Contact me to receive a copy of the book, The Grave: The Murder of Carl Arp Perry

September 12, 2014 at 11:48 pm (Uncategorized)

Space limitations prevent me from hosting the file here. Feel free to shoot me a note, and I’ll be happy to email the PDF to you. I warn you, it may not be an exciting read, but it’s as factual as possible. It’s an ongoing project, so future updates are possible.



Tara D. Fields

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Researching A Trial.

September 15, 2008 at 1:32 pm (Uncategorized)

Researching A Trial.

Obtaining trial records can be a hit-or-miss process. Knowing at least the approximate dates of the trial narrows down the search considerably. Knowing the location of the trial is also mandatory information. Carl was shot in Camden and left in Nassau County, Florida – but he died in Duval County in Florida. Who would have jurisdiction?

The easiest and quickest way to get this information is from contemporary news accounts. The Bryan-Lang Library in Woodbine, Georgia has a microfilm collection of all of the available issues of The Southeast Georgian from the time of Carl’s death. I started my search on the day of Carl’s assault and ended it shortly after the execution of Simpson and Morrow. I soon learned that an impartial jury could not be gathered in Camden, so the venue was changed to Brunswick in Glynn County – just to the north. While information from the newspapers cannot always be trusted, as I’ll address separately, the data on the trial venue should be fairly accurate.

I traveled to the Glynn County courthouse in June of 2006. In the Supreme Court office, I asked to see trial records from 1928 and 1929. I was allowed into the office area where the older books were being stored. Inside the thick over-sized tome were many trial transcripts. The originals had been typed and entered into the official court recording. Typed documents are a mixed-blessing. On the one hand, the typist used was not the best: the documents are full of typos. On the other hand, even with the typos the documents were easier to read than most handwritten originals.

I found the transcripts for the trials of Simpson, Morrow, Waller and Todd. But something had been lost: per contemporary news accounts, Mamie was tried twice. Her first trial ended in a hung jury. Only her second trial had been transcribed. However, I was happy to have found these four final trial transcripts. I spent the next hour or two photocopying over one hundred pages from the cumbersome book. Once I returned home with my treasures, I scanned the documents into my computer. I then spent much time over the next two years studying the trials and comparing the data with my other sources of information.

The presiding judge for all four trials was Judge James H. Thomas of Jesup, Wayne County, Georgia.

What struck me initially was that all four defendants made statements at their trials. Interestingly, none were cross-examined. Not one of the defendants had anyone – friend or family – testify for them. But there was a reason for this: if no witnesses were called, the defendants could enter a statement into the record without having to be cross-examined. Simpson and Morrow admitted their parts in the bank robbery and murder. Mamie and Waller both denied their parts in the conspiracy. Morrow was the only one to testify for the State: in Mamie’s trial he told the jury of her part in the planning of the bank robbery. The bulk of the witnesses for the State were police officials and the good Samaritans who came upon the scenes of the wrecked cars.

Why make the trial testimony the standard by which all other sources are to be compared to? There are several reasons. The trial transcript is the “official” record – it contains the words that led to the conviction of four and the execution of two. Of course, witnesses may be mistaken in what they remember, defendants may lie to save themselves and officials may also have their facts wrong. And when compared with newspapers, memories of the living and the known facts – typically the truth becomes clear. For example, Waller lied to the Shaws about not being familiar with Jacksonville. He may have also lied about his injuries as there are no other sources supporting his supposed broken ribs. In fact, Simpson testified that Waller was completely unhurt after the car wreck. In addition, Waller’s testimony often does not fit with not only the known facts but even basic common sense. The testimony of Morrow and Simpson fits the facts to a much greater degree; their testimony contradicts Waller’s in several places. Based on this line of reasoning, I have concluded that while Simpson and Morrow’s testimony is generally truthful, Waller’s testimony seems to be simply self-serving.

