On this journey of researching my family history, I'm constantly surprised by how many relatives there actually are, the diversity of what they did for a living, and the uncovering of a very interesting (or sad) tale about a cousin or other relative I never met. Now I know that some people are going to think I have no right to write about someone I have never met just because I am related to them. And there is some truth to that. However, I do not write about anyone to judge or to elicit a thrill in my readers. I write to share the history of my family. Careers, how many children they had, how many times they were married, their cause of death, if they were murdered, or if they murdered someone... all of that adds to the tapestry that is my family. Here I'm going to share another story about a relative that I never had the opportunity to meet.
In the email that Amy Johnson Crow sent out about this week's theme, she put some suggestions out there for this topic of Service. Most people would probably think of military service first. But then she mentioned service station owners... and the following came to me.
On December 20, 1970, Joe Milton Fletcher, age 59, a gasoline service station attendant, was robbed and murdered for $73 while at work at the station. He was murdered simply for money and so he couldn't identify who killed him. His killer's story reads like the stories we read today about criminals, their crimes, and whether they should be paroled.
William Joseph 'Junior' Pierce was born in Emanuel County, Georgia in 1931. He was described as a coward who would not hurt anyone who looked him in the eye. His parents divorced when he was 14, he quit the 10th grade at age 17, joined the Army, but his mother got him out on a hardship discharge within three months, his wife divorced him, and then ended up working at a furniture factory in Swainsboro. In 1959, Pierce was sentenced to 3-5 years for burglary. He served 32 months in a public works camp. After being free only a few weeks, he was arrested again for burglarizing and torching a Canoochee store. He got 10-20 years in state prison.
While serving his time, he was convicted of other burglaries, and that, along with an attempted prison break, got him 43-56 years. But in May 1970, Pierce was paroled even though a prison psychologist said he was a possible psychopath who might be a danger to himself or others.
Pierce was arrested less than a year later - on March 13, 1971 - originally for seven murders in south Georgia and South Carolina. By June, two more murders indictments had been added. His victims were:
- June 27, 1970: Ann Goodwin, 19, North Augusta, South Carolina was shot and and killed while babysitting
- July 1970: Virginia Main, 20, Gastonia, North Carolina
- August 1970: James Sires, 40, Beaufort, South Carolina
- December 13, 1970: Margaret "Peggy" Cuttino, age 13, of Sumter, South Carolina disappeared. When her body was found on December 26, she had been struck on the head and strangled.
- December 20, 1970: Joe M. Fletcher, 59, a Vidalia, Georgia service station attendant who was shot and killed during an apparent robbery. Joe was married to my 4th cousin, 1x, Dorothy Phillips.
- December 22, 1970: Kathy Jo Anderson, 17, disappeared from her Lexington, South Carolina home and her body was discovered February 17, 1971.
- January 12, 1971: Mrs. Lacy Thigpen, 51, of Treutlen County, Georgia, who was shot and killed during an apparent robbery of a rural grocery store near Soperton
- January 22, 1971: Helen H Wilcox, age 32, who disappeared from her husband's small country store near Hazlehurst, Georgia. Pierce himself led the Jeff Davis County Sheriff to Mrs. Wilcox's body after his arrest.
- January 28, 1971: Vivian Miles, age 60, Appling County, Georgia grocer who was shot and killed during an apparent robbery of her rural store. Her 5 year old granddaughter was severely beaten but survived.
|Now (after serving more than 48 years)|
Believe it or not, I found that Junior Pierce is still alive and serving his life sentences at Georgia Diagnostic Class Prison in Jackson. He is now 88 years old.
Four of his nine victims worked in small country stores or service stations. Like the convenience stores of today, those stores are dangerous because of either their rural location or the late hours they are open.
A dangerous person was paroled and then committed murder. Junior Pierce killed nine people before he was caught. Nine families destroyed. The families will never get over the pain of their loved one being murdered.
A felon was able to get a gun to go on a shooting spree.
History repeats itself.
* "State Parolee Accused in Seven Murder Cases," Marietta Journal, Marietta, Georgia, May 5, 1971.
* "Accused killer may await trial until October," The Augusta Chronicle, Tuesday, May 11, 1971.
* "Pierce trial postponed following judge's death," The Augusta Chronicle, September 20, 1971.
* "Cold-Blooded Killer," by Joseph McNamara, Daily News, New York, New York, Sunday, October 3, 1999, page 54.
* "Serial Murderer, now 88, Still in Prison," Jeff David Ledger, Hazlehurst, Georgia, October 23, 2019, online, https://www.jdledger.com/2019/10/23/serial-murderer-now-88-still-in-prison/