“What About The Skull And Crossbones?”
Mary was really a pretty nice lady. She had suffered a work related accident and had drawn government subsidies ever since. The fixed income wasn’t real great, so after a while, Mary decided she needed to create a little extra cash flow. Following an in-depth study of opportunities, Mary came to the conclusion the sale of untaxed liquor in a “dry” county could be an answer to her money problems. As Mary explained it, if you could afford to join the country club, you could drink all you wanted. She concluded she was only providing a service to those hard working folks who couldn’t afford to be members of the country club. The avoidance of paying sales taxes liquor sales is not a big issue as far as bootleggers are concerned!
Joe moved in with Mary because he loved her. He was a good man. Joe had a decent job, had never been in any trouble, and everybody liked him. Almost everybody.. Joe and Mary had a very nice relationship except for one small problem.
Roger lived just down the road. He was Mary’s ex-boyfriend. He loved Mary too.
Roger happened to be a sure enough alcoholic. In a way, it was handy to live just down the road from his bootlegger. It was also a bit of a problem since Joe wasn’t real crazy about Mary’s old boyfriend hanging around the house.
The problem came to a head one afternoon when Roger needed a drink and he came to Mary’s house to get one. As luck would have it, Mary was gone to Bolivar to shop. To make matters worse, she was out of liquor. When Joe told Roger there was no liquor to be had, Roger did not take it very well. That is putting it mildly.
Roger accused Joe of withholding the much needed liquor just because he was Mary’s ex-boyfriend. Roger said Joe would not sell him anything to drink because Joe was jealous! Roger also threatened Joe with bodily harm if he did not sell him a bottle.
Remember, there really was no liquor in the house. Mary was out!
After being chastised, berated, and threatened because he wouldn’t sell Roger a half pint, Joe decided to figure out something to do. He knew Roger was already drunk and probably wouldn’t know the difference, so, Joe filled up a half pint bottle (bootleggers usually have several around) and sold it to Roger.
Later that day the Sheriff’s Department got a call from the hospital. There as an unattended death that the hospital thought looked suspicious. It was Roger.
Sheriff Delphus Hicks and I were together working on something else that day. We began to investigate as soon as we got the call. Delphus was one of the best investigators I ever met.
After a few inquiries we found out the last time anyone saw Roger, alive, was when he headed to Mary’s house to buy a bottle.
Following up on that information we discovered Mary would not have been at home and Roger would have been dealing with Joe. It was pretty obvious this was a recipe for disaster!
We went to Mary’s house and Joe was there.
Joe was cooperative. As a matter of fact, we stood out on the road in front of the house talking to Joe so long, the Sheriff’s office got worried because we weren’t answering the radio for such a long time. We didn’t have cell phones or pagers or any of that. They had no idea where we were and everybody was looking for us!
Conducting a really good interview demands that you be willing to spend time with the person you are interviewing. We stood on the side of the road behind Sheriff Hick’s car or at least 2 hours talking to Joe. At one point we knelt and prayed asking the Lord to lead us to the truth about what happened to Roger.
Joe finally told us he poured something in a bottle and sold it to Roger. He just wanted Roger to leave him alone and go away. When we asked him what he poured in the bottle and sold to Roger, Joe said he wasn’t sure.
Delphus asked if he could show us the bottle he poured from to fill up the half pint bottle he sold to Roger. He showed us a bottle in the garbage. It was Singletary’s Pest Control…
All three of us stood there at the garbage can for a moment. Nobody said a word for a minute. Sometimes silence can be a very strong incentive to make a suspect speak. Delphus and I were both looking at Joe. We had built a good relationship after several hours of being together.
Finally, I said, “Joe, this is pest control. You knew that would kill Roger.” Joe replied, “Man. I can’t read. I didn’t really know what it was.”
Sheriff Hicks spoke up and said, “Mr.Kelly, what did you think that skull and crossbones on the label meant?”
Joe couldn’t answer that. He just hung his head. We arrested him for murder and carried him to jail.
The medical examiner’s opinion was that if Roger hadn’t been so hard core,the poison wouldn’t have killed him. He would have thrown up after a few swallows and it would have have just burned his throat. His condition made it possible for him to “kill” the whole half pint. When he killed the half pint, it killed him.
Joe pleaded to a Manslaughter charge. Nobody really thought he meant to kill Roger, it just happened.
The police and the people they have to arrest and prosecute don’t necessarily hate one another.
When Joe entered his guilty plea he was allowed to go home and report to jail the next day. The prosecutors who handled the case gave him a ride home because he didn’t have a car. Prosecutors giving a defendant a ride home may seem strange to some folks who think police and the people they have to arrest automatically hate one another. This is not necessarily true.
Chief Deputy George Bynum explained it to me perfectly when I was a brand new TBI Agent. He said, “Agent, we gotta go to war, but we gotta get along.” He meant that people are going to make mistakes and the police must deal with the consequences of those mistakes. Once we deal with it, it’s over, and if we treat them with them respect, and they treat us with respect, we can all get along and live together.
My friend George passed away several years ago.I wish he was here to explain that to everybody today.
The author, Jim Leach, served as Director of Criminal Investigations for the Tennessee Department of Safety.