Good luck, you people NEED it.
F. O. E.
FORCES OF EVIL
At the Ralston Towers, a great stocky mass of modern brick architecture, the white-haired ladies move tentatively, leaning against canes and walkers. On one or two breasts, dull filigreed gold winds around large creamy pearls - vestiges of the old Columbus. "Hot-hot-hot," whisper the ladies among themselves, for spring passed them by utterly this year. Straight out of winter, a merciless heat arose to stun the inhabitants.
Miss Loretto Lamar Chappell, a frail, fine-boned lady of 83 with parchment white skin, moved here from her big house shortly after the tragedy of Kathleen. Many possessions had to be left elsewhere, but her memories of Kathleen came with her. There was, for instance, the time they drove all the way to Virginia.
There the two women visited Bacon's Castle, which was the home of Sidney Lanier's sweetheart. Miss Loretto Lamar Chappell, who was for 43 years a librarian, wanted to write an article on the sweetheart of the doomed, sorrowful poet. And it was just like Kathleen Woodruff, who shared her friend's bookish tastes, to insist with her usual generosity that they travel there together.
Kathleen Koonce Woodruff had all the money anyone could want. She was beautiful as a young golden-haired girl; equally lovely as an elegant old lady with the porminant cheekbones and reserved, erect bearing that bespoke good blood and good breeding. And she bore through marriage one of the most magical names in Columbus.
Woodruff. Old money, old manners, old power in Columbus - a town that always was, and still is, a textile mill center, situated on the endless Chattahoochee River, which travels doen to the Gulf of Mexico.
Miss Loretto Lamar Chappell recites Sidney Lanier's "Song of the Chattahoochee" in her soft, dry murmur. "Out of the hills of Habersham/Down the valleys of Hall/I hurry amain to reach the plain/Run the rapid and leap the fall . . ."
A wan smile. "It's the magnet of annihilation," she explains, "joining the everlasting."
Behind glasses that magnify her cloudy blue eyes, she blinks thoughtfully. Her dear friend, Kathleen Koonce Woodruff, was found three days after Christmas - the Christmas Miss Lamar had lunched with her - strangled in her bed. She was the fifth old lady in Columbus to die that way.
The fifth out of seven old ladies.
The Stocking Strangler, as everyone in Columbus kept saying until last Thursday, "is past due." The Stocking Strangler, they said, strikes only in the elegant Wynnton area of Columbus. The Stocking Strangler, as everyone knows, strikes only at old ladies who live alone.
Thursday morning they found another victim. A 61-year-old widow who lived outside the Wynnon area. Strangled.
The Stocking Strangler is uncaught. At fashionable parties guests wonder aloud who the next victim will be.
Last month the Chairman of the Forces of Evil warned Columbus how much worse things would get. Specifically, he warned Police Chief Curtis McClung in a series of letters that unless the Strangler of the old white ladies was caught and a ransom paid, he would start killing black women, one by one.
"You people in Columbus, Ga., WAKE UP," wrote the chairman of the Forces of Evil. "The Chief of Police, is playing with your lives . . . We have another black woman. Her name is Irene. She is scheduled to die in June 1978 instead of Gail Jackson."
Last month they found Gail Jackson beaten to death in Columbus. And then they found an Irene - Irene Thirkield was her name - beaten to death. Those victims were indeed black.And before, that in September, they had found a white woman beaten to death.
Authorities now have charged William Henry Hance, at Ft. Benning soldier, with one of the murders. And he's pleading not guilty.
"A dual series of murders," Chief McClung shakes his head wearily. "And if you don't think that shakes up a community . . ."
A dual series of murders and a dual set of murderers. One who strangles old white ladies. Another who beats to death young - generally black - ladies. Together the silent strangler and the Chairman of the Forces of Evil have succeeded in killing representatives from every class, from two races, from two age groups. But only one sex.
And so Columbus, a though little industrial town of 172,000 where the rich all know as the rich and poor mingle with the poor, has never known anything like this - this horrible anonymous series of murders. It's not that its citizens are unused to homicide: Last year 26 of its people died precisely that way. It's just that, to quote a relative of an upper-middle-class strangling victim. "This sort of thing doesn't happen at this level."
It's just that it doesn't happen to genteel old ladies living in the silent streets of the South, a region that has long revered old ladies with their stern and rigid pride in old manners and old mores.
