The Stocking Strangler: My Home Town Serial Killer (A True Story)
I've been around for a long, long year
Stole many a man's soul and faith
... Pleased to meet you
Hope you guess my name— The Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil"
Imagine if You Can
You're resting peacefully and comfortably alone in your own home, when suddenly without any warning, experiencing the horror of an unknown predator creeping into your home like a lion out to kill a sleeping sheep, all the while never saying one word to you while on top of you, punching you in the face, raping you and then choking the life out of you with one of your very own stockings. Before leaving you to succumb to death, this predator places a pillow over your face, not to suffocate you, but as some sort of final ritual.
Unfortunately, this was a horrific reality for seven mature women living in my home town at the hands of a serial killer known as "The Stocking Strangler," for obvious reasons.
My intent in publishing this article is not to rehash the entire gruesome story of these heinous crimes, but rather attempt to recreate the sense of fear that gripped my home town. Interestingly, however, I do have a bit of a small connection to part of the story ...are you intrigued?
The Fountain City
As Way of Background
On the Grounds of the Bradley Library
A year before I was to be married, beginning in September of 1977, my lovely home town, Columbus, Georgia, was terrorized by a serial killer of the most heinous kind, targeting mature women living alone in the affluent and historic area of the city known as Wynnton.
I was familiar with the Wynnton area only because my dear mother loved to take my siblings and I to the Bradley Library, which was located in that area of town. The grounds are beautiful, as I remember, filled with endless azalea bushes, pine trees and dogwood trees which all present as a floral wonderment during Spring. In addition to that, my mother loved to take all of us children to the different parks around my home town, including a beautiful one located right in the heart of the Wynnton area. I was a young child then, but still remember loving to go there, as there was much shade from the beautiful Oak trees, swing sets and picnic tables. Many people enjoyed jogging around that park for its peaceful and lovely setting. I mention this fact about the jogging for a specific reason as you will note later.
My home town is, or was, such a friendly city, yet modern in a lot of ways, with much going for it. It is a bustling city where one can always find something interesting to do. Columbus is also called the "Fountain City" because so many homes and churches have fountains. Columbus also has a national historic district in its downtown area that contains historic homes from the 19th century.
Although I refer to Columbus as my home "town," it is actually the second largest city in Georgia (Atlanta is the first). Columbus is located about 100 miles south of Atlanta. It is located on the Chattahoochee River. The Army base of Fort Benning adjoins the city.
My home town was known for having a high quality of life all around. One of the best aspects as far as quality of life was its low crime rate for a city of its size, which may have made it all the more shocking when a serial killer terrorized my home town.
At that time, I worked at the A&P (Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company) grocery store as a cashier just up the road from my home. I worked to save up to help pay for my upcoming wedding in September of 1978. We lived far from the historic district. Again, there is a reason I mention this fact here.
Columbus Historic District
Unhinged Literally and Figuratively
On the night of September 25, 1977, unsuspecting Jean Dimenstien was about to become prey to the focused hunter just outside her front door. The calculating predator, after skillfully removing the hinge pins off her front door, like a wild animal encroaching upon its prey, entered her home with great stealth. Then after overpowering her with great ease, punching her in the face, raping her, and strangling her to death with her own nylon stocking, the predator left just as quietly as he came, with his prey dead in her own bed.
Understandably, with the report of such a violent murder against Ms. Dimenstien, the older women of my home town, who lived alone, delved into great panic. They went out and bought up all the locks and deadbolts they could get their hands on to secure their homes. Even women who had never owned a gun before bought one.
Ms. Dimenstien was actually "The Stocking Strangler's" third victim by then, but I wanted to set the scene as to the kind of lengths this sociopath would go to in taking the hinge pins off the front door to carry out his evil obsession with killing mature women. It is enough to make chills run down anyone's spine! This is the kind of killer my once peaceful home town was now faced with, and how utterly terrifying for the entire citizenry.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Reported
Jean Dimenstien was a friendly, 71-year-old woman who wore large Harlequin glasses and had her light hair styled in a series of soft waves. Before retiring, she and her brother, Fred, had co-owned and managed Fred and Jean's Department Store. She often dined out with friends. She was frightened about the news reports about a murderer targeting elderly women and had discussed it with neighbors.
