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The Shocking True-Crime Story of the Youngest Woman Ever Sentenced to Death Row
By Thomas H. Cook
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1990 Thomas H. Cook
All rights reserved.
City of Seven Hills
Years later, remembering it all again, Ken Dooley would find it hard to believe that so much horror could begin so mundanely, with no more dramatic fanfare than the ringing of his phone.
He answered it immediately, glanced at the clock, and unconsciously recorded the time: 7:00 P.M.
The voice at the other end did not alarm him. It was a female voice, calm, precise, without a hint of nervousness, nothing to make him in the least suspicious.
"Is this Ken Dooley's house?"
"Yes, it is."
"My name's Susan. I'm a friend of Cherie, your wife. From way back. When she lived in Kentucky."
Dooley nodded dully, glanced about the dining room, his mind more on finishing the dinner he'd just made for himself than on the voice still holding him on the line.
"I'm going to be passing through Rome," the woman said, "and I wanted to stop by and see Cherie."
"Okay, that's fine," Dooley said.
"How do you get to your house?"
Dooley gave precise directions. "Well, once you get to Rome, get on Maple Street and come to Lindale, to the Daither Park Diner and take a right. After you take a right, we're the third brick house on the left."
Dooley waited for the woman to answer, and when she didn't, he decided to make absolutely sure that she couldn't miss his house. "There'll be a red Volkswagen in the driveway," he told her matter-of-factly. "And a green and white Buick, too."
The woman seemed satisfied that he had told her enough. "Okay," she said. "Well, you tell Cherie that I'll see her when we get to Rome."
"Okay," Dooley answered. Then he hung up, finished his dinner, and stretched out in the den.
For the next few hours Dooley remained home alone. His wife and son were at the Rome Little Theater where Robby had been scheduled to audition for a part in one of the theater's upcoming productions. But the solitude didn't bother him. He needed the rest and relaxation. It had been a long day at the YDC, Rome's Youth Development Center, where he taught the female juvenile offenders who'd been placed there. He liked some of them, joked with and counseled them. But there were others he didn't care for at all. They were hard, cold, calculating, with as many different personalities as they needed to survive. He'd been around long enough to understand how important it was to know who you were dealing with at the YDC, because the one thing all the girls had in common was that in the end they'd be on the streets again, free to do the good or evil that was already in their hearts.
Cherie and Robby returned home at around nine in the evening. Robby was tired from the long day's activities and trudged directly down the hallway to his room. Cherie sat down on the sofa in the den, and Ken stirred himself enough to ask how Robby had done at the audition. Outside he could hear the early-September winds as they rustled through the trees and shrubbery that formed a ragged, easily penetrable wall between his house and the street.
"By the way," he said after a moment, "you got a call tonight."
Ken glanced outside. It was very dark except for the small area of grayish light that swam out from the den's large, well-lighted window. "Some friend of yours from Kentucky," he said. "She said she was coming through Rome and she wanted to stop and visit."
"What was her name?"
Cherie Dooley looked at her husband quizzically. "Susan?"
Ken's eyes drifted toward his wife. "What is?"
Cherie shrugged lightly. "What she told you."
"What's strange about it?"
His wife's answer was not enough to nudge Ken Dooley from the night's deepening peacefulness. "I don't have a friend from Kentucky named Susan," she said.
In the South, as in the rest of America, September is a busy month. With the summer at an end, schools reopen, and the resulting shift in schedules inevitably throws the general pace of life into a higher gear. In Rome, football season had already begun, and on Friday nights, the rural roads of the surrounding counties were dotted with bright yellow school buses on their way to and from the scores of regional intramural games. On the night of September 10, Ken Dooley traveled to Bremen, Georgia, with the team he coached and Robby managed. For the next few hours he rooted loudly from the rickety wooden stands while his team fought for every inch of the one-hundred-yard field. At the end of the game he was exhausted, and the long bus ride home, with the team shouting and laughing behind him, hardly served to ease the strain that had been steadily accumulating all day. It was a pleasure finally to reach his own house, and he smiled at the prospect of a hot shower followed by a long, deep sleep.
Cherie met him at the door. "You got a call tonight," she said.
"Who from?" Dooley asked as he walked past her and made his way into the den, where he slouched down on the sofa by the window.
Cherie stood at the entrance to the den, her shoulder against its wooden frame. "I don't know who it was," she told him.
Dooley drew in a long, weary breath. "They didn't say?"
"It was a girl, that's all I know."
Dooley thought of the YDC, the many girls he knew there. It was not uncommon for one of them to call him. "Well, what'd she want?" he asked.
"Just to know if you were home."
