it?
Rick Jackson (15:51):
No, not at all. I mean, and again, I don't know the background of George Coleman or the background of the guys, but I mean, they got a surprise shot off on this guy with a stick. Enough to make him so bloody that eventually he can't see them.
Rick Jackson (16:06):
So, I mean, it's a pretty good start, if you're going to fight somebody. It's two guys and a blow to the head with a stick. So, the fact that he was able to turn the tide on, tells me this guy, he knew a little bit of something about what he was doing. Again, probably didn't learn that being a hotdog man
Benjamin Morris (16:20):
I think you just got draft that ox for that Chapel Hill football team, will you?
Rick Jackson (16:25):
That's right, yeah. Like I say, I don't think he learned how to do that being a hotdog stand manager. Like he was probably definitely into some other stuff.
Rick Jackson (16:33):
But yeah, so, again, they speed off. Well, right about that time, this officer named UM Rackley is coming out of a movie theater and people are yelling, because they know him. It's a small village, so they see him.
Rick Jackson (16:48):
And they're like, "Officer Rackley, these guys just robbed this guy. They're taken off." Well, he goes and he requisitions a car. There is a car sitting there with a fellow in there, and his girlfriend, his name is Ashby Penn.
Rick Jackson (17:02):
Now, Ashby Penn is a son of an American Tobacco Company, vice president named Charles Penn. So, he is very, very well connected, wealthy guy. I mean, just all-American boy. Handsome, has his girlfriend in the car with him. He's a junior there at UNC. Her name was Anne Edmonds.
Rick Jackson (17:20):
And of course he's like "Let's go get them." So, Rackley jumps on the side of the car like you see just like on the movies. Another guy named Robert Stone is walking along with him. He jumps on the other side of the board and they just go peeling out of town.
Rick Jackson (17:35):
Now, some newspapers that I read in my research, very few reported as there was like this car chase, it was even cooler than like what really happened. It was like there's a car chasing, they're bumping each other and like knocking each other around.
Rick Jackson (17:53):
But what really happened is the bad guys are pretty good ahead of them. There's only one road leading out of town. So, they're heading towards Carrboro and they're behind them. But eventually, the car that Ashby Penn is driving gets a blowout. They fishtail a little bit and they're like, "Oh, we're going to have to stop."
Rick Jackson (18:11):
But literally, as they're slowing down, as they're stopping, they see the other car ahead of them stopped. So, like, "Well, hey, we caught up to them." So, to this day, we don't really know what happened to the other car, but it knocked off somehow. Some mechanical problem also.
Rick Jackson (18:24):
As they pull up ... and again, this gets a little disputed, but from the testimony of the guy, Robert Stone which is totally-
Benjamin Morris (18:36):
He was the ride along.
Rick Jackson (18:36):
Yeah, he was the ride along. So, this guy's definitely, I think he's pretty dependable because he's not really trying to make anybody look better or worse.
Rick Jackson (18:45):
But when they get there, Rackley reported later that he did not want to approach the car because there was a lady in their car, he wanted to protect the lady. Stone reported that he kind of lost his nerve, I guess you'd say.
Rick Jackson (19:05):
He was put in a situation where like he's ... it's almost like if you ever seen a dog chasing a car, then the car stops. They're kind of like, "What do I do now?" Now, that's kind of how he was. He was like, "I don't really know what to do."
Rick Jackson (19:15):
Well, Ashby Penn again, he's all fired up and he's like, "Hey, well, give me your pistol. Like I'll go arrest these guys." And he does this. The police officer gives the other guy his pistol, and he goes up to the car to get these guys.
Rick Jackson (19:30):
He opens the door and shots are fired. Ashby gets shot in the chest, he wounds one of the guys and they scatter, boom. Like they're all out running onto the woods and stuff.
Rick Jackson (19:41):
And so, Penn, when he got shot, he got hurt bad. Rackley at this point, when the shot started getting fired, he took off. Like he took off back down the road the other way. Again, bad guys ride out.
Benjamin Morris (19:58):
That's unfortunately, for his reputation later on-
Rick Jackson (20:01):
Benjamin Morris (20:01):
... as you write in the book. But yeah, so, Penn is shot, he's wounded, he's shot in the chest, you said, is that right?
