The Washington Post
Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrongby Raymond Bonner
The book that helped free an innocent man who had spent twenty-seven years on death row.
In January 1982, an elderly white widow was found brutally murdered in the small town of Greenwood, South Carolina. Police immediately arrested Edward Lee Elmore, a semiliterate, mentally retarded black man with no previous felony record. His only connection to… See more details below
The book that helped free an innocent man who had spent twenty-seven years on death row.
In January 1982, an elderly white widow was found brutally murdered in the small town of Greenwood, South Carolina. Police immediately arrested Edward Lee Elmore, a semiliterate, mentally retarded black man with no previous felony record. His only connection to the victim was having cleaned her gutters and windows, but barely ninety days after the victim’s body was found, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.
Elmore had been on death row for eleven years when a young attorney named Diana Holt first learned of his case. After attending the University of Texas School of Law, Holt was eager to help the disenfranchised and voiceless; she herself had been a childhood victim of abuse. It required little scrutiny for Holt to discern that Elmore’s case—plagued by incompetent court-appointed defense attorneys, a virulent prosecution, and both misplaced and contaminated evidence—reeked of injustice. It was the cause of a lifetime for the spirited, hardworking lawyer. Holt would spend more than a decade fighting on Elmore’s behalf.
With the exemplary moral commitment and tenacious investigation that have distinguished his reporting career, Bonner follows Holt’s battle to save Elmore’s life and shows us how his case is a textbook example of what can go wrong in the American justice system. He reviews police work, evidence gathering, jury selection, work of court-appointed lawyers, latitude of judges, iniquities in the law, prison informants, and the appeals process. Throughout, the actions and motivations of both unlikely heroes and shameful villains in our justice system are vividly revealed.
Moving, suspenseful, and enlightening, Anatomy of Injustice is a vital contribution to our nation’s ongoing, increasingly important debate about inequality and the death penalty.
From the Hardcover edition.
The Washington Post
The New York Times Book Review
“Mesmerizing. . . . Powerful. . . . An utterly engrossing true-crime tale.” —Kevin Boyle, The New York Times Book Review
“A genuine whodunit, a page-turner, and a tale of redemption. And it’s all true. For all that, however, Anatomy of Injustice is also a blistering indictment of the death penalty. . . . Bonner delivers a crackerjack feat of storytelling that steadily administers the truth about capital punishment like a slow, toxic IV drip. . . . In his expert hands, the twists and turns of Elmore’s appeals, and the gradual discovery of the travesties in the original investigation and trial by Holt’s team, make for excruciatingly suspenseful reading.” —Laura Miller, Salon.com
“Gripping and enraging. . . . Bonner’s book is not a treatise against the death penalty. Rather, it is a look at what happens in America’s justice system when justice is absent.” —The Economist
“Accomplished and meticulously researched. . . . Convincing . . . As a piece of reporting, the book is masterful. Bonner builds the story, and his argument, carefully, rarely editorializing, mixing in a précis of capital punishment in the United States. . . . Bonner’s book is an important addition to the body of evidence against the death penalty.” —Ethan Gilsdorf, The Boston Globe
“A revealing look at how police and courts grapple with death penalty cases. . . . If you are a staunch advocate of the death penalty . . . you’re precisely the person who should read Anatomy of Injustice.” —Nicholas Varchaver, Fortune
“The investigation . . . makes for a gripping read, and exposes some outrageous failures of American justice.” —“The Must List,” Entertainment Weekly
“Compelling. . . . Bonner makes us feel the frustration and inhumanity of a justice system gone awry.” —Wilbert Rideau, Financial Times
“Fascinating. . . . Anatomy of Injustice moves as swiftly as a great courtroom thriller, and Bonner’s astutely observed characters are as memorable as any you’re likely to encounter in a John Grisham-penned best seller.” —Doug Childers, The Richmond Times-Dispatch
“One of the best books written about a dubious conviction. . . . Bonner’s volume is special for the way it entwines the lives of the principal characters with the nation’s inglorious history of racial discrimination and capital punishment.” —Rob Warden, Chicago Tribune
“Gripping, suspenseful, and electrifying. . . . This should be required reading for anyone who believes in justice.” —John J. Kelly, Cincinnati CityBeat
“A gifted storyteller, Bonner’s prose is at once stately and matter-of-fact. . . . In the context of true crime, of murder stories most especially, [Bonner’s details] assume a captivating glow. . . . As a portrait of contemporary American life, immersed in culture wars and classism, and clogged with the residues of racism, Anatomy of Injustice is authoritative and fascinating. As a study in how things can go from bad to worse, how entire lives can be crushed under the wheels of the justice system, it’s also urgent and necessary.” —José Teodoro, The Edmonton Journal
“A lucid, page-turning account. . . . Elmore’s defense winds through nearly three decades of legal maneuverings as suspenseful as the investigation of the mysterious crime itself. Painstakingly researched by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bonner, the case illustrates in fascinating and wrenching specificity the widely acknowledged inequality and moral failings of the death penalty, while illuminating the less understood details of a criminal justice system deeply compromised by race and class. Indeed, Bonner’s ability to succinctly and vividly incorporate the relevant case history and explain the operative legal procedures and principles at work—including the bizarre way in which court-acknowledged innocence is not necessarily enough to spare a life on death row—makes this not only a gripping human story but a first-rate introduction to the more problematic aspects of American criminal law.” —Starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Fascinating. . . . Dexterous. . . . Well-researched. . . . Bonner’s description of decades of bungling is a reminder of the ways class and race can shape outcomes in the American legal system.” —Margaret Quamme, The Columbus Dispatch
“Far-ranging in its implications, thoughtful, and utterly absorbing, this book is a fine example of involving narrative nonfiction.” —Booklist
“Sharp. . . . A powerfully intimate look at how the justice system works—or doesn’t work—in capital cases.” —Kirkus
“Those interested in human rights, issues of race, and inner workings of the U.S. legal system—not to mention true crime fans—will want to read this book.” —Library Journal
“Bonner’s gripping true-crime thriller shines a shocking light on American justice. I couldn’t put it down.” —Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side
