The year was 1902 in the small town of Adairsville, Georgia. The hot summer sun blazed down upon the residents. There, in the cotton fields, men were working hard to earn the meal being prepared for them by their wives. The children were all doing their usual after school chores to assist their parents. Since the end of slavery, the normal duties of tending to a home fell back onto the shoulders of the farmers. Now, instead of sipping ice cold lemonade, and watching their annual crop being harvested, these men were remembering what it was like to work hard to survive. They wiped the sweat from their brow before picking another bushel. They glanced back in the direction of their cozy homes, longing for the comforting coolness that lay within its doors.
This town was always one of peace and solitude. The typical hustle and bustle was the only major occurrence. However, that wasn’t the case today. Today, a resident of the town sat inside the scorching hot court house in the middle of the town square. Her name was Susannah Lockhart. She was the young wife of a wealthy, well known cotton plantation owner, and successful rancher. To all of the other town’s people, they appeared to be a happy couple. Walter Lockhart had met his young bride two years prior to this day. She had caught his attention as she waltzed into the local mercantile. They were married after only two months of courting. He had swept Susannah off of her feet. The wedding was declared the social event of the season. It took place just after fall harvest.
Now, Susannah sat locked in the holding cell of the court house, awaiting the arrival of the judge. Sheriff Lawson had charged her with premeditated murder. The news of the crime shocked the entire community. Susannah was a mere twenty years of age, and no one thought her capable of committing such an act. The details behind Walter’s death were still an enigma. The only information the towns people had was the fact that they would no longer see Walter Lockhart at any of the town functions.
Dust flew in the wind behind the carriage as the judge arrived at the courthouse. He tied his reins to the post to secure the horses. The sheriff met him at the foot of the steps.
“Judge Taylor, it’s good to see you again sir.” he stated, politely tipping his hat.
“Yes, I just hate that it had to be under these circumstances.” the judge replied.
“It is quite a shame though. I always thought that Susannah was a real sweet girl.” the sheriff implied. Judge Taylor hung his head, as if to study the soil beneath his feet.
“I think that something here just isn’t right. I’ve known this lady all her life, and this just doesn’t sound like her.” Judge Taylor hung his head again. The statement he had made was in fact the truth. He had known Susannah and her family for many years. He had attended law school with her father, and their wives were still close friends. Susannah’s father had passed away when she was twelve. She took it pretty hard, but promised him that she would be okay.
Judge Taylor entered the building behind Sheriff Lawson. He was in no hurry to perform this arraignment. He didn’t believe that she was guilty of the crime that they had said that she had committed, but his greatest fear at this moment, was that he was wrong. If in fact, he was wrong, he didn’t want to know. He couldn’t imagine that sweet little Susannah doing something like this. It wasn’t her normal personality. She had to be provoked in some way. Judge Taylor began to wonder if Walter Lockhart had abused the girl in some way. Surely an act like that would justify her actions, if in fact she was the murderer of her spouse. Judge Taylor waited patiently as Sheriff Lawson unlocked the cell door, and went inside. The judge took a seat in the chair at his bench. He had to listen to the interrogation that Susannah Lockhart was about to under go.
Even in a blood stained night gown, Susannah Lockhart was a vision of pure angelic beauty. Her golden blond hair rested perfectly in the French twist on the back of her head. At one glance, it was obvious that her eyes were tired, but the emerald green still glistened as radiant as ever. She was beautiful, and attractive. It was easy to see why Walter had always said that he was truly a lucky man.
“Susannah?” Sheriff Lawson said, notifying her that he was there. She looked up at him, with the soft shimmer of tears in her eyes. At that moment, Sheriff Lawson became agitated. He wondered how she could murder her husband and then shed even one tear. It was wrong. Only an insane person would do such a thing. Sheriff Lawson could feel the line between friend and sheriff quickly diminishing into nothing.
“What were you thinking Susannah? Have you gone mad?” he said to her.
“Have I gone mad? You don’t understand sheriff, I have been mad for quite sometime.” she replied. He gazed at her with utter curiosity in his eyes.
“What did this to you?” He thought for a moment on a better way that he could have worded his question. Susannah knew exactly what he meant, but didn’t say a word.
“Tell me what happened, Susannah.” he instructed. She gazed at the dusty floor.
“Do you know the level of offense I feel right now? You dare to ask me if I am mad. What you really meant was am I insane.” she said with a smile.
Her teeth were exposed, revealing the perfectly white teeth which made her smile all the more alluring.
