Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Methodist Minister & Convicted Pedophile Oliver Brazelle


The following account has been taken from various websites and used with permission:

From January 2014:

Oliver Brazelle, 78, is facing at least three charges of sexual impropriety with underage males. Much has recently been written about these events, but little of Brazelle himself. Here’s a short bio of the former Methodist youth minister, partially taken from a 2006 interview with the long-time church employee:

Brazelle is a Florence native.
He attended Brandon Elementary and Coffee High Schools.

He attended Florence State Teachers College and was an officer for the school’s choir.
He began duties at Sheffield’s United Methodist Church at the age of 22.
He originally planned to work with the Sheffield congregation for only two years.
His first assignment was as Youth Director, a position he assumed in October 1956.
He founded the church’s first Children’s Choir.
A few years later, Brazelle founded the Youth Choir for older children.
He eventually assumed duties as director of the Adult Choir.
At one time, Brazelle had a total of nine youth oriented choirs under his direction.
He took one youth choir on summer tours, visiting many major US cities and traveling to Europe in 1986.
Brazelle’s hobby is spelunking and he often took youth groups to explore local caves.
He was named unofficially as the “Dean of District Music Directors.”
He formed a singing group composed of local businessmen called “The Wait a Minutes.”
He was relieved of duties as Youth Director in 2003.
He became the subject of a private investigation in 2012.


***** 


Former youth and music minister of Sheffield United Methodist Church, Oliver Brazelle, has been arrested in Lauderdale County on charges of sexual abuse of a young boy. Brazelle previously faced at least three similar charges in Sheffield in 2012. Originally, 10 men came forward with charges, but only three agreed to testify in court. Later, the three men who had initially agreed to testify against Brazelle declined to do so. If convicted of the charges that spanned 40 years, the 79 year old Brazelle could face up to 20 years in prison and be required to register as a sex offender upon his release. 

***** 

From August 2014:


As I walk a long the Bois de Boulogne with an independent air,
You can hear the girls declare,
He must be a millionaire,
You can hear them sigh and wish to die,
You can see them wink the other eye
At the man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo.


ob2Early this afternoon, two men walked away from the Lauderdale County Courthouse. The first looked fit, tanned, and probably Praxeled. Following closely behind Florence attorney Ralph Holt was his antithesis, an elderly man, excruciatingly thin and leaning heavily on a cane. A faint smile graced the face of Oliver Brazelle as Holt spoke briefly with this writer’s companion who had finished law school school with Ralph’s father. 

Yet Brazelle is now in what could be called a fight for his life. If convicted of the crimes of second degree sexual abuse and sodomy, the 81 year-old Brazelle could finish his days in a state prison facility. The maximum sentence the former youth and music minister could receive would be 20 years, but it’s doubtful a judge would levy such punishment on one with no previous record. While rumors have abounded about similar crimes in Sheffield, only one alleged victim has come forward to press charges, and that was in Lauderdale where Brazelle once owned a lake home.

The witness list for the trial appears long, with at least one Methodist bishop being called to testify. Today’s court appearance involved, among other issues, a piece of evidence that spoke to motive. Holt contends that motive in the case is not an issue. No…the motive in the crime, assuming it actually happened, is quite clear. Brazelle’s trial is scheduled for August 10th.

*****


Former Methodist youth minister of Sheffield, Oliver Brazelle, unexpectedly pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a minor on Wednesday afternoon. The 81 year-old Brazelle was originally charged with crimes that could have led to a 20 year sentence, but his plea assures his total time will be no more than half that.

While Brazelle has not yet been sentenced, Assistant District Attorney Will Powell, who along with the victim’s family accepted the elderly man’s plea, has mentioned “jail time.” Obviously Powell knows the difference between jail and prison. Is this where the sentencing will be heading? If Brazelle receives less than a year total incarceration time, his sentence would be served in the Lauderdale Detention Center. Vina coach Sonny Tibbs, convicted of illicit sex with a minor, is currently serving his time in the Marion County Jail. Even a sentence of over a year may be served locally under certain circumstances. Brazelle is not eligible for community corrections, but it’s not unheard of for a state prisoner to do his/her time locally, as one Lauderdale County woman convicted of investment fraud did only a few years ago.

Brazelle will again appear before Judge Gil Self in October. Self has told the aging former youth/music minister to have his affairs in order. It’s a sad end for what most thought was a life dedicated to serving God.