“Race, sex, and murder in a Southern town are the explosive core of Raymond Bonner’s legal drama. Anatomy of Injustice is also a brave dispatch from the trenches of a forgotten war over capital punishment. Told with a reporter’s tenacity, a lawyer’s acumen, and an advocate’s zeal, this book is both a gripping narrative and a chilling indictment of America’s justice system.” —Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic
“Anatomy of Injustice demonstrates dramatically and shockingly what bad lawyers are capable of doing, and is an inspiring example of what a good one can do. For that alone, law schools should assign it to every entering student.” —Stephen Engelberg, managing editor, ProPublica
“Raymond Bonner uses his skill as a lawyer and journalist to take us on a fascinating journey deep into the heart of the criminal justice system, where the stakes could not be higher or the failures more disturbing. Anatomy of Injustice reads like a novel, but it is, tragically, all too true.” —Linda Greenhouse, author of Becoming Justice Blackmun
“Most of us Americans don't have a clue about how the criminal court system really operates and we need a good writer like Bonner to take us through, step by step. But be warned: If you have pressing duties waiting, don't begin reading this book. This is seductive storytelling at its best.” —Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
“Reading Raymond Bonner’s compelling account of a grossly botched murder case, I was overcome by outrage at the state of our criminal justice system. Rigorously researched and powerfully told, Anatomy of Injustice could—and should—change the national debate on the death penalty.” —Michael Massing
"Raymond Bonner's Anatomy of Injustice is a powerful and poignant analysis of the case of Edward Lee Elmore. Bonner's voice is a profound force for truth and justice in our difficult times!" —Cornel West
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Meet the Author
Raymond Bonner practiced law for a decade and taught at the University of California, Davis, School of Law. He later became an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for The New York Times, where he was a member of a Pulitzer Prize–winning team in 1999, and a staff writer at The New Yorker. He has also written for The Economist and The New York Review of Books, and blogs at the Daily Beast and theatlantic.com. He is the author of Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador, which received the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award; Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy, which received the Cornelius Ryan Award from the Overseas Press Club and the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism; and At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa’s Wildlife. He lives in London.
More from this Author
Read an Excerpt
Greenwood, South Carolina, 1982
A ferocious snowstorm hit the South in January 1982. An Air Florida 737 crashed into the Fourteenth Street Bridge in Washington, D.C., and then plunged into the icy Potomac River, killing seventy-eight people. In Atlanta, temperatures fell to near zero. Some 160 miles east, two inches of snow covered buildings, lawns, and cars in Greenwood, South Carolina. On the front page of the Greenwood Index-Journal, there appeared a picture of Emily James, two and a half years old, bundled in a snowsuit, watching "in amazement as her family went sledding." Government offices and schools were closed. In a graceful hand, Dorothy Edwards wrote "Snow" in the squares on her calendar for Wednesday and Thursday, the thirteenth and fourteenth.
Along with some ten thousand homeowners, Mrs. Edwards was without power for thirty-six hours. She jumped rope to keep warm. She was seventy-six years old but could have passed for fifty-six, a petite five foot three, size 6. Every morning, she pulled on her leotards for thirty minutes of exercise. She was a handsome woman, reserved, very much a lady-"elegant in a comfortable sort of way," in the eyes of her daughter, Carolyn. There had been no TV dinners or fast food when Carolyn was growing up; the dining room table was set with china and silver for every meal, breakfast included.
Dorothy's home since the end of World War II was on the north side of Greenwood, on Melrose Terrace; her three-acre wooded plot backed onto Edgewood Cemetery, adding to the feeling of seclusion and tranquillity- except for the nights when young men brought their six-packs for parties among the dead. The west end of the half-mile-long, leafy street is anchored by the First Baptist Church, founded in 1870. The current stately structure with its cathedral sanctuary and stained- glass windows was erected in 1954; the bell tower was added in 1968. Dorothy lived where the boomerang-shaped street curved, at 209. Most of her neighbors were elderly. Christine Henderson, whose husband had died in 1967, lived in a white brick house with a large lawn across the street, at 210; her son was a criminal investigator for the state. The redbrick house at 213 belonged to Mildred Clark, a widow, who was the neighborhood recluse-she didn't even answer the door for trick-or- treaters. At 205 was Roy Raborn, a salesman at Fred Smith Co., a men's clothing store, who had landed at Omaha Beach in 1944. Dorothy's neighbors thought she was a drug company heiress, which was not quite true. She was well-off, having inherited close to $1 million from her mother, while her stepfather had been an executive with Geer Drug Co. in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a lovely town at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Dorothy's mother, Beatrice Ely, had moved to the South from New York after she divorced; her husband was a jeweler in New York City. Beatrice raised her daughter to be independent and refined. They spent vacations in the mountains, where Beatrice taught Dorothy to ride horses and shoot; years later, Doro-thy's neighbors were not alarmed when they heard the crack of a rifle from the yard behind her house. "Did you get it, Dorothy?" a neighbor would shout, knowing she'd spotted another snake.
Beatrice sent her daughter to Converse College, a women's liberal arts school in Spartanburg. The school is strong in music and sends graduates to symphonies and conservatories around the world. Dorothy, a coloratura soprano, won local, regional, and national singing contests. When she was thirty, she took a train to New York to appear on Major Bowes' Amateur Hour, performing "Carmena." She took second place. It made front-page news in Spartanburg.
A few months later, back in Spartanburg, she married James Edward Edwards, the son of a well-liked family doctor who would accept a chicken or vegetables from a patient's garden as payment. Dorothy and James, known as Ed, had met in college when he was at Wofford, a liberal arts college near Converse. They were married on a Thursday morning at the Church of the Advent, in a ceremony marked by "simplicity and dignity," the Spartanburg newspaper reported in a prominent article. The bride, it noted, wore "a becoming fall suit of beige wool with collar of faux fur."
Ed and Dorothy's only child, Carolyn, was born in 1939, and soon afterward, Ed went off to war, a U.S. Navy Seabee. After the war, he moved his family to Greenwood. They bought a marshy plot. Ed drained it, filled it, landscaped it, and built a spacious two-bedroom house; later he added a screened-in porch and a guest room.