“I can assure you David that I am not insane.” she said, now addressing him by his first name.
“However, in order for you to understand, I must start from the beginning.” she stated before taking a deep breath. She knew that this explanation would indeed be a long one.
“I was seven. I had spent the day on the plantation of a friend of the family. You see, their daughter Amelia was my best friend. We spent all of our spare time together. She was the closest thing to a sister that I had ever had. On this particular day, our parents had made arrangements for Amelia to return to my family’s plantation at supper time, and she was to spend the night with me. I can remember how happy we were. It wasn’t very often that papa allowed this. So when the time finally came, Amelia and I made sure that all of our chores were done, and that we had been especially good in the days leading up to it.
It was just after supper, and Amelia and I had helped mama do the dishes. Papa sent us to bed so that he could be alone with mama for a while. Of course Amelia and I didn’t mind. At age seven, we enjoyed the giggle time before we were told to go to sleep. We laughed about all sorts of funny things. I especially remember that my brother Billy had gotten his foot stuck in between two boards of the chicken coop while he was fetching the eggs. While he was trying to free himself, all the noise he was making rattled the chickens, and they attacked him in a fit of being aggravated. Needless to say, we had no eggs that day because, my stupid brother was wearing them.
Finally, papa told me and Amelia to go to sleep. We didn’t try to talk anymore because we had learned in the past that we would get split up for the night. So we did as we were told, and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, I heard a loud thud that woke me up. I turned to see if the noise had waked Amelia as well. She was gone, and my window was open. I never slept with my window open then. I was scared of something crawling in it, so I knew that something was wrong. I got out of my bed, and walked over to my window. I looked out, and all I could see was a dark shadow heading into the woods with Amelia wrapped up in the sheet from her bed. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I didn’t have time to wake papa because they would be gone by then. So, I climbed out of my window, and followed them out into the night. I made sure I was quiet, so that the person who took Amelia wouldn’t try to take me too. I thought I could save her as long as he didn’t know that he was being followed.
I started to think that I had lost them. They had gotten a pretty good head start. I began to run as fast as my little seven year old legs would carry me. I know that at one point, I had to be making a lot of noise. That was when I decided to slow down.
I was terrified. I didn’t know what could be happening to Amelia. At seven years old, you don’t really know the details of all of the bad things that can happen to you. All you know at that age is that they are bad. You don’t think about horrid types of murder such as decapitation, or intentional poisoning. The common forms of murder are gun shot, stabbing, or being tied to the back of a horse, and being dragged through town. Another common form is hanging. If this man was going to kill Amelia, that is what a seven year old would expect to find.
I remember that I could smell the river. That is how I finally realized that I was near it. No one could ever mistake the natural clean smell of the world. In summer time, that is all you smell. I really slowed my pace at this point. I knew I was close to the river, and I didn’t want to take the chance of falling in. The large amounts of rain that had fallen in the past three days had caused the river to rush and rage. Even though I could swim, I couldn’t swim that well, not then. I remember thinking to myself that I would not be much help to my best friend if I drowned.
I stopped to listen. I couldn’t hear Amelia’s muffled screams of terror, or the sound of the man running with her in his arms. I heard only the pounding of my own heart beat against my chest. I was breathing uncontrollably. I bent down, and placed my hands on my knees in hopes that I would be able to catch my breath. I didn’t wait long. I knew that every moment I was stopped, was a moment that the man had ahead of me. Suddenly I heard the sound of Amelia’s screams. They were no longer muffled. I looked in the direction of her cries for help. The sounds were coming from my left. That was clear. I felt as though I couldn’t run another foot, but I searched deep inside myself for the strength to go on. My best friend was in danger, and no matter how tired I was, I had to help her. I took off running again. I can’t remember a time in my life that I had ran so fast. I heard another scream. Amelia was scared, and in excruciating pain. That was evident to me through the volume of her screams. I hid in the bushes. I didn’t want this man to see me. I moved the branches from the brushes back in hopes that I could see more clearly. I could.
The man had removed all of Amelia’s clothes. They were scattered all over the ground. I didn’t recognize what he was doing to her. It wasn’t familiar to me. I did know, however, that it was wrong. I knew that what he had done to her was dirty and immoral. She continued to cry and scream. As I listened helplessly to her cries, I could feel tears swell up in my own eyes. He continued to beat her repeatedly. My need to help Amelia was replaced with fear, and pain. I knew that at the age of seven, I could never overpower this demon. It was impossible.