Rick Jackson (20:07):
Yeah. He gets shot, I think in the left lung. Yeah. I think his left lung gets collapsed. So, he's pretty severely wounded. Rackley's gone, he's in the night, the bad guys in the night. The guy that got wounded in the car, he takes off in the car. He gets it started again. He starts driving. It's popping and wheezing, but his car starts to drive again.
Rick Jackson (20:26):
Stone, he goes and drags Penn back into the car and they're like, "Well, we're just going to have to try to drive off. We got to try to get him somewhere."
Rick Jackson (20:39):
So, gets in the car. Anne starts driving and Stone is ... well, no, no, no, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Stone didn't go with the one that drove, he drug him back to the car. But he goes to try to find someone to call for help. Like he goes to try to find a farmhouse or something. Anne starts driving back towards Chapel Hill.
Rick Jackson (20:59):
On the way back to Chapel Hill, she ends up picking up Officer Rackley, who's like walking down the street back the other way. So, they get him back and they get him patched up. They get him at the Memorial Hospital. The guys, they take off.
Rick Jackson (21:13):
Stone, he tries to call for help, but again, he ends up at some farmhouse where there's not a whole lot of help they can do because everything's pretty much done.
Rick Jackson (21:22):
But his testimony later was invaluable to catching the guys, but also, was invaluable unfortunately, for Rackley. Because again, the story he tries to weave is that he was just trying to protect the lady in the car.
Rick Jackson (21:40):
But it really turns out that he kind of had a yellow streak there. Which I don't want to rag on him too much because I certainly was not there in that situation. But you-
Benjamin Morris (21:52):
Well, what sounds like to me, Rick, is that Anne Edmunds, the lady in the car, did not need any protecting, that she was doing just fine on her own. And that if she's able to commandeer this vehicle and drive it with three good tires at breakneck speed as fast as it could possibly go to get somebody help to the hospital.
Benjamin Morris (22:09):
I mean, maybe she's the one that ought to be packing heat, you know what I mean?
Rick Jackson (22:11):
Benjamin Morris (22:12):
She's got a spine of steel going there.
Rick Jackson (22:16):
Oh yeah. She was definitely, as the kids would call nowadays, a ride or die. Like she was there for him. Like she put that thing back on three wheels, got him back to town, and again, they got him patched up, but it was pretty touch and go.
Rick Jackson (22:30):
They were able to identify the car and they ended up arresting the guys. I think the guy's name was Elwood Johnson, and the three other guys they arrested.
Rick Jackson (22:40):
But lucky for them, really, Ashby Penn survived. If he had died, it would've been murder charge. But like as it were, it was an attempted robbery charge. And shooting him, attempted murder probably.
Rick Jackson (22:56):
So, they got their jail time, but really the whole situation just ruined this guy, Rackley. In my research, I found that he had to resign. He almost lost his house to taxes. I guess he didn't have a job after that for quite a while.
Rick Jackson (23:12):
He ends up becoming a constable. Which different places used the term constable in different ways, but at the time, a constable in North Carolina was someone that goes out and serves like civil papers. So, basically he would work for a judge and the judge would pay him a fee. Every time he got a summons out, he would get a fee for that.
Rick Jackson (23:34):
So, really kind of ruined his career. Whereas before, he was very ... in my research, like if I go pre this date, 1932, and he was very well-respected officer in the community.
Rick Jackson (23:46):
Ashby Penn, again, he survived, but he didn't live long. He died in 1950. He was 39. He served in World War II, but just didn't have a long life after that. But he did get married to Anne and yeah, he lived a full life in a short amount of time, kind of, so to speak. But-
Benjamin Morris (24:08):
There you go. Let me ask you, there were a couple questions I had about this case. I mean, one, where did you find the level of detail involved in all of these different sequences?
Benjamin Morris (24:21):
I mean, you have the kind of the sequence at the actual hotdog stand, and we even know what these gunmen, these rum runners were ordering. Kind of like what they had for breakfast, so speak.
Rick Jackson (24:33):
Benjamin Morris (24:34):
And then we have the kind of the sequence out in the woods, and then we have the sequence after that. I mean, was it all from the participants or was it from other sources as well?