*****

 Some Insight into Oliver Brazelle Crimes/Sentencing

It is my understanding that Oliver will most likely serve time at Hamilton Aged & Infirm Center, which is a facility that normally cares for elderly or sickly prisoners. The plea agreement has been submitted to the judge, who will review and decide whether he agrees with the terms of the plea agreement. He could approve as is, or could impose what he thinks is a more appropriate sentence.

I do not know the name of the victim in this case, nor do I care to know, but it seems to me this young man has acted in a brave way, to put his allegations forward and to stick with them all the way. I believe the fact that Oliver was removed from his position as youth minister, but was kept as a church employee, contributed to many of his victims’ fears that “no one would believe them.” It took a lot of guts (and probably lengthy and expensive therapy) to stand up and
accuse Oliver.

No matter what sentence Oliver receives, he will deserve a longer one, but at his age and with his serious health issues, he likely won’t come out of there alive. Compared to doing hard time in a real prison, Hamilton AIC will be a piece of cake, but Oliver won’t know the difference. He’s already suffering dementia, or so I hear.The harshest sentence, the one Oliver must have feared the most, was losing his elevated position in the community, along with the respect and admiration of so many church-goers. I was one of those, long ago, and could not possibly be more disappointed in him. He will no longer make beautiful music, nor will he enjoy the company of family and old friends. He will leave all those blessings behind. It took decades to bring Oliver to this and I, for one, am grateful justice will be served up to him on October 7, 2015.

Not only do I feel personally betrayed, because I had thought so well of Oliver since the late 1950’s, but I feel betrayed on behalf of a good friend who is now deceased. One of the last messages I received from my friend reviled Oliver for what he did to him as a young boy. It had been hard for me to believe his accusations, which were private and not public, but his story had not changed over a number of years.

After a time I did believe his accusations and I said to my friend, who knew he was dying, that Oliver was old and weak and suffering from heart disease; that he could no longer cause him harm. My words seemed to help him, or at least he said it meant something to think of Oliver as weak instead of as a force. He kept his experiences with Oliver secret for over 50 years and I believe he suffered from shame and fear, not to mention anger and fury, the entire time. He told me many times that Oliver always threatened, “No one will believe you.”

So, none of that can be undone. But it means something to me that Oliver will be held accountable, however long or short his sentence may be. It is important that Oliver knows he has this permanent scar on his precious sterling reputation. I should have said, instead of I am grateful Oliver will be served justice, that I am grateful to the heroic young man who brought him to justice.

*****

BrazelleOliver

Oliver Brazelle, 81, is currently housed in the Bibb County Correctional Facility. The former Sheffield youth minister is serving a two year term for sexual abuse in Lauderdale County. His release date is October 5, 2017. Classed as an Adult sex offender under the Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act, he is not eligible for WR, CWC or minimum custody.

Two weeks later:

Earlier this month, Oliver Brazelle was returned to Lauderdale Circuit Court where he was transferred to Community Corrections. The 81 year old former Methodist youth minister is serving a two year sentence for enticing a child. He was formerly held in the state prison system.

And the end:

Convicted sex offender Oliver Brazelle has died. Brazelle, 81, was serving a two year sentence in relation to crimes against young men who were ostensibly in his ministerial care. His death was confirmed this morning by the Lauderdale County District Attorney’s office. Had he lived, he would have been free in October 2017.

Despite being convicted of a sex crime, Brazelle was allowed to leave hardcore prison after a few months and to serve the remainder of his sentence in community corrections. The former Methodist youth minister had kept a low profile during these past few months.

The funeral for Oliver Brazelle is today at Elkins Funeral Home in Florence. Services are reported to be private and no details have been given out to the press. One person deeply affected by Brazelle’s crimes stated:  

I would like to make sure he is in the ground.

 

 

 

 


Friday, October 6, 2017

Ryan Kent Pollard: From D.A.'s Grandson to Abuser to Drugged Up Gun Thief


Ryan Kent Pollard was born into what should have been a life of privilege. His mother was the daughter of former Marion County district attorney Alvis E. Tidwell. Unfortunately, her bad marriage to bank robber Ronald Eugene Pollard took its toll on the children of that union. 