He worked primarily in construction, and became Greenwood's first civil defense director in the 1950s. He was a generous, big-hearted man who "championed the underdog, and hired the handicapped," his daughter recalled. A heavy drinker, he eventually joined Alcoholics Anonymous and helped set up several groups throughout the state. He died at the age of fifty-eight, in 1966. It was a devastating loss for Dorothy, but she had a strong inner resolve, and gradually she found a strength and independence that impressed close friends. She now put much of her energy into painting, displaying remarkable talent; the walls of her home were decorated with her work. She also made needlepoint pillows and hooked rugs, passing hours in front of a large frame stretched with a rug, peering through a magnifying glass at designs she had bought from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. "My brains are in my fingers," she would say jovially to Carolyn.
Greenwood, named in the early 1800s after a plantation that the owner's wife had called Green Wood, has rich chocolate soil, fertile for small-scale agriculture. But it had grown as a textile town- Greenwood Cotton Mill opened in 1889, a second mill in 1896, and a third in 1897. At its peak, there were 250,000 spindles in the Greenwood environs. In 1897, the town's voters-all white males, of course-approved a $25,000 bond issue for a courthouse and jail. By the turn of the century, the population had soared to 4,828 and nine railroad lines passed through the municipality, bringing twenty-seven trains each day. Traveling salesmen stayed at the Oregon Hotel, the only hotel in town until the 1960s.
Though perhaps today "an hour and a half from everyplace else" (as President Obama would describe it good-naturedly during his presidential campaign), Greenwood residents have much to boast about in their history. After World War I, they saluted Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch with a huge celebration on Main Street, slightly wider than the length of a football field at the time-before office buildings went up. In 1954, the street was packed with cheering residents turned out to welcome a local girl who had been crowned Miss Universe, Miriam Stevenson. The small town has produced the Swingin' Medallions, modeled on the Beach Boys; a justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court; and three star quarterbacks in succession for Clemson University. Greenwood residents are crazy about their sports. The high school football coach Julius "Pinky" Babb became a legend, winning more than three hundred games between 1943 and 1981. "We were confident in our excellence," said a resident.
It was a white, Protestant community, primarily Southern Baptist. It had very few Catholics until the 1960s, when some northern companies began to relocate in the Emerald City, as the town calls itself. As for blacks, fifteen years after the Supreme Court had declared, in Brown v. Board of Education, that separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional, and a year later ordered integration "with all deliberate speed," Greenwood's high schools were still segregated. The segregationists held out until 1969, and then they gave in grudgingly. Greenwood doesn't hide its racial past. A war memorial sits at the corner of Oak and Main, in front of the redbrick, seven-story Textile Building. American Legion Post No. 20 erected it in 1929. A pole carrying the Stars and Stripes extends from a six-foot- high granite base. The bronze plaque on the west side of the base lists the World War I dead in two categories-"White" and "Colored." Thirty-one "whites" and 24 "coloreds" gave their lives. The "colored" include Henry Chin. Another plaque was added after World War II. It also racially divides the men who were killed in action: 131 "white" and 11 "colored." The racial categories were eliminated for the Korean War-12 men from Greenwood are remembered in alphabetical order. Twenty- four men died in the Vietnam War; their names also listed alphabetically.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, C. Rauch Wise, a lawyer and probably Greenwood's only card-carrying member of the ACLU, offered to replace the segregationist plaques from the first two wars with plaques that listed the dead alphabetically. He quietly took the proposal to the mayor. After some inquiries, the mayor, an African American, reported back that it couldn't be done. The monument didn't belong to the city, he said. It belonged to the local American Legion post, which opposed the change. A few years later, in 2010, Wise tried again. Again, the legionnaires said no.
Over the decades Greenwood grew out, not up. The eight-story Grier Building, at 327 Main Street, was the tallest in town when it was built in 1919 and is the tallest today. Greenwood's charm gave way to sprawl, and the town became indistinguishable from thousands of others across the country-shopping malls with enormous parking lots, chains replacing independents, fast-food franchises. A small grocery store owned by Dorothy's next-door neighbor Jimmy Holloway was bought by a supermarket chain, which later sold to a chain steak house.
Dorothy spent Christmas 1981 with her daughter, Carolyn, and her grandchildren. Carolyn had married-she was now Carolyn Lee-and was living in Pensacola, Florida. Dorothy returned home on Sunday, December 27, she noted on her calendar. On Wednesday, Edward Elmore, a lean black man with bright eyes, knocked on the back door. With only a fifth-grade education and of limited intelligence-he could do simple addition and subtraction only if he used his fingers-he worked as a handyman. A few weeks earlier, while working for one of Dorothy's neighbors, he had noticed that the gutters on the house at 209 were full of leaves; he asked Dorothy if she would like him to clean them. Mrs. Edwards said yes. She showed him where the ladder was, underneath the porch. The job took him about two hours, for which he was paid $3. Come back in a few weeks, after the leaves have finished falling, she said.
On December 30 he returned, cleaned out the gutters, and washed the windows as well. While Mrs. Edwards was writing him a check, Elmore told her that the paint on some of the window frames was peeling. He was a good painter, he said. She told him to call in a month or two, when the weather would be better. She slowly spelled her last name and phone number, and he scrawled "Edwards" and "229-4087" on a State Farm Insurance card, which was in his girlfriend's name for her 1976 Mustang; he put it back in his wallet. Dorothy later told Jimmy Holloway what a fine job Elmore had done and showed him the clean windows.
The new year was promising to be a good one for Dorothy. On the calendar square for January 3, she wrote "Lonnie's." Lonnie Morgan was a businessman from Tryon, North Carolina, retired, living comfortably on the proceeds from the business he had sold. He was a member of the Tryon Hunt and Riding Club; Dorothy, a keen rider, was planning to join. They had been introduced by a Converse College classmate of Dorothy's and had been seeing each other for a couple of years; she had recently told neighbors that they were talking about getting married. She visited him in Tryon on January 3. The following Saturday, January 9, she went to a choir party at the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, a couple of miles away, over on South Main. She attended regularly and was a standout soloist in the choir.
On Thursday afternoon, the fourteenth, when a front-page headline alerted residents, "More snow, sleet heading this way," Jimmy Holloway called around three. He and his wife, Frances, were about to go grocery shopping and offered to pick up some things for Dorothy. The Holloways were her closest friends. They had met at the Oregon Hotel on the eve of World War II, and Jimmy had encouraged Dorothy and Ed to build on the plot next to his.