National Registry of Historic Places
First Victim - Backtracking
Just Ten Days Earlier
Just ten days earlier of the unhinging of the door savage murder, on the night of September 15, 1977, the "Stocking Strangler" slipped in through a window of a brick home, once again in the affluent Wynnton area of my home town. Mary Willis "Ferne" Jackson, who also resided alone, awoke to find an intruder in her bedroom. "The Stocking Strangler’s" signature killing of choking the life out of women with their own nylon stocking all started with Ms. Jackson.
Ms. Jackson was found dead with a stocking tied tightly around her neck and a pillow covering her face.
My thought is that the killer went through the drawer to find a nylon stocking to choke the life out of Ms. Jackson by using her own stocking. Seems he was making the callous killings more personal by using the women's own stockings. Obviously, the motive was not burglary.
Was Ms. Jackson really the first victim?
Ms. Jackson's Murder
According to Columbus police detective Ronald Lynn, who was quoted in Murder in the Peach State as saying, "The only real sign that anything had been gone through was an open dresser drawer. We found it peculiar because there was a bank envelope containing money in the drawer that he would had to have seen."
Read all About "The Stocking Strangler" of My Home Town
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Reported once Again
Mary Willis "Ferne" Jackson worked as the director of the education division at the Columbus Health Department. She enjoyed a reputation as a reliable employee who was dedicated to helping the people of Georgia, especially the poor and racial minorities.
The next day, Jackson's fellow employees at the Columbus Health Department were concerned. It was not like her to fail to show up and not even call. They phoned the police who went to her home and found her body.
The only Eye Witness
From the Book "Murder in the Peach State"
Bruce Jordan wrote in Murder in the Peach State, "Stakeouts were arranged throughout the Wynnton area. Marked and unmarked patrol cars combed the neighborhood. Undercover police officers were hidden inside the homes of elderly residents who were thought to be the most likely targets."
It turns out that five days before Ms. Jackson's murder, another older woman living alone in the same neighborhood had been attacked and survived! However, due to the severity of her injuries, the only eye witness was unable to speak to the police.
Then, after being hosptalized, the only eye witness had recovered enough to talk to police. She informed the police that her attacker had been a stranger, and was a black male. This confirmed suspicions of the police from the unhinged door murder, as they had found black hairs at that crime scene, not of the victim, but what looked like that of a black man. At that time, the police did not want to get the black community riled up prematurely before more evidence was gathered. Remember, this was a time before DNA.
Caught at Last!
Finally, the citizens of my home town, especially the older women living alone in the Wynnton area, could breath a sigh of relief, for it was officially announced on October 14, 1977, a man named Jerome Livas had confessed to killing Ms. Jackson and Ms. Dimenstien, after having been arrested for raping and beating to death his girlfriend, Ms. Beatrice Brier, a 55-year-old woman. Interestingly, though, Ms. Brier did not live in the Wynnton area.
Now that the stalking "Stocking Strangler" was behind bars, the police called off the Wynnton area stakeouts.
A City-Wide Gasp of Horror
What about the confession to the Jackson and Dimenstien killings?
It turned out that Livas was one of those criminals who was willing to confess to just about anything. He would soon sign a confession that he was the assassin of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and President William McKinley in 1901 and had been in the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932!
Just as everyone else in my home town did, I, too, let out a gasp of horror. I remember becoming sick to my stomach at the very thought of knowing that heartless killer was free to continue his brutal murdering spree.
Obviously, Jerome Livas wasn't "The Stocking Strangler," however, he did remain in jail as a suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Beatrice Brier, only.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Reported of yet Another Victim
The apprehension of the Stocking Strangler was one reason that 89-year-old Florence Sheible, a Wynnton area citizen, had to be happy. The other was that it was time for the World Series. The dark-haired and bespectacled woman was a great baseball fan. She followed the game avidly. Like many die-hard fans, she was familiar with all the different players and their batting averages. The highlight of each day for her was the time she listened to the baseball games on the radio.