Ryan, now 27, has been on paper in the Alabama legal system since he graduated from high school in Lauderdale County. Hoping to help his young grandson, Tidwell, who practices law in Hamilton, took Ryan into his home. He hasn't been the only one to do so, but like everyone who has befriended Pollard, he's lived to regret it.

We're publishing the following Pen-N-Sword October 2016 account of Ryan's early crimes here in full, with that publication's permission:

*****

ryanoct

Update: Earlier this month, Ryan Kent Pollard was returned to the Lauderdale County Detention Center and ordered held without bond. His official charge is “work release violation;” however, a source with state probation has indicated the specific charge is one of domestic violence against his most recent girlfriend. PNS will update this article if more information becomes available.

From August 2016:

Ryan Kent Pollard is 26 years old and has already accumulated at least four domestic violence arrests…not to mention his drug and property crimes. One of the first arrests for this Brooks High graduate was five years ago when he was arrested in Marion County for possession of illegal drugs. A theft charge followed.

pollardone

Then in 2012, his crimes turned violent. Court records show that Pollard attacked his live-in girlfriend in November 2012. An argument had ensued after the young woman asked Pollard to wake up and get out of bed. Pollard then reportedly grabbed the young woman, threw her against the headboard, and began to strangle her. When the woman managed to free herself, Pollard produced a gun, placed it in her mouth, and threatened to kill her.

The young woman struggled to free herself a second time and attempted to seek safety in a closet. Pollard managed to open the door and then close it on his girlfriend’s hand, breaking it in the process. The woman ultimately escaped and ended her relationship with Pollard, who racked up Third, Second, and First Degree Domestic Violence Charges.

While the young woman considered her relationship with Pollard to be over, he apparently didn’t see it that way. While under a court order to avoid his ex-girlfriend, he followed her to a small concert venue and attempted to detain her. He was again arrested.

pollardtwo

Now a convicted felon, Pollard was homeless after his latest incarceration and moved in with the family of his next unsuspecting victim, whom he married in November 2015. By December, Pollard was working only sporadically and had missed a regular probation meeting/drug test. He was arrested, but soon bailed out.

By April, Pollard had become controlling and abusive in his new marriage, and his wife left, fearing for her own safety. After deciding that divorce was the only option, Pollard’s wife attempted to meet with him at his apartment to discuss the arrangements. Pollard then physically detained the young woman against her will and spoke of suicide. The young woman managed to escape via a back door and call a family member who phoned the authorities. Pollard had managed to chalk up his third domestic violence arrest as well as another charge of not checking in with his probation officer for a routine drug test.

Pollard was released on the understanding he would attend Peace Program classes and have no contact with his soon-to-be-ex-wife. A month later, Pollard was again arrested for failure to meet with his probation officer, but was released still again under the same terms.

ryanpollardaugarrest

He abided by those restrictions for three months. On August 11th, Pollard visited the UNA campus, ostensibly to seek out his estranged wife. While the contents of the arrest report have not yet been made public, UNA police charged Pollard with a violation of the protection order. The next day he was also charged with other probation violations. He remains in the Lauderdale County Detention Center as of Sunday morning.

Update: Pollard was released from custody on August 23, 2016. PNS will update the disposition of this case once records become available.

***** 

After Pollard's last release from the Lauderdale County Detention Center, he worked only sporadically and crashed at the homes of whatever friends would give him refuge. Needing a place to stay for the night, Pollard called his grandfather in Hamilton and asked to visit.

No one can be sure what Tidwell was thinking when he agreed, but we can be sure what Pollard was contemplating. When Tidwell awoke the next morning, his grandson was gone and so was his expensive gun collection. Stolen guns are worth their weight in gold on the black market, often making their way to Chicago or Detroit within 24 hours. In other words, the drug-addicted Ryan Pollard was set financially for a few months, but what about the long term?

Pollard announced on his Facebook page that a friend had stolen cash he had put aside to pay on fines and that he would probably soon be returning to jail in Lauderdale County. In reality, Pollard had spent every dollar on drugs and was desperate for cash.

It's hardly an unusual path from drug addict to drug dealer, and it's one that Lawrence County, Tennessee, law enforcement think he's taken. In late August of this year, Pollard was arrested in Lawrenceburg with needles and other drug paraphernalia after disposing of a large amount of drugs authorities believe to be heroin, oxycodone, or a combination of drugs. 

