Looking Back: Carlton Gary and the Stocking Stranglings
Judge Frank Jordan Jr. gave convicted “Stocking Strangler” Carlton Gary’s defense team a boost Thursday when he allowed into evidence a police sketch from a rape that preceded the heinous Columbus serial killings of 1977 and ’78.
The sketch came from rape victim Gertrude Miller, 64, who under hypnosis on Oct. 29, 1977, described the man who climbed into her bedroom window, beat her with a board and raped her the previous Sept. 11. He left behind knotted stockings he’d taken from her dresser.
By Oct. 29, four older women had been raped and strangled by the killer who came to be called the “Stocking Strangler” because he typically used stockings to strangle women to death. Three more would die before the stranglings ended with the last murder on April 20, 1978.
Police decided Miller was the strangler’s first victim, her assault a precursor to what would follow.
Desperate for leads in the fall of 1977, they persuaded Miller to undergo hypnosis to compile the police sketch.
Gary in 1986 was convicted in three of the seven stranglings and sentenced to death. His defense team since has been trying to win him a new trial. His attorneys were in court again Thursday for a hearing on evidence they say cast doubt on Gary’s guilt. One piece of that evidence is the sketch, which does not resemble Gary.
Prosecutors objected that under Georgia law, evidence derived through hypnosis is not admissible in court. Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly told Jordan the court precedent prohibiting such evidence dates back to 1974.
Among those testifying Thursday was August “Bud” Siemon, Gary’s 1986 trial attorney. Siemon said he heard about the sketch during Gary’s trial and tried to get a copy of it, but never got one. He did get a transcript of a recording made while the sketch was being drawn, and used that to cross-examine Miller during the trial.
Miller identified Gary in court as the intruder who raped her. She since has died.
The sketch shows a man wearing a distinctive shirt with a fruit pattern on it. The defense claims that doesn’t fit Gary, either.
“Carlton wouldn’t have worn something that looked like it came out of Goodwill,” Siemon testified. “Carlton was very stylish.” He noted Gary occasionally modeled for a local clothing store.
Though the sketch was never shown at Gary’s trial, it turned up last year when the son-in-law of a deceased sheriff’s investigator found a briefcase stored in an attic. It contained files from the Stocking Strangler investigation, including the sketch.
Prosecutors objected to its admission not only because it was rendered under hypnosis, but also because no witness is alive to authenticate it. The investigator who arranged the hypnosis and signed the sketch, Herman Boone, has since died.
After hours of testimony and argument, Jordan ruled the sketch was admissible because prosecutors did not object to Siemon’s using the hypnosis transcript while cross-examining Miller in 1986. The prosecution waived any objection at that time, Jordan said.
The hearing is to resume at 10 a.m. Friday in Jordan’s Government Center courtroom.
Once the hearing is concluded, Jordan may grant Gary a new trial, deny his motion for a new trial, or set a hearing on commuting Gary’s death sentence, attorneys said. Any decision Jordan makes may be appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Today Gary is 66 years old. He narrowly escaped execution Dec. 16, 2009, when the state Supreme Court issued a last-minute stay, sending the case back to Muscogee County Superior Court to consider DNA-testing suitable stranglings evidence.
After reviewing that evidence, prosecutors and defense attorneys on Feb. 19, 2010, agreed to DNA-test four items from three of the seven murders.
The results did not clarify the case:
On Dec. 14, 2010, attorneys said the initial DNA test results matched Gary to the Sept. 24, 1977, rape and strangling of Jean Dimenstein, but not the Oct. 25, 1977, murder of Martha Thurmond. The defense then sought testing on clothes police collected from Gertrude Miller the morning after she was raped and beaten.
On March 6, 2012, attorneys said tests of the Miller evidence yielded a DNA profile that did not match Gary.
On Nov. 21, 2013, District Attorney Julia Slater announced the Thurmond DNA test was tainted at the state crime lab and thus invalid. The flawed test used up the crime-scene sample police had collected.
