Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

DEAR UNCLE FRANK - AN INVITATION TO DIE



Dublin, Ga. Dec. 13th 1912.

Dear Uncle Frank,



Alonzo and the children is planning to go and getting ready to go to Wilkes Co next Tuesday, they will be gone three days you don't know how desolate it is out here when me and the baby is left alone. We cant all leave on account of our stock. We have plenty of lightwood ready cut. You can come In your wagon every day and get a load I will give you a good, good good dinner. Please come visit me in my loneliness. You will never regret the time. 

Alice Lynn

Route 6
Dublin, Ga.



Frank Hightower had seen death before.  As a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant in the 49th Georgia Infantry, Hightower had seen the slaughter of thousands at Gettysburg and on  the killing fields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania in Virginia.  When he inscribed his name to enlist in the Confederate army on March 4, 1862, Frank knew that he may die.  But, when he received an invitation to come stay with his lonely niece, Alice Lynn, Francis Marion Hightower, he never dreamed what was about to happen.

On a cool clear Tuesday morning, Frank Hightower set out to visit his niece Alice.   The Hightowers had known the Lynns for quite a while.  J.F. Colley, brother of Hightower's wife Mary, had adopted the orphaned Alice and treated her like his own daughter.  Alice married Alonzo Lafayette Lynn, a blacksmith and engineer, in 1900.  By all accounts, the Hightowers and Lynns were good friends.  Not a bad word was ever known to have been spoken between them until just a few weeks before when Mr. Hightower uttered a remark which offended his niece.  Those who heard the remark saw no reason to classify it as a reason to murder the old gray rebel.  

When Hightower arrived in his wagon at the Lynn farm house, some seven miles east of Dublin, he spoke to Tom Hart, the Lynns' neighbor.

Hightower told Lynn that he came to pick up a load of lightwood and to deliver some flour and lard as his niece had requested.

From that point on, the accounts of that day differ.  According to Mrs. Lynn, Hightower drove up to her house and she invited him in.  Lynn stated, "He took off his coat and laid it on the bed together with his hat." The seventy-four-year-old took a seat to rest in a rocking chair between the bureau and the shed kitchen door.  As she was passing by the chair on her way to the kitchen to cook dinner, Alice Lynn alleged that Hightower took her hand and commenced to insult her with the most vile suggestion.  Fearing for her safety, Alice, understandably nervous and excited,  maintained that she reached for the bureau, took a five-shot pistol and fired it until it was empty, though she could not remember just how many times she shot.   Later Alice Lynn testified, "When he came, he asked me where my husband was.  I told him he was in the field picking cotton.  He said, 'I had an excuse to come here for a load of lightwood, but I came for something else and I intend to have it.'" Alice added, "Don't bother me, you see my condition.  He then caught my hand and I shot him."


The Defense's theory - an unwarranted assault on Mrs. Lynn


It was then when Tom Hart, who was working on a well,  heard the scared screams of Mrs. Lynn about 30 minutes past noon.  Hart, along with his son,  ran as fast as they could, only to discover the horrible sight of Hightower lying on the floor,  his snow white hair saturated with bright crimson blood, his brains oozing  from  five gaping wounds to the back of his head.  Blood covered at least a third of the bedroom floor.  Interestingly, two more frontal entrance wounds were found  in his abdomen.  Hart screamed, "How did this happen?"!  Mrs. Lynn replied, "I shot him.  I had to do it; he attempted to assault me."  

Hart called out for Alonzo Lynn, who came running toward his home from a nearby cotton field across the branch.  The Lynns went to another neighbor's house to await the arrival of the sheriff.  Mrs. Lynn was already in a delicate position as she was in her last months of a pregnancy with her son Joseph.  During his trial, Lynn stated that he and Hart took Alice out of the house and began to bathe and clean her face with camphor.  Lynn testified that when his wife regained her composure she said, "I had to do it.  It looks mighty bad for Uncle Frank to impose on me as he did. I knew nothing from the time I began to shoot until I found myself seated in the chair in the yard with my husband and the neighbors gathered around me in a group."  