Since law enforcement was unable to produce the evidence of drug dealing...or even more tellingly trafficking...Pollard was sentenced to a few months in the Lawrence County Jail for possession of drug paraphernalia and evidence tampering. For whatever reason, Pollard is expected to leave jail a few weeks early and will be released on October 28th pending further incidents.

Why does Ryan Kent Pollard rate a place in Shoals Crime among the murderers and rapists? Pollard has more arrests and convictions for assaults on women than any Shoals resident our blog has ever encountered. Friends of the Brooks High graduate tell us these incidents were all drug fueled.

We don't doubt that drugs exacerbate Pollard's anger toward society in general and women in particular. What we do doubt at this point is Pollard's ability to turn his life around.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Jon Thomas Wallis: Ink Slinger, Stalker, Trafficker, Would-Be Wife Killer?


Jon Thomas Wallis is many things to many people. Unfortunately for Wallis, to the Alabama Department of Corrections, he's a number.

Ink Slinger:




Those familiar with the art of tattooing would obviously call Jon Thomas Wallis an accomplished practitioner. Wallis himself liked the name "Ink Slinger" well enough to have it permanently inscribed on his neck.


 

Stalker:

Early on Monday morning September 7, 2009, Wallis was in a Florence bar where he had a documented altercation with another man. During the next few days, Wallis was accused of attempting to find the man, threatening two separate individuals, and going so far as to break into a mutual friend's home to find information on the man's whereabouts.

Florence Police arrested Jon Thomas Wallis for stalking, making terrorist threats, and burglary. Was he found not guilty? No, it seems for whatever reason, a grand jury did not indict Wallis. According to legal sources, the grand jury could have considered that all testimony came from friends of the alleged victim, or that possibly the investigating officer was unable to testify for whatever reason. This in itself proves Wallis neither innocent nor guilty.



Trafficker:

In October 2010, police arrested Wallis and his wife on charges of trafficking in marijuana. Authorities found drugs having a street value of $75,000.00 in their modest apartment, along with two hand guns, three rifles, and a large amount of ammunition.



In October 2011, Jon Thomas Wallis, having been convicted of the trafficking charge, was sentenced to 15 years, with three to serve and 12 on probation. The charges against Tanya Marie Wallis were dropped. 


Would-Be Wife Killer:

Jon Thomas Wallis of Florence was well known to police before he allegedly shot his wife during a domestic dispute. Wallis, 31 in 2011, claimed his wife Tanya Marie Wallis, then 28, shot herself in the bedroom of their Quail Run Apartment located off Chisholm Road.

According to a local paramedic, even though Mrs. Wallis sustained severe head injuries, the weather on April 27th prevented her being transported to the NICU at Huntsville Hospital. After treatment at ECM, Mrs. Wallis improved rapidly and spoke with Florence police who promptly arrested the Ink Slinger.
  
In December 2011, a Lauderdale County jury convicted Wallis of the attempted murder of his wife, a Class A felony. In February 2012, a Lauderdale County Circuit Court judge gave the local tattoo artist a sentence of life with the chance of parole. Tommy Wallis had previously seemed to admire tattoos of guns; we doubt he feels the same way now.

 
Jon Thomas Wallis won't be eligible for parole until April 2026. Those who wish to go on record as opposing Wallis' parole may write:

Alabama Board of Pardons & Paroles
Re: Jon Thomas Wallis, AIS 280574
Post Office Box 302405
Montgomery, Alabama 36130-2405

Telephone: (334) 353-7771, 353-8067
FAX: (334) 242-1809


The above account was taken from blogs originally published in Shoalanda Speaks.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

George Weakley Rhodes: The Bathtub Killer



George Weakley Rhodes, sometimes known as "Old School," is no stranger to violence against women. In 2002, he and Marsha Simpson worked together for the City of Florence Recycling Program. Friends said the two had dated, but quarreled.

Prosecutors say Rhodes waited outside Simpson's home in East Florence for her to return. No one can be sure of his plans, but we can be sure that when Rhodes saw his former girlfriend walking home in the company of another man, he drew his gun and shot several times. No one was injured, but Florence Police charged Rhodes with attempted murder. After a deliberation of only an hour, a jury found George Rhodes not guilty of the charges.

We can understand how they came to their verdict. After all, who doesn't take a gun to visit his old girlfriend? Who doesn't fire the gun in her direction because he's so elated to see her with a rival? Obviously, this verdict falls under the category of "What Were They Thinking?"