With mixed DNA results, attorneys continue to argue over other evidence, and whether any casting doubt on Gary’s guilt could have swayed the jury to acquit him in 1986.
Here are the seven strangling victims:
- On Sept. 16, 1977, Mary Willis “Fern” Jackson, 59, of 2505 17th St., was found brutally beaten, raped and strangled with a stocking and sash.
- On Sept. 24, 1977, Jean Dimenstein, 71, was found raped and strangled with a stocking in her home that then had the address 3027 21st St. (the street has since been renamed).
- On Oct. 21, 1977, Florence Scheible, 89, was found raped and strangled with a stocking in her 1941 Dimon St. home, which now has a different address.
- On Oct. 25, 1977, Martha Thurmond, 70, was found raped and strangled with a stocking in her 2614 Marion St. home.
- On Dec. 28, 1977, Kathleen Woodruff, 74, was found raped and strangled in her 1811 Buena Vista Road home, which later was demolished during an Aflac expansion.
- On Feb. 12, 1978, Mildred Borom, 78, 1612 Forest Ave., was found raped and strangled with a cord cut from window blinds.
- On April 20, 1978, Janet Cofer, 61, of 3783 Steam Mill Road, was found raped and strangled with a stocking.
After that, the stranglings ended. Police said Gary started robbing restaurants and moved to Greenville, S.C., where that fall he earned the nickname “Steakhouse Bandit.” He went to jail for armed robbery Feb. 22, 1979.
He escaped March 15, 1984, and returned to Georgia, where authorities arrested him in Albany the following May 3.
On Aug. 26, 1986, a jury found him guilty of killing Scheible, Thurmond and Woodruff. The next day jurors sentenced him to death.
CARLTON GARY TIMELINE
This timeline was compiled from Columbus police, court records and Ledger-Enquirer archives:
• Sept. 24, 1950, Carlton Michael Gary is born in Columbus, Ga., where he lives until age 16, when he moves with his mother to Fort Myers, Fla., and later Gainesville, Fla.
• Sept. 3, 1964, Gary attends Carver High School.
• Nov. 18, 1965, Gary attends Spencer High School.
• Jan. 31, 1966, Gary returns to Carver High School and later transfers to Dunbar High School in Fort Myers, Fla.
• Oct. 31, 1967, Gary’s charged with breaking into an automobile in Gainesville, Fla.
• March 17, 1968, Gary’s charged with arson in Gainesville, Fla.
• Nov. 26, 1969, Gary’s charged with assaulting a police officer in Bridgeport, Conn.
• April 14, 1970, Nellie Farmer, 85, is raped and strangled and her body left covered in her home in the Wellington Hotel, Albany, N.Y. Gary’s fingerprint is found at the scene. Gary claims another man killed Farmer, and is convicted only of robbery.
• July 15, 1970, Gary’s sentenced to 10 years in prison for robbery.
• March 31, 1975, Gary is released from prison and moves to Syracuse, N.Y.
• June 27, 1975, the body of Marion Fisher, 40, is found on a road just outside Syracuse. She was raped and strangled. Authorities in 2007 say they match Gary’s DNA to the cold-case evidence.
• July 25, 1975, Gary’s charged with escape, resisting arrest and violating parole.
• July 17, 1976, Gary’s released on parole.
• Sept. 3, 1976, Gary’s charged with assault.
• Jan. 2, 1977, Jean Frost, 55, is raped and nearly choked to death in her home in Syracuse, N.Y. Gary has a watch taken from Frost’s home when police arrest him two days later. Again he blames another man for the assault. He is charged with possessing stolen property, resisting arrest, perjury and assault.
• Aug. 23, 1977, Gary escapes from New York’s Onandaga County prison by jumping from a third-floor window. He goes home to Columbus, where he soon moves to 1027 Fisk Ave.