Mamie’s position is a little more difficult to place. While I believe that she provided the idea for the robbery and the information needed by the three men to pull off the crime, I’m mixed on her claims that Morrow was a threat to her. Her first marriage ended on claims of abuse and threats; was Mamie suffering from a type of battered-woman syndrome? Was she pressured into her part of the plot? Because she was not there at the scene of the crime, Perry did not know about her role and was not able to testify against her. Simpson and Waller did not know her well and they said little about her. Mamie’s conviction rested primarily on the aid she provided the three men after the fact. Even Morrow’s testimony against her wasn’t enough to convict her of being an accessory before-the-fact, much less convict her of the greater crimes of murder and robbery.

Another reason to set the trial testimony as the “gold standard” is that journalists of the time were not above playing fast and loose with the facts of the case. As they do not cite their sources, it can be difficult – but not impossible – to confirm or discredit questionable statements. The newspaper articles are very interesting and sometimes helpful – such as during my search for the venue of the trial. But what was printed by the press must be compared both to the trial transcripts and to all other sources of data. The newspapers’ value lies in showing contemporary people’s knowledge and understanding of the events, but newspapers are not always very good at accurately describing these events.

All of the defendants were tried and convicted in the press long before their official trials were concluded. Surprisingly, little mention is made of Mamie’s connection to Kingsland. During the years of her residency, Mamie was featured repeatedly in the society section of the local paper, The Southeast Georgian. Her Kingsland legacy – and that of her family – was reduced to a passing mention that she was a former resident of the town. Her mother and her children were never mentioned by name and not at all until the final article detailing her conviction.

An interesting event brought up in the newspapers, but not at trial, was the supposed theft by Mamie Lee of jewelry from the store she worked at, the Duval Jewelry Company of Jacksonville. I know she worked there – this was confirmed by the testimony of M. L. Hill, but no mention was made of this theft at trial. The newspaper claims that jewelry was recovered at the Todd-Morgan boarding house, but, again, the investigating officers made no mention of finding stolen jewelry when they described what they recovered from the house.

The most accurate portrayal of events were articles published in The Florida-Times Union of Jacksonville, Florida. Articles from the day after the event are surprisingly consistent with the trial testimony. However, the description of the bandits was garbled – just as it was in the other early newspaper accounts. However, even The Florida Times-Union wasn’t above a little sensationalism. For example, contrary to the evidence, the Times-Union reported that Carl was “accosted” in the bank before being carried out to the Parker tract.  Even the local paper, The Southeast Georgian, partook of hyperbole when it described Mamie as saying she was “violently” in love with Malcolm Morrow. In fact, she stated during her trial that she was “desperately” in love with him.  What a big difference one small word can make.

I’ve attempted to reproduce the trials as faithfully as possible. When needed, for clarity, I have corrected basic punctuation. I have tried to leave the original wording intact unless it created confusion.

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On Truth

September 5, 2008 at 12:14 pm (Uncategorized)

Truth is a virtue that we should always strive for. But, in spite of all the earnest strivings, it’s not always possible to attain Truth. But we must feel secure in the knowledge that our efforts have brought us that much closer to the Truth.

The Truth may not be something that we like or something that we want. But in reality it shouldn’t matter what the truth turns out to be. Our goals, when writing about history, should not be to lead the reader to a predetermined destination. Instead, the destination should be determined solely by the Truth. Satisfaction should be had from following the path of Truth to its natural destination.

The path we tread when we follow the Truth can be convoluted, dark and crowded with the unknown. But it need not be a frightful path. It is, above all, a path you tread with a light in your hand. And the path behind you is well-marked and open to the sunlight.

The Truth should not be obscured by needless details conjured to put the reader at ease. One of the most frightful terms we may ever hear is “historical fiction.” Few words are less compatible together than these two. If one is reading or writing history, it should be as factual as possible. When one is writing fiction the author is free to create material as needed. When an author creates material that is presented as history, the author has succeeded only in muddying our view of the past. “Historical fiction” should be thought of as an oxymoron and should be discarded as such.

History is full of gaps. When one comes across such a lacuna, rather than create fill, it should be left in place. Possibly future research will fill the empty spaces. But it is not for us to fill such spaces with whimsy.