Rhodes had previously led a less than perfect life. Among his many previous charges were a 1971 armed robbery of a grocery store on West Mobile Street and a 1999 armed home invasion style robbery of an East Florence residence. We will assume Rhodes' record of violence was not allowed into testimony at his 2002 trial.

Neither did Rhodes remain a stranger to law enforcement after his acquittal. In January 2006, he was arrested in Florence for forgery. In March 2007, Rhodes was arrested in a drug bust targeting dealers who waited for children at a school bus stop on the corner of Cedar and West Mobile Streets. At this time, Rhodes was charged only with possession.

Drugs seemed to play a large role in "Old School's" life, but so did violence--probably each fueling the other. In September 2010, the 61 year-old Rhodes agreed to a plea bargain in the death of Deborah Elaine Oldham Paulk. The south-central Florence woman was murdered in her bath tub either during or after an ongoing New Year's party in January of 2005. Paulk may not have had the best taste in recreational activities or friends, but murder is murder. Court records indicate Rhodes threatened to kill Paulk's mother if she testified against him.

George Weakley Rhodes served only five years in prison; however, we understand Paulk's family felt there was no choice if they wanted a 100% guarantee Rhodes would serve any time at all in a case that was already five years old. Perhaps George, by then in his seventh decade and with a body damaged by years of drug abuse, did not find prison so easy. Nevertheless, Ms. Paulk deserved more.



In June 2015, Florence police arrested George Weakly Rhodes, Jr, 66, in the assault of two men in East Florence. Reports indicated that Rhodes and several other subjects were drinking at a residence when a dispute over alcohol turned violent. Rhodes was accused of assaulting the two men with a nail clad piece of lumber, and both victims were treated at a local hospital for their injuries. Rhodes was arrested without incident and was taken to the Lauderdale County Detention Center without bond.

George Weakley Rhodes Jr., aka Old School, aka the Bathtub Killer, is currently serving a three year sentence in the Limestone Correctional Facility. His anticipated release date is June 14, 2018. According to the Department of Corrections, Rhodes will not have a parole consideration date; this is the sixth state incarceration for the former drug dealer known as “Old School.” He will be 68 years-old when released; we don't think this is the end of the story.


Taken from material first published in Shoalanda Speaks and Pen-N-Sword. PNS material used with permission.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Steve Ray Murphy: The Forgotten Felon


Steve Ray Murphy was 22 years-old when he and his best friend began their partnership in crime in 1977. Perhaps you can't place Murphy? Perhaps his partner's name will refresh your memory: Trent O'Neal Townsend. The two Lauderdale County men were misfits from childhood; they found each other when the younger Townsend needed help escaping from a foster home and formed a synergistic partnership where 1+1=3, a partnership sparking fear in many, even some law enforcement personnel.

The duo's crimes may have reached a peak in April 1983. It was Gregory Edward Ayer's first night on the job at the Red Ace Service Station in Tuscumbia when a customer found his lifeless body. Murphy and Townsend soon became suspects in the robbery turned murder and were later arrested and tried for the capital crime.

In the interim, both Murphy and Townsend were tried for other crimes and sentenced to life in prison under the habitual offender act. For whatever reason, both men were sent to St. Clair Prison where they continued their friendship and hatched an escape plot. Escape was nothing new to Townsend who already had one such charge. The convicts flawlessly executed their plan via a drain pipe and were soon free men. It wasn't to last.

Murphy was later captured in Kansas, but the still-free Townsend helped engineer his escape. Both were soon on their way back to the Shoals where they initiated a crime spree in order to survive.

In 1977, Murphy had worked at the Pepsi Cola Bottling Plant on Highway 43 in Tuscumbia; he knew that a Wells Fargo truck visited the plant daily, and so a plan was hatched. Shortly after ten in the morning on that late July day, a woman drove up to the plant, and two men exited the vehicle. Both men entered the plant and immediately announced they were there to commit armed robbery. Murphy further announced he knew the armored truck would soon arrive since he had previously worked there.

Both men escaped on foot and allegedly ran across the highway to a waiting vehicle. Their freedom was short lived, and after a few days the pair was captured and returned to jail, having added a laundry list of new charges to their resume'. A trial for Ayers' murder now awaited them.