• Sept. 11, 1977, Gertrude Miller, 64, is beaten with a board and raped in her 2703 Hood St. home, about two blocks from Fisk Avenue. Her assailant leaves behind knotted stockings he took from her dresser. She in 1986 identifies Gary as the rapist.
• Sept. 16, 1977, Mary Willis “Fern” Jackson, 59, of 2505 17th St., is found brutally beaten, raped and strangled with a stocking and sash. Her body is left covered. Her stolen car is later found on Benner Avenue near Fisk Avenue.
• Sept. 24, 1977, Jean Dimenstein, 71, is found raped and strangled with a stocking in her home that then had the address 3027 21st St. (the street has since been renamed). Her body was left covered with sheets and a pillow Later tests match Gary’s DNA to crime-scene evidence.
• Oct. 4, 1977, Gary moves to 3231 Old Buena Vista Road.
• Oct. 8, 1977, the 1427 Eberhart Avenue home of sisters Callye East, 75, and Nellie Sanderson, 78, is burglarized. Sanderson’s son Henry is visiting. The intruder steals his Toyota, which has a .22-caliber Ruger pistol under the seat. The car’s left on Buena Vista Road.
• Oct. 21, 1977, Florence Scheible, 89, is found raped and strangled with a stocking in her 1941 Dimon St. home, which today has a different address. Her body was left covered. Gary's right thumbprint was found on a door frame leading into Scheible's bedroom.
• Oct. 25, 1977, Martha Thurmond, 70, is found raped and strangled with a stocking in her 2614 Marion St. home. Her body was covered by a pillow, blankets and sheets. Gary's fingerprint is found on the frame of a rear bedroom window.
• Nov. 11, 1977, Gary moves to 2829 Ninth St. and gets a job working the late shift at Golden’s Foundry.
• Dec. 16, 1977, Gary leaves the foundry job.
• Dec. 20, 1977, the 1710 Buena Vista Road home of William Swift is burglarized while the residents are away. Swift later discovers the burglar removed bars from a kitchen window to get in, then set the bars back on the windowsill. Detectives later say Swift never told police this; Gary did.
• Dec. 28, 1977, Kathleen Woodruff, 74, is found raped and strangled in her 1811 Buena Vista Road home, which later was demolished during an Aflac expansion. Gary's right little fingerprint is found on the aluminum window screen where the intruder entered, and his palm print is found on the windowsill just inside.
• Jan. 1, 1978, the 2021 Brookside Drive home of Abraham Illges, who is 85 and whose wife is 75, is burglarized and a Cadillac stolen. The car’s left at a restaurant on Victory Drive. Police say Gary later refers to this home as “the castle.”
• Feb. 11, 1978, Ruth Schwob, 74, of 1800 Carter Ave., is nearly strangled to death by an intruder she fights off, pressing a panic alarm by her bed. Police find her sitting on the edge of her bed, gasping, a stocking wrapped around her neck.
• Feb. 11, 1978, the Illges home is burglarized again, but the intruder triggers an alarm and flees. Police said Gary later told them he ran and hid in Wildwood Park.
• Feb. 12, 1978, Mildred Borom, 78, 1612 Forest Ave., about two blocks from Schwob’s home on the west side of Wildwood Park, is found raped and strangled with a cord cut from window blinds. Her body’s covered with a garment. This series of rapid events becomes known as “The Night of Terrors.”
• April 20, 1978, Janet Cofer, 61, of 3783 Steam Mill Road, is found raped and strangled with a stocking. A pillow covers her face. Police find Cofer’s stolen car on Mill Road.
• April 20, 1978, Gary robs the Burger King at 3520 Macon Road.
• May 14, 1978, Gary robs the Hungry Hunter restaurant at 1834 Midtown Drive.
• Sept. 4, 1978, Gary robs the Western Sizzlin restaurant at 4385 Victory Drive.
• Sept. 22, 1978, Gary robs the Talk of the Town restaurant in Greenville, S.C.