Now some rich old white ladies are out buying guns to defend homes they refuse to leave; others have moved out of town. Now the local police force of 340 is under heavy criticism; the Georgia Bureau of Investigation had to be brought in.
"We are living in a sick society," says Mayro Jack Mickle. "Look at (the stranglings) in L. A. Look at what happened (with Son of Sam) in New York."
But Columbus, Ga., is not L.A., is not New York. In the downtown area of Columbus, Ga., fast-food chains hawking burgers, beef and chicken are only blocks away from delicate old latticework homes of the early entrepreneurs, some of whose descendants still carry a lot of weight in this town.
So it is the randomness of the murders that appalls Columbus, the lack of immunity and selectivity in a town where recognition is instant and class divisions are - if not as absolute - at least as all-encompassing as, say, racial division.
And now Columbus has, in addition to all its other problems, an undeclared race conflict on its hands.
It was partly the result of what tha coroner said. Coroner Don Kilgore says that in five of the white strangling cases where there also had been sexual assault, "Negroid public hairs" had been found.
"But this is a touchy subject with blacks," says the coroner. "They had a meeting here in town and tried to make me withdraw my statement. Which I would not do. Now ask yourself why they're in an uproar?"
The coroner thinks he knows why. "They want to capitalize on all the free publicity . . ."
No, Columbus has never known any trouble like this. At one point the Ku Klux Klan decided to patrol the strangling area.
Chief McClung, a genial beefy man, tries briefly to smile away all this trouble.
"I guess you noticed my moustache," says the chief, fingering a graying triangle of hair. "That's in honor of our city's Sesquicentinnial."
Festivities have already begun to honor the 150th anniversary of the founding of Columbus, Ga., once the frontier of the original colonies, and from the start, a spunky parvenu of a town, industrialized by the time of the Civil War. Elegant old Charleston and gracious New Orleans may chuckles derisively at the meager lifespan of their sister, Columbus. But the folks here take their history seriously and recite it proudly.
On the streets occasionally, you can see ladies in long gowns and bonnets with little buttons on their chest reading "SESQUICENTENNIAL BELLE," attached to which, of course, is a little bell.
A proclamation, affixed with two seals, declared that by order of Mayor Mickle, all males "of the age when shaving is feasible, refrain from shaving from now until the end of our glorious Celebration Week, May 7, 1978."
In keeping with the general spirit, the local chapter of the Jaycess sponsored the burial of "Mr. Ray-Zor." And every Friday is dress-up day, an observance the majority of the populace had clearly chosen to ignore.
But Clason Kyle, editor of the local newspaper's special Sesquicentennial editions, dressed up one day as Maribeau Buonaparte Lamar, founder of the Columbus Enquirer, and later, the second president of Texas. Clason Kyle put on a top hat and a waist coat and it was a very emotional moment for him, for Clason Kyle takes a special interest in the story of Columbus.
"I guess," he says slowly in his large Wynnton home, filled to the brim with Vientian consoles, Oriental rugs, and a painting of his arrogant-looking ancestor, the Baron de Graffenried, "I guess Columbus has become with me, if not an obsession, at least a time-consuming hobby. I guess this must be how Mr. Haley felt."
In the back of Clason Kyle's home, a gorgeous riot of azaleas, Duchess of Sutherland camellias, and phantom white tulips glows by his night-lit fountain, as he talks on about his ancestor Dr. Edwin de Graffenried, who was one of the first five commissioners of Columbus.
"Columbus," concludes Clason Kyle, "has been very good to me."
Yes, Columbys gave Clason Kyle money - swift textile money - status, privilege, history.
And a second cousin named Kathleen Woodruff.
The two most ferverish topics of conversation in Columbus are family and religion. And the higher up you go in society the more you talk about family and the less you talk about religion.
Kathleen Koonce Woodruff was a Presbyterian in a town where Baptist churches predominate, where sermons are delivered weekdays on TV; but that, once again, was a function of her class.
"Always, even as a child, she had dignity," says her old friend, Miss Loretto Lamar Chappell. "It might have been shyness for she was very quiet."
Kathleen Koonce studied art in Florance, in Paris. She had painted from the time she was a child, but as her friend Loretto Lamar Chappell points out, she had never had much faith in her own work, those "meticulous, detailed drawings of flowers . . ."