Jimmy walked over and got her shopping list; then he and his wife drove to the Winn-Dixie supermarket, out on Route 25. When they returned, Dorothy asked Jimmy if he'd lift a five-gallon kerosene canister out of the trunk of her car; she had bought it for a portable heater, which she needed now, with the unusual cold. He carried it through the kitchen and into her den. The three of them chatted for a while.
On Saturday, Jimmy called Dorothy and again offered to go grocery shopping for her. It was sleeting, but the temperature had moved above freezing, melting the worst icy patches. She said she could go herself. She also told him that she was planning to go to North Carolina the next day to visit Lonnie. After hanging up, she drove to Winn-Dixie. In the checkout line she chatted with an old friend, Coley Free. She showed him pictures of her two grandchildren and her two- year-old great-grandson, and then she took her change from the checkout girl, put it in her purse, and drove home. It was late in the afternoon.
Forty-four hours later, the body of Dorothy Ely Edwards was found in her bedroom closet. She was clad only in a reddish-purple housecoat with a ruffled collar, zipped up the front.
There was a horrible bruise on her right knee, and her lower right leg was reddish purple. Her knees were drawn up. A dress boot was wedged between them. Pieces of glass were stuck in the dried blood on her left wrist. Her left ear was nearly severed. The areas around both eyes were black-and-blue. Her hair was matted with blood.
The murder rocked the community. Most of Greenwood's murders were in the black neighborhood-blacks killing blacks in barroom brawls, over money or a woman, or in domestic disputes. The perpetrator was usually caught quickly, often with a gun or knife still in his possession. Those crimes didn't particularly disturb the white community. This one did. "Widow Stabbed to Death" screamed the headline at the top of the front page of the Greenwood Index-Journal, accompanied by a picture of policemen at the house. (On that day's front page there was also an article reporting that the Supreme Court, by a vote of 5-4, had overturned the death sentence of Monty Lee Eddings, who at the age of sixteen had been convicted of killing an Oklahoma highway patrolman with a sawed-off shotgun; the court said that the jury had not been properly instructed to consider mitigating evidence.)
"Myself and patrolman Alvin Cook were on Smythe Street when we heard a radio dispatched message of a possible Code One, which is an attempted murder," Sgt. John Owen wrote in his official report. (The dispatcher had it wrong-Code 1 is murder.) "Myself and Alvin Cook then proceded to 209 Melrose Terrace. And we arrived there at 12:26 p.m. Myself and Patrolman Cook went to the home where we found Patrolman Holtzclaw at the rear of this home." Holtzclaw was talking to Jimmy Holloway, under the carport, next to Edwards's 1976 Cadillac; her large-wheeled bicycle, with handlebars like a gnu's horns, rested against the back door.
Owen noticed what appeared to be an impression of a shoe print to the left of the steps leading into the house. It was reddish. "I believe to be blood," he wrote. He took Holtzclaw's navy blue police hat, with a stiff bill and the Greenwood Police Department seal, and placed it over the print. He walked to his patrol car, opened the trunk, took out a cardboard box, walked back, and placed the box over the print; then he gave Holtzclaw his hat back. "I enformed them of what I had found and advised that this print was not to be disturbed," Owen wrote.
By 12:30 that afternoon, most of Greenwood's forty-five-man police force had descended on the usually tranquil Melrose Terrace, blocking the street with their patrol cars, stirring curiosity and concern among the residents. Sgt. Alvin Johnson, six foot two, two hundred pounds, took charge. He was thirty-two years old and had been on the force for close to eleven years, since being discharged from the Marine Corps with a Purple Heart. Not the smartest kid at Greenwood High, Johnson had joined the marines immediately upon graduation and was still only eighteen years old when he arrived in Vietnam. During a fierce firefight south of Da Nang, his body was shredded by shrapnel and he nearly died, saved only by an alert squad member who hollered for a corpsman.
"What I done when I first got there is talk to Mr. Holloway," Johnson would later testify.
After Mr. Edwards died, Holloway had watched over his widow. He had a key to her house. He liked to slip over in the afternoon for a cocktail. His wife was a straitlaced teetotaler. Dorothy drank, socially. “A southern belle who liked a glass of sherry,” said her daughter. Melrose Terrace residents thought there was more to the relationship between Holloway and Dorothy than just being good neighbors. Popular and gregar- ious, Holloway had a reputation as something of a ladies’ man. Neighbors would whisper among themselves about how he would come out of his house, go into his garage, and then look out to see if anyone was watching. Then he’d walk around to the back of his house, stop, look again, and then head across the lawn and over the creek into Dorothy’s yard. At that point, the neighbors couldn’t see him anymore. But an hour or so later, they’d see him retracing his route. Dorothy spent many days at Holloway’s cabin on Lake Greenwood, a reservoir with 212 miles of shoreline on the Saluda River. Dorothy painted while Jimmy worked on his boats.
Holloway told the police officers that he had found Mrs. Edwards’s body. It was he who had called the police. He now led Johnson and Owen inside his neighbor’s house, retracing the steps he had already taken at least twice that morning. In the small alcove by the back door, the policemen glanced at several of Dorothy’s oils: one of Holloway’s Lake Greenwood cabin; three of sailboats on the lake, painted from his veranda; a still life of fruit. On the basement door, Dorothy had mounted a metal rack holding three clay flowerpots; it had been knocked askew, pieces of the lower pot on the floor. The three men walked into the kitchen, covered with wallpaper showing green ivy crawling up white bricks. Three wingback metal chairs with floral cushions were carefully arranged around a small circular table; a spoon and a glass mug lay on top. On the floor, Johnson saw a partial denture. A few feet away was a needle-nose pliers. Sticking out of a drawer where Mrs. Edwards kept a Stanley hammer, a screwdriver, nails, a ruler, and masking tape were long-handled bottle tongs, which she used for pulling canning jars out of hot water. A coffee cup had been washed and left to dry upside down on the edge of the sink. On the countertop was a bowl of bananas, oranges, and apples and an empty bottle of Taylor sherry.