Lynn later told his jury that in response to his wife's story to the sheriff,  Flanders responded, "Any man who would undertake to overpower a woman, no matter what her condition, ought to be hung up and shot full of holes." 
        
Hart called Hightower's son, long time Dublin Chief of Police, J.B. Hightower.  Chief Hightower procured an automobile and asked Sheriff J.J. Flanders to accompany him to the murder scene.  Hightower immediately began to doubt his father's alleged overtures toward his adopted cousin.  The Laurens Herald called the victim "one of Dublin's oldest and most respected citizens."  Hightower was known to have lived a pure and blameless life and was one who had the respect of all who knew him, particularly for his generosity and love of little children.  Initially, Chief Hightower and those who knew his father believed that Mrs. Lynn had a nervous reaction to an innocent brush against her as she passed by.


Dr. J.L. Weddington was called to examine Hightower's body.  The doctor found five entrance wounds at the base of back of his skull and the top of the victims' neck.  All five rounds exited the body through the front of his face and throat.   

Sheriff Flanders found empty shell casings in back of the chair where Hightower was sitting and two  other shells in front of and to the side of the chair, indicating that the victim may have been shot from two different angles.  The evidence at the crime scene indicated that the shells behind the chair were splattered with blood, a clue that Hightower remained upright for a short time before falling, or being pushed, to the floor.  No evidence of a struggle could be found.  Hightower's hat was right where it was when he entered the room.  

Three days later, Frank Hightower was buried with Masonic honors near the front gate of Northview Cemetery, just up the street from his former home.  

The Lynns secured the services of George B. Davis and Stephen Parker New, two of Dublin's newest and most promising attorneys to represent them against the charges of murder at a commitment hearing on January 8, 1913. More than two weeks after the shooting, Alice Lynn was arrested.  Davis and New attempted to get their clients out of jail on  bonds.

In support of their motion, the attorneys introduced the affidavit of Lanthers Lynn, the couple's eleven-year-old daughter.  Miss Lynn swore, in a completely self-serving affidavit, that her father was in a cotton field and could not have been present at the time of the shooting.  To contradict Miss Lynn's testimony, Tom Hart signed an affidavit stating that Alonzo Lynn would have had the time to escape from the rear of the house and come  back to be the first person he saw near the house.  Hart firmly believed that neither Lynn nor anyone else could have run that fast from the cotton field, where Lynn maintained he was at the time of the shooting.  In his sworn statement, Hart recalled seeing the impression of a hand or arm in the middle of the bed as if it had been resting on the bed.   




To prove his case, Sheriff Flanders had  Detective C.W. McCall  fire four rounds from inside the Lynn house.  Flanders stood at a point, much closer than a Negro girl or Lynn were when they claimed they heard the shots being fired.  Flanders told the court that he could not hear any reports of gunfire. Superior Court Judge Kendrick J.  Hawkins found that it was Alonzo Lynn who actually wrote the  letter asking Hightower to come out to stay with his wife, who actually signed the letter.  Judge Hawkins  remanded the Lynns back to jail and set Mrs. Lynn's bond at $5,000.00 on account of her delicate condition.  




Hundreds of spectators gathered inside and outside of the Laurens County Courthouse on the Tuesday  afternoon of February 5, 1913.  Messers Davis and New immediately filed a motion to quash their clients' illegal indictment by the Grand Jury.  More than one hundred white male jurors were voir dired before a dozen were impaneled.  Arthur Graham, B.M. Lewis, A.K. Hawkins, R.M. Arnau, J.M. Jones, D.B. Bass, B.A. Hooks, John Ellington, Jerry Ussery, W.E. Silas, John Daniel, and Calvin Tyre took their seats in the crowded courtroom.  On the morning of second day of the trial, Juror Tyre fell ill.  Owing to the urgency of continuing the case, the parties agreed to proceed with eleven jurors.  