When she was 24, Kathleen Koonce married George Woodruff, nicknamed "Kid" because of his slight stature in prep school. Still today, there are folks in Columbus who marvel at the match. Great beauty though she was, Kathleen Koonce was a reserved, introverted intellectual, a lover of books and artists. Kid Woodruff was a wealthy jock, a feisty, outgoing football fan, the pride of the University of Georgia when he quarterbacked for the Bulldogs in 1907 - and later their loving coach who worked for the sum of $1 a year.
But in marrying George C. Woodruff, Kathleen allied herself with more than a pleasant, rich industrialists with a passion for sports. Through his family, her husband was connected to R.W. Woodruff (Mr. Anonymous") of Coca-Cola, the formula of that beverage having been invented (according to Columbus lore) in Columbus. George, himself, went into real estate, was associated with a mortage company.
And as for Kathleen . . . Well, as Loretto Lamar Chappell would say, Kathleen was "an artist." Carson McCullers, the writer, was her good friend. In her home on Buena Vista Road, hung an oil painting of the Ponte Vecchio which Kathleen remembered with great fondness from her sunny Florentine days.
Out of the ragged fabric of life, Kathleen Woodruff selected only the elegant patterns that pleased her. She had a handsome husband, a son, a passion for just the right touches to add to her home, a way todressing herself in fluid beige, a very happy existance.
"I'm so glad you mentioned that," says Loretto Lamar Champell, "because that is our great comfort... Grace and beauty and harmony were all so necessary to her.
"White - she loved white. Maybe because it brought the sunlight in. Oh - in the afternoon the sun used to make the most marvelous colors all over her white rug!"
George C. Woodruff Sr. died in 1968, on a day when the Bulldogs won their greatest victory, wiping out Auburn, 17-3.
But Kathleen . . .
At the Big Eddy, a most exclusive club in Columbus, the guests discuss the terrible irony of Kathleen's death. She who cherised beauty, who loved privacy so much she almost never had pictured taken . . .
"Yet because of the way she died, she's known by every single person in Columbus!" one guest remarks over the smoked salmon.
"I don't know," another guest addresses Clason Kyle, "I don't mean to imply that Kathleen was better than the other ladies who died. But maybe her death just touched all of us in a different way. That's when our social set started to gey panicky."
She would have been 75 this weeK, a woman of unflagging curiosity, according to those who knew her. Virginia Spencer Carr, who chronicled Carson McCuller's life, writes of a time when Kathleen turned to her writer friend saying:
"There's a lovely little snow-white bouse on the edge of the mountain where an old colored family lives. Since you've always been interested in colored people and how they live, I want to see it."
There are a number of similar shacks along the unpaved dirt road. But this one, all grim gray, except where the paint peels off, revealing great smears of red, belongs to the Rev. Willie and Fedosha King.
Rev. King, an evangelical preacher, is a proud old man born - like Kathleen Woodruff - 1903. But the life he has known, as an ironworker, a preacher, a black man in Columbus, has been quite different from hers united only in tragedy.
Early this month, the battered body of his daughter, Irene Thirkield, was found lying an artillery field at nearby Fort Benning - presumably the work of the Chairman of the Forces of Evil, who vowed revenge on black women.
"Oh she was good," says Rev. King, motionless in the gray rocker on his tiny porch. "I didn't think nobody ever would hurt her. She was good. Everyone gives her credit. I don't know how anyone ever had the heart to do it. She was 32 years old and I never thought nobody's gonna hurt her."
Briefly he closed his tearless eyes. There is no anger in his voice; only deep resignation. Last year the police came and told him his son, Melvin was shot dead - he still does not know why or in what precise circumstances. But with Irene, his eldest, there was at least at least some warning. She had been reported missing for about three weeks form the house of her cousin, whose baby she'd been tending.
And then the Chairman of the Forces of Evil sent one of his letters, claiming he held captive an "Irene." Rev. King read about it in the newspaper.
"But see, there are so many Irenes. But I believed it (was my daughter). I believed it when I read it in the paper.
"Bible says these things will come. Says woe unto the man they come from. Says, you know what I'm talking about, these things come if you stay in this world, BUT WOE UNTO THE MAN THEY COME FROM."
Rev. King's eldest child grew up in this tiny gray shack, married at 18, had four children, and then seperated from her husband. Once again, Rev. King does not know why that happened. He is not a medding man. He goes, as he says, "Nowhere except church."
Ask Rev. King what he was before he became a preacher, and he'll reply unhesitatingly, "A sinner. But then I went back t church and started being a good boy. And so I don't know about the world, and if you had a youngster, you don't know where they been either."
