Peculiar Tribe of People : Murder and Madness in the Heart of Georgia
Overview - In early 1960, as John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency, as Elvis returned from his stint in the army, Chester Burge--slumlord, liquor runner, and the black sheep of the proud (and wealthy) Dunlap family of Macon, Georgia--lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. Read more...
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More About Peculiar Tribe of People by Richard Jay Hutto
In early 1960, as John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency, as Elvis returned from his stint in the army, Chester Burge--slumlord, liquor runner, and the black sheep of the proud (and wealthy) Dunlap family of Macon, Georgia--lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. He listened to the radio as the news reported that his wife had just been murdered. Chester was eventually charged, and when the trial finally began, the sweet Southern town of Macon witnessed a story of epic proportions; a tale of white-columned mansions, an insane asylum, real people as "Southern grotesque" as the characters of Flannery O'Connor, and a volatile mix of taboo interracial relationships and homosexuality. This was a story as fantastical as a Greek tragedy, complete with a stunning conclusion. It is told in riveting detail in Richard Jay Hutto's "A Peculiar Tribe of People." Chester Burge was a walking streak of deception and sex. After weaseling his way to be the caretaker of the last Dunlap sister, and forcing his way into her will, Burge and his wife inherited a fortune as well as one of the family mansions. Then came his numerous affairs with other men--including his chauffeur--and, either single-handedly or with help from a lover, the murder of his wife. The trial would spawn the first testimony in Georgia history of a black man disclosing that he had been a white man's sexual partner. Burge would be acquitted of murder, but convicted of sodomy. And this Southern grotesque tale doesn't end there. . . . Written in exacting detail with first-hand accounts," "and populated by a cast of colorful characters, this masterfully rendered book takes us from the Civil War to the Civil Rights era. It is both a sweeping history of one genteel family and a powerful, redolent tale of the American South. FROM THE PROLOGUE "On the morning of May 12, 1960, the Burge family maid discovered the body of Mary Burge, dead in her large, canopied bed, carpet fragments lodged under her fingernails from her desperate attempt to claw her way to escape from the murderer. The family physician, Dr. William R. Birdsong, was called immediately, followed soon thereafter by the Bibb County coroner. The medical examiner received a call just before the sheriff, who placed a call to the Burges' only child.""Evidently no one thought to call the dead woman's husband. ""Chester Burge lay alone at the local hospital recovering from hernia surgery, without receiving any word from the authorities, and when the newly widowed patient heard on the radio the news of his wife's murder, he shouted from his bed. He did not arrive at the crime scene (his wife's bedroom) until early afternoon, when he exited a police car still clad in light green pajamas and maroon bathrobe. Chester was carried on a stretcher led by Detective Frank Lanneau through his darkened home, a police photographer close behind, his flash popping brightly. The night before, Chester told the officer in a shaky voice, he had given his wife a wallet containing $5000 as she was leaving the hospital, and asked her to take it home. """We haven't found it," Lanneau told Chester. "So robbery--""""Did you look under the mattress?" Chester replied. "
Publishers Weekly Reviews
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
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The 1960 murder of the wife of a Macon, Ga., slumlord eager to climb the social ladder propels Hutto's real-life Southern gothic tale. Despite being a distant relation to one of the city's most prosperous families, Chester Burge was never socially accepted despite his wealth, flashy cars, and bejeweled wife, Mary, because his money came from "slimy" operations, from liquor running to housing scams. Burge also had a proclivity for men. On May 12, 1960, Mary's strangled body was discovered in her bedroom and even though Burge was hospitalized after surgery, and thus apparently unable to have committed the murder, he was eventually arrested and tried not only for Mary's murder but also for committing sodomy with his black chauffeur. Hutto (Their Gilded Cage) goes into great detail describing Burge's twisted family history--particularly how it intersected with prominent Macon families, many of whom the author interviewed--and the explosive court battle over Mary's murder. For those seeking closure, Hutto leaves readers with too many unanswered questions, but the story and its eccentric cast make this solid book worth the read. 16 b&w photos. (Nov.)