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Issue 23, July-September 2012
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Its Eyes Was Flickering
by Joe Samuel Starnes
followed by Q&A
June 17, 2009
Memo to the Honorable Franklin T. Stone III, Interim Director
Georgia Bureau of Investigation 
From: Agent Ward “Sonny” Hawkins Jr.
RE: Inactive Status Case Request GBI-2001-4356 

Dear Honorable Director Stone, This memo pertains to the investigation of an incident that has been under GBI purview since May 29, 2001. It has been thoroughly investigated by me and local sheriff’s authorities with no leads since the date of the incident. There have been no reported or alleged sightings of the suspect other than that of an eyewitness at the scene. Fingerprints of the suspect were not obtainable but we have created sketches of him and circulated these in the Georgia/Alabama vicinity. Achieving a resolution to this case became more difficult recently with the passing of the only eye witness. The death of the 90-year-old witness reportedly was due to a lingering infection in his leg stemming from an old hunting accident unrelated to this case. I am requesting your approval to declare the status of the investigation Inactive until leads or witnesses come forward, a situation that is highly unlikely. Case File GBI-2001-4356 attached. Signed and Attested: Agent Ward “Sonny” Hawkins Jr. 

PS Note for Wanda: Please be sure to move this one from the “unsolved” files to the “inactive” files in order to make the upcoming annual statistical report collate accurately.

May 27, 2001, 4 p.m. ET, Sunday Afternoon
Achena County Sheriffs Incident Narrative Addendum Report
Filed by Sgt. Ricky Knox Jr.

Complaintant called the sheriffs office and said we had had a 10-58 down at RON GENTRYS Old Feed and Seed at the Duck Hill crossroads. Its not a feed and seed “anymore” although everyone calls it that. Its an ice house establishment with beer and beef jerky. Sometimes he serves sausage biscuits his mamma makes in the months after she has killed a hog. He also has a bait shop and video poker machine store on the premises. His mamma works at the store in the morning. MR. GENTRY 81 of 3 Drowning Creek Road in Duck Hill works there in the evenings. Or I should say WORKED there. He is the VICTIM. Mr. Gentrys mamma GERALDINE 97 also of 3 Drowning Creek Road was not present at the time of the alleged incident. I tried to contact her but neighbors said she reportedly goes to sleep for the night at 3:00 pm Eastern Standard Time in the afternoon and turns off her telephone. She will be notified in the morning.

I got to the scene approximately thirty-four minutes after the alleged 10-58 and confirmed that it was in fact a 10-58 and ALSO a 10-44. I was belated in my arrival to the alleged scene as the first two dispatches on the radio were unbeknownst to me in my fishing boat. I thought Sheriff Bragg was on duty but according to Norene he had took off to the lake his own self. At the crime scene I found Mr.WILLIE P SLAUGHTER 82 of 5 Drowning Creek Road playing video poker on a machine situated rightways inside the entrance by the front door. He is a regular fixture at the video poker machine at Mr. Gentrys store. I interviewed Mr. Slaughter and he gave me a statement but he refused to stop playing video poker during the interview because he said he was up $130 dollars for the day and almost $275 for the Memorial Day Weekend. He paused briefly to show me his roll of cash as evidence to this amount. He also refused to write his statement down because his “AWFULRITIS” was too painful to permit him to use a pen although he seemed to be working the buttons on the video poker machine just fine. I pointed out the alleged DISCREPANCY in the situation. He said the motion required to mash the button delivering new cards in the poker game was different. He said it does not require a grip. He held up his hand and demonstrated he had a hard time bending his fingers. He then proceeded to make a few unChristianlike jokes about things that required a grip until I asked him to tell me what happened to Mr. Gentry.

Mr. Slaughter said the 10-58 happened in a JIFFY. He said he was nearing a royal flush just short of a King when a tall black man with a DOO RAG on his head busted into the store and committed the 10-58. He said he got a good look at the man who had bright GREEN EYES. He said there was no point in his trying to help Mr. Gentry cause he can not move too fast due to a bad leg that he injured in a hunting accident years ago. He lifted his pants leg and showed me that he has only half a withered calf muscle on his right extremity. He said it had been hurting him something awful lately because the bone never had healed right. He said he was not scared during the aforementioned incident. “If my time was up my time was up” he stated. I asked him why he thought the man did not try to rob him and he said he did not know. Slaughter said the big black man looked a little bit like O.J. SIMPSON on a bad day only DARKER with fewer teeth. He said the man drove an EL CAMINO that was red or green or orange. He said his vision is not too good and he might be color blind. He said he could hear the GUN pretty good which must have meant it was loud cause his hearing ain’t much either. He said he played video poker throughout the incident and only took a short break to call the sheriffs office. No point in stopping he said. He said his luck cooled off about the time of the incident as he did not get the King he had hoped for to fill out his purported royal flush. I put out an APB for the El Camino and the alleged O.J. look alike to all local sheriffs offices and the City of Piney Police Department that afternoon. There were no REPORTS.  Volunteer firefighters Lts. Adams and Wolfenbarger heard the call and drove around looking for him. They radioed later and said they had not spotted him but that they would be interested in buying the El Camino from the sheriffs office if the suspect was incarcerated.