Sometimes Irene, his daughter, went to Sand Hill Bar and Club, a raunchy place, full of belligerent off-duty soldiers and heavy women in wigs. Some of the patrons there say they remember her, anyway. Irene, they say, would walk in, sometimes with a man, sometimes alone. And she'd buy herself a drink. And then she'd go over to the loud jukebox, insert some coins, and dance and dance - all by herself.
"Irene , sure," says a lady at the bar, in a halter, "she'd go to the jukebox and do her own thing."
She was over 6 feet tall, an appealing woman with hgh cheekbones and sad, remote eyes - a younger, bigger reflection of her mother, Frdosha who is now bringing up the four children Irene leftbehind.
"I just want to keep 'em together, all together by the help of the good Lord. You hear what I say?" yells Fedosha King.
Suddenly she flings herself, weeping into the reporter's arms, clutching with her thin old hands. "Lord, I hate it! I hate it! Everytime someone comes out here, they make it harder and harder . . ."
Round and round, the unmarked police car goes, gliding past the pretty houses of Wynnton - Tudor wed to Tara, colonial to modern brick. Sgt. John Horsby, who is growing a beard to honor the Sesquicentinnial, has been patrolling this area, the strangler's area, since September when the first of the seven old ladies was found - dead.
For a while it was 12 hours of duty a night. But when the strangler didn't struck in more than two months, it was down to eight hours a night. And on this particular night, very little was happening. "It's boring, you can't imagine," says Sgt.Hornsby. And then: "You can go crazy as a darn bedbug out here."%THe drive past the prim, modest brick house where Kathleen Woodruff was strangled late last December. "I don't see how he gets his kicks with these old women."" A shrug. "One day he'll make a mistake. Of course I hope it doesn't take another murder to happen."
(But the strangler, as the coroner and others point out, doesn't make mistakes. "We don't have fingerprint one," says the coroner. He's not sloppy. This guy is real, real neat." The strangler doesn't even make a mistake of reckless greed. He stole only two cars - and then left them abandoned on the streets).
So Sgt. Hornsby drives round and round, without any idea of who he's looking for. It is past midnight, as he steers his scar through the quiet of Wynnton to rendezvous with several fellow officers.
One of them rolls down his car window, and they chat for a while. Finally the officers says, "I don't think a policeman ought to be married. Really. It's not fair to the wife and kids.
Hornby cocks his head. "Really and truly it has been a strain."
The other man says, "You're out there worrying about those rich folks, when your family's at home alone."
The police have heard all the rumors. That the strangler has actually been caught, but is so crazy no one can charge him with anything. That the strangler has not been caught and is the son of someone famous in town. That the strangler is white, black . . .
As Chief McClung says, no one knows for sure if the strangler is white or black.
Neither do the cops on the beat.
But informally, there are those who operate on the probability that he is black. "Three months ago," says one policeman pointing to a group of young people standing on the streets of Wynnton, "Three mnths ago, you wouldn't have seen those people standing around. Three months ago a nigger could have walked through here and just scared the hell out of everybody.
"Of course he would have been checked about 50 times . . ."
The Rev. J.H. Flakes, president of the local NAACP, has been upset about a lot of things that have been going on in Columbus as a result of the stranglings. That police requested samples of public hair from blacks (and whites, say the police) brought in for questioning. That the police originally considered a 25 year-old retarded black man name Jerome Livas a suspect in the stranglings, Livas having "confessed."
Livas, as it turned out when a crakerjack reporter interviewed him, also "confessed" to killing William McKinley, John F. Kennedy and kidnaping the Lindbergh baby. While he was in jail, two more old ladies were strangled in the Wynnton area. Finally the police decided Livas was not the strangler.
"There's always been a feeling among whites in the South that blacks are guilty of whatever crime is committed, regardless," says Rev. Flakes. "It's amazing. In 1978 . . . There's still the mentaility of the 1800s."
Jerome Livas was ultimately convicted of an unrelated crime - the one for which hw was originally picked up. He was convicted of killing a middle-aged lady. He'd confessed to that too - and then withdrew his confession.
Rev. Flakes is asked if he believes Livas was - again - the wrong man.
"He was convicted," replies Rev. Flakes. A look of utter disdain crosses his face. I'll leave it at that."