Rick Jackson (24:45):
Mostly from the participants like testifying and giving like kind of after action reports, but also, just from the newspaper reports from other people that witnessed it. Because you'd get some people, a reporter at one paper may interview someone that was in the restaurant. And like someone else might pick up someone that was on the street coming out of the theater with Rackley.
Rick Jackson (25:09):
And like all these things get pieced together to kind of tell that whole story of the entire time.
Rick Jackson (25:17):
And like I said, but then it gets disputed because, of course Rackley has a story, and then Stone has a story, and Ashby, and Anne, they all have their own stories. Then you have to kind of see where they line up.
Rick Jackson (25:32):
And Rackley, that's where he kind of found himself the odd man out when they started adding up the stories as his story was just not adding up for him. So, they had to let him go.
Benjamin Morris (25:43):
Yep. Now, there was this other interesting aspect, which you describe. They did find the four guys. They fingered the first guy first, the one who was wounded, and then they tracked down the other three sort of as a matter of the investigation and so forth, the guys who scattered into the woods.
Benjamin Morris (26:02):
And this is one of those other twists. I was surprised, but also, kind of not surprised to see that one of them was ex police. So, tell us about ... what was his name again? Robert Thomas, I believe.
Rick Jackson (26:17):
Yeah, Robert Thomas.
Benjamin Morris (26:18):
Yeah. What was his story?
Rick Jackson (26:21):
Robert Thomas, he had been a chief of police up in Mount Holly. Man, I don't have my notes in front of me right now, for that, but yeah, he had been a chief. Which Mount Holly's a very small town, so he was probably like maybe a chief and a deputy, kind of like a Andy Griffith kind of situation.
Rick Jackson (26:40):
But again, he was a respectable guy, but he was definitely connected with, like I said, this burgeoning bootlegging community. And I don't want to like really tell you any like facts without me having here, but he definitely was involved.
Rick Jackson (26:54):
He was a good cop that had kind of turned bad when this small business of bootlegging started to become bigger business in the '30s. Like I said, we have been a dry state for since 1908.
Rick Jackson (27:05):
But that Volstead Act and the rise of these bigger Chicago, Atlantic City, New York, and in Virginia, these different places, these rise of these larger criminal networks really turned up the dial on the profit, I guess you would say, that was out there to be made.
Benjamin Morris (27:27):
Well, Rick, I got to tell you, we here at Crime Capsule, we love a bootlegger and we have spent many an episode chasing those taillights around the back woods of southern roads and southern counties, from Texas to the Carolinas. And there's just kind of nothing that gets us happier than getting to meet yet one more bootlegger.
Benjamin Morris (27:47):
And at this point, I have to plug, there's another history press title, which we ran an article on back when Crime Capsule was a website, which is the illicit moonshine on North Carolina book by Frank Stephenson and Barbara.
Benjamin Morris (28:01):
Molder has some of the best photographs of the homemade stills that you see in the back woods that you'll ever encounter. I mean, just the most elaborate magnificent creations and everybody's just searching for a little bit of that firewater back in the day. Can you blame them?
Rick Jackson (28:19):
Yeah. And again, if you think about it, if we're operating from 1908 into the Volstead Act, well, now, if you are looking for alcohol in other states where people in North Carolina used to have to go across the border to get it or buy it from a bootlegger, now, you've already got all these bootleggers in North Carolina who have all those things built.
Rick Jackson (28:41):
They've already got the steels, they've already got the routes they run. And that's why you saw the crime really tick up because they have been a smaller scale, but now, everybody's looking for business. They're looking for that source, the distributors, things like that. So, yeah, there was money to be made, for sure.
Benjamin Morris (28:59):
Yep. Well, and we have to give credit where credit is due. I mean, good heaven, state of North Carolina invented NASCAR to convert all those cars that were running from the cops into something lawful in the first place.
Rick Jackson (29:09):
That's right. Exactly.
Benjamin Morris (29:10):
We do love it. Let's turn over to a couple of cases in the middle of your book back on campus again. These are a little less entertaining, but they are fascinating because out of the two dozen or so cases that you describe in Chapel Hill M&M, only a few actually happened on campus. But these were very serious cases that happened on campus.
