01 June 2010

The Dark Tale of John S. Williams, Part III

Murder & Mayhem in Jasper Co.

The day after Johnnie Williams became the first victim of this killing spree in the winter of 1921, John S. Williams instructed Clyde Manning, his right-hand man, to get John Will Gaither, known as “Big John”, and another of the peons to start working on digging out a well on another part of the plantation. Manning knew that another killing was eminent. And sure enough, while Big John was almost head deep in a hole of Georgia clay, Williams instructed the other man, Charlie Chisolm, to hit him in the head with a pick axe. He did, and Big John died almost instantly and collapsed into his makeshift grave. Manning and Chisolm filled it in and another man had met his death on the Williams farm in as many days.

The saddest part of this whole story, to me, has got to be Clyde Manning. A peon himself, who knew that Williams had killed in the past and wouldn't hesitate to turn his murderous ways on him. In fact, he told him that very thing. “It's your neck or theirs, Clyde... [pick] whichever you think the most of.” Basically—it was help kill these men, fellow black peons that Manning had come to know and love almost like brothers, or end up dead himself. The only possible alternative? Kill Williams and face a certain death probably by lynching. It was truly a tragic situation.

A few days later on Friday February 25th, Williams decided it was time to dispose of a couple more men. He probably decided it wasn't a good idea to have too many more bodies on the property, so he decided that dumping them in the local rivers was his best bet. That evening he went to the peon quarters and told the men that he was going to start letting them go. He decided that he would only take two men that night—John “Red” Brown and Johnny “Little Bit” Benson. Those two along with Williams, Chisolm, and Manning piled into a car and were supposedly on the way to the train station. However, on the way, they stopped the car and Red and Little Bit were tied up with chains and irons. Once on Water's Bridge over the Alcovy River, Williams stopped the car and proceeded to have Manning and Chisolm dump the men over the bridge railing. The two victims cried and pleaded, promising that they wouldn't say anything to anyone. But it was too late. Williams wanted these men dead.

The next night, three more men would be disposed of in a similar manner. This time off of Allen's Bridge over the Yellow River. The three victims—Willie Preston, Harry Price, and Lindsey Peterson (as you'll remember from the first column, he was the first body found and would be the murder victim that Williams would be tried for). Preston and Peterson were the first to be thrown over. Price was actually able to shake loose and with tears streaming down his face told the men, “Don't throw me over.. I'll go over [myself].” So, on that cold February night, he whispered “Lord Have Mercy", and leaned back over the railing.

The next day two more peons would be killed--Johnny Green and Willie Givens. Both would be killed on the plantation with an axe and buried where they fell. A week later, Charlie Chisolm, who had helped with several of the earlier murders, was next. He was tied up with chains and rocks and dumped in the Alcovy. A few days after that, Fletcher Smith would be the last worker killed. He was shot and buried on the plantation.

Next month: The conclusion of this tale—Part IV: The Trial