But wait ...This Time it was still Daylight
Just 10 Days shy of Her 90th Birthday
This time the predator didn't wait, or maybe couldn't wait, for the cover of darkness to attack. Yes, in the middle of the day, Florence Sheible, just 10 days shy of her 90th birthday, suffered the same fate as the other women did at the hands of this present evil one.
Maybe the killer didn't like the thought of Mr. Jivas staking claim to his heinous handiwork.
It was reported that Ms. Sheible preferred radio to TV because she was nearly blind. She also had trouble with mobility and used a four-legged walker. A few hours later her son dropped by to visit her. He found his mother dead with a pillow over her face and a stocking tightly knotted about her neck.
I can just imagine what a field day psychiatrists, psychologists, and the like, were having with this one! I mean, we're talking about a nearly blind 90-year-old woman who could barely walk?
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Reported
Martha Thurmond was a bespectacled 69-year-old woman with dark hair, a strong jaw, and thin lips. She had taught elementary school for nearly 20 years before her retirement. A widow, she lived alone and was deeply concerned about the rash of slayings in the city. She shared her fears with others in her demographic group of aging white females. "We just have to wait," she said, "and pray it won't be us next."
When Martha Thurmond did not show up at her mother-in-law's, a niece had gone to check on her. After knocking on her Aunt's door with no answer, the niece called the police.
Once again, officers found Ms. Thurmond strangled in her home.
Four Citizens Lost
Just Three days after Christmas
The heartless predator did not care about the time of year, for he carried out his wrath on Kathleen Woodruff, a 77-year old woman, just three days after Christmas. Ms. Woodruff was found dead in her home, raped and strangled, just like all the Strangler's other victims.
Once Again, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Confirmed of yet Another Victim
Kathleen Woodruff was an elegant and wealthy socialite with high cheekbones and a long nose. She was well known to all in the Wynnton area. Her late husband, George C. Woodruff, Sr. was a prominent industrialist.
A task force had been formed to work specifically on finding "The Stocking Strangler" who was also called "The Chattahoochee Choker."
An Attack in Progress
Gasping and Gurgling Sounds were Heard
On the cold night of February 11, 1978, once again the Strangler set his sights on another older woman, Ruth Schwob. Unknown to the killer, Ms. Schwob had installed an alarm button next to her bed which would ring at one of her neighbor's home; the home of Dr. Burdette.
The killer slithered in through a window, like a rattler ready to strike, and attacked Ms. Schwob. She woke up face-to-face with a young black male with his hand around her throat. The terrified woman managed to press the alarm button. Ms. Schwob struggled with all her might. Then, without speaking a word, the Strangler's muscular hands wrapped a stocking around her neck.
The predator had no clue that an alarm had gone off next door and that Dr. Burdette had called the police. Within two minutes after being called, the police arrived at Ms. Schwob's house. Through the open window, police heard someone gasping for air. They were not too late for Ms. Schwob was still alive and the officers had hope they might catch the elusive killer that very night!
Thankfully, when the officers made it into Ms. Schwob's bedroom, she was still alive, however, she was alone. Immediately after having the stocking loosened around her neck, Ms. Schwob began vomiting.
A neighbor reported seeing a black man running through his yard, and the ambulance personnel had also seen a black male running across a road just before they arrived at Ms. Schwob's address.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Told of the Latest Victim
Ruth Schwob was assaulted in her bed.
Enter Stage Left ...Me
Yep, thats' me, young and a bit dumb, for what I was about to do next!
As I mentioned previously, I worked as a cashier at the A&P grocery store part-time to help pay for my upcoming wedding. Anyway, the older more mature women worked during the day as cashiers, and all of us younger ones filled in during the evenings and on weekends.
One of my co-workers, who I will call John, was a stock clerk, (I'm thankful I can't seem to remember his last name) was a seemingly well-mannered, hardworking and very intelligent young black male. John kept his hair cut low and very neat. I say John was young, not meaning as in teenage years, but maybe in his early 30s, possibly late 20s. I was only 18 at the time. John always had his clothing so neat and starched with seams. He was soft-spoken and quiet. John did have a very distinct facial feature of a very angular face shaping into an almost perfectly square jawline. I remember thinking that I've never seen anyone with such a square jawline. All of us who worked at the A&P grocery store had to take a test and score high to be employed there. Those who scored a 100 or close to 100 were hired before others. Surprisingly, for that time, the pay was quite good.