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Dynamic Detective Magazine

September 4, 2008 at 5:00 pm (Uncategorized)

Dynamic Detective magazine is an interesting publication. Part truth, part sensationalism, it’s difficult to tease the facts from the fiction. In spite of its tabloid-like style, the article printed about the Perry murder gave me some insight into that day’s fascination with bank robbery, kidnapping and murder.

Composed of what appears to be tidbits from local newspapers and dialogue pulled from thin air, much of the article has a basis in fact. However, even the photographs are to be questioned. The photo of the State Bank of Kingsland is actually of the second bank building, built in the 1940s. While this helps date the article, the location of the robbery was actually a block away from the original bank building. (I do not have the cover of the magazine, so I don’t have a date for it.)

However, without closely matching the information in the article with more contemporary newspaper articles – and, more importantly, with the trial testimony – other errors would be harder to spot. For example, the amount of money said to be stolen does not match the amount of money entered into evidence at the trial. (Granted, some of the money may have been stolen by passers-by at the scene of the last car wreck or by Waller – the bank robber who fled the scene.)

While the article states that no one in Kingsland knew of any unusual activity surrounding Perry during the time of the robbery, the trial brought out several witnesses who stated they knew that Morrow and Waller were in town to transact business with Perry.

The worst offending text is, in my opinion, the dialogue between Morrow and Perry at the scene of the hold-up.

” ‘All right. We aren’t interested in buying property,’ he [Morrow] said. ‘This is a holdup. We want the combination to the bank vault.’ ”

Well, we know that Morrow did not tell Perry what he wanted until after Perry was shot. In fact, Perry was shot in part because of confusion over what the robbers wanted!

“Perry’s blood boiled. ‘You won’t get it!” he replied determinedly.’ And a fight ensued.

We also know this bit of creative writing never occurred. Perry’s own statement shows that not only did he not know what Morrow wanted, but that after the first shot Perry’s instinct was self-preservation. As we know from the evidence, Perry was shot in the back.

Finally, we know that Perry was more than willing to give up the bank vault combination in exchange for his own life. Carl was brave, but he wasn’t stupid. With a wife and three kids, Perry had much to live for.

However, the article mentions that once in the bank Perry made one last attempt to fight-off his attackers by going for a knife that was in the bank. The trial testimony supports this and also shows that Perry received a “lick” on the head from the butt of Morrow’s gun. Morrow denied this in his own statement. But Perry had the lick and Simpson said that Morrow told him he hit Perry.

Perry was abandoned in the woods, but he was found where he was placed. He was far too weak to crawl to the roadside, as this article contends.

The article makes other errors that were easy to fact-check. It states that Waller wasn’t captured for over a year. In fact, he was on the loose for just five months. It states that Mamie confessed. In fact, she maintained throughout her trial that she was innocent. It states that Simpson and Morrow resisted arrest. Contemporary newspaper accounts state that the men gave up without a fight. They were both severly injured – they didn’t have much fight left in them.

All-in-all, this magazine critique should serve as a warning: use any media publication – especially when written so long after the event – with caution. Do not use it as a primary source. And if you use it as a source, try to cross-check the “facts” in the article with other sources – preferably primary sources.

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On Creativity.

September 3, 2008 at 2:46 pm (Uncategorized)

Just a few random thoughts…

Mozart was creative. Picasso was creative. So are hundreds of thousands of other musicians and painters. But there are many ways in which creativity expresses itself.

We are all creative – even if we don’t always recognize our talents.

I love to write. But that’s not really what my friends and family think of when it comes to my creativity. I think “outside of the box.” I come up with different ways to seeing the world and viewing problems. I use this skill when I tackle projects that require problem solving.

I’m a historical writer; my writing requires research skills that utilize critical thinking. Many of these skills are innate – rather, I was not taught these skills. They are a part of my creativity.

A friend of mine has gotten into portrait photography. She’s been an accomplished photographer for many years, but her subjects have typically been non-human. Working with humans has proven the need for different creative skills than those required for buildings, flowers and butterflies. Portrait photography is allowing her to stretch her imagination, polish existed skills and create new skills.