Dooley's eyes shifted over to his wife, suddenly struck by the oddity of the question. "To know if I was home?" he asked. "When was this?"
"Around nine," Cherie said. "I told her you weren't here but that you'd be in later. I think it was probably one of the people from the Center."
Dooley nodded. "Could be."
"Anyway, she said she'd call you back."
Dooley looked at his watch. It was nearly eleven. "And she called just that one time?"
"Okay," Dooley said with a shrug. For a time he remained on the sofa, then he got up and headed down the hallway to his bedroom to prepare for bed. Far away, in the distant bedroom, he could hear the phone as it rang suddenly, then his wife's voice as she answered it.
"It's for you," she called to him.
Dooley headed for the dining room.
"It's that girl again," his wife whispered as she handed him the receiver.
Dooley took the phone. "Hello."
There was a moment of silence, then, to his surprise, he heard a male rather than a female voice.
"You've screwed the last girl you're going to screw," the man told him coldly. "And you're going to pay."
Dooley was thunderstruck. He had never heard a voice so threatening. "Who the hell is this?" he demanded.
The man hung up immediately, leaving Dooley standing motionlessly in his dining room, half-dazed by the threat.
"Who was it?" his wife asked as she came back into the room.
"I don't know," Dooley told her. He returned the phone to its cradle, then headed back to the bedroom.
As he prepared for bed, Dooley continued to think about the voice, how hard it was, how threatening. He talked about it to his wife, then decided to get it off his mind by checking his closet to see if there was anything he might want to add to the various items Cherie had gathered together for the yard sale she was having the next day. On the way to the bedroom he looked in on his children. Both eleven-year-old Robby and three-year-old Carrie were sleeping soundly. Everything seemed normal, so he walked on down the hall to the bedroom and opened the closet.
The sounds came quickly, four of them, loud pops that at first seemed like nothing more than a flurry of backfiring from the street. Then he heard his wife screaming to him that someone was shooting into the house.
He plunged down the corridor, through the dining room at the far end of the house, where he met Cherie, who was running toward him. He scrambled past her, hurled through the den and out the far end of the house. The front yard was completely silent. He glanced right and left, trying to make out any movement in the chilly darkness. Finally, he looked toward the road. Far down the street, he could see the red taillights of a speeding car. For an instant he thought of following it, but the car disappeared almost immediately. There was nothing to do but return to the house and call the police.
After making the call, Dooley walked through the house to check for damage. In the den he could see where two bullets had entered the house. One had come through the wall and hit the tan wicker shade of the swag lamp that hung above the sofa. A second shot had also come through the wall, then veered left and slammed into the bottom of the door. Two others had hit the roof above the window of the den, and later, as he stood outside, staring back toward the house, he realized that the gunman had been deadly serious, that he'd fired at the only lighted window in the house.
Patrolman Ray Logan of the Floyd County Police Department arrived a few minutes later. He gathered what evidence he could, then wrote up complaint number 82-09-00381.
"I'm sorry this happened to you," he told Dooley before leaving. "And I wish we had more to go on." But there were no witnesses, no identification of the car or its drivers, only two voices and a pair of taillights that had flickered briefly, then disappeared. "If I were you," Logan added darkly, "I wouldn't sleep at home tonight."
But Dooley did remain at home that night. His children were still sleeping soundly, as they had through all of the events of the evening, and he decided not to wake them. Instead he simply returned to his bedroom and lay down, aware, as he remained all through the night, of the loaded pistol that rested on his closet shelf only a few feet away. It seemed like his best friend.
The next morning at the Rome YDC, Dooley told his supervisor about the incident. The supervisor listened carefully, then asked him to keep the whole matter under wraps, since such an event might frighten other people at the Center. Dooley did as he was asked. Throughout the day, he didn't tell any of his students, or any of the staff, even the assistant director of the Youth Development Center itself, a tall blond woman whose name was Linda Adair.CHAPTER 2
Fire in the Night
On Saturday, September 11, 1982, the day following the shooting at Ken Dooley's house, Linda Adair returned home after shopping and dinner with her husband. Her daughter was to be married the following week, and she and her husband Gary, an investigator for the Floyd County fire marshal, had dinner at the Country Gentleman, a steak house on north U.S. Highway 27, and then, at around seven in the evening, headed for the Riverbend Mall, still gathering the necessary paraphernalia for the upcoming wedding.