There was something odd about this scene. The bottle tongs all but had a sign on them saying “Here, find me.” And the kitchen was remarkably clean and neat after such a violent crime. It felt as if someone had been entertaining—witness the empty sherry bottle—and then cleaned up. There was finger- print dust on the sherry bottle, which meant that the police probably had a clue as to who had been in the house if the print wasn’t Mrs. Edwards’s.
Dorothy’s ten-cup General Electric automatic coffeemaker was on a green Formica cabinet. Another Dorothy oil, a balle- rina in a pink tutu—it was Carolyn—hung above it. “I have one just like it,” Holloway said to Johnson, referring to the coffee- maker. It was set for 6:00 a.m. Holloway explained that Dorothy would have had to set it after 7:00 p.m. the previous night. The coffee had burned dry in the Pyrex pot; Johnson turned it off.
Johnson, Owen, and Holloway passed through the swinging door into the dining room. They noticed a bloody shoe print on the blue carpet at the far end of the dining room, “pointed outward as if someone were walking away from the bedroom area and into the dining room,” Owen reported. They turned right, into the den. There was a piano, a grandfather clock, sev- eral easy chairs, and a table. On top of a console television set was an elephant carved from expensive black stone with real ivory tusks (which Dorothy had inherited from her mother). In front of the television was an antique settee, covered in silk; a white blanket, which Mrs. Edwards had crocheted, lay on it, rumpled. Her eyeglasses were lying on the coffee table in front of the couch, next to a TV Guide, which was open to Saturday night for the shows between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.: Joyful News, a religious show on Channel 16; Classic Country Music on 17 and 33; Resurrection on HBO; a college basketball game between DePaul and Old Dominion on ESPN. The television was blar- ing; Johnson turned it off.
Moving back into the foyer, the police and Holloway paused at a drop-leaf table on which Dorothy had placed a silver tray with a decanter and four crystal goblets, several ashtrays, a bowl with artificial fruit, a pair of lined gloves, and a checkbook. This was where Mrs. Edwards put her Aigner clutch purse, Hollo- way told Johnson. It wasn’t there now. They continued to the bedrooms, at the back of the house. On the right was the guest bedroom, with a late-eighteenth-century canopied bed and a small dressing table on which were two porcelain figures, a man and woman in Early American dress, and two family photos in gold-colored frames. Nothing was amiss there.
Dorothy’s bedroom was the next room. Her alarm clock, set for 7:00 a.m., was still ringing. Johnson shut it off. The carpet was strewn with a roll of Clorets mints, a penny, some Kleenex, a small leatherette key holder, an AA battery, envelopes, and a “Save 10 Cents” coupon. There was a heavy glass ashtray with an ornate gold rim from which a big piece had been chipped off. Johnson noticed a partial denture, the other portion of what he had seen in the kitchen.
On top of Dorothy’s chest of drawers were several sweat- ers, all neatly folded; a bra; and several family photos in sil- ver frames—one of Dorothy’s husband when he was in the navy, one of the two of them, another of Carolyn, and one of her grandchildren. A serrated cake spatula jarred this picture of domestic tranquillity. The handle had dried blood on it; a lipstick-smudged tissue partially covered it. How was it possible that the bloody spatula had ended up there without disturbing anything else?
Dorothy Edwards had slept in a canopied 1800s bed of her own, with four solid posts. There was a night table on each side. From the indentations in the carpet, Johnson determined that the right side of the bed, as he stood at its foot, had been jarred from its normal position against the wall by about six inches. The bed looked recently made, Johnson wrote in his report.
The white carpet near the closet door was saturated with blood. There was more on the wall outside the closet. Johnson opened the closet, and there was Dorothy’s bloodied body, just as Holloway had said he’d found it. Her head was almost past the left edge of the door frame, just touching a white chest of drawers in the closet that was streaked with blood.
Johnson quickly walked back through the house and secured the scene. “Cornor Duvall arrived at 12:36,” Johnson noted in his report on the investigation, referring to the county coroner, Odell Duvall. Johnson’s superior, Capt. Jim Coursey, arrived two minutes later. Like Johnson, Coursey had enlisted upon gradu- ating from Greenwood High, opting for the navy. He was honorably discharged after three years as a parachute rigger third class. Some residents remembered that in high school Coursey had been a hell-raiser and had had his own scrapes with the law. Maybe that made him a better cop, some thought—he under- stood that every high school boy who drank too much or drove too fast didn’t need to be saddled with a criminal record. He also had a reputation for being a redneck, though that did not set him apart at the time.
Johnson filled in Coursey on what he had seen and what Holloway had told him. They went through the house together, and Coursey looked at Mrs. Edwards’s body. He knew he was going to need help. This murder would have to be solved and solved quickly to calm elderly widows and, more generally, keep the community at bay.
Coursey went to his car and radioed the police dispatcher. He asked him to notify the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, in the capital, Columbia, about seventy miles away. SLED, as just about everyone calls it (many South Carolin- ians don’t even know the full name), is the local equivalent of the FBI, coming in to help with complicated crimes. Coursey secured the house; then he, Johnson, and the other Greenwood police officers sat in their cars to get out of the cold while they waited for the SLED agents.
When the call came in at SLED headquarters, two agents from the firearms section, Dan DeFreese and Ira Byrd Parnell Jr. grabbed their 35 mm Nikons, jumped into their state sedan, and sped to Greenwood. When they reached the south edge of the city, on Route 34, Patrolman Holtzclaw was waiting to guide them to Melrose Terrace.
There were no SLED manuals or guidelines for investiga- tions. Parnell and DeFreese took no notes as they went through the house. DeFreese dusted for fingerprints—outside at the screen door, where the killer was thought to have entered; on the kitchen utensils and the wine bottle on the counter; in her bathroom, on the underside of the toilet seat. Parnell squeezed himself into the closet and took pictures of the body and then of the bedroom. Some of the photos showed a pool of blood on the carpet outside the closet. Strangely, there wasn’t any blood on the strip of wood under the door, that piece between the carpet in the closet and the carpet in the bedroom.