Benjamin Morris (29:36):
And I wanted to ask you kind of about their origins and their legacy. So, let's take a look at Putnam Davis and let's take a look at Cobb Hall. Tell us what happened in these particular encounters.
Rick Jackson (29:51):
Yeah. So, in the case of Putnam Davis, and I thought this was fascinating because when we think of time periods, like we, of course, live in our time now. But then there were times before where people just looked at things and saw things just differently than we did.
Rick Jackson (30:08):
And in this case, like you can tell that there's something going on that we would look at today and say, “Okay, well, like there was definitely some mental health situation going on with Putnam Davis."
Rick Jackson (30:19):
But Putnam Davis in 1954, he was a frat brother for the Phi Delta Theta house, it's on South Columbia Street there in Chapel Hill. But he's there, he's rooming. I mean, he plays cards, he drinks. I mean, imagine basically like Animal House. I think that movie took place in like 1960.
Benjamin Morris (30:40):
Rick Jackson (30:40):
It's like '54. This is a frat, it's very similar.
Benjamin Morris (30:44):
Rick Jackson (30:44):
And so, they're partying and drinking, but he was just widely known as just kind of an odd cat. Like he didn't say a whole lot. And he was very ... ah, let me see if I got ... there was a term they used for him.
Rick Jackson (30:55):
A lot of people called him like hypersensitive, I think is what they would say. Like he was just hypersensitive to everything, and he'd either get upset or just like kind of disconnect. But now, that being said-
Benjamin Morris (31:12):
Of thin skin, huh?
Rick Jackson (31:12):
Yeah, thin skin. But that being said, he was just considered to be kind of like a quiet, quirky kid that just kind of kept to himself a little bit, but yet he still participated in these frat things. So, it's kind of odd to just place him in that place.
Rick Jackson (31:28):
It's almost like he … again, a guy that came from a wealthy family. He was an artist, he's a pretty good artist from everything I've read. He was a sculptor. His work had been presented and stuff. So, he almost seems out of place in this social environment that he's in. So, one has to wonder if like his father kind of pushed him into this environment.
Rick Jackson (31:49):
But what happened with him night in May, they're just partying all day. It's just been a big party. They had a big pool party somewhere. They had come back to the frat house about 2:00 AM. You had William Joyner and Allen Long, were two of the brothers at the fraternity house, and they roomed together.
Rick Jackson (32:11):
And Putnam Davis just kind of came and kind of started hanging out with them while they were playing cards and drinking. They played card, they moved up to their room, they ended up in their little dorm room there. And they're just drinking all night.
Rick Jackson (32:24):
Putnam's just sitting there, just kind of listening, not really contributing to any of the conversations, kind of listening to what's going on, just staring at the wall. Morning comes, they're kind of yawning, "We got stuff to do. We better get some sleep." Putnam's just there-
Benjamin Morris (32:43):
Yeah. They've been at it all night, which is-
Rick Jackson (32:45):
Been at it all night.
Benjamin Morris (32:45):
... kind of classic night frat boy kind of lifestyle. But the party does have to end at some point.
Rick Jackson (32:51):
Yeah, absolutely. And they're kind of trying to lay down hints that maybe it's time for Putnam to move on. But he doesn't, he just kind of sits there. Well, excuse me, Allen, he gets up and he goes to the bathroom. And as he's coming through the door, he hears a gunshot. Hears a couple gunshots, not just one.
Rick Jackson (33:16):
When he comes back in the room, turns around and he comes in and he looks over and he sees that his buddy, William, has been shot. And then like his eyes kind of go to the upper corner of the room, and there's Putnam Davis sitting on the bottom bunk of their bunk beds holding a pistol.
Rick Jackson (33:30):
Putnam catches his eye, turns the pistol on him, and takes a shot at him. Misses the first time and then as he's running away, shoots him in the back. And he's just like, basically, "What in the world is going on here?"
Rick Jackson (33:43):
And a couple more shots come from the room. He's crawling in the hall screaming for help. A guy named — they call him Dr. Reit, Matthew Mason, he finally comes up and he hears it. The other brothers kind of hear this stuff and they come find him.
