After 83-year-old Peggy Gamble was found slain in her Columbus home, her youngest daughter said she couldn’t understand why anyone would harm the elderly woman considered “a mother of the church.”
“If they wanted her car all they had to do was say, ‘Give me that car,’ and she would have said, ‘Here are the keys,’” Cenneta Gunn, Gamble’s youngest daughter, said Tuesday in an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer. “It wasn’t like it was a 2017 Cadillac. She would have just given it to them. Why you gonna kill her? Oh, God. I tell you it’s devastating. It’s unreal.”
Gamble, a beloved matriarch of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church, was found Monday afternoon slain in her home at 2324 Eighth St. Her untimely death shocked relatives and friends who described her as someone always willing to help others.
Muscogee County Coroner Buddy Bryan said her body was found in a hallway adjacent to a bedroom. Rigor mortis had completely set in, meaning that her joints and muscles had stiffened. She was pronounced dead at 1:34 p.m.
“It wasn’t really cold, which speeds up rigor mortis,” said Bryan, who declined to release her cause of death. “She had been dead a good 8 to 10 hours.”
Gunn said her mother lived alone, but Gunn and her sister checked on her daily. She tried calling her mother at 10:20 a.m. Monday morning, but couldn’t reach her, so she called a next door neighbor who usually looks out for her mother. That’s when she discovered the car was gone.
At first, Gunn thought her mother had gone to the store or the hairdresser, but then she learned that Gamble’s neighbor had left her newspaper on the back porch at 7 a.m. When they discovered it was still there, they became concerned.
Gunn and her sister, Miriam Short, went to the house, she said. Her sister found Gamble’s pocketbook on the kitchen counter and called 911. When police arrived, they found her body.
Gunn said Gamble’s sister called her Tuesday and said, “All I can think about is Peggy on the floor crying.’”
“I said, ‘Me too, that’s all I could see last night in my sleep is her lying on the floor somewhere in the house,’” Gunn said Tuesday.
Gunn said she and her family spent Thanksgiving in Destin, Fla., and her mother spent the holiday in Atlanta at a granddaughter’s house.
Before leaving town, Gamble baked two buttermilk pies and two chocolate cakes for both houses. She also sent boxes of Christmas cookies for all the children who spent the holiday in Destin, with each box labeled with a child’s name.
“That was just her,” Gunn said. “Always thinking of others.”
The Rev. Marcus Gibson, pastor of Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church, said Gamble was a deacon’s widow who served in the Missionary Society, Sunday School and 50 Plus senior ministry.
“When persons had loss in their families, she was the one who sent out condolences and issued cards of bereavement on behalf of the church,” he said. “She was always trying to help somebody. And here we have a person who spent her life helping persons, now having her life being taken by persons who care nothing about life.
“I’m outraged, I’m hurt, I’m bewildered,” Gibson said. “We are again challenged to look at evil incarnate with this situation. Evil is real, and it’s perpetrated by people who have no sense of decency, who have no sense of empathy, who have no sense of concern for people with whom they share community.”
Doris Carde, 86, said she and Gamble had a 70-year friendship. They raised their children together in the neighborhood around Shady Grove Missionary Baptist Church. In addition to Gunn and Short, Gamble also has a son, Richard Gamble, who lives in St. Mary’s, Ga., and she has five grandchildren, relatives said.
Gamble’s late husband, Lewis Gamble Jr., worked as a surveyor for the city for many years, Carde said, and she worked in the medical supply department at Cobb Memorial Hospital in Phenix city before retirement.
Carde said she last spoke to Gamble on Sunday night, sometime between 8 p.m. and midnight. She said Gamble told her someone was at the door and she was going to see who it was. Gamble said she would call her back later, but never did, Carde said. Now, she wonders if that’s when the deadly incident occurred.
Investigators found evidence that someone had broken into the home, and a beige 1988 Toyota Corolla was missing. The car was found abandoned Monday night in an unspecified location in Columbus, Police Maj. Gil Slouchick said. He declined to give any additional details about the case, but he confirmed that no suspects have been identified.
Gamble’s body remains at the morgue and will be transported to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab in Atlanta for an autopsy, the coroner said Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re still in the real early stages of the investigation,” Slouchick said.
Carde said she still reeling from news that someone would kill her friend, who loved music, movies and spending time with loved ones. She said Gamble suffered from heart problems in recent years and had a pacemaker, but she remained active in the church and community.
“She was a very energetic, Christian woman who loved her family and friends,” she said. “If someone needed help, she would be one of the first ones to contribute in the community. She was kind. She was loveable.”
Gibson said crime is a growing concern in the black community.
“There used to be a time when folks would not attack an elderly person and folks would not disrespect their elders,” Gibson said. “But we have a situation now where young people do not respect elders, where they do not respect a person’s property, where they do not respect life, period.
“There’s something that’s going on in the culture, and I’m talking about black sub-culture,” he said. “The recent rash of break-ins, and killings and things that’s going on are particularly germane to us. And it requires us, who live in our communities, to do what we can to take back our communities for some sense of civility, some sense of decency; to focus people back to spiritual principles and what it means to live in community with others.”
Staff writers Sarah Robinson and Tim Chitwood contributed to this report.