If Spec. 4 William Hance does if fact turn out to be the Chairman of the Forces of Evil who swore he would kill black women, then the Chairman of the Forces of Evil is a black man.
You can tell that Rev. Flakes wonders if indeed the authorities have the right guy here too. "It has been reported that the person who is supposedly the founder of the Forces of Evil has been arrested," the Reverend announces from the pulpit one hot Sunday. "I do say I think it would be wise for young women . . . for old women to be very cautious and very carefully . . .
Ft. Benning, where Billy Hance used to live, where Lt. William Calley was once confined to quarters, has been described as "the dirty ring around the tub of Columbus." An uneasy relationship exists between the natives and the transients, those with roots and those without.
Down at Building 9022, as gray and functional as its name, the Fort Benning soldiers who knew him recite their litany of epithets for Billy Hance.
"A good dude . . . A good guy. Very friendly all the time . . . A good guy with a sense of humor . . . Kind of quiet . . ."
It is precisely this sort of general assessment of Billy Hance that made people wonder why his wife left him almost two years ago and divorced him.
"A lot of people think he's a quiet guy," she says now.
"Which he was. But not around me. He used to push me, shove me around, hit me sometimes."
Now remarried, now happy, now living in Virginia, Wanda Johnson wonders about the first man she married.
"I've been trying to figure out - I'm saying. If he did it, was it because of me? Because he said he loved me. He used to tell me that. I figure, the way he was doing me, why didn't he kill ME?"
"Wanda," Billy Hance told her late last year, "Wanda, I know you don't believe this - but I love you."
Not everyone living in the fashionable Wynnton area of Columbus is white, or fashionable, or even rich. Jean Dimenstein, for instance, was simply "comfortable," as her sister-in-law puts it.
Jean Dimenstien was the second old lady in Columbus found strangled in her home. Only, as her sister-in-law, Francine Dimenstien puts it, "She was not an old lady." At 72, Jean Dimenstien, travelled to Israel, to Vegas where she loved to gamble. She dyed her hair light brown, took golf lessons, and worked part-time at Warren's department store because she hated to be bored.
Jean Dimenstein had survived a radical mastectomy and open-heart surgery. "She'd avoided death," says her sister-in-law.
The stocking strangler took Miss Dimenstein's carport door off the hinges. The stocking strangler also tampered with her glass sliding door.
And so - in the end - she did not manage to avoid death. "My daughter," says Francine Dimenstein, "when she asked me - 'Why?" My only answer was, 'I guess the good Lord really wanted her."
The diamond ring on Jean Dimenstein's hand had not been removed. The jewelry that was "sitting right out" had not been taken.
On Oct.25 an 89-year-old, partially blind and deaf woman was found strangled. Four days later another old lady met the same fate.
Then the strangler murdered up the social scale. Or, as Francine Dimenstein puts it bitterly, "It's almost like he's taunting people with how high he got up in real high society. As if to say, 'SEE . . ." The strangler began with wealthy Kathleen Woodruff, in December; moved on in February to Ruth Schwob who miraculously fought off her masked attacker and pressed an alarm button just in time - and ended (within hours either beforeor after the Schwob attack, no one knows for sure) with Mildred Borom who was the last old lady to die that way in Columbus.
Sometimes the strangler uses a stocking, sometimes not.
Almost invariably he attackes at night or in the small hours of the morning - but once he did not.
Sometimes he attacks on weekends, sometimes not.
High above the homes of Columbus, the Wynnton homes and the other homes, the police helicopter hovers, buzzing through the moist night air.
Under the high vaulted ceiling of The Big Eddy club, to which, of course, the Woodruffs belonged, Clason Kyle is saying, "Life still does go on here. People do go to parties and play bridge."
"It's spring," agrees another guest. "People have a lighter feeling about life. You've got to make the best of real bad situation."
They said that before the last, the latest strangling. They said that when over two months had gone by with no stranglings, when it seemed that Columbus finally had itself an opened truce.
In Chief McClung's office hangs what might be called a homicide calendar, with a list of people murdered, strangled, attacked. There are big empty spaces next to the months ahead.
Over at the home of Irene Thirkield's parents, Rev. Willie King is concluding this interview."Pray for us. Pray for us," he implores. "Maybe what you got will help. And if it don't that's the Lord's will."
The police helicopter buzzes on through the night. Even with the strong lights you can see very little: a speeding car, the first green buds of spring blending in with the darkness.