Rick Jackson (33:58):
And he says, "Hey, brother Davis shot me." Like trying to say, “Brother Davis shot me.” And they go back up there, and by the time … like he's even is still in this moment, like he's in that frat brother vibes.
Benjamin Morris (34:11):
Everybody's still kind of drunk. They're like, "Nah."
Rick Jackson (34:13):
Benjamin Morris (34:14):
They're going to make some sort of joke out of it. And Allen's crawling around on the ground saying, "No, really. He shot me."
Rick Jackson (34:21):
Yeah. And to just put this in context, (not to jump ahead) when the police come investigate, there were 50 empty beer cans in this room where these three guys had been all night. So, these guys, they've been kind of going on hard at it.
Rick Jackson (34:34):
But when they went up there and looked, Putnam Davis was there, had a small revolver in his hand, had a bullet hole in his head. So, he had obviously taken his own life. They were able to get both of in to the hospital, get them healed up.
Rick Jackson (34:49):
But again, yeah, absolutely, thankfully. But really, there was nothing. They searched this guy, Putnam's his house, they searched his stuff. There was no note, no diary, nothing to indicate that he was going to harm anyone or himself at any point.
Rick Jackson (35:08):
But again, everybody said that that night he was just acting just extra, extra odd. And the fact is, like I say, we look at this now, we read this case and we're like, "Hey, man, like this guy was absolutely — something else was there. Like something was going on that we didn't see."
Benjamin Morris (35:28):
So, that takes place at the fraternity house. And then just a few years later, elsewhere on campus, we have a very similar scenario. I mean, it just 6, 7 years later, we have yet another sort of unsolved, unexplained, kind of mysteries surround another murder, suicide or attempted murder, suicide. I mean, it's just kind of crazy how quickly these things happened back-to-back.
Rick Jackson (35:52):
Yeah. And this one was the one that happened at Cobb dorm, which I think is cool. It's not cool that it happened, but a lot of my students, because I'm a high school teacher now, I go to UNC. And if they ever say like, "Oh, I'm staying at Cobb dorm." I'm like, "Hey, let me tell you a story."
Benjamin Morris (36:09):
Rick Jackson (36:11):
Yeah. I'm like, "What room are you going to be in?"
Benjamin Morris (36:13):
“Do you know what you're getting into or anything?”
Rick Jackson (36:15):
But there you had two young men. It's 1961, so, it's like you said, like very shortly after that, they didn't show up for work at their work assignment. And the guy calls a place and there was a custodian there, and he was like, "Well, hey, I went into their room."
Rick Jackson (36:34):
A guy named William Johnson Jr. and James Barham, he says, like, "I just went into the room, they're sleeping, they're still asleep." And he just didn't seem right. It was like 11 o'clock and it's getting on towards afternoon, and they'd never been late to work before.
Rick Jackson (36:46):
And the guy that worked the place, like, "Man, that just does not seem right at all." So, he tells the people at the cafeteria, he's like, "I'm going to go and walk over there and just check on them."
Rick Jackson (36:55):
And he does, he starts walking that way. As he's getting closer to Cobb, he sees a campus police, and he's like, "Hey, man, like I don't feel good about this. Can you just walk with me over here?"
Rick Jackson (37:06):
They walk there, but as they get to the door, the custodian that he had spoken to, he's coming out the door and he starts telling, he's like, "Hey, I went back up to check on these kids because this guy called me and these guys, I think they're dead." And they go check on them and sure enough, they were.
Rick Jackson (37:27):
But what had happened is, talking to the other people that lived in the dorm, they said around midnight the night before, was the last time they had saw him. Around midnight, James Barham was in the bathroom getting ready for bed, brushing his teeth and stuff like that. And he just fell out, just absolutely passed out on the ground.
Rick Jackson (37:47):
A lot of the students came and grabbed him, and Johnson was like right there. Johnson's the roommate. He comes out, he's like, "No, no, no. Like he doesn't need to go anywhere. He's fine. I'll take care of him. Just bring him in the room. He just needs to sleep it off."
