Today’s Charlotte is a fast-growing and well-respected city. But the Charlotte of yesteryear is rife with tales of the macabre, tragic and simply unexplainable.
Prepare to be surprised and unnerved as the dark side of Charlotte is brought to life by native and longtime writer David Aaron Moore. Learn about Nellie Freeman, who nearly decapitated her husband with a straight razor in 1926. Discover how the ghosts of Camp Green infantrymen, the doughboys of World War I, still scream in the Southern night. Read about the seventy-one passengers who lost their lives as Eastern Airlines Flight 212 fell to the earth one foggy night in 1974. Come along and experience the grisly past of the City of Churches.
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THE SAGA OF BENNY MACK
Some months ago, more than a year in fact, Charlotte nighthawks stood on the streets with their mouths wide open and gazed in amazement as a trim-looking youth socked and socked and at each sock an opponent went down. Finally, however, the youth was forced to concede victory to the continuous line of reinforcements. That youth was Benny Mack, the Charlotte boxer who many people believed would be unable to break an egg with his blows.
– Text from an unidentified Charlotte paper sometime in the late 1920s, reprinted in the Shelby Daily Star, April 1, 1961.
His name was Elijah Ben Quinn McIntyre. He was born in 1903 in McDowell County to Jeremiah Francis and Myra Harris McIntyre. As a child growing up in Rutherford County, he was attacked by a rabid dog and infected with the virus that invariably leads to acute encephalitis, madness and — in most humans — death. As there was no cure for such an infection in those days, McIntyre was chained to a tree and left in a thrashing rage. Miraculously, he recovered, perhaps becoming one of the few known cases in history to survive a rabies infection without treatment.
As a teenager, he served the then-requisite military period — doing a stint in the navy just after World War I. It gave him a chance to see some of the world and hone his boxing skills.
Afterwards, McIntyre returned to North Carolina and moved to Charlotte in 1922.
In 1927, he married his first wife, Virginia, in a ceremony held on June 5, in Chester, South Carolina. The two came back to Charlotte and, less than a year later, Virginia gave birth to a daughter they would name Bennie Sue, in honor of the aspiring father.
It was here in Charlotte that McIntyre was able to indulge his passion of boxing. Standing at just five foot four and weighing less than 140 pounds, he was a diminutive yet wiry young man and was categorized as a "welterweight" or a super lightweight. He quickly rose from an unknown street boxer to a pro — now going by the name Benny Mack — and capturing the headlines: "Mack Defeats His Opponent By Knockout," "Mack Signs For Bout On Local Card" and "Bennie Mack Is Semi-Final Winner."
It was also here that an event occurred that would forever change McIntyre's life and end the life of another man — Charlotte landscape gardener William Moore.
Newspapers announced the story of how Moore was shot in the back over an argument relating to an unpaid debt of five dollars for a bulldog he had purchased from McIntyre. McIntyre confessed that he did indeed shoot the man, but claimed it was in self-defense.
Despite his claim, he was charged with first-degree murder. The trial began on February 26, 1929, and Charlotteans were riveted. Presiding over the case was Judge A.M. Stack, a man known for his Southern traditionalist views and conservative religious convictions.
Witness after witness would take the stand. Most damning was the testimony of the victim's brother-in-law, Dillard Price, who provided his version of a firsthand account of what occurred. According to Price, he and his brother-in-law were walking along the Concord Highway on February 3 at the same time McIntyre was driving by. McIntyre stopped his car and called Moore over to speak with him. Price said he overheard McIntyre ask Moore when he was going to pay him the five dollars he owed him for the bulldog he'd sold to Moore a few weeks earlier.
"I'll pay you Monday," Moore reportedly said.
"You're going to pay me now," McIntyre replied.
Moore turned to walk away from the confrontation and McIntyre opened fire, shooting Moore in the back — not once, but three times. One entered Moore's left side between the fifth and sixth ribs, another pierced the spinal cord at the back of his neck and the third entered the chest two inches below the nipple, penetrating the lung.