Parnell and DeFreese pulled Mrs. Edwards out of the closet and tied a plastic bag on each of her hands to preserve any evi- dence under her well-manicured fingernails, such as blood, hair, or skin that she almost certainly would have scraped from her assailant during a struggle. They wedged her into a body bag, robe and all. The agents went through the house, gathering evidence. On the drop-leaf table in the hallway near the front door they found her checkbook. The register, running from Sep- tember 11, 1981, to January 7, 1982, showed one check for $5, another for $8.75, one for $8, and another for $8.25, written to various payees. And there was check 4031, written on Decem- ber 30 for $43, made out to Edward Elmore. Holloway told Johnson that Elmore was the handyman who had cleaned the gutters and washed windows recently. In a desk in Mrs. Edwards’s living room Coursey found her bank statements, and in the December statement was the check written to Elmore; he had cashed it at the local branch of Bankers Trust before it closed on New Year’s Eve.
Late in the afternoon, just before dark, another SLED agent, Tom Henderson, arrived from Columbia. Henderson had grown up across the street from Dorothy Edwards in a lovely ranch-style house on a wooded lot. When his mother, Christine, had seen the police cars and learned that her neighbor had been murdered, she called her son. He jumped into his car and sped to Greenwood.
Greenwood, however, wasn’t Henderson’s turf; Charley Web- ber was the resident SLED agent. Webber was a roly-poly, jovial sort who wore his hair long, as he had when he was the trumpet player with the Swingin’ Medallions, before he had become a law enforcement officer. He was driving down the street late Monday afternoon when police chief John Young honked for him to pull over. Young told Webber there had been a murder on Melrose Terrace and asked if he would go there. When Web- ber arrived, he asked Coursey if he needed help. Coursey said no. There was some bad blood between the men since they had both sought the position with SLED and Coursey had been rejected.
Coursey hadn’t asked for Henderson either, but his offer to help was accepted. Henderson, thirty-nine years old, had been at SLED ten years, after stumbling through early adult- hood. “I went to three colleges, five different times, and it took me eleven years to graduate,” Henderson said. “Needless to say, I didn’t give a damn.” He’d also had two stints in the army, including a tour in Vietnam with the Special Forces. The Henderson-for-Webber switch was costly for Elmore. In less than twenty-four hours, Henderson was convinced that Elmore was guilty, a conviction from which he never wavered, while Webber would harbor doubts, which he largely kept to himself.
Robbery did not appear to be the motive for the crime. Mrs. Edwards’s $10,000 diamond ring and other valuable jewelry were in plain sight in her bedroom. “Large amounts of silver. Antique silver not disturbed,” Johnson said in his report. The only things missing, the police concluded—and this was based on what Holloway told them—were Mrs. Edwards’s clutch purse and a .32-caliber pistol, which Holloway said she kept in the nightstand drawer. There was no evidence that she had used the gun, or even tried to, against her attacker.
Indeed, the indications were that she knew her attacker. “It did appear that she was not afraid of the suspect because she had a night chain on the back kitchen door but she did not put it in place and slightly open door but open it wide,” Johnson noted in his report. The door had four windowpanes, so she would have seen who her visitor was before letting him in. That alone caused her neighbor Roy Raborn to doubt that Elmore had been the perpetrator. He just couldn’t believe that Mrs. Edwards would open the door to a black man late on a Saturday night, even one she knew a bit. “You would be stupid,” Raborn said. “I wouldn’t do it.” And a woman would be even less likely do so if she was dressed in her nightgown.
There was a curious dearth of fingerprints at the crime scene. The SLED forensic investigators found none on the needle-nose pliers lying on the kitchen floor or on the tongs, which were sticking out of the drawer, or on the bloody cake spatula found on the bureau.
Some ten hours after the first policeman had arrived at 209 Melrose Terrace, Sergeant Owen, and Herman Tooley Jr. of the Blyth Funeral Home, took possession of Mrs. Edwards’s body from DeFreese and Parnell and took it to Self Memorial Hospital, nine minutes away. Owen recorded this in his report. It was placed in a cooler, at a temperature of thirty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler was sealed with evidence tape; Owen signed it. The next morning, at 6:00, Owen was back at the hos- pital. The body was removed from the cooler, and he and Tom McHaney, another Blyth employee, drove it across the state to the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, for an autopsy by Dr. Sandra E. Conradi. They arrived at 10:15.
Six hours later, Owen left the medical school and drove Mrs. Edwards’s body to SLED headquarters in Columbia. This was unusual. After an autopsy, a body would normally go to the funeral home. At SLED, Owen and agent Parnell took finger- prints and palm prints from Mrs. Edwards. That explained why the body had been brought to SLED but raised the question of why her fingerprints were needed.
Back in Greenwood, Captain Coursey went to a judge and sought a warrant for the arrest of Edward Lee Elmore. “Probable cause is based on the following facts,” Coursey said in his affi- davit to the judge. “The deceased body of Dorothy E. Edwards was found at her home at 209 Melrose Terrace, Greenwood, South Carolina, on January 18, 1982, with multiple stab wounds and idencia of her being the victim of rape. A fingerprint of Edward Lee Elmore was found at this residence.”
This was shaky. Under the Fourth Amendment, the police may not arrest someone without “probable cause.” Basically, that means there has to be enough evidence to convince a reason- able person of the substantial likelihood that the person being arrested committed the crime. Since Elmore had been at Mrs. Edwards’s house in December, washing windows for her, it was reasonable that the print was left then. In fact, it might havebeen there several weeks, or possibly even months. “I can say whose print it was; I can’t say when it was put there,” SLED agent DeFreese would later testify. Curiously, the police had found only one Elmore fingerprint at the scene.
In his request for a warrant, Coursey did not mention the check that Mrs. Edwards had given to Elmore. Even the check plus the fingerprint would not seem to amount to probable cause. Magistrate Charles E. Henderson Jr. issued the warrant.
THE SUSPECT—EDWARD LEE ELMORE
Edward Lee Elmore had grown up in the abject sort of envi- ronment that led President Lyndon Johnson to declare a war on poverty. Home was Abbeville, a historic small town four- teen miles west of Greenwood on tree-lined Route 72. John C. Calhoun practiced law there from 1807 to 1817 before becom- ing vice president, secretary of state, senator, and secretary of war. The first Confederate Assembly adopted the Ordinance of Secession here in 1860. A granite plinth rises in the town square, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy of Abbeville. The inscription on one side: “The world shall yet decide in truth’s clear, far-off light, that the soldiers who wore the gray and died with Lee, were in the right.” The monument was erected in 1906, destroyed by a fire in 1991, and repaired and put up again by the town in 1996, more than 130 years after the end of the Civil War.