A Colbert County jury convicted Murphy, but couldn't reach a verdict in Townsend's case, and the attorney general's office decided not to pursue the charges since the career criminal was already serving a life sentence. There has never been total justice for Gregory Edward Ayers' family--at least officially.

As his murder trial dragged on, both Townsend's younger bother and maternal grandfather committed suicide. After being returned to prison, Townsend was the victim of a stabbing in 1988 and won a lawsuit against the state; however, the $75,000.00 award in the case was later stolen from Townsend's mother. It was obviously a pyrrhic victory, and the Lauderdale County man remained incarcerated.

Eight years to the day after Ayers' murder, Trent Townsend was found dead in his cell at the West Jefferson Correctional Facility near Birmingham. Authorities claimed Townsend hanged himself using rope from his officially issued laundry bag. His partner in crime Steve Murphy thought otherwise.

After Townsend's alleged suicide, Steve Ray Murphy again denied their involvement in the fatal Red Ace robbery, stating he had nothing to gain by refusing to take responsibility. He also commented that he knew Trent better than anyone, loved Trent better than he loved his own wife, and Townsend would never have killed himself.



Murphy has continued to deny the Red Ace murder for 25 years. Barred from parole and serving a 999 year sentence, the Lauderdale County man is housed in Holman Prison where he's listed as a medium security prisoner. His once luxurious hair has thinned, and he now wears spectacles. He receives few visitors...and he continues to maintain his innocence in the death of Gregory Edward Ayers.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Bear Footin'


Warning: This punny tale of grizzly crime may not be suitable for the humor impaired...


Summer had just breathed its dying breath in the year of ’08 (that’s 2008) as we begin our tale of lurid crime…or should that be tail? It was almost midnight on Saturday, September 20th, when a young man called his dog in for the night. In the dog’s mouth appeared to be a small foot…a small human foot.

The young man called his father who called police to their Hester Heights home just west of Highway 43 in Russellville. Police Chief Chris Hargett is known to take his job seriously, and not even a pressing meeting at the Russellville Housing Authority could have kept him from personally investigating this strange canine find.

Hargett pronounced it a small, bare foot, probably belonging to a young child. He immediately took the foot to the Russellville Hospital Emergency Department where the physician on duty similarly pronounced the dog’s booty to be a recently severed human foot.

The foot was then routed to a Russellville orthopedic surgeon who concurred that the remains were human and belonged to a small child. Chris Hargett had his work cut out for him; no children had been reported missing in the area, and the medical personnel who inspected the foot averred that it was highly unlikely any child could have survived such an amputation without immediate medical intervention.

On Monday, cadaver dogs were brought in from HEMSI in Huntsville and the North Alabama Search Dog Association in Madison. They combed the entire area around Circle Drive and Wilson Boulevard, but despite their best efforts, no other remains were found. Was the Hester Heights foot destined for an unmarked shoe box? In the interim, the foot was sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences in hopes of determining race and gender. Hargett proclaimed, “We pretty much have to think the worst.”

Sadly, many suspected the foot somehow belonged to Jennifer Hampton, a small, young Florence woman who had gone missing from a Knoxville, Tennessee, motel room. Had she been taken captive and brought back to Alabama for some diabolical reason?

Meanwhile, the forensics lab had failed to answer the question of the foot’s humanity, and Hargett had the grisly find sent to UAB in hopes of any definitive information. Just as Russellville’s answer to Inspector Clouseau was about to call a news conference to proclaim there was no news on the case, the news in fact arrived. The foot belonged to a bear cub.




No official word was ever offered as to where the severed foot was interred…or as to what ridicule a certain Russellville orthopedic surgeon most certainly had to endure.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Annie Ruth Dennis: Beauty, Nurse, Murderess


At 73 years of age, Hampton Smiley was a long-time Florence minister. Working with the St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Florence, Smiley and his wife Arcadia, 72, were considered pillars of both the community and the church where Arcadia (known as Ann) played the organ for many years. Then Ann Smiley suffered a stroke, and the lives of the Florence couple changed forever.


*****


Annie Ruth Dennis grew up across the street from the Smiley home and was a graduate of Burrell High School, an all black institution once located in West Florence. Beautiful, as well as intelligent and witty, she was going to go somewhere and be someone. Initially, Annie worked as a meat cutter for Wilson Foods, but her drive and intelligence led her to become a Licensed Practical Nurse. Annie worked at Shoals Hospital and took private patients. Higher pay in the Memphis area led Annie to seek employment there, and she began to divide her time between Memphis and her Lucas Street home in Florence.