They returned home at around ten in the evening, and Adair noticed that Brent, her neighbor's enormous Saint Bernard, was still curled up on her back steps. For the last three days the dog had remained more or less in place, looking very somber and refusing to go home. Normally Brent would greet Linda as she came home, barking and leaping about the carport enthusiastically until she got inside. Then he would invariably head back across the backyard to his owner's house next door. Lately, however, he'd refused even to get up as she approached. She'd even had to step over him to get inside her house. It was very odd for him, and she'd been wondering if the dog was all right. She bent down and petted him gently.
"How you doing, Brent?"
The dog did not move, and after a moment she stepped over him and went inside.
Once inside the house, Linda took a bath and put on a nightgown and housecoat.
Her husband was still fully dressed, watching television in the den, when she came into the room and stretched out on the part of the sectional sofa that she thought of as hers.
Gary was about to take his usual place on the other side of the sofa when the phone in the kitchen suddenly rang. He looked at her, but Linda was already too comfortable. She waved her hand. "No, you get it," she said. "I'm all stretched out here. I don't want to get up."
The phone rang again and Gary walked into the kitchen to answer it.
From the den, her eyes closed wearily, Linda could hear him in the other room.
"Sure. Hold on just a minute."
Linda continued to lie on the sofa as her husband, tugging the long cord behind him, brought the receiver to her.
"It's for you," he said.
"Who is it?"
Gary shook his head and Linda took the phone.
"Hello," she said.
There was a slight pause. She could hear other sounds coming through the line, slightly metallic, like a television playing in the background.
"Hello," she repeated. "Hello."
Gary still remained over her. "Who is it?"
She handed him back the phone. "I don't know," she said. She looked at him quizzically. "No one said anything?"
Gary shook his head. "Just asked if you were home."
"Was it a man or a woman?"
"It sounded like a young girl," Gary told her.
Linda shrugged. "Well, I guess they didn't want to talk," she said as her husband headed back toward the kitchen.
A few minutes later, at around 11:30, Linda got up from the sofa and headed for the kitchen. She could hear the shower running in the bathroom where Gary was preparing for bed. Tomorrow was Sunday, and she needed to put a roast on for their dinner. She prepared the meat, then turned off the kitchen light and headed through the den toward her bedroom. She'd almost reached the hallway at the other side of the den when the phone rang again. She turned and started back toward the kitchen. The phone rang again, and as it did she could also hear something beating frantically at her back door. For an instant she seemed suspended between those two urgently demanding sounds, and in that instant her eyes shot toward the dining-room window and she saw a high wall of yellow flame enveloping the front of her carport. Her eyes swept toward the back door, and through its dark glass she could see the face of a young boy, still beating at the door. The phone rang again and automatically, in a kind of disbelieving daze, she answered it. A woman was screaming at her, "Linda! What's happening! Somebody just threw a bomb at your house!"
It was Susan, her next-door neighbor, and Linda instantly looked back at the fire. She could hear Brent snarling angrily somewhere beyond the flames, along with the sound of the boy at the door and the steady hiss of Gary's shower. She rushed to the corridor and yelled to him, "Gary! Gary! Get out of the house! Somebody's trying to burn it down!"
Clutching at his robe, Gary rushed from the bathroom, then the two of them ran back through the house and out into the yard. For a moment they simply stood together, Linda, Gary, the next-door neighbor who'd rushed over to help, the young boy who'd beaten wildly at her back door ... and Brent, who, Linda noticed, had begun to huddle very closely at her feet.
The police arrived immediately and began their investigation. Susan told them that she'd heard Brent snarling loudly and had then looked out her window in time to see a car hurriedly backing out of the Adairs' driveway.
"Brent was following the car," she told the officers. "He was jumping up on it and biting at it." It had backed out to the left, she added, then someone had hurled the bomb.
The young boy had been driving home from having dropped off his date for that Saturday night. He'd seen the bomb explode just as a car whizzed past him, speeding in the opposite direction. It was a brown car, with white or silver stripes that ran from the rear end to the front and which he thought might be an early-seventies Dodge Demon. There'd been two people inside, a man and a woman. He had been able to get a brief glimpse of them in the instant the two cars had met. The man had been in the passenger seat. The woman was behind the wheel. As his lights had swept over her, he'd been able to see that she was white and that she had long, reddish hair.
While the questioning continued on the front lawn, other officers processed the scene, working the physical evidence. It was obvious from the beginning that the bomb itself was a crude contraption, as simple as they came, consisting of a Nu Grape soda bottle, gasoline, and what appeared to be, in its smoldering remnants, a bathroom cloth of some kind. It had landed a few feet from the carport and to the right of Gary Adair's official state car, far enough from both to explode, burn a moment, then gutter out without setting fire to anything else.
Excerpted from Early Graves by Thomas H. Cook. Copyright © 1990 Thomas H. Cook. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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