The judge who’ll decide whether convicted “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary should get a new trial heard Thursday from police who conducted cold-case investigations into the stranglings and a New York case in which Gary was implicated.
The New York case was the June 27, 1975, rape and strangling of Marion Fisher, 40, of Syracuse, found dead beside a golf course.
In 2007, then-Syracuse Police Lt. Ron Rockwood and other cold-case investigators reviewed the Fisher evidence and determined a red towel found 50 feet from her body was suitable for DNA testing. The test matched Carlton Gary’s DNA.
Rockwood and a partner then came to Georgia’s death-row prison in Jackson to question Gary. As soon as the inmate heard where they were from, he said: “I’ve already danced that dance,” Rockwood testified Thursday before Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr.
Gary may have been referring to the Jan. 2, 1977, assault on 55-year-old Jean Frost of Syracuse, whom an intruder raped and choked until she was unconscious. Arrested two days later, Gary was found to have the victim’s watch in his pocket.
Rockwood said he told Gary at the prison that police had “new developments,” and Gary agreed to hear what they had. They asked about a bar where Fisher had last been seen, and Gary remembered it was just past a shopping plaza called “Green Hills” and had a big parking lot in the rear, Rockwood said.
He said Gary recalled talking to three women in the bar, one of whom was intoxicated after having argued with her husband. Shown a photo of Fisher, Gary said she might have been the woman he met; he wasn’t sure, Rockwood testified.
Rockwood said Gary told investigators he and the woman had sex on the hood of a car in the bar parking lot, and then she walked away while he went back inside.
Fisher’s body was found the next morning on the roadside 2½ miles from the bar, Rockwood said.
Judge Jordan will not consider Rockwood’s testimony when deciding whether Gary gets a new trial. The defense objected that Rockwood didn’t investigate Fisher’s homicide in 1975, so the detective could not attest to where the evidence was found.
Jordan agreed, but prosecutors persuaded him to allow Rockwood’s testimony so it would be in the court record for higher courts to review on appeal.
Following Rockwood on the witness stand was Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren, who was a detective assigned to follow up on the stranglings when police identified Gary as a likely suspect in 1984.
Boren said a break in the case came when a gun taken from a home on Columbus’ Eberhart Avenue turned up in Michigan.
A burglar had taken the gun Oct. 8, 1977, from the home of Callye East. An intruder taking loot from the house found the keys to a guest’s car and stole it, abandoning the vehicle on Buena Vista Road after taking the gun from under the seat.
The gun belonged to Harry Sanderson, who years later called Columbus police to ask about it. Officers tracking the gun traced it to Jim Gary of Phenix City, Carlton Gary’s uncle. Jim Gary told police he got the gun from his nephew, Boren said.
Because the Eberhart Avenue burglary was contemporary to the stranglings and in the same area, police saw Carlton Gary as a possible stranglings suspect and got copies of his fingerprints from his previous arrests.
The hunt for Gary intensified when police determined his fingerprint matched one found on a window screen where the strangler broke into 74-year-old Kathleen Woodruff’s 1811 Buena Vista Road home, where she was found raped and murdered Dec. 28, 1977.
Albany, Ga., police arrested Gary on May 3, 1984. Columbus police drove over that day to bring him back.
Boren testified Gary that night offered to take police on a tour of homes he’d burglarized, so Boren and other investigators started driving him around midtown.
First they went by the 2505 17th St. house where the first stranglings victim, Ferne Jackson, 60, was found dead Sept. 15, 1977, Boren said. Asked whether he’d been inside the home, Gary replied he couldn’t say either way, Boren testified.
Gary would talk about other victims’ homes he had been in, Boren said, but he always blamed an accomplice for the homicides.
The police chief gave this account of Gary’s admissions that night in 1984:
At 1612 Forest Ave., Gary recalled that a big, strong woman had lived there, and said she put up a struggle with his accomplice, but “everything turned out OK.” This was Mildred Borom, 78, found dead Feb. 12, 1978.
At 1800 Carter Ave., Gary remembered his accomplice almost got caught because an alarm sounded while he was inside. This was the home of Ruth Schwob, 71, who fought an intruder trying to strangle her and punched a bedside panic alarm.
Traveling north on Cherokee Avenue, Gary told officers to turn on Dimon Street, and pointed out a home where he said a lady using a walker had lived. He and his accomplice slipped into a side door while the woman was outside looking the other way, he said. Gary said he left his accomplice there and learned the next day the woman had been killed.
This was the 1941 Dimon St. home of Florence Scheible, 89, found dead Oct. 21, 1977.
After pointing out the Eberhart Avenue house where he’d stolen the gun that led to his arrest, Gary rode with police to Cross Country Plaza, then had them turn around and drive west. Then he saw the carport door the strangler took off its hinges to get into 71-year-old Jean Dimenstein’s home on Sept. 24, 1977. Again he told police his accomplice committed the crime.
Next Gary asked about a Marion Street home where a teacher lived. After they found the house, Gary told them he and his accomplice got into the home by dismantling a door lock, and it was where he saw his accomplice straddling the woman before covering her body.
Gary had mentioned Kathleen Woodruff, so as they passed near her house, a detective asked him whether the wrong home was hers. He corrected the officer, pointing out the correct house. He said he and an accomplice removed a rear screen and pried open the window to get in. He said he later saw his cohort drag the woman down a hall, fling her onto a bed and undo his pants.
Boren said police were so fatigued they ended the interview about 3:30 a.m. May 4, 1984, forgetting to drive by the 3783 Steam Mill Road where Janet Cofer, 61, was found dead April 20, 1978.
Defense attorney Jack Martin challenged Boren’s account, noting detectives had neither recorded the interview nor taken notes. Boren said investigators feared Gary would stop talking if they used a tape recorder or took notes.