McIntyre's version of what happened is somewhat different. He claimed that Moore drew a pistol on him first and that he only fired in self-defense. In his testimony, McIntyre recalled encountering Moore on the Thursday prior to the incident and questioning him about the five dollars. He said that Moore cursed him, laughed and then drove away in his car. "God damn you," McIntyre recalled Moore saying. "Come on out here and I'll settle now for that dog. I'm going to kill you yet about that dog, you son of a bitch."
McIntyre confirmed he was shaken up about the encounter, and when he ran in to him days later, he called out, "What did you say, old boy?"
"God damn you poor soul," Moore reportedly replied. "I told you I would pay you for that dog." McIntyre insisted that Moore then leveled a pistol at him and he had no choice but to fire in self-defense.
Two days later, on February 28, McIntyre was convicted of second-degree murder and was sentenced to twenty to twenty-five years. As he was led away from the courtroom, he encountered Price, and a slew of angry verbal threats ensued.
"God damn you," he said to Price. "I wish to God I had killed you and your whole damn family and had gone to the electric chair."
Judge Stack immediately hauled McIntyre back into the courtroom.
"Now young man, you think you're bigger than the law and you can say what you like?" Stack asked.
"No your honor. I don't think I'm bigger than the law," McIntyre replied. "You would have said the same thing I did if Price and the others were swearing the lies they did."
Stack turned his attention to the clerk of court: "Clerk, strike out the first sentence and make it read, not less than 22 years and not more than 30." Stack then launched into a holier-than-thou tirade about the evils of boxing:
Prize-fighting is nothing but fighting that has been legalized. There is not a boxing match that doesn't diminish respect for the law. I think I see its evil effect on the young men and boys growing up. The moving pictures are doing the same thing.
A boxer, like Benny Mack, has his instinct developed for pugnacity. Why, up in Shelby the other day another fighter killed a man, too. It's a felony to fight in North Carolina outside of Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and some other cities. Down here they get in a ring and pummel each other. That destroys a man's idea of things.
This killing by Benny Mack was wholly inexcusable. There was no earthly grounds for it. It looks like a pure deliberate slaughter of a man.
In what may have been a coincidence, or perhaps gifted insight, Stack went on to further lament the difficulties in convicting a well-known figure.
"It's hard to convict a man with a following," Stack continued. "His friends trot down to the governor for a retrial. I've sentenced many people who have never served a day."
McIntyre did, in fact, serve slightly less than three years. It wasn't his friends who trotted down to the governor's office, however. It was McIntyre's grandmother, Mary Jane Gardner, who convinced her cousin, then-governor Max Gardner, to pardon her grandson.
By early 1933, McIntyre was released and ready to take on the world again. This time he set his sights on Hollywood, leaving behind his wife Virginia and daughter Bennie Sue in Charlotte.
Arriving in California sometime in late 1933, McIntyre secured work as a stunt double for James Cagney, stepping in for the tight spots in films like Winner Take All, The Irish in Us and The City for Conquest. He reportedly developed a friendship of sorts with actress Ginger Rogers and eventually landed a position as fitness instructor at MGM.
He didn't give up boxing entirely during his time in Hollywood. According to records at the World Boxing Association, Benny Mack went head to head with hard hitters Angus Smith (in Ventura on May 3, 1935) and Wally Hally (at Legion Stadium on June 21, 1935).
He lost both fights and there are no other recorded match dates for McIntyre following those two.
On June 25, 1937, Virginia G. McIntyre sued her absent husband for divorce. In documents filed, it's clear that she had no contact with her husband for a few years. Furthermore, the documents indicate, authorities were unable to ascertain Benny McIntyre's whereabouts and that he could not be located within the state of North Carolina. She retained custody of their daughter, Bennie Sue.