When Elmore was growing up, the “niggers” had their part of town and entered the white areas only to work in the textile mills or as maids or yardmen. They were paid so little that even a middle-class family could afford to employ them. For blacks and whites alike, Greenwood was “the big city,” the place to go to the cinema and, in the days before malls and fast-food chains, to shop at Rosenberg’s, a clothing store that had been around since 1884, or to eat at The Ranch, a good restaurant. Blacks found Greenwood more racist than Abbeville.
Edward’s mother, Mary Ellen Gardner, was the daughter of a tenant farmer. She was so tiny as a baby, and the family was so poor, that she slept in a drawer. She was sixteen when she had her first child. She’d had a second and was pregnant with her third when she married Henry Odey Elmore. They had a son and a daughter, pneumonia and malnutrition claimed another son in his infancy, then came another daughter, and a year later Mary was pregnant again. In her eighth month, she was diag- nosed with toxemia, which can be fatal or result in a mentally retarded child. Mary was hospitalized. After ten days, labor was induced. Edward Lee was born on January 13, 1959.
Henry Elmore was listed as Edward’s father, but it is unlikely he was his biological father. Edward had reddish hair and a light complexion. Edward’s siblings and playmates taunted him that he had a white father. “His skin was lighter than mine,” said Elmore’s sister Peggy, whose biological father was Henry. When Edward was about two years old, Henry was struck by a car as he walked along Highway 17 in North Carolina. The driver didn’t stop. Henry died. The police never did find who hit him. “Prob- ably didn’t try very hard,” says Peggy. “You know, black man.”
After Henry was killed there were always men around Mary, white and black. Some stayed a few hours, others longer. Earl Johnson was around the longest, maybe four or five years, dur- ing Edward’s early adolescence. He was hardly a role model. He would go into a grocery store and furtively take a package of meat, go off to another aisle, pummel the package a bit, then insist that the grocer give him the meat or sell it at a reduced price.
Drinking and violence were part of the scene, and Edward learned to stay away from his mother’s male friends. When Mary got drunk, he would stay away from her as well. She was jailed several times for disorderly conduct. She began giving her son beer at an early age. The family moved from one dilapidated house to another, many without electricity or running water, ahead of the rent collector or after the rent collector had caught up with and evicted them. One day, Eddie and Peggy got off the school bus in front of their public housing apartment and saw their belongings on the street; the family had been evicted again. Shamed and embarrassed, they walked on to a relative’s house.
The children picked cotton and peaches and picked up bot- tles along the roadside. “You’d get five cents from those bottles,” Peggy recalled. “We’d buy little stuff to eat, like ice cream.” On Sundays little Edward walked barefoot with his mother to Calhoun Falls Baptist Church.
Edward started attending Branch Street Elementary School when he was six. He didn’t yet know his colors. Asked to draw a man, he drew two circles, connected them with a diagonal line, and put a squiggly tail on the bottom circle. He was absent more than a third of the time, often because he was forced to scrounge for money, picking up bottles or whatever. He was in the first grade for three years. In the second grade, the kids teased him because he was slow and dim-witted, with speech defects and tics, and his clothes were ragged. His IQ was mea- sured at 61, which psychologists classify as within the range of “mild mental retardation.” He quit after the first semester. Edward was twelve years old before he made it to the third grade, at the Langley Milliken School, a quarter of a mile from a large mill. He and Peggy were among the eight blacks sent to integrate the school. They didn’t cause any problems. “We got along, we really got along,” Peggy said. Peggy and Eddie were close. When she became a teenager and the boys started call- ing, Eddie would lie on the couch pretending to be asleep, then open one eye and say to the visitor, with a smile, “I got my eye on you.”
Edward was “soft-voiced,” a teacher noted on his report card. He “likes school—likes playing ball—dislikes spelling most.” Even though he couldn’t do the work, teachers promoted him through the third and fourth grades. In fifth grade, he dropped out, barely able to read at a second-grade level. He was four- teen but said he was sixteen in order to get a job at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in Abbeville. The machine he worked on would have to be shut down occasionally because of mistakes he made. He didn’t like the noise or being inside, and he quit. He wanted to try school again. He was sixteen and school officials thought the other fifth-graders would laugh at him, so they put him into the eighth grade at Wright Middle School. There was no way he could handle that level of work, and after twelve days he dropped out.
As an adult, Elmore would not be able to tell time or draw a clock. He didn’t understand the concept of north, south, east, and west or of summer, fall, winter, and spring. He briefly had a checking account but was unable to do the elementary math necessary to have enough in the bank to cover the checks he would write. He never lived on his own. He gave his money to his mother and a girlfriend to pay his bills, as he didn’t know how.
He was, however, a steady, trustworthy handyman. He was taken on by Clarence Aiken, a black general contractor who lived on the rough side—he had been shot in a bar brawl and had lost an arm in an automobile accident. Aiken trusted Elmore with the keys to the Abbeville County Courthouse when they were cleaning there. Elmore worked for two weeks cleaning and painting inside the palatial Spartanburg home of Roger Milliken, the textile magnate and one of the richest men in the South. There were never any complaints about his work or his stealing anything.
Elmore worked hard, doing chores around people’s homes in some of the most fashionable neighborhoods of Greenwood. In a good week, in good weather, he might earn $600; most of the time he earned between $200 and $300. Many of his cus- tomers were elderly widows, friends and neighbors of Dorothy Edwards’s. They liked him. “He was a black man that south- ern women got along with,” recalled James Bradford, a lawyer. Elmore painted and did odd jobs for Bradford’s mother and his mother-in-law. He was polite, deferential, sweet-natured—in a word, he was “servile,” as blacks were supposed to be. Slight of build, he was not at all physically threatening.
Elmore’s history was notably void of any clashes with the law. He was never arrested for drugs or drinking. Indeed, he had no criminal record whatsoever, except for a few minor charges aris- ing out of fights with his girlfriend, Mary Dunlap.
