Tue, 05/15/2007 - 2:54pm
By: Carolyn Cary

James Jones

Thanks to my good friend, Nathan Mathews, editor of the "Georgia Genealogical Quarterly," another 19th century sheriff has been found.

He was doing some research for a friend the week that part one of the sheriff's story came out, and it seems their ancestor was one Abner Coker, sheriff about 1850.

We find him in the 1840 and 1850 census, and that in 1849 he married Jane Veal. In 1860 they seem to have disappeared.

We pick up this week in 1918, when Thomas Martin Kerlin became sheriff. He was born December 15, 1872, the son of George Washington and Lillie Travis Kerlin. He was sheriff from 1918 to 1924.

During his term of office, several men robbed businesses around the square in Fayetteville. At their trial, one of the prisoners stabbed to death another one of the prisoners, who was not only was his nephew but the one who told on all those involved.

The murder of James Langston, a rural route mail carrier happened in 1922, with final resolution coming in the term of the next sheriff. The full stories can be found in "Death Unexpected" by Bruce Jordan.

Kerlin and his wife are buried in the Fayetteville City Cemetery.

In 1924 Benjamin Wyatt Adams took office. He served until 1936. He was born in 1884 and died in 1941. He was married to Pearlie Chapman Adams, who was born in 1883 and died in 1965. Their only child, Sarah Elizabeth, married Clarence Rivers in 1938. He died in 1992. Miss Sarah lives halfway between Fayetteville and Peachtree City, and at the age of 88, can remember births, deaths, graduations, and events, complete with their date of occurrence.

B. W.'s term proved a busy one. The miscreants who killed Langston were finally determined, put on trial in 1925 and dutifully sentenced to prison.

Just seven years later, another murder took place, this one in Woolsey. William B. Baker was a retired business man from Atlanta. He acquired 1,000 acres in Woolsey, and lived in the 1824 house that became known as the Woolsey house in 1932. He grew 25,000 peach trees here. The train tracks through Fayette County had been laid in the late 1880's and served the peach orchard until the tracks were taken up in 1939.

On September 25, 1932, Baker and his son, who was a doctor visiting at the time, heard a disturbance at one of the tenant's houses and went to investigate. One very bad man from the area had a gun and shot Baker in the abdomen and foot. His son had a bullet graze his head.

B. W. got together a posse and Andrew McCullough was captured a day later in Griffin. He was executed in the electric chair in 1933, and was the first person to be executed for a murder in Fayette County, since the hanging of Jim Bennett in 1908.

Also during B. W.'s reign, local men went to the home one evening of bank cashier, Crawford Hewell, an employee at the Farmer's and Merchants Bank. At the time the bank sat on the west side of the courthouse square. They held his family, consisting of he, his wife, his mother-in-law, a five year-old son and an infant, all night, and took Hewell to open the bank safe the next morning. There was not much money in the safe and Hewell did not tell them where it really was. For whatever reason, it was at the post office! After getting their ill-gotten gains, they put Hewell on the floor of their car, drove him to Hapeville, and tied him to a tree. When, who and how long before he was found, it is not known.

B. W. eventually arrested them all.

It's 1936 and another Sams has taken the roll of sheriff, Mortimer Griffin Sams. He was born in 1883 and died in 1953. He married Linnie Gay in 1902. She was born in 1882. We would appreciate any additional information on his term you might have.

In 1943, William Joseph Ballard, who had been deputy sheriff, took office when Sams resigned. He went on to win the next election and served a full term. He was born in 1892 in the community of Woolsey, the youngest of six children. He died in June, 1986. He had married Katie Belle Wesley in October, 1914. She was born in 1894 and died in 1984. One of their children is a long-time lawyer in Fayetteville, and one of their grandchildren is currently the District Attorney.

The Manley Lamb murder case took place during W. J. Ballard's term of office. Lamb got it into his head that his wife was having an affair and proceeded to shoot the "other" man. However, he accidentally shot the man's brother. Lamb was sentenced and served time in prison.

A "duel" of sorts also took place in 1945. Sheriff Ballard had to bring to court the case of an uncle and nephew who shot each other. John C. Askew was a retired Atlanta policeman living near Tyrone. He and a nephew, Hugh Peek, shot each other, with Askew dying from his wounds. Peek's trial was held and ended in a hung jury. A second trial found Peek not guilty.

