As a teenager in the 1970s, Jeffrey Nix was in a car driving past the Muscogee County Jail when his father matter-of-factly mentioned that’s where his great-uncle Bartow was hanged for stealing horses.
“It stuck in my mind,” said Nix, now 56. “It got me curious. I wanted to find out more about this guy.”
So he started asking family members. The nicest response: “We don’t talk about him.”
Which only stoked his curiosity even more.
Fast-forward to 1995, when Nix finally gathered enough courage to pursue the truth. He went to the family’s cemetery off Buena Vista Road, wrote down the date of Bartow’s death at 34, Nov. 7, 1919, and visited the now-closed W.C. Bradley Memorial Library. He read on microfilm that day’s Columbus Ledger, then the city’s evening paper. The front-page, triple-deck headline blared:
“NIX PAYS THE DEATH PENALTY
For Double Murder in Muscogee County,
Dying on The Gallows This Afternoon”
Double murder? No wonder his relatives were mum about the black sheep of the family.
“Dad,” he thought, “you lied to me.”
Nix now offers parents this advice:
“If your kids ever get curious, tell them the truth,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re going to dig, and something’s going to pop out of the closet.”
Something like a book. Something like “Deranged Justice: The Law and Lunacy of Bartow Grover Nix” by Jeffery A. Nix, which Bygone Era Books published this month.
He wasn’t mad, Nix said, “just disappointed. Why hide it? You didn’t have nothing to do with it. Why hide it? The whole family lived under a shadow of the shame of that. And, by God, I knew there was two sides to every story, and this was no different.
“I had to dig. I had to. If you’ll pardon the pun, I dig it.”
That launched two decades of research. Nix, a 1977 graduate of Kendrick High School, had more time to devote to this project after he retired in 2005 from the Columbus Consolidated Government, where he was graphics supervisor.
Nix found the story behind the story. Bartow was convicted of two double murders 14 years apart:
▪ In 1903, at age 17, Bartow used a shotgun to kill a farmer, Jonathan Taylor Edwards, and his young-adult son, William Jefferson Edwards, during a years-long dispute over 17½ acres adjacent to his father’s property, near what now is the intersection of Buena Vista Road and Amber Drive in Columbus. Bartow was sentenced to life in prison, but Gov. Joseph Terrell granted him executive clemency four years later.
▪ Bartow didn’t receive the same grace the next time he needed a governor’s help. In 1917, at age 32, Bartow used a pistol to kill Charles Leslie “Les” Alexander and a hammer to kill Jesse Everidge, brother of Columbus alderman J.B. Everidge, over a bootlegging deal gone bad. Although affidavits from 12 officials, including the sheriff, warned that Bartow was in danger of being lynched, his request for a change of venue was denied. Despite being diagnosed with syphilis and the resulting mental and physical problems, the Georgia Supreme Court denied his appeal. And despite the state’s expert, Roger Swint, declaring Bartow “psychopathic” in a telegram to Gov. Hugh Dorsey, the official letter inexplicably never reached the governor, and the governor refused to intervene.
“Let me make myself very clear,” Nix said. “I’m not saying the man was a saint and should have been pardoned or nothing like that. I’m not saying that at all.”
What he is saying, Nix said, is that Bartow “was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. He would have been dead anyway. I know they would have lynched him. It was the whole mentality at the time.”
Nix hired independent researcher Don Evans of Morrow, Ga., who lives about 2 miles from the state archives, to help him find the documents that were crucial for his book. In an email to Nix, Evans wrote:
“I have been doing research at the Archives for years, and as such have looked into a lot of different court cases. I personally have never seen a case history that includes this much documentation, especially the trial transcripts. It must have been a very important case, perhaps because of the mental health aspect. I look forward to reading it at my leisure once I get the copies.”
Daniel Willis, founder and owner of Denver-based Bygone Era Books, said this is “exactly the type” of story his company seeks: “well-researched historical works that might appeal to a more niche audience. Most publishers will not touch works that do not have a more general broad appeal to them. Since we are a very small press, we can tailor our promotions to accommodate these niche market titles.”
Bygone Era Books received more than 800 queries last year but chose only 16 to publish, Willis said, so Nix’s text proved among the most compelling.
“The amount of research he has put into this is phenomenal,” Willis said. “… It is clear he went to every original source available and did not just rely on Google searches.”
Bartow’s illness combined with the way his case was handled prompted Nix to use “Deranged Justice” as the title for his book. But what he discovered was more relief than frustration.
“It’s actually been a release for me,” he said. “Now that the cat’s out of the bag, the mystery is over with.”
The relatives who shushed his questions about Bartow now are deceased. “If they were still alive,” he said, “they would be hopping mad.”
How to buy the book
“Deranged Justice: The Law and Lunacy of Bartow Grover Nix” by Jeffrey A. Nix is a 329-page paperback available for $24.95 through the publisher at BygoneEraBooks.com and at all major retail book websites, such as Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. Copies also are on sale at Judy Bugs Books, 1033 Broadway, in Columbus.