They had met at the Depot, a Greenwood nightclub. “Oh, he’s so handsome,” she said to her girlfriend when she saw him in the crowd. He was taut and had an Afro with a slight reddish tint. She was five foot six, lithe, and beautiful. He came over, introduced himself, and asked her to dance. “That done it, he was my date for the night,” she remembered, a glint in her eyes even many years later. She invited him back to her apartment. He was proper. They had a couple of beers, and he left.
A week later, she saw him again at the Depot. “That night he stayed over,” she says. Their relationship had begun. She was eight years older and married, with two small children. After she separated from her husband, Elmore moved in. She lived in the Greenwood Gardens Apartments, a small complex of two-story buildings on the south side—the black side—of Greenwood. Mary’s apartment, on the ground floor, had two bedrooms, a liv- ing room, a kitchen—and three televisions. Elmore brought all his clothes; Mary didn’t need a second closet for them.
It was a tempestuous relationship. She was temperamental. He was jealous. “He just wanted me all to hisself,” she said. “He didn’t want me to do anything unless he was right there.” Especially, he didn’t like her running around in short shorts and skimpy singlets. That would set off near-childish temper tantrums. But he was a good man. He babysat her children. He gave her money for household expenses. Though he had smoked marijuana as a youngster, he didn’t use drugs. He drank beer but didn’t get drunk. When he wasn’t working, he’d stay at home and watch sports on TV.
They quarreled regularly, and on two or three occasions she complained to the police that he had hit her. She declined to press charges, and some doubted the incidents had ever occurred. There was a correlation between Mary’s complaints to the police about Elmore and the failure of her ex-husband to make child support payments. Was Mary taking out her anger at her ex-husband on her new boyfriend? In November 1981, for instance, Mary filed charges against her ex-husband; the next day, she filed a complaint against Elmore, claiming he had hit her. This time she signed a warrant. Elmore was arrested.
He pleaded guilty and was fined $212, all but $40 suspended. Ten days later she called the police and said he had taken her pocketbook out of the car and stolen $60. She declined to pros- ecute. After that he moved out, but they continued to see each other—and to fight.
On Saturday, January 16, the day the police said Mrs. Edwards was murdered, Elmore had driven from Abbeville to Green- wood, borrowing his sister’s 1973 Ford LTD, as he often did, hoping to find work. He first stopped at Kmart, where Mary worked. She told him to come back at four, when she would have her lunch break. He left and drove a short distance to the neighborhood where Mrs. Edwards lived. He first went to Mrs. Wingard’s, just around the corner from Dorothy Edwards. Elmore had worked for her before. She didn’t need any chores done, but she told Elmore that a neighbor, Mrs. Blaylock, needed her gutters cleaned. He asked Mrs. Wingard to call Mrs. Blaylock to see if she wanted the work done that day. Mrs. Wingard was happy to do so, and Mrs. Blaylock said yes. She was an eighty-seven-year-old widow who for years had taught piano to the neighborhood girls and boys.
The gutters on the Blaylock house were quite small, mak- ing it hard to get a hand into them, which meant a lot of cuts. Elmore told Mrs. Blaylock he wanted $30, which she thought was high, but her gutters were quite clogged with leaves and she really wanted them cleaned. She didn’t want a black man to think she had that much cash in the house, however, so she said she’d pay by check; he agreed.
He worked only a short time, then left to take Mary to lunch.
Elmore wasn’t very happy when Mary came out with two of her coworkers. They all climbed into Elmore’s car and drove a few minutes to Po’ Folks. She ate; he only drank coffee. He didn’t have enough to pay for the meal. She gave him a dollar. He pleaded with her to let him move back in. No. She was firm. They left a few minutes before five, and he drove them back to Kmart. He went back to Mrs. Blaylock’s to finish his work.
He didn’t do much before it was dark and starting to rain.
“Come inside while I write your check,” Mrs. Blaylock said.
It wasn’t customary for a white woman to let a black man into her house, but Mrs. Blaylock later testified at Elmore’s trial that it was the only humane thing to do; she could not let him stand in the cold. He stayed a few steps inside the door while she went over to the kitchen table and wrote out a check for $15.
He drove to the Kmart shopping center, got out of his car, walked to the pay phone in front of Big Star, and called Mary. She was irritated. She didn’t have time to talk, she said. She was doing inventory. But did he have $10? He did, from the $15 check he had just cashed. He walked into Kmart and found her in the shoe department. He gave her the money.
He went back outside and waited. At 9:30, she finished work. She had asked her brother Donnie to pick her up. He was there in Mary’s car, a 1976 Mustang, along with his wife, Sue.
Walking to her car, Mary saw Edward parked in front of Big Star. She ignored him. She climbed in with Donnie and Sue, and they drove on Route 25 past the Holiday Inn and McDon- ald’s. They headed to Mary’s mother’s house, to pick up Mary’s daughter. They sat around talking until 10:30 or a bit later, and then they all went to Mary’s apartment at Greenwood Gardens.
Around 12:30 a.m., Elmore showed up. When he knocked on the door, Sue opened it. Elmore rushed in and went straight to Mary’s bedroom. He’d had a couple of beers. She insisted that he leave. It got louder. Mary’s daughter was crying. Mary and Edward were yelling at each other. He asked her if he had left any clothes at her house. No, she said. She had thrown them all away. That set him off again. He took off his coat and started unbuttoning his shirt, then just ripped it off and threw it on the floor. Another temper tantrum.
“Mary, I want you, can’t nobody gonna git you,” Edward told her.
“I told you to go on, go on, we’re through, we’ve been through,” Mary shouted back.
Elmore sat down on the floor. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere, ain’t goin’ nowhere without Mary.”
He wouldn’t leave. So Mary decided she’d leave, go over to her mother’s. On her way out, she picked up his shirt and threw
it in the kitchen wastebasket, put on her own jacket, turned out the lights, and left. She spent the night at her mother’s. Sunday morning, she went back to her apartment. She realized Elmore had spent the night there. He was gone now. She threw his shirt in the trash outside.
Elmore had left about 7:00 a.m., stopped at Fast Fare, a con- venience store and gas station, and bought a dollar’s worth of gas, enough to get him to his mother’s in Abbeville. He spent Sunday drinking beer and watching television.
On Monday, the day Mrs. Edwards’s body was found, Elmore went into Greenwood looking for work but decided the weather was too bad and returned home.
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