At some point, Annie married Robert O. Dennis, but the marriage proved less than what Annie had hoped for. In 1977, Robert Dennis, 40, was found shot dead in the back seat of his car, hands bound together, his wallet missing. Memphis police stated they had no leads, although the spouse is usually a strong suspect in most murder cases.

Annie continued to divide her time between Florence and Memphis which offered higher pay. Since she was still taking private patients in the Shoals and attended St. James, Annie easily secured the job of taking care of Ann Smiley after her stroke. Ann’s initial prognosis wasn’t good; Mrs. Smiley was probably not going to recover.

The Smileys’ friends at first were delighted at how Annie took over when she worked in the minister’s Beale Street home, but some later became concerned that the practical nurse was entirely too close to Hampton Smiley. They viewed it as a very unhealthy situation.

Annie told friends that Smiley planned to take her on a trip to a ministerial conference, something she greatly looked forward to; however, nothing in life is ever certain, and Ann Smiley began to recover. The minister would be taking his wife on the long anticipated trip—not Annie.

During this time period, Annie Dennis had secured a new job in Memphis. She began work at St. Jude’s and found a room nearby the children’s hospital where she lived during the week, returning on weekends to tend to her own home and the Smiley family. The Memphis woman with whom Annie lived told authorities that while she saw little of the nurse due to her schedule, she considered Annie to be family and trusted her completely.


*****

The third Sunday of April 1984 was Easter, and the St. James congregation gave Hampton Smiley a present of $1,000.00 in cash in honor of his completing 28 years of service to the church. Late on Sunday, April 23rd, Annie Dennis checked on the Smileys before driving back to Memphis where she worked the night shift at St. Jude’s. It was the last time anyone saw the older couple alive.

Late on Monday afternoon, a family member discovered the bodies of Hampton and Ann Smiley in their bed. An autopsy later indicated both had been shot and “slashed;” heavy bruising indicated that the couple had also been hit with a blunt object. Detectives who surveyed the scene were taken aback by the amount of blood, some of it smeared randomly around the bedroom, and the community was soon rife with rumors that the couple was “butchered.” Many of the rumors went as far as saying Hampton Smiley had been sexually mutilated. Were the stories true?

The $1,000.00 gift from the Smileys’ church was nowhere to be found, and it was generally considered that the crime was the work of more than one person. After all, could a lone individual have so brutally murdered the couple?

Neighbors of the Smileys became anxious and added locks to their doors, some not venturing out at night. Florence detectives knew the crime needed to be solved quickly; some West Florence residents were already accusing the police of a lackadaisical attitude to a major crime in the black community, a crime some called the worst that Lauderdale County had ever seen. The governor’s office offered a $10,000.00 reward, while the Florence City Commission offered an additional $3,000.00. Donations from the JayCees and Bob Carl Bailey, a local radio station owner, brought the total reward to $15,000.00.

Annie Ruth Dennis’ name came up early in the investigation, and Florence detectives drove to Memphis to question the LPN. When they arrived at Dennis’ rented quarters on May 9th, the Florence woman told the detectives she had been expecting them and immediately admitted her role in the two slayings. After only 19 days, Dennis’ confession brought the hunt for a vicious Florence murderer to an end.


*****


The reward? In 1988, a Tuscumbia woman received half of the promised $10,000.00 from the state. Investigators stated the informant had notified authorities of her sighting of Dennis’ car at the scene even before the reward was offered. 

Dennis also confessed to the murder of her husband in 1977, but Tennessee authorities allowed Florence detectives to escort the nurse back to Alabama where she was charged with two counts of Capital Murder. The arrest did much to soothe frayed nerves in West Florence, but many still believed Dennis would not have been physically able to commit the crimes as they were described. Florence police then declared the case closed.

A Lauderdale County grand jury indicted Dennis on June 5th. Dennis’ son hired Don Holt to represent the nurse, who immediately pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. By August, Holt had secured a plea deal for Dennis in which she would avoid the death penalty. Annie Ruth Dennis, then 48, was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment without any chance of parole. 


Dennis arrived at Tutwiler Prison on August 23, 1984, and has remained there for almost 32 years. Department of Corrections social workers have stated the now 80 year-old Dennis is a model prisoner who works in housekeeping.