Although what exactly occurred over the next five years of McIntyre's life is unclear, surviving relatives later confirmed that it was during this period, more than likely, that he left Hollywood and became involved in the shadowy underworld of Chicago gangland crime and violence. Although McIntyre never confirmed any specifics, he admitted to working with Al Capone and that he had killed again, after William Moore.
Perhaps it was because he was running from something, or maybe he was just tired and felt like it was time to go home. Whatever the case, McIntyre returned to North Carolina and took up residence in Rutherford County in the early '40s.
Now forty, he married his second wife, fifteen-year-old Mary Sue Lovelace.
"When he came back here he was one of the very few people around to have a car," says Benny McIntyre Jr., who agreed to be interviewed about his father. "She was young, but he had a suit and a car so he was viewed as good material to marry her off to back in those days. Today he would probably be arrested!"
Over the next twenty years, McIntyre raised a family with his young wife, leaving behind old ghosts and holding down a regular job. For the most part, everything went smoothly. They had six children together — Jerry, Steve, Martha, Trudy, Bennie Sue and Benny Quinn Jr. Two other children died at birth.
"Yes, I was the second Bennie Sue," said daughter Bennie Sue Howard (also interviewed), recalling her father. "I never knew the first one. My dad didn't know what happened to her for sure either, but he did go back to Charlotte a few times to try and find her. He always wanted to let her know that he loved her and was sorry how things turned out. As far as I know, he never saw her again."
According to the Internet Movie Database and a listing from a television section of a newspaper, it appears that sometime during 1960 or 1961, McIntyre may have returned to Los Angeles briefly for a few small television roles. Acting under the name Mark Tanny, he purportedly played the role of a ticket clerk in an episode of the fledgling ABC series My Three Sons, entitled "Bub Leaves Home."
In a very short-lived ABC series called The Roaring Twenties, his appearance in the program actually prompted enough attention to garner a short blurb in the Fresno Bee:
Ex-Pugs Play Thugs
Hollywood — Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom, former world light- weight champion, and Benny Mack, one time welterweight prize fighter, play muscle men in "Asparagus Tipps" on ABC-TV's "The Roaring Twenties." Mack, acting under the name of Mark Tanny, formerly was athletic director at MGM.
This fact is disputed by Howard, who says she can't recall him being absent during that period for any length of time. Benny Jr. sees it as a distinct possibility, however. "I wouldn't be surprised," he says with a chuckle. "He always had something going on. It's entirely possible that he did go away for a few days and didn't tell my mother anything other than just he was going away for work. I guess we'll never really know."
Whether McIntyre stole away for a few days in late 1960 or early 1961 to film a couple of bit parts for some extra money or someone else was trying to cash in on his former notoriety is uncertain.
One thing that is clear, however: everything started to fall apart in 1961. Since he had returned to the Rutherford County area some twenty years earlier, he had worked as a used car salesman. With six children to feed by 1961, there just wasn't enough money to go around.
A few weeks later, desperate to get money for his family but too proud to turn to charity for help, he attempted to sell his life story to the Shelby Daily Star for $500. They turned him down, telling him it just wasn't that interesting.
On March 21, now at the end of his wits and obviously showing the signs of mental degeneration, he marched into the Marion Bank & Trust Company, undisguised, and robbed it of $3,641. During the process, he herded three employees and four customers into a back office and then forced a bank officer to fill a paper bag with cash. He escaped with the money on rain-slick streets, but was later identified, picked up and charged with armed robbery. Headlines read: "Ex-Pug Charged in Bank Robbery."
Tried and convicted in Asheville and sentenced to fifteen years in prison, he was sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
"After three weeks it became clear to all the people around him that my father was mentally ill," says Howard. He thought everybody was a communist and they were all trying to kill his family."
"He was diagnosed with pugilistic schizophrenia," says Bennie Jr. "All those years of boxing damaged his brain."