I have always been very observant of people, just in their mannerisms and how they relate to others. I think I would have made an excellent Behavioral Analyst for the FBI, but I never heard of such back in the day.
I noticed that after the older women left for the day, when John would sometimes have to help out on the registers, how he would make a point of commenting to the older more mature women who came through his line about their hair. He would not say how nice their hair was looking or anything like that, but instead would ask questions of them, inquiring why they styled their hair in the manner in which they did, or what they put on their hair. How odd, I thought.
John even did this to my mother who came through his line (our family members were not allowed to go through our line), and I remember my mother mentioning it to me and asking why he would ask whatever he asked her about her hair. John never commented on any younger females' hair, but only the more mature women. He seemed fixated on their hair. It was as if he almost could not restrain himself from inquiring of them regarding their hair.
My Family Kept Up with "The Stocking Strangler" News
I remember it so well, that one unpleasant and shocking (for more reasons than the obvious) day opening the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer to read the headlines of the latest news of "The Stocking Strangler." What I saw next made goosebumps cover my entire body and fear overwhelmingly consumed me. There on the front page of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer was a sketch of a "suspect" in "The Stocking Strangler" slayings, and it was the epitome of John, my co-worker, angular face/square jawline and all!
Police Sketch of a Suspect
My family were all in agreement that the sketch of the suspect in "The Stocking Strangler" slayings looked just like my co-worker John. I informed my family how John would ask about the older and mature women's hair, just as he did my mother.
Although I was a shy girl then, when it came to something of this nature, I could not help myself but to make inquiries of John. When I went to work after reading the latest and seeing that sketch in the newspaper of the suspect, I went up to John and looked him straight in the eye and asked if he had seen that sketch of the suspect in "The Stocking Strangler" killings, which looked just like him. Yes, I said that very thing to my co-worker, "...which looks just like you."
John looked me back straight in the eye without flinching or hesitation, and said in his usual calm and soft-spoken voice, "Yes, and the police questioned me."
My heart almost stopped beating at hearing this straight from John's own mouth! Then without missing a beat, I went on to inquire even more. I asked, "They did? Why would they question you, John?"
He said that he jogged in the Wynnton area!
I then inquired further, "Do you live in the Wynnton area?" He said that he did not.
I just turned away from him and clocked in and started working, with my thoughts reeling in an attempt to process the reality of what had just been said to me. I told my family of what John had told me.
Guess Who came Knocking on my Front Door
One evening, while at my home, we heard a knock on the door. I peered out the window, and saw who it was. It was John, my co-worker/Strangler suspect! I was terrified as thoughts raced through my mind of why he would come knocking on my front door. I wondered, too, how he knew where I lived?
He just Wanted to be My Friend
Thankfully, my dad, who was known to run off all males who came calling for me (except my husband to be, who was out in Texas at the time in basic training in the Air Force), answered the door. John told my dad that he wanted to talk to me. My dad politely told John that I was busy preparing plans for my wedding (which was the truth), and reminded him I was an engaged young woman. John said he understood all of that, but he still insisted on speaking with me. He told my dad that he just wanted to be my friend.
Now that I think about it this day, John must have followed me home, as I would sometimes walk home after work, as we did not live too far from the store. I did not have my own car. It was odd that John came for a visit when he did ...just after I had questioned him about that sketch of the suspect, which he acknowledged being a suspect.
Over the years though, I wondered if John actually did not come to visit me, but wanted to be around my mother! Those thoughts creep me out to no end. As I previously mentioned, my family did not live in the Wynnton area. Obviously, too, my mother did not live alone.
I often wonder now, whether I should have contacted the police back then to mention to them how John would fixate on, and inquire of, the older more mature women about their hair. He also would work during the day at the grocery store when all of the older women worked as cashiers. For some reason, the thought of doing that never entered my mind, maybe being I was so young? And I was so busy planning my wedding.
Just Curious as to Your Thoughts - Thank you for taking the Poll
Why do you think John came knocking on my front door that day, shortly after I had questioned him?