I tried to silence my whimpers as I continued to cry. That is when it happened. He had finished satisfying his sexual sickness, using Amelia as his medication. Now that he was finished with her, he knew that he couldn’t be caught. The only way to ensure that his freedom would remain intact was to silence his only known witness.
I watched in pure immeasurable terror, as he retrieved a rock from the river bank. He walked back over to her weakened body. She was so weak from the beatings that she had endured, that moving a finger required the use of what little strength she possessed. The look on her face told me that she had the urge to get up and run, but she knew she couldn’t. I continued to watch as the man bent down on one knee. He assumed his position for the attack. This would be his final attack on his victim’s body. He raised his arm high above his head. He held it there for a moment that felt like a year. I covered my mouth to muffle the scream that I could feel preparing to escape.
I knew what he was going to do. I wanted to turn and run home, but that felt like a betrayal to me. I watched as he brought his arm down with a tremendous force, smashing her skull in with one blow.
Amelia didn’t scream. She didn’t cry, or even move. I knew that she was dead. He sat there by her body for a moment, stroking her blood soaked hair. It looked as if he were trying to comfort his deceased victim. It was at this point that I could feel the anger build inside me. At that moment, I vowed that I would have my revenge one day. The life of my friend had been robbed from her, and in turn, I was robbed of a friend. I had many mixed emotions as I continued to watch, as the man stood, admired her lifeless body, and then walked away. He had killed her, and then abandoned her.
I’m not sure how long I sat there in the protection of my bushes. It could have been an hour or more. When I was confident that he was gone, I came out of hiding. I walked over to Amelia. She didn’t move or make a sound. I walked around, gathering her garments, and dressing her. I couldn’t let anyone find her like that. Once I had finished putting her soiled clothes back on her, I sat down on the ground above her head, and placed it in my lap. I began to cry hysterically. I remember telling her to wake up. I knew that it was pointless. I knew that Amelia would never wake up again.
I could hear the sound of my father calling for me in the darkness. He had other men with him. They were searching for us. I began to call out to him, so he knew which direction to find me in. Part of me wanted to run out to him and jump into the safety of his arms, but I couldn’t leave her there alone. I knew that she was dead, but leaving her there was wrong. I continued to cry out to anyone who could hear me. I could hear the sounds of their foot steps pounding against the ground. They sounded like an army, as they plowed through the wood and brush. I heard them calling my name. I heard them call her name.
When the figure of my father emerged through the darkness, I began to feel some sense of relief. However, the safety of his embrace when he approached me, and scooped me up in his arms didn’t erase the terror that I had witnessed. I remember shaking in his arms as he held me close to him. He asked me over and over again if I was alright. I told him I was fine. Then again, I began to cry for Amelia. I cried as I watched her father hold her lifeless body tightly in his arms. Her blood stained every inch of his clothing. He cried hysterically as he rocked back and forth with her in his arms. He cursed God and asked him why. I told him that it wasn’t God’s fault; I told him that it was the man’s fault. He had done all of those horrible things to Amelia, not God.
After eleven years, I had managed to regain some level of normalcy. The death of Amelia still haunted my dreams. One day, I was entering the town general store. I saw him. I saw Walter sitting on the porch with a small group of men. They were all bragging on the vast multitude of that years’ crop. Oddly enough, my parasol got hung on a nail protruding from the wood of the building. Walter came over to assist me. He was quite charming. I remember how seductive his tan body was. His alluring green eyes and ebony hair accented his masculine charm quite well.
From that day forth, we were inseparable. We wed after only two months. That is a fact I am sure you are aware of David. We lived a happy life. I remember making love underneath the blazing sun after swimming in our pond. It was one of the most romantic moments that Walter and I shared together. We never fought. We always got along perfectly. Even the usual squabbles that most married couples have were omitted from ours. Walter loved me so. That was all part of my plan.
What Walter didn’t know is that I had already planned to marry him before he even knew I existed. He didn’t need to know. He also didn’t need to know that I didn’t marry him because I was in love with him. Somehow, I did manage to fall in love with him to a certain degree. I didn’t love him the way a wife is supposed to love her husband. I couldn’t. I never could have, or for that matter, would have.
Two years past by, and I continued putting my plan together. You have charged me with premeditated murder. It might surprise you sheriff to find out just how premeditated it really was. Yesterday evening, Walter returned home from a day at the horse sales. We had had several decent foals that were ready to sale. He was happy to share with me the news that he had sold all of them. He wanted to celebrate. I knew that this was my time to act. This was too perfect. It was as if fate had opened a doorway to allow me to carry out my plan.
