Carlton Michael Gary is an American serial killer who was convicted of the murders of elderly women in Columbus, Georgia throughout 1977 and 1978.
Gary was born in Columbus, Georgia, into a family where his father, a construction worker, who wanted nothing to do with him and a mother who was extremely poor. As a result, they moved around a lot and he was malnourished most of the time. He was often left with his aunt or great aunt, both of who were maids for elderly, wealthy, white women. In elementary school, Gary suffered serious head trauma when he was knocked unconscious during a playground accident, and in his teens, he became a heavy drug user. Between the ages of 14 and 18, he was arrested multiple times for robbery, arson, and assault.
During that time, he also got married to a woman named Sheila and had two children. In 1970, he moved to Albany, New York, where he planned to become a singer, but he continued to carry out his criminal activities.
I'm May 1970, soon after he moved to Albany, an elderly woman named Marion Brewer was robbed and attacked in her hotel room. Two months later, 85 year old Nellie Farmer was robbed in her apartment and strangled to death. After Gary attempted an assault on a third elderly woman, he was arrested and his fingerprints matched those which had been left at the scene of the Farmer murder. He admitted to having taken part in a robbery, but claimed that an accomplice, John Lee Mitchell, was responsible for the murder. Gary testified against Mitchell in court and Mitchell was charged, despite no material evidence connecting him to the crime, while Gary was only charged with robbery.
He was paroled in 1975 and moved to Syracuse, New York. Here, two more elderly women were attacked, raped, and strangled in their homes, one died and the other survived. Both attacks occurred within four days of each other. The survivor was not able to identify Gary positively as the crimes had taken place in the dark; at least one victim was sure that her attacker was a moustached black male, and she was strangled with a scarf. Gary was never charged for any of these crimes but was instead sent back to prison for parole violation and robbery after he was caught trying to sell coins stolen from the same apartment building as the surviving Syracuse victim. On August 22nd 1977, Gary escaped from his low-security prison by sawing through the bars of his cell and made it back to Columbus, Georgia.
One month after his escape, on September 16th 1977, 60 year old Ferne Jackson was raped, beaten, and strangled to death with a nylon stocking at her home in Columbus. Nine days later, 71 year old Jean Dimenstein was killed similarly, as were 89 year old Florence Scheible on October 21st, and 69 year old Martha Thurmond on October 23rd. Five days later, Gary struck again, raping and killing 74 year old Kathleen Woodruff. This time there was no stocking left at the scene. Four months later on February 12th 1978, Ruth Schwob was attacked but she triggered a bedside alarm and her assailant fled. He went just two blocks down the road before breaking into another house and raping and strangling 78 year old Mildred Borom. His final victim was 61 year old Janet Cofer, who was murdered on April 20th.
Police announced that they suspected an African-American man of the murders. Things became more complicated when a man calling himself the "Chairman of the Forces of Evil" threatened to murder selected black women if the Stocking Strangler was not stopped. This turned out to be an African-American male (William Henry Hance) trying to cover up three murders of his own by putting the blame onto white vigilantes.
Following a robbery in Gaffney, Georgia in December 1978, Gary was arrested and sentenced to 21 years in prison for armed robbery. He escaped from custody in 1983 and remained at large for a year before he was apprehended again. New evidence had come into light during this time, including a gun that was traced back to Gary and a possible fingerprint match that led the police to believe that Gary was the murderer they were looking for.
Overall, he is alleged to have raped and/or murdered seven elderly women between 1977 and 1978 in Columbus. Known there as the Stocking Strangler, in three of the cases he was convicted of beating, sexually assaulting and strangling the victims, mostly by using stockings. Two of the survivors testified that he strangled them into unconsciousness before raping or attempting to rape them. The one Georgia survivor positively identified him as her attacker in court. However, she had previously positively identified three other black men as the attacker, and in her initial statement had indicated that it was too dark to even distinguish the race of the attacker. His fingerprints were found at four of the crime scenes.
Gary was indicted for the murders on May 5th 1984, and convicted on August 26th 1986, he was sentenced to death the following day.
Questions have been raised over the propriety of Gary's conviction. According to a group of supporters and a book by investigative journalist David Rose, Gary's lawyer was refused state funding to carry out a defense. There is also evidence that Gary's fingerprints were not held to match the crime scene prints until seven years after, when the case was re-examined, despite Gary having been printed just one year after the murder at a time when all prints in the U.S. were being compared to prints found at the crime sites. They also claim Gary's interview at which he supposedly confessed was not recorded, nor were notes taken, and Gary's confession was written by a police officer in the days following the interview, from his own recollection. When submitted as evidence, the confession was unsigned and undated, and Gary denied having made it. They also allege that Gary's semen did not match the perpetrator's. Furthermore, a cast made from a bite wound on a victim allegedly did not match Gary's bite-mark pattern. His supporters claimed that the prosecution withheld this evidence at trial.
Rose's book also links prosecutors, judges and police who worked on the case to a white only club called The Big Eddy Club and traces the history of racial injustice in Columbus, including the role of the judge's family members in lynchings and other injustices in the city.
In 2007, Gary was positively linked through DNA to the rape and murder case of 40 year old Marion Fisher. Marion was raped and murdered after leaving a bar in Nedrow, New York. On December 1st 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Gary's latest appeal, clearing the way for an execution date to be set. On December 4th, the court set a December 16th execution date for Gary. On December 15th the state Board of Pardons and Paroles denied a request to stay his execution.
On December 16th only hours before the execution, the Georgia Supreme Court halted the execution to hold a hearing and determine whether DNA tests should be conducted to determine Gary's guilt or innocence, the appeals still continue, while a retrial request having been denied in September of last year.
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