• Oct. 8, 1978, Gary robs the Ryan’s Steakhouse in Greenville.
• Oct. 19, 1978, Gary robs the Western Sizzlin steakhouse in Greenville.
• Nov. 5, 1978, Gary robs the Po’ Folks restaurant in Greenville.
• Dec. 7, 1978, Gary robs Jack’s Steak House in Greenville.
• Feb. 15, 1979, having earned the nickname “Steakhouse Bandit,” Gary robs a Po’ Folks restaurant in Gafney, S.C., and is arrested the next day.
• Feb. 22, 1979, Gary is convicted of armed robbery in Greenville County, S.C.
• March 29, 1979, Gary is convicted of armed robbery in Cherokee County, S.C.
• March 15, 1984, he escapes from a prison in Columbia, S.C., and returns to Columbus.
• April 3, 1984, Gary robs a Po’ Folks restaurant on the 280 Bypass in Phenix City and rapes a woman who works there.
• April 10, 1984, Henry Sanderson calls Columbus police to ask about the Ruger pistol taken from his Toyota in the 1977 Eberhart Avenue burglary. A detective sends out a nationwide alert for the gun, which turns up in Michigan and is traced back to Gary.
• April 16, 1984, Gary robs a Wendy’s restaurant in Gainesville, Fla.
• April 22, 1984, Gary robs a McDonald’s restaurant in Montgomery, Ala.
• April 28, 1984, Gary robs the County Seat Store in the Oaks Mall of Gainesville, Fla.
• April 30, 1984, prompted by Sanderson’s call and the gun trace, copies of Gary’s fingerprints arrive at the Columbus Police Department, where one is matched to a print found on the frame of a screen removed from Woodruff’s home.
• May 3, 1984, authorities arrest Gary in Albany, Ga.
• May 4, 1984, from around midnight until 3:30 a.m., Gary takes investigators on a tour of homes he tells them he broke into. He blames the stranglings on another man.
• May 8, 1984, Gary attempts suicide in jail.
• May 9, 1984, then Superior Court Judge John Land appoints attorneys William Kirby and Stephen Hyles to represent Gary.
• Aug. 28, 1984, attorney August “Bud” Siemon becomes Gary’s lead defense counsel.
• Oct. 11, 1984, attorney Bruce Harvey becomes Gary’s co-counsel. Attorney Gary Parker joins the defense team the following December.
• Feb. 8, 1985, Siemon files a motion asking Judge Land to recuse himself because he has personal knowledge of the case. Land recuses himself.
• May 13, 1985, Judge E. Mullins Whisnant is assigned the case.
• May 22, 1985, Siemon files a motion asking Whisnant to recuse himself because he was the district attorney during the strangling.
• May 20, 1985, Whisnant recuses himself and the case is assigned to Judge Kenneth Followill.
• Dec. 18, 1985, Parker withdraws as co-counsel after Followill refuses to grant the defense team funds for an investigator.
• Dec. 29, 1985, Gary tries to escape from jail.
• March 10, 1986, on the day Gary’s trial is to start, he refuses to get dressed and come to court. Harvey files a motion questioning Gary’s competency to stand trial, saying the defendant’s mental health is in decline. Followill orders a psychological evaluation.
• March 24, 1986, Gary goes to Georgia Central State Hospital in Milledgeville for his evaluation, but refuses to cooperate with doctors.
• April 21, 1986, Followill holds a trial to determine Gary’s mental competency.
• April 28, 1986, the jury finds Gary competent for trial.
• June 9, 1986, Gary’s trial is set to begin, but Siemon files for a change of venue.
• July 2, 1986, Followill decides that instead of moving the trial, the court will bring jurors from Griffin, Ga., to hear the case.
• July 7, 1986, Harvey withdraws, leaving Siemon as Gary’s only lawyer.
• Aug. 11, 1986, Gary’s trial begins.