One of the state's earliest and most critical witnesses was Raymond Blash, who testified that he was in the field near the Lynn house when he saw Mr. Lynn go into his house about five minutes before the sound of gunfire.  Blash testified that after he saw Lynn run out of the house, he heard two more gunshots.    George Davis relentlessly cross-examined the damning witness.  Col. Davis attempted to show that Blash was simple-minded, a fact which was stipulated by the state.  In an attempt to  prove his claim, Davis handed Blash a watch and asked him to tell him what time it was. Blash quickly gave the correct time.  Davis continued to hammer the witness by asking, "Do you know where people went who told lies?", to which Blash quickly responded, "They will go to Hell."  Spectators in the room erupted in laughter and accord with the witnesses' profound answer.  Both sides put up witnesses to solidify or attack the character of Blash.  The state showed that he knew the value of money and that when he was not confronted, Blash could speak normally.  The defense produced one witness after another who said Blash was an undependable idiot.  



Davis and New even attacked the character of the deceased by producing witnesses who testified that they heard that victim was a deserter during the war and that this caused much consternation among the local camp of Confederate veterans.  

The state hired surveyor and city engineer, M. J. Guyton,  to survey and plat the site of the crime.  Guyton took with him a photographer from the Guarantee Photography Studio in Dublin to take photographs of scenes recreating the prosecution's theory of the murder.   The photographs you see are the actual original ones used by the state in the case. 

During their time in jail, the Lynns were subjected to subterfuge when Detective McCall secretly installed a dicta graph machine in their cell.  Listening in on their privileged conversations, McCall later told the jury that he overheard Mr. Lynn tell his wife that she should have told the authorities that Hightower held the other hand instead of the left.  McCall also stated that Mrs. Lynn said, "Oh, God!  I wish I hadn't told a lie about it."  The detective said to the jury that when he confronted the  defendants with the damning evidence, neither one of them denied his assertions.  The Atlanta detective's eavesdropping machine didn't work as well as planned.  Only a few disjointed sentences could be heard when the recording was played back, forcing McCall to testify as to what he personally heard.  

Lynn and his wife remained calm throughout the hoopla and the entire trial.  Lynn was frequently seen smiling while conversing with his attorneys.  Court room observers spotted no discernable reaction on their faces during the testimony of Dr. Weddington, who spoke of the gruesome details of Hightower's corpse.



The testimony continued through Saturday. The defense called several medical experts to prove that  Hightower was suffering from dementia.  Alonzo Lynn took the stand to make an unsworn  statement, one which could not be cross examined by the state.  In one of the longest ever made by a defendant, Lynn carefully, calmly and methodically spoke to the details of the charges against them for two hours.  He lambasted the way he was treated by Sheriff Flanders and others in the jail.  Lynn spoke of his long and solid friendship with Frank Hightower and that he would trust him anywhere at any time.   In answer to the allegation that his letter to Hightower was a lure to kill him, Lynn stated that his wife asked him to write the letter to help her during his absence, but that when the time came, he stayed home because he was too fatigued to travel.  Lynn reiterated his alibi that he was in a nearby cotton field picking cotton with his children; Lanthers, Aaron, Annie, and Janie.  He claimed he helped a Negro man roll a log in the field.  Lynn attempted to contradict the testimony of a Mr. Gibbs, who told the jury that he was in the field between the hours of ten and eleven on the morning of the shooting, by stating that he was behind a barn and could not be seen.  



Lynn went on to describe his dash to the house and his conversation with Tom Hart.  "He told me that his wife had killed Mr. Hightower to which I asked, 'which Hightower?"  When Hart replied that it was Frank Hightower, Lynn said, "Lord have mercy! I wouldn't have had it done for anything."  In closing, Lynn blamed Hart's damaging testimony as his way of acquiring Lynn's land and blamed the actual shooting on a Negro, a claim which did not coincide with his wife's claim of self-defense. 