Rick Jackson (37:59):
It was very odd how pushy he was to the other people in the dorm. But again, there had been no indication that he would not take care of him or say if something got worse, and they were he was like, "Hey, just lay him in my bed."
Rick Jackson (38:14):
So, lay Barham in Johnson's bed. I guess Johnson goes to sleep in his bed. But the next morning, they find them both dead in their bed and nothing's happened. But they were both dead, but they were both poisoned with cyanide. There was no cyanide in the room found with them, like no traces of anything. But they both had died of cyanide poison.
Benjamin Morris (38:42):
And I mean, cyanide does have a couple of indicators. Surely there must have been some sort of forensic examination that took place, or where did the investigation proceed from there?
Rick Jackson (38:53):
Yeah. So, of course like I said, they determined that was the cause of death. But like you said, they searched like some cups and things that they found in the room. There was no trace of cyanide in the room at all.
Rick Jackson (39:03):
So, if initially you might look and say, "Well, these two guys, someone poisoned both of them." Like that's what you initially think. Because like they must have — someone gave them something to eat or gave them something to drink. But none of that was ever found.
Rick Jackson (39:15):
And that led to all kinds of speculation because there was some other stuff that had happened on campus about that same time that led people to think that maybe there was more to it.
Rick Jackson (39:26):
About that same time, there was a sudden death of a photographer named Robert Smith Malden. He was 33 years old. He was there as a graduate student, and he was there as a photographer. And the same day as they were found, he was found dead on his couch.
Rick Jackson (39:42):
They didn't find any cyanide. They ruled as a natural death, it was very unexplained. I mean, you don't have many 30 some year old guys just dropping dead on their couch. So, that was weird.
Rick Jackson (39:54):
And then they also, linked that back. They had a guy named Ralph Sergeant, had been arrested for dispensing cyanide pills to students. So, this guy had taken cyanide from a dental laboratory that he had worked at.
Rick Jackson (40:11):
He was cooperative with the police though. He swore that he had never sold any to either one of these guys. And the police actually came back and said, "Well, he must not be connected to Malden or the death of these two guys." Now, what you need a cyanide pill for, other than this?
Benjamin Morris (40:28):
When I read your account, I was very curious as to why this guy thought it would be a good idea to take some of those capsules home with him from the lab. They're not Tic-Tacs.
Rick Jackson (40:41):
Yeah. I mean, there's one thing it's for, I mean, as far as I know. Man, I'm no chemist. Maybe somebody's listening to this and they're like, "Oh, well, you use this for this." But there's nothing I've ever heard of it before than poison people. I'm sure it has some practical use somewhere, but not for people carrying around a pill for them.
Benjamin Morris (40:57):
I don't think you clean your sink with it.
Rick Jackson (40:59):
Benjamin Morris (40:59):
I don't think it's like a bathroom scrubber, so.
Rick Jackson (41:04):
Yeah. Especially not in a pill form. Like so, definitely it seems like that it was being sold to people that were probably considering taking their own lives or up to some kind of other, like more devious thing.
Benjamin Morris (41:50):
So, you were saying that he'd gotten a hold of it and we weren't sure what that was for. Nevertheless, but as you say, he was ruled out of the investigation.
Rick Jackson (42:03):
Yeah, absolutely. Somehow was ruled out of the investigation and the police ... again, with this being so unsolved and so odd of a situation, it led to all kind of speculation as to what could have happened with these two guys.
Rick Jackson (42:18):
There was all kind of speculation that maybe someone had given them something or someone had been in the room and snuck out somehow. There was speculation that maybe they had been in a relationship and there was like a murder, suicide or a joint suicide kind of thing.
Rick Jackson (42:35):
Again, we're talking about 1961. Like a homosexual relationship's going to be looked at a lot differently then than we would look at it now.
Rick Jackson (42:42):
And there was also, a speculation that maybe there had been some advances by maybe Johnson to Barham. And maybe he had fed him something, like giving him some kind of pill. And then once that took effect, he took something himself to take his own life. Once he saw that Barham was going to be dead.
Rick Jackson (43:06):
So, but again, it's all unsolved and it's all still to this day, just totally speculation because the two gentlemen in that room are not around to tell anybody about it.