• Aug. 26, 1986, the jury finds Gary guilty in three of the seven stranglings, though then District Attorney Bill Smith maintains one perpetrator committed all seven along with the attack on Miller and Schwob. Smith used evidence from the other cases to illustrate a pattern of criminal behavior.
• Aug. 27, 1986, the jury sentences Gary to death.
• Sept. 25, 1986, Gary moves for a new trial. His motion’s denied the following Oct. 18, and he appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court.
• June 26, 1987, the Georgia Supreme Court sends the case back to Columbus, instructing the court here to determine whether Gary had ineffective counsel.
• Nov. 4, 1987, Followill holds hearings to determine the effectiveness of Gary’s defense.
• June 12, 1989, Followill rules Gary failed to show his counsel was ineffective.
• March 6, 1990, the Georgia Supreme court upholds Followill’s ruling and reaffirms Gary’s conviction and death sentence.
• Jan. 27, 1995, the superior court of Butts County, Ga., where Gary is imprisoned, rejects one of his habeas corpus appeals.
• Nov. 13, 1995, the court rejects another of Gary’s habeas corpus appeals.
• Nov. 18, 1997, Gary files a habeas corpus appeal in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.
• Sept. 28, 2004, the federal court rejects Gary’s appeal, and he appeals to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
• Nov. 9, 2005, then-Coroner James Dunnavant finds a bite-cast mold made from teeth marks on Janet Cofer’s body. It has been missing since Dunnavant’s predecessor Don Kilgore died.
• Nov. 23, 2005, the appeals court sends the case back to U.S. District Court to consider the bite-mark evidence.
• Feb. 14, 2007, the district court holds a hearing and decides the bite cast would not have bolstered Gary’s defense and again rejects his appeal. Gary again appeals to the 11thCircuit.
• Feb. 12, 2009, the 11th Circuit rejects Gary’s appeal. He appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.
• Dec. 1, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Gary’s appeal. His execution is set for the following Dec. 16.
• Dec. 16, 2009, Gary is hours away from execution when the Georgia Supreme Court issues a stay and sends the case back to Muscogee Superior Court to consider DNA testing evidence.
• Feb. 19, 2010, prosecutors and defense attorneys agree to DNA test suitable evidence samples, four items from three cases: Dimenstein, Scheible and Woodruff.
• Dec. 14, 2010, attorneys say the initial DNA test results match Gary to the murder of Jean Dimenstein but not Martha Thurmond. The defense seeks testing on clothes from Gertrude Miller the morning after she was raped and beaten.
• March 6, 2012, tests of the Miller evidence yield a DNA profile that does not match Gary. The prosecution says the defense can’t prove Miller was wearing the garments when raped.
• Nov. 21, 2013, District Attorney Julia Slater announces the Thurmond DNA test was tainted at the state crime lab and thus invalid.
• February 24-28, 2014, Judge Frank Jordan Jr. holds evidentiary hearings on Gary’s new trial motion.
• June 16, 2015, defense files briefs based on the hearing.
• Aug. 17, 2015, the state files its response to the defense.
• Nov. 6, 2015, the prosecution files its motion opposing a new trial.
• Dec. 11, 2015, the defense files its response to the state.
• Jan. 11, 2016, Doug Grubbs, son-in-law of sheriff’s investigator Don Miller, in the attic finds a briefcase containing files on the stranglings and turns it over to the sheriff’s office.
• Jan. 27, 2016, the defense is told of the briefcase.
• Feb. 3, 2016, both sides meet to inspect the documents.
• April 29, 2016, defense files motions based on the briefcase evidence. It amends its motions on May 30, Aug. 9 and Aug. 11.
• Aug. 19, 2016, the prosecution responds, leaving Judge Jordan to decide whether to hold an evidentiary hearing on a composite sketch found in the briefcase. On Nov. 17, 2016, he sets the hearing for Jan. 12, 2017.