Strange but Sweet: The Love and Life of Virginia and Alvin Ridley
Back in the 1990's, Catoosa County Ga. came alive with the news that a dead woman had been taken away by the coroner from "ole crazy Alvin's" house back in Ringgold. Most shocking of all was that the woman was his wife and had been married to him for 30 years. Sure, the small town where everyone knew everyone was used to seeing Alvin in his odd appearances around town, usually at his defunct TV business. But a wife? Most were stunned to hear he had a wife, although they surmised it was possible he had kidnapped and kept a woman captive for decades before killing her. Alvin was known as an odd, reclusive and paranoid man, short on social skills.
Virginia Ridley was an equally puzzling and reclusive character. After she married Alvin as a teen, she rejected her family's interference in their life and completely cut ties. As an epileptic and prone to seizures, she did not enjoy being about in public and withdrew from family and friends.
Early on in her marriage her family filed papers claiming she was missing or being held against her will and demanding that Alvin appear in court with her. She appeared in court and was very adamant that she was very happy with her husband, was where she wanted to be and did not want the contact and interference of her family. So, decades later her family was surprised to hear the news of her death, as they had assumed she died years ago at the hands of Alvin.
Alvin's emergency call for help didn't even seem particularly urgent. They had no phone in their home so he got in his truck, sped past a fire dept and to a payphone where he called a hospital many miles away. In a monotone and unexcited voice, he reported that he thought his wife had passed out. He did urge them to please hurry. But it was obvious by the rigor mortis setting in that Virginia was long gone.
The coroner quickly determined Virginia had been murdered and soon Alvin was arrested. Never-mind that the coroner was an elected position that required no skill, no experience or education. The coroner had an obvious dislike and bias against Alvin since childhood. The jury pool were all townspeople who knew Alvin and his oddities well. He was denied a change of venue.
Enter McCracken Poston. a man who slightly knew Alvin. Poston was a lawyer/politician who still recovering after the loss of a recent political race. Poston came to notice that he was starting to run into Alvin quite often and realized that Alvin was wanting something. That is how Poston found himself as the unlikely lawyer in a case that no one felt he had a chance of winning.
Poston found Alvin to be a very hard man to get close to. He would not let Poston into his house and was just so oddly anti-social and distrusting that it made it hard on Poston but Poston persevered. On Thanksgiving, he approached Alvin's house with a gift of Thanksgiving food from his parents to share with Alvin. Poston was quite taken aback when Alvin actually invited him in.
Upon entering the house he was even more taken aback. The house was dark, except for a red light, it was cluttered and stuffy but the most remarkable thing he saw was absolutely just stunning. The walls were covered with some manner of paper with beautiful hand writing all over it and affixed to the walls everywhere. Poston was incredulous and asked what all of it was and Alvin responded that Virginia did it.
A little know aspect that can affect some epileptics is something called hypergraphia. It is a compulsion to write. Virginia very obviously had hypergraphia. From writing mundane lists, copying passages of books, writing letters to others, love poems and even dinner menus, these messages from Virginia were exactly what Poston had been praying for. These were not the words of a woman who had been held hostage. These were the word of a very happily married woman who adored her husband and every bit of their private little life together.
So maybe she wasn't held hostage but he could have still snapped and strangled her. The coroner testified that something obviously had happened to Virginia based upon the small broken blood vessels in her eyes. These can occur in a violent death as the victim struggles.The coroner and her team swore that Virginia had met a violent death. They also said Virginia was unkempt and malnourished It became obvious to the jury that the inept and ignorant coroner was refusing to consider any other option even though experts testified. The coroner's office pointed to a bruise on Virginia's neck. But further testimony showed that it was the coroner's office that created the bruise by mishandling her body and incorrectly trying to take blood samples from her neck.
Poston countered that based up the the coroner's uneducated assessment of Virginia's death, that we should also declare that the great Olympian FloJo (Florence Griffith Joyner) was also brutally murdered too. The amazing Flo Jo died back in 1998, of a seizure in her sleep. It is rare but it happens, even to people as healthy and well off as Flo Jo. Flo Jo's autopsy results was quite similar to Virginia's.
Shockingly. the reclusive Alvin took the stand at the last moment, as a total surprise to everyone - including Poston who had prayed that Alvin would stay off the stand, especially since the trial was going surprisingly well.
But Alvin had been doing some praying himself and revealed that Jesus had told him during lunch that he ought to take the stand, as he was an innocent man. So he did. Like a small, slow child, still deeply grieving, he spoke of Virginia, their life together, what a wonderful sweet wife she was and that in 30 years together he never laid a hand on her or hurt her. Their love of each other and their faith in God were strong. She was his best friend.
His testimony was the icing on the cake, The jury had already come to see that Alvin was a simple man, strange and paranoid, but was also a man who deeply loved his wife. As one juror said " She was his best friend. He had no one else, why would he kill his best friend, his only friend?".
Alvin was acquitted of all charges and became more accepted in town. Poston went on to have a great career in many different ways. He went on to buy the building where Alvin once had his TV shop and had re-named it " The Ridley Building" and has met there with Alvin to have coffee and to chat.
Now some sweet and funny sidenotes...
Sidenote#1 - Before the verdict Poston had always asked Alvin why had Alvin chosen him. Alvin always replied " I'll tell you one day". So they won the case and Poston again asked. Alvin went a retrieved and old VCR tape and the tape was labeled in Virginia's beautiful hand writing with McCracken Poston's name on it. Years ago, Poston was in one single televised debate. Virginia had taped it, taken a liking to Poston and told Alvin she liked him and believed he was a good man. Alvin always remembered that and so he sought out Poston. So Virginia was actually the one who chose Poston. How amazing!
Sidenote #2 - Alvin lived an impoverished life and did not even have running water in his house. His hygiene could be lacking and so one day Poston told him kindly that "it's getting kinda hard sitting next to you buddy, I don't know if I can do it anymore" and encouraged Alvin to go shower at a truck stop and to get clean clothes. Alvin showed up quite presentable the next day.
But Poston's night had not go so well. He was in his office and a skunk got loose in his air vents and sprayed and Poston and all of his court documents were doused too. Poston cleaned up the best he could and was in court the next day. Alvin, all clean and spiffy looks at him and says "it's getting kinda hard sitting next to you buddy, I don't know if I can do it anymore". ( I love that story!! Alvin had a sense of humor!)
Sidenote #3 On a personal note, Virginia's case was intriguing to me because of the link between epilepsy and hypergraphia, as well as her very reclusive nature. I can understand her viewpoint very well because I also have seizures and hypergraphia. I also live a simple,reclusive and happy life. Before I researched Virginia and Alvin's story, I had never heard of hypergraphia and how it is linked to epilepsy. So I feel a special kinship to Virginia because of that. I can understand her reclusive nature, her need for privacy and also the compulsion to write.