Benjamin Morris (43:17):
Yeah. And there were plenty of cases through the years, and I think there's even one or two in your book where the abiding logic is, if I can't have you, then nobody else can. And that's the one of those sad twists of the human mind that leads to so much suffering, for sure.
Benjamin Morris (43:34):
Well, I do appreciate the way that you pair those in the sense that we can see the distance that has been traveled as far as offering mental health services to students in different levels of education in the present day.
Benjamin Morris (43:50):
And it goes without saying, but we should say it anyway, that if anybody out there in podcast land is struggling with anything, make sure you go and find someone and get some help and talk to somebody. We absolutely advocate for that.
Benjamin Morris (44:02):
So, we hope you'll reach out to a trusted counselor or friend or just somebody that you can unload to. It means so much.
Benjamin Morris (44:12):
So, Rick, let me ask you. This last case is unsolved. These past two have been kind of unsolved as far as we don't really know kind of what went into, but we do know that we were able to identify at least the perpetrators to a degree.
Benjamin Morris (44:31):
This last case featuring Suellen Evans is the textbook example of an unsolved murder. And this happened right on the campus of UNC, Chapel Hill as well. And it also, happened just a few short years after this last murder. So, we're now, in the mid '60s, aren't we?
Rick Jackson (44:48):
Yeah, we're in 1965. We're hot summertime. It's a summer day, summer school, UNC, Chapel Hill. Suellen Evans was from Mooresville, North Carolina, and she was 21 years old that summer.
Rick Jackson (45:04):
She had been going to Catawba College. She had finished her second year there, and she had applied and got accepted to UNC Greensboro. Which I'm pretty sure had just switched over from being I think the like woman's college or North Carolina Women's College to be in like UNC Greensboro itself proper.
Rick Jackson (45:24):
And so, she was going there and she went to UNC Chapel to just make sure she was caught up. Like she did not want to go into UNC Greensboro behind her peers. But every account I’ve read says she was a really friendly girl, but she was not.
Rick Jackson (45:39):
She was there to go to school. Like she didn't have a ton of friends. It wasn’t she was antisocial. It was just, for her, it was more important to get done what she needed to get done. And then every chance she got, she would go back home to her parents and to her friends back home.
Rick Jackson (45:54):
So, not a lot of people really intimately knew her in Chapel Hill, so she was kind of there by herself. But she was staying at Cobb dorm also, but she didn't make it back to Cobb dorm this day. She was going to head home that summer day and she had to stop by Alumni Hall to speak to a professor, and then she was going to cut across the arboretum over to Raleigh Street and then down to Cobb.
Rick Jackson (46:22):
But as she's coming out, as she's coming through this arboretum … and I tried to think of it, if you've been there recently, the paths are well defined and there's lighting. And I don't know what it looked like in ‘65. I would think-
Benjamin Morris (46:37):
I was absolutely going to ask you, because I wondered whether those concerns had made their way into the consciousness of the groundskeepers or of the administration. So often in these older universities in the early part of that century, you don't see that level of recognition that you see today.
Rick Jackson (46:59):
Yeah, absolutely. I feel like when I was there last, after I had written the book and I'm walking through and I was looking at the way things are set up and I was like, “I wonder if this is set up because of Suellen Evans. Like I wonder what it looked like that 1965 day.
Rick Jackson (47:17):
Because like you said, I don't think that when they did things back then they sat down necessarily and said, “Hey, what is the safety aspect of this going to look like?”
Rick Jackson (47:26):
But it was enough foliage and it was enough to conceal someone from her as she walked along, because she was literally just snatched up right before she was coming out over on Raleigh Street. And this is the middle of the day. This is like 12:30. This is just haunting.
Benjamin Morris (47:46):
That’s what's so amazing about it, yeah. Broad daylight, yeah.
Rick Jackson (47:49):
Yeah, broad daylight. But yeah, someone just reached out and grabbed her, tried to pull her in. Now, look, Suellen, she put up a fight. I mean, she fought this guy that had her with all her might. She's screaming, she's fighting, and people heard her.