I waited almost two hours for Coroner Melvin “June Bug” Riggly to show up to CONFIRM the 10-58 while Mr. Slaughter played video poker. June Bug was late because he had been umpiring a girls softball game across the state line in Alabama that went extra innings. June Bug said three shots probably from a RIFLE killed Mr. Gentry. Specifically the shot in his THROAT and the one that pierced his HEART right through his chest. The third shot hit him somewhere in the TESTICULAR regions June Bug said. June Bug said the heart and the throat Mr. Gentry had needed but the testicles he had not used in a long time. At that time Mr. Slaughter laughed until he fell into a coughing fit. He stopped playing video poker and came around and slapped June Bug on the shoulder. Slaughter then peered down at Mr. Gentry and said “welp” and went back to video poker. June Bug who was still in his umpiring uniform except for the chest protector used a pocket knife to pry the BULLETS from the chest wound and the throat. He said he did not think investigators needed the bullet from the testicles. Two was enough he said. 

The funeral home hearse then came and picked up Mr. Gentry.  After they left I checked for strange FOOTPRINTS but could not find any due to the heavy traffic in and out of the door. I inspected the CASH REGISTER which was wide open and there was UPON INSPECTION no cash in it. I happened to encumber upon a safe below the counter that was unlocked and empty save for a .22-caliber pistol and a box of shells and autographed pictures of Bear Bryant and Rusty Wallace. I wrapped CRIME scene tape around the front door and the counter where Mr. Gentry had lain for a while.  I left the store in the custody of Mr. Slaughter. He is a cousin and next door neighbor of Mr. Gentrys. He showed me his key to the store and said he would clean everything up. I told him that he should leave the store like it is but he got angry and said Mrs. Gentry had a business to run and could not afford to just shut down the store. I let him go ahead with it. Mr. Slaughter was polite then and said he had been around a long time and remembered my daddy from way back. He said he was sorry that he got killed and that it was a shame they never caught the killer. He said it was also a shame somebody got murdered in Duck Hill about every thirty-five years or so. He said I looked just like my daddy and must be about the same age as he was when he got killed. Mr. Slaughter said my daddy was a good man and would not have given him a ticket for an expired drivers license like I did about ten years ago. But he said that to show that he had no hard feelings I could have a Coke or something else to drink for free. I declined his offer. When I got back to the office I called the GBI hotline in Atlanta and was told an agent could not come out to dust for FINGERPRINTS until Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday. They said the eye witness description of the perpetrator should be circulated statewide which I did.

March 7, 1991, 4:30 p.m. ET, Thursday Afternoon
Achena County Sheriffs Incident Narrative Addendum Report
Filed by Deputy Ricky Knox Jr.

On this day at the aforementioned time I was driving down U.S. 27 and I noticed shards and shatters of busted WOOD and CHICKEN WIRE strewn across the roadway for about a hundred yards. It appeared as that somebody or an influx of rush hour somebodys had run over a DOG BOX or CHICKEN COOP. There were no chickens or dogs to be found except for Flossie Gibsons black chow that had been run over about two days ago and pushed off to the side of the road. I concluded that this was a different incident as I had seen this particular carnage before. 

At the top of this river of debris was an old truck pulled off to the side of the road.  Mr. William Prighaskins Slaughter 72 of 3 Drowning Creek Road was standing by the truck with a .22-caliber REMINGTON a Rimfire Model 597. He said he was driving along when the end of the barrel of the rifle fell out of the gun rack and DISCHARGED blowing a hole in his back window near the passenger side. I inspected the window and confirmed this account. The gunshot scared the two bird dogs he was carrying. The dogs forced their way out of the dog box in the back of his truck and jumped out. The commotion of their escape BIFURCATED the aforementioned dog box from the back of the truck and caused it to go “SMASH” in the roadway and befall victim to the grilles and tires of oncoming vehicular traffic. 

Mr. Slaughter said the dogs would be OK and probably just run on home to his cousin Mr. Ron Gentry. He said his cousin Mr. Gentry had been riding with him at the time the gun went off. Mr. Slaughter said Mr. Gentry went after the dogs and would walk home after them. He said the bullet did not even come close to hitting Mr. Gentry.