Just 24 hours Later - A Fierce Struggle
The Strangler's violent murdering spree continued just 24 hours later with an attack of yet another older woman, 78-year-old widow Mildred Dismukes Borom. This time, he would kill her. Being the killer was not able to kill Ms. Schwob, maybe his insatiable desire to kill was so overwhelming that he couldn't wait another day to strangle the life out of yet another one of his chosen and unfortunate victims.
The stalking "Stocking Strangler" must not have had a chance to obtain one of Ms. Borom's stockings, as the newspaper reported that a Venetian-blind cut from a window of Ms. Borom's home was used to strangle the life out of her. There were signs that Ms. Borom fought for her life. A broken lamp was found at her feet.
Last Known Victim
Janet Cofer was the last known victim of "The Stocking Strangler," and it was on the night of April 19,1978. As in his usual and preferred manner, the killer strangled the life out of Ms. Cofer with a stocking.
Her son, Mike, was not at his mother's home.
The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer Reported
Unlike many of the Stocking Stranglers victims, 61-year-old Janet Cofer was not retired. She still taught first grade. Dark-haired and dimpled, she wore glasses, had had a Dachshund named Buffy who slept under her bed and an adult son named Mike who sometimes stayed with her. She attended church regularly and was active in her church's activities. Early in April, Janet Cofer suffered a heartrending loss. Little Buffy was struck and killed by a car.
The Killings Stopped
Just as I had been married and moved to Tampa, Florida, where my husband was stationed in the Air Force, the killings stopped. I don't remember hearing of this news, but I am sure my family must have told me. However, all of that seemed like a nightmare to me, and I was looking forward to starting my new life with my husband in a new state.
After six years in the U.S. Air Force my husband had gotten out of the Air Force and we moved to a state where his family now lives. I haven't been back to my home town in so many years. After my dad died, my mother moved away, and all of my siblings are now grown (of course), married and live elsewhere too.
I'm out of Here!
Had the "Stocking Strangler" ever been Caught?
Not until just recently, I happened to wonder whether "The Stocking Strangler" was ever caught. It wasn't until 1984 that a Carlton Gary was indicted and arrested for a couple of the murders in my home town. After reading a bit about Gary, the facts just did not add up in my mind. To me, Gary seemed more focused on burglarizing, as I remembered the time when an envelope filled with money in plain sight was not even touched. Gary is still on death row in Georgia! There's no doubt that Carlton Gary is a criminal and even a murderer (of a woman in Albany, NY), but there is plenty of doubt he is "The Stocking Strangler" for now DNA testing has cast such doubt.
There are many bizarre twists and turns in this story of "The Stocking Strangler" and it was even reported that he had an accomplice, who Carlton Gary later said did the actual killings. This accomplice's name is John Lee Williams, who did time in prison until Gary later recanted saying he made it all up. Mr. Williams was then released from prison.
Speaking of Bizarre
As if the Columbus Police Department didn't already have its hands full in dealing with this mysterious and heartless murderer, things became even more bizarre.
A strange letter was sent to the Columbus Police Department claiming to be from "The Chairman of The Forces of Evil," informing the police that "they" were going to start murdering black females if they did not catch "The Stocking Strangler" soon! To make a long story short, it turns out there was no such group, but, believe it or not, he was one black man, William Henry Hance, who was enlisted in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, which adjoined the City of Columbus. This man had murdered three women and was so paranoid about being caught and labeled as "The Stocking Strangler," that he concocted this bizarre story in an attempt to take suspicion off of him and his own dirty deeds.
He later confessed and led police to the bodies. The police hoped he was "The Stocking Strangler," but then Ms. Cofer was found strangled in her home.
Creepy Video made in My Home Town
Needless to say, I don't Leave My Stockings Lying About!
In fact, they're hidden ...
Something wicked this way comes.— Shakespeare's Macbeth
Please take a Moment to take the Poll
Do you believe they caught the real killer?
Rankin, Bill. "Tests cast doubt on 'Strangler' murders. Convicted serial killer's DNA doesn't match evidence from 1 victim." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 14, 2010.