Rick Jackson (48:07):
And what's actually interesting is a couple … there were two nuns on Raleigh Street that heard her. So, I mean, I've never seen a nun in Chapel Hill, but I think that's kind of odd part of the story too, but like two nuns
Benjamin Morris (48:18):
Rick Jackson (48:20):
Yeah. I mean, I guess they're there, but maybe they're not still. But they came in, everybody came running. But as they came in, no one really ever got a good look at the person that had attacked her.
Rick Jackson (48:34):
But as she's fighting him off, and as this person hears people coming, she's pulling away from him and he pulls out a knife and stabs her and hits her right in the heart. I mean, just like pop — that one blow just hit her right in the heart. And it's a very sad scene.
Rick Jackson (48:55):
She collapses on a bed of periwinkles and she's laying there, she's bleeding out. And one of the nuns comes and kind of cradles her head. She's just holding this young girl. And this young girl looks up at her and she says, “He tried to rape me. I think I'm going to faint.”
Rick Jackson (49:10):
And she did. Oh, well, she didn't faint, but she closed her eyes. And that's the last time Suellen Evans opened her eyes. Like she was gone right there.
Rick Jackson (49:21):
It was too late for her, she passed away, unfortunately. But people really got behind finding who did this. The police came and they snatch up a couple people nearby, but questioning them, nobody's really linked.
Rick Jackson (49:36):
I think they ended up questioning like over 200 people, over I think 250 leads. They file a 116 suspects, go over the country. 500 students come out like canvas the place looking for clues, they raise money. But just never … I mean, like you said, it's just totally an unsolved case.
Rick Jackson (49:59):
There's probably a box somewhere that has the information in it that could probably lead you to have a pretty good idea of who did it. But they were just never able to bring any charges on this.
Benjamin Morris (50:14):
Yeah. Was there ever … the whole thing is just awful all around. I think about those nuns and I think not all heroes wear capes. I mean, just how grateful we can be that they were there, at least to minister to her in her last moments. I mean, that's one small silver lining in all of these dark clouds.
Benjamin Morris (50:35):
But I wanted to ask you, was there ever any kind of marker or memorial stone? Or was there ever anything sort of placed to commemorate Suellen's life at the spot where she died?
Rick Jackson (50:48):
No, I don't think there's … I mean, nothing that I've seen that was there. Man, you feel like there should be something in a place like that. I mean, that would fit right into the arboretum there and she definitely would deserve something like that.
Rick Jackson (51:02):
Now, that being said, it's very possible people put markers in different ways. It's very possible in 1968, someone went and gathered around, they planted a special tree or something in her honor that's just been kind of lost to history. But as far as like something with her name on, a stone, I've never seen anything like that.
Benjamin Morris (51:23):
Yeah. Well, we are grateful to you, Rick, for the way that you honor her memory in such a respectful and sensitive way. It's a sad case, but I thought that you handled it with a great amount of grace and dignity afforded to her.
Benjamin Morris (51:40):
And you never know what kind of things might pop up down the road or a deathbed confession or piece of evidence or it is just sometimes these cases sleep for decades until they awaken and you never know. You never know.
Rick Jackson (51:53):
Yeah, absolutely. I know I spoke to a police investigator about a case one time and he told me, he said, “I know exactly who killed this little girl who I was looking into for a case.” He said, “But knowing and proving are two different things.” And he said, “I've had to ride around for 20 years and pass this guy on the road or see him at the grocery store.”
Rick Jackson (52:22):
So, like I said, it's very possible that well, someone knows exactly who did this because somebody was who did it. But it's very possible that the police could have known. But because it is a cold case, I mean, this is a case that pops up every once in a while.
Rick Jackson (52:37):
I mean, this is still a case probably out of all the cases in the book, this is the one that'll resurface at times that the police are looking back into it. Or that someone's picked up this cold case to try to solve it.
Rick Jackson (52:49):
So, hopefully, they do, because there's someone out there that needs to know to have some closure on this. There's people that knew this young girl and loved her personally. And I would love to see something happen. Some information come out on this.
Benjamin Morris (53:04):
Yeah. Well, I can't think of a better place to end this week than on a note of hope like that. So, we sure do appreciate that.
Benjamin Morris (53:12):
And we will be right back here next week to take a look at some of the cases that happened off camp.