Both the Lamb and Peek stories are outlined in detail in "Death Unexpected."

Up until this time, our sheriff's served their positions with a lot of common sense. Law enforcement academies were just coming into place. Also changing, was the political position of who had a good chance of winning local elections.

After the War Between The States, you did not have a prayer of winning an election if you were not a veteran of that conflict.

In 1948, the same feeling prevailed, you needed to be a veteran of World War II for people to be interested in you.

The population of the county stood at a steady 8,000 persons.

Hugh Stinchcomb

Entering the scene was a World War II veteran and Fayette County native, Hugh Stinchcomb. While he was only 6 fee 2 inches tall, when you stood before him you would swear he was at least 6 feet 6 inches. His hands were huge, and so was his smile. He never carried a gun and really, he never had to. His stature and demeanor let you know where you stood.

He was born in February, 1917 and died in November, 1974. At the time, he was the longest-serving sheriff in the county, from 1949 until 1968. Taking the office at the age of 31, he was the youngest sheriff in the state of Georgia.

He married Geraldine Adams in 1940. She was born in 1916 and still lives in their home in the south end of the county.

By no means do I want to short-change Stinchcomb and his 20 years as being sheriff. There are a number of articles in the Fayette County Historical Society, in "Fayette Portraits" 1990, and "Fayette Portraits" 1999.

Speaking personally, he is on my most admired list. He was instrumental in building the present Fayetteville Masonic Lodge, and I have a picture of my five-year old son and Hugh, standing in front of the building. No, I wouldn't take million dollars for it.

Serving as the next sheriff, was James Jones. He had been the first full-time deputy in the county.

He was born in 1911 and died in 1987. He married school teacher, Violet Wingard in 1939. She was born in 1911 and died in 2004.

He served as sheriff from 1970 to retirement in December, 1976.

Again, there are many articles on Jones in the Fayette County Historical Society and in "Death Unexpected."

I would like to relate one personal story, if I may. In the late 1960's I worked very had to get money for four very nice "Welcome to Fayetteville" signs. They were placed on Ga. Highway 85 north and south, Ga. Highway 54 east, and Ga. Highway 92 north. As I recall, they were about $130 each, and were made by the Robert K. Price company in Peachtree City.

One January, one of them became missing. A baby sitter I had for my daughter, accidentally told me what had happened to it.

She had overheard her parents and the parents of a college student discussing the matter. It seems it was sitting in a student's room at Mercer University and they found the matter amusing. I was not amused. I knew that student was a senior, so I bided my time until a week before graduation. I consulted with Sheriff Jones, who called the school's dean. A short while later the dean called back, said indeed that's where the sign was, and said I could be assured it would be returned ASAP, or the student would not be able to graduate.

Just four hours later, the entire family, with sign in tow, appeared at my house.

Randall Johnson

And now we come to our present sheriff, Randall Johnson.

This native Fayette Countian was born at home in October, 1940. He is the only son of Charlie and Lydia West Johnson.

While still in Fayette County High School, he told his friends that he wanted to be a sheriff here one day.

After graduation, he worked for the state of Georgia as a revenue agent for 15 years. He began serving as sheriff of Fayette County in 1977, and is the longest-serving sheriff in the county's history.

He married a girl from Whitfield County, the former Kaye Stansell. They are the parents of two children and two grandchildren.

When Randall first took office in 1977, the population had jumped to 28,000 and he had 14 full-time employees. The population is now over 105,000 and he has 210 full-time employees.

There are still funny incidents and certainly murders that the local sheriff must contend with. They can be found in the sources previously mentioned.

One thing they no longer have to worry about, is the making of untaxed liquor. Until Sheriff Stinchcomb busted the last still in the county, in the late 1960s, Fayette County was one of the largest manufacturers of alcohol in the state. It was pretty much a full-time job for sheriffs in the first half of the 1900's.
More information on the cases in Johnson's tenure can be found at the Fayette County Justice Center, and in "Death Unexpected."
Please email me if you have additional information or corrections.

Sources for this article: The Fayette County Historical Society, Fayette Portraits for the years 1990, and 1999, the book "Death Unexpected" by Bruce Jordan, and a number of personal interviews.

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Basmati's picture
Submitted by Basmati on Wed, 05/16/2007 - 4:17pm.

Without scrolling backwards, how many times was Bruce Jordan's book "Death Unexpected" mentioned in this article? Laughing out loud

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