I did a routine check. Mr. Slaughters drivers license had EXPIRED twenty-six years ago in 1965. He also had no insurance. I wrote him a ticket for this. He protested mightily. He said he had tried to get his information current. He said his ex-wife who he had returned to recently and was living with again had reported him dead in the late sixties after he left. His whereabouts were unknown for more than 20 years. To CLARIFY he said he knew where he was the whole time but she did not. He said he was on the county DEAD rolls. He said he had come back and done explained some things to her and was not IN FACT dead. He requested my assistance with this court matter but I told him to check with the clerks office. He cursed at me and left stating that he did not see the point in a dead man having to renew his drivers license or use insurance. I considered filing HARASSMENT charges but decided not to due to the subjects status and as an ELDERLY CITIZEN.

December 5, 1986
Memo to Achena County Administrator Wyman Wombles
From: Sheriff Bedford Thompson
RE: Incident Report Storage

Hello Wy, This note is to officially record a house cleaning of our records. We will be storing all of the incident reports prior to January 1, 1975, in the new storage facility near Interstate 20. We were able to store the data from all the reports back to 1975 in the computer, but I don’t have the manpower to computerize all the records, therefore, all prior reports will be boxed and put away. I have leased a 1,000 (one-thousand) square foot storage shed for which you will begin seeing a monthly bill of $50 (fifty) from Shorty’s Storage and Small Engine Repair Inc. I will evaluate again in a few years and may destroy the records if there is no need for them. Most of this information makes it into the courthouse files anyway when charges result and therefore is doubly duplicative. Yours Truly, Sheriff Thompson.

August 25, 1967
Letter to the Editor
Piney (Ga.) Post

This letter is to express all the gratitude I can to everyone in Duck Hill who sent cards, flowers and brought food out to the house in honor of my husband, Sgt. Richard Knox, who was called to be with Jesus last week when he was killed in a traffic stop along the interstate. My infant son, Ricky, and I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your prayers. We have faith that he’s in a better place and his cold-blooded killer will be brought to justice one day, maybe not on this earth, but certainly in Satan’s fires of hell. Yours in Christ, Sandra Knox.

Oct. 19 1961, 12 p.m. ET, Sunday Afternoon 
Achena County Sheriffs Incident Report Attachment
Filed by Sgt. Richard Knox

Mrs Fob Knott called the sheriffs office to report a deer hunting ACCIDENT on her property. Said a man with one good leg and one very bad bloody one limped up screaming to her house and said he had been SHOT. He had been shot in the bad bloody LEG below the knee she reported he said. The man was MR WP SLAUGHTER. Mrs Knott said the only other person she knew hunting on the land that day was RON GENTRY. I found Mr Gentry at home asleep later that afternoon. He had apparently been drinking moonshine or some other type of intoxicating beverage and was incapacitated incapable and inaccessible to make a statement. I could tell his RIFLE a Winchester 284 situated in the gun rack had been FIRED. It was warm to the touch. Empty THIRTY OUGHT SIX shells were in the bed of the truck. 

I went back to Mr Gentrys the next morning. He said the previous day he thought he had seen a deer as he walked out across the big grassy field in the edge of the trees. ITS EYES WAS FLICKERING he said. He said he shot his gun and thought he had hit it solidly enough. He walked across the field and saw a trail of blood but no deer. He said he did not see a MAN either.

I located and spoke to the victim in the hospital MR WP SLAUGHTER who reported that he had been deer hunting and shot in the leg by someone UNBEKNOWNST to him. He said he knew that his half brother MR GENTRY often hunted there but he did not think he was there that afternoon. I told him that Mr Gentry was there and I suspected he was the SHOOTER. Mr Slaughter said he did not want to file charges. He said that he would be able to walk again. He said they were FAMILY and they would work it out sooner or later. At his REQUEST I closed the investigation.

Joe Samuel Starnes was born in Alabama, grew up in Georgia, and now lives in New Jersey. NewSouth Books published Fall Line, his second novel, in November 2011. His first novel, Calling, came out in 2005. His journalism has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington Post, and various magazines, as well as essays, short stories, and poems in literary journals. He holds a bachelor’s degree from University of Georgia and a master’s from Rutgers University in Newark, and he is working on an MFA in creative nonfiction at Goucher College.  He was awarded a fellowship to the 2006 Sewanee Writers' Conference.


Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: This story has its genesis in the late eighties and early nineties when I worked as a reporter for small newspapers in Georgia and Florida. I scanned the police reports daily and often wondered about the undiscoverable stories that lurked between the lines and off the page. The title “Its Eyes Was Flickering” came from a line in one of those reports.

Q: What writers do you consider to be your primary influences?  
A: Flannery O’Connor, Larry Brown, Harry Crews, and Carl Hiaasen.

Q: What’s your ideal place to write?
A: Anywhere quiet without distractions, usually shortly after dawn.

Q: Who plays you in the movie in the movie of your life?  
A: Even in my wildest delusions, I’m not biopic material.

Q: What are you working on now?  
A: A fifth-draft of a crime novel called The Bass Fisherman and a nonfiction book proposal about my conflicting emotions regarding the game of football (tentatively titled The Dark Side: Second Thoughts About Football by a Lifelong Fan).