Alice Lynn calmly made a very short statement.   She repeated her claim that her uncle attempted to sexually molest her.  Mrs. Lynn further accused Florence Flanders, the wife of the sheriff, of attempting to coerce her into confessing by threatening that she would be hung for the murder of Mr. Hightower. 

Dr. Sidney Walker was called by the state to rebut the allegations of Hightower's dementia stating that he had personally examined the victim and that he exhibited no signs of senility nor sexual insanity.  Sheriff Flanders and Charlie Hart once again repeated their testimony that during a test,  they could not hear any gunfire from the spots where witnesses testified they did hear the shots. B.A. Garrard testified that Mrs. Lynn told him that she did not know how to unbreech, load, or unload a gun and had only fired a gun once in her lifetime.  Mrs. Lynn's attorneys requested that she be allowed to demonstrate that she could do just that, which she did.  The court allowed the jurors to be excused on Sunday to attend a church as a group.  

The closing arguments began on Monday morning and  lasted more than ten hours.  All those present agreed that they were among the  most powerful pleas ever delivered in the Laurens County courthouse.  Judge John S. Adams, mesmerized the jury as he spoke only to the eleven men, detailing all of the facts of the case and applying the law to them.  Adams urged the jury to uphold the law and put justice over sympathy  for the defendants.  Davis was equally eloquent in his delivery of an oratorical gem.

For two days the jury remained hopelessly deadlocked.  After one recharge after another, the jury appeared to experts to be leaning slightly in favor of a conviction of both defendants.  


The State's theory of the murder with Lynn as the shooter from behind. 

At two o'clock  on February 13, after a week of testimony by fifty-seven witnesses and a seven-day trial, solicitor E.L. Stephens, Sr. arose from his seat, walked over to the jury foreman J.M. Jones, took and opened the folded piece of paper, and read the verdict, "We, the jury, find the defendant A.L. Lynn, guilty of murder and recommend life in the penitentiary. We find the defendant, Mrs. A.L. Lynn, not guilty."  Both defendants sat motionless.  Mr. Lynn appeared to smile just for a moment as his attorney spoke to him.  Mrs. Lynn's one instant of relief on her part was promptly replaced by contempt for the process.  Before Judge Hawkins dismissed the jury, he thanked the men for their service and their righteous verdict, one in which he wholeheartedly concurred.  


Judge Hawkins commanded Mr. Lynn to rise.  The judge, reluctantly bound to accept the jury's recommendation,  pronounced the sentence of life in prison.  After a few minutes the once teeming courtroom was quiet.  Lynn's attorneys filed a motion for a new trial.  Judge Hawkins' ruling denying a new trial was appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, which affirmed the trial court's decision in late July following its usual precedent of upholding the discretion of the trial jury unless unusual circumstances dictated a reversal.

Lynn would not concede his guilt.  A move was made to indict Blash for perjury in the case.  When the Grand Jury refused to issue a bill of indictment, nearly all hope for a new trial had evaporated.  An attempt was made to appeal the Georgia Supreme Court's affirmation of the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, a tactic that never materialized.  Alonzo Lynn was sent to Toombs County to spend the remainder of his life on the chain gang eighteen months after his conviction.  Alice Lynn moved to Atlanta before 1920, when she was shown as a widow in the census.  Alice lived there until her death in 1960.  



The only eye witness to the shooting was the infant Harrison Lynn.  No motive, and certainly no premeditated motive,  for murdering Uncle Frank was ever attributed to A.L. Lynn.  The verdict, by today's standards, was questionable in that it was based partly on circumstantial and often contradictory evidence, which was bolstered by now illegal eavesdropping evidence of a legally protected confidential conversation between a husband and wife.  

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In the end, it appears that the split verdict was a result of sympathy for a fine man and the expectant defendant.  Today, Uncle Frank Hightower lies in peace under the shade of  an ancient moss-draped oak.   His name and the date of his death have all but eroded away from his slab.  But, if you look closely, you can still see  scrawled in concrete,  his final engraved invitation, an invitation to die. 

     




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