Research and writing does the same thing for me…

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My Writing Process

July 29, 2008 at 10:49 am (Uncategorized)

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There are several steps to my writing process. The first is conceptualization. What do I want to write about? Once I’ve focused on a main idea, the next step is to do the research needed to turn my concept into a narrative. Facts are gathered from far and wide until the story begins to tell itself. At this point, I think. I think a lot about how I want the story to be told. I tell the story to friends and family and try out different methods of storytelling. I sort through the facts I’ve gathered to focus my story. This leads me to organization. This can be the most difficult part. If I do not have a plan in place that gives me some sort of structure, I will have difficulty organizing the thousands of facts I’ve gathered. But once I’ve tackled organization and have my outline in place, much of my writing is a matter of filling in the blanks.

Of course, writing is an ever-changing process. Outlines change, new facts are uncovered, new pieces of the puzzle must be added and extraneous facts removed. Editing is a continual process. Errors – grammatical and factual – must be corrected. Most importantly, editing allows me to fine-tune my writing style and the focus of the narrative. I depend on my friends and family to critique my work. There are dangers to using those close to me to edit my manuscript. I had to develop a thick skin and take criticisms are constructive and not as personal criticisms. I also had to be confident enough in my writing – and in my goal – to disagree with some suggestions. However, I tend to agree with the majority of changes suggested to me. So far, no relationships have broken due to the editing process!

Once I’m satisfied that my research is sound, my concept is complete, my organization is clear and the final product is satisfactory, I feel it is ready to be seen by a wider audience. In the past this has meant, for me, publication in newspapers and on web-sites – all for free. This is my first effort at writing with the intention of selling the final product. If I am unable to find a publisher, then my other option is self-publication. Regardless of how my story is published, my end-goals are to make a story that is both well-researched and a pleasure to read.

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On Editing

July 23, 2008 at 6:02 pm (Uncategorized)

I’ve been editing the 70+ pages I’ve managed to write so far (it’s not going to be a big book!).

It doesn’t seem to matter how often I edit the pages, I always find more to change.

On top of that, I have a friend who is going through the book as well. He’s finding things to change. Usually we don’t find the same things.

Sometimes it’s a spelling error, sometimes it’s an error from a previous edit (like I change a sentence around an leave in the wrong word – an “artifact” so to speak). Sometimes it’s a sentence or paragraph that needs re-writing.

Regardless, at some point I have to say STOP.

I just don’t know when/where that point will be.

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To Write Is Mine…

July 11, 2008 at 11:48 am (Uncategorized)

To write is mine. It belongs to me. Writing is like eating, breathing – it’s more important than reading. It’s on par with learning. To not be able to write would be like losing my sight, my hearing, my sense of touch or taste – but much worse. Without writing I would feel trapped inside my own mind, unable to communicate in the only way that allows me a feeling of release. Without writing, my life would be empty, sterile, barren of all color and texture.

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June 21, 2008 at 1:30 pm (Uncategorized)

Organizing is one of the toughest – for me – but most important parts of my writing process. With the proper organization, the story flows and makes it easier for me to write.

What it tough for me is deciding in what order I want to tell a story. Do I lead with a teaser? Do I start the story with the ending and then spend the rest of the story leading back up to it? In what order should I introduce the characters?

The last week or so I have not done a terrible amount of writing; however, I’ve done a lot of organizing and reorganizing. I write, put in order, edit, read and check for flow. Sometimes I find that two separate sections actually work better as one so I combine the material. Other times one section really needs to be broken up because there is simply too much material to cover. Most of my writing – for now – is to complete the connection or separation of my existing material.

I feel that I’m coming pretty close to having the material organized the way I want it to be. One section naturally leads to the next. I still have much – much – more to write, but at least I know have some sense of order.

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Writing seems like it’d be easy…

June 11, 2008 at 4:11 pm (Uncategorized)

…but it’s not. I have the hardest time putting pen to paper. Oh, I can write an article, or an essay, or in my journal. But writing a book? That’s a very different creature.

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