I convinced him that we should pack up our dinner and have a picnic down by the pond. He agreed. Walter was a romantic, so luring him to a spot where we were known to have our marital rendezvous was easy. We did as I had suggested, and went down by the pond. I lay out a blanket, and set up the food. We toasted to our good wealth and fortune. It was a happy moment for him. For me, it was one filled with anxiety. The moment was drawing near, and I was aware of the fact. I still remained calm, and kept my normal composure. I couldn’t signal to him that his life as he knew it was about to end.
After we had finished dinner, we held each other as we began to watch the sun set. That is when our outing turned into our last love making experience. This one was different for me. This was the only one that was tormented by the horrid visions of Amelia. Instead of experiencing pleasure from the man I had known as a talented love maker, I only felt filth and shame. Every touch applied to my body from his repulsed me. I felt as though I would vomit before he was finished. Thankfully that didn’t happen. It would have ruined everything.
Once he was finished with me, I knew it was time to start with him. He could tell by the look on my face that something was on my mind. He always could. He asked me about my thoughts, and I remained silent for a moment. I knew then that it was time. I stood up and told him that I would return in a moment. I walked over to the edge of the pond, and bent down. I retrieved a rock from the edge of the water. With my weapon in my hand I walked back over to him.
He informed me that he had felt tired all of a sudden. I grinned, pleased to here that the drug I had slipped into his drink was taking effect. I had to drug him, because I knew I had no hopes of over powering him. I sat down beside him, and he asked me if we could go back to the house so he could go to bed. I told him that he could rest where he was. I told him he didn’t have a choice. He gave me a curious glare for a moment.
With one swift blow, I struck his face with the stone I held in my hand. He was stunned for a moment. He turned back to me and questioned my actions. I asked him if they were familiar. He tried to deny it. I struck him again. After I made contact with him a second time, I began to tell him the story of what I witnessed when I was only seven years old. The look on his face told me that with each detail, he began to understand what I was talking about. I raised the rock high in the air. I looked him dead in the eye, and told him that this was for Amelia. With that, I hit him with all of my might in his head. I heard the cracking sound of his skull. Just like that, Walter was dead, and Amelia had been avenged.”
Sheriff Lawson sat silent for a moment in disbelief. Susannah had murdered her husband to avenge the death of her childhood friend. Walter was a rapist and a murderer. He had never thought Walter capable of that kind of a crime. Then again, he had never thought Susannah capable of murder either. He didn’t know what to make of the story. He understood now the reasoning behind her crime, and didn’t blame her for what she had done.
One fact however was still unclear. How would he ever get by with not charging her, and hanging her for this? He saw no way out. Against his better judgment, he still had to see to it that she went to trial. Enforcing the law was his job. He had taken an oath to serve and protect the residence of Adairsville.
“I understand why you did it Susannah, but the fact remains that you killed a man. You have to be tried and prosecuted.”
Judge Taylor heard the words spoken to Susannah Lockhart. He would not allow the charges to stick. He couldn’t. His heart went out to her, and in his eyes, she was a hero not a murderess.
“Sheriff, I will not allow you to press charges on this young lady. She has served justice the way we do. The penalty is death for murderers, and Walter Lockhart was one. If we hang her, we might as well hang ourselves.” Sheriff Lawson didn’t know what to think of Judge Taylor’s comment. He wanted him to allow a killer to go free. This was crazy.
“Judge, I’m not trying to argue here, but the law says that you can’t take the law into your own hands. I’m sure that goes for Mrs. Lockhart too.” Judge Taylor paused for a moment.
“Release her.”, he instructed. Sheriff Lawson did as he was told. He removed his keys from his pocket, and unlocked the cell.
As he watched Susannah Lockhart walk free from the court house, he was in total disbelief. Judge Taylor had let a murderer go free. He couldn’t understand why. The story that Susannah had told him was a sad one in deed, but it had no grounds for disregarding the law. The judge exited the courthouse. As he looked up the road, he could see Susannah walking in the direction of her ranch. David Lawson couldn’t resist the temptation any longer. He asked the judge why he had made the decision that he had made. The judge looked up, and wiped a tear from his eye. With a raspy voice full of tears, he replied simply with “Amelia was my daughter.”
© 2009 Ava Sprayberry Shook
Published as Dianah Brock