In the years that ensued, McIntyre was moved from hospital to hospital until finally his wife Mary reached out to Senator Robert Kennedy, who intervened and had her ailing husband moved to Broughton Hospital, a state-owned mental care facility in Morganton, where he was eventually allowed to return home for brief visits.
"He would come home after being in the hospital for some time, getting good care and the proper medication," says Benny Jr. "But after a while he would decide that he was fine and he didn't need his medication anymore. After the effect of the meds wore off, he would start acting strange again and it was apparent that he was mentally ill. Inevitably he would always have to go back to the hospital."
On one of his last visits home, he became disoriented and wandered away from home. He was picked up by police, who recognized him immediately and returned him to his residence.
It was his daughter Trudy that would take him back to the hospital that time.
"It was the last time I saw him," says Benny Jr. "All I can remember him saying to me before he left was 'Be good.'"
Unbeknown to Trudy, her father had concealed a weapon. When they arrived back at Broughton and met with a staff member, all hell broke loose.
"The doctor put his hand on my dad's shoulder, to reassure him in a friendly manner," Howard says. "But in the state of mind my father was in, he thought the doctor was trying to hurt him. He pulled out this knife and stabbed the doctor in the stomach."
The doctor survived and McIntyre would receive treatment, though he did not leave the hospital to visit with his family again.
The little man who made big headlines in the Queen City saw his final day on August 14, 1973, when he died of natural causes in Broughton Hospital. He was laid to rest in a solitary grave site at Piney Knob Cemetery in his beloved Rutherford County.CHAPTER 2
She was born Nellie Ellis Green on October 31, 1906, in Rutherford County to Robert Green and Junie Etta Bridges. For a brief period in 1926, she would make all of Charlotte stand up and take notice.
It was her marriage to Alton Freeman, and the outcome of that union, that would thrust her into the public spotlight. Alton was the son of farmer Adolphus Freeman and his wife Nannie. Born in Berryhill Township in 1903, he was the youngest — and clearly the most spoiled — of all the eight Freeman children.
Exactly how Nellie and Alton met is unknown.
What is known is that they were briefly married, around five months, beginning sometime in late 1925 and ending abruptly on the evening of May 22, 1926, when Nellie admits that she killed Alton — albeit accidentally, she claims — by slashing him in the throat and nearly decapitating him.
Before things all came to a head, Nellie had been working at Nebel Knitting Mills, where she worked up to ten hours a day, bringing home less than fifteen dollars a week, much of which Alton would take from her.
According to Nellie, Alton had been chasing other women, refusing to find a job and was planning to leave her. A convicted auto thief, he announced that day that he was going to steal some whiskey to fund his getaway from her. Although it never came up during the trial, Nellie confided later in life that Alton was also attempting to force her to sleep with other men to bring in more money.
Nellie insisted she loved Alton despite all of his shortcomings. Both Alton's mother and Nellie attempted to dissuade the young man from his plans, to no avail. When she was alone with Alton, she once again begged him to stay. When he rebuked her advances, she pulled out a straight razor and took a swipe at his throat. She claimed she didn't know how sharp the blade was, and only meant to scare him and teach him a lesson.
Nevertheless, the turbulent life of one Alton Freeman was snuffed out in one deft swoop.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Charlotte: Murder, Mystery and Mayhem"
Copyright © 2008 David Aaron Moore.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Saga of Benny Mack,
The Mausoleum Murder,
Franklin Freeman: Who Killed ReRe?,
The Society Slayer,
Solved After Forty Years: The Starnes Case,
Did the Millionaire Kill His Mistress?,
Outlaws Motorcycle Massacre,
Mercy: The Haunted Hospital?,
Palmer Fire School: When Walls Speak,
Ball O' Fire,
The Crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 212,
The Guthery Goes Up in Flames,
The Charlotte Lounge Fires,
The Second Ward Trolley Disaster,
Civil Rights Bombings: Hatred Explodes,
When a Lynch Mob Ruled Charlotte,
About the Author,