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Thomas H. Cook's True Crime: Blood Echoes and Early Graves

Thomas H. Cook's True Crime: Blood Echoes and Early Graves

by Thomas H. Cook

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Two gripping accounts of true crime and its devastating aftermath from an Edgar Award winner hailed as “a writer of poetic gifts” (Los Angeles Times Book Review).
Blood Echoes: In May 1973, three men escaped from a Maryland prison—and went on to commit one of the most horrific murders in American history, slaughtering six members of the Alday family in Donalsonville, Georgia. Their depredations were followed by a trial that only continued the nightmare for those whose loved ones were murdered.
Based on court documents, police records, and interviews with the surviving family members, this is a chilling look at a kind of blind, inhuman evil rarely seen in our world.
“[A] scorching indictment of the legal and court systems.” —Publishers Weekly
Early Graves: Alvin and Judith Ann Neelley were perfect for each other; both shared twisted urges the other could appreciate. At first playing pranks and committing vandalism, their sick ambitions grew, until they targeted thirteen-year-old Lisa Ann Millican—whose brutalized corpse was found three days later. And she was only the first to die.
Drawing on police records and extensive interviews, Thomas H. Cook recounts the killing spree of Alvin and Judith, who at nineteen became the youngest woman ever sentenced to death row.
“Strong writing . . .enhances the book’s grisly appeal.” —Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504051385
Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road
Publication date: 02/13/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 812
Sales rank: 1,066,393
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

THOMAS H. COOK was born in Fort Payne, Alabama. He has been nominated for Edgar Awards seven times in five different categories. He received the Best Novel Edgar, the Barry for Best Novel, and has been nominated for numerous other awards.

Read an Excerpt


River Road Seminole County, Georgia

By five-thirty in the afternoon, the smell of scorched gunpowder was thick in every room. No one knew exactly how many shots had been fired, only that the old man had required more than anyone else, rising determinedly from the bed, one side of his forehead already blown open, but rising anyway, as the bullets rained down upon him until he slumped back finally, still breathing, but only for a few seconds more.

Another body lay beside his, thick and husky, the arms made strong by the rigorous farm labor he'd done all his life.

In the next room, a third body sprawled facedown across the small sofa, the legs hung over the side so that the feet touched the floor. In the opposite bedroom, two more men lay on a tiny bed, the blue smoke from the pistols still curling out the half-closed door.

With five men dead, the only question that remained was what to do with the woman.

She lay on her back beneath the kitchen table, whimpering softly, but entirely conscious, her blouse pulled over her breasts, her panties in a crumpled mass beside her.

The four men who moved about the trailer hardly glanced at her as they rifled through the drawers and cabinets and closets, looking for guns and money.

From her place on the floor, it would have been hard to keep track of the men. The tiny windows of the trailer let in very little light, and that was further constricted by the curtains which hung over them. As for the lights inside the trailer, the men had not turned them on, preferring to skulk through the rooms in a gloomy shadow, muttering to each other about their next move, their eyes averted as if they did not want to remind themselves that she was still there, still alive, that there was one to go.

In the end, it was a topic that could not be avoided, however, and they discussed their options quietly while she continued to lie beneath the kitchen table, her eyes combing its low ceiling, or crawling along the walls and windows, lighting from time to time on some little knick-knack she'd bought across the border in Florida or in one of the small shops of nearby Donalsonville.

She'd married her husband, Jerry, only a few years before in a ceremony at the Spring Creek Baptist Church, a small, wood-framed sanctuary that sat on a shady hill a few miles from the trailer. All Jerry's relatives had crowded into the church that day, the whole Alday clan. Among them: Ned, Jerry's father, dressed in his Sunday best; Aubrey, Ned's brother, beaming from the front pew; Shuggie and Jimmy, the two brothers who kidded Jerry mercilessly, their faces grinning over their roughly knotted ties. All their bodies were with her now, their feet dangling from the beds or off the sofa, their shoes still encrusted with the rich topsoil of their farm.

The strangers told her to get up, and one of them stepped over and jerked her roughly from the floor. He was a short man, hardly more than a boy, with long dark hair that swept over one eye. Earlier, he'd called her a bitch and slapped her while the others looked on, waiting their turn. Then he'd forced her down, first to her knees, then on to her back, ripping at her clothes, his hands all over her, his teeth sinking into her breast, breaking the skin, leaving a jagged purple mark.

"Get dressed," he barked.

She'd worn turquoise pants and a matching sweater to work that day, and she put them back on slowly, already exhausted, standing completely still, except for the trembling, while the blindfold was pulled tightly over her eyes, then another cloth stuffed into her mouth.

A few seconds later she was outside, the last light of afternoon pouring over the undulating rows of freshly planted corn and beans and peanuts as they pushed her toward the waiting car.

Once in the car, she crouched down in the back seat floorboard, moaning softly, her knees against her chest, while the one black man among the three white ones held the gun on her, staring silently from over the barrel, his brown eyes wide and bulging behind the thick black-framed glasses.

The car moved in a zigzag pattern for a time, then turned off the road entirely and headed into the woods, its wheels bumping across the rutted ground, weeds and branches slapping noisily at its sides until it finally came to a halt.

In a moment she was outside again, first perched on the hood of the car, like an ornament for the men to gaze at, then on her knees, dragged to them by her hair, and finally on her back again, with the dark-haired man on top of her, the black man watching from above, while the other two moved quickly around and inside a second car, wiping it with brightly colored bits of cloth.

Soon the other two returned to the car, one of them sucking at a bottle of whiskey. The other one, blond and lanky, the youngest of them all, stood away, slumped against the back of the car, as if keeping his distance from the others.

She felt the dark-haired man pull himself off her, his eyes now trained on the others. He laughed and nodded toward her, his gaze still fixed upon the other men. "Any of you want some more of this?" he asked casually, as if offering his companions one last sip from the nearly empty glass.


Mc Connellsburg, Pennsylvania

Several days before, on May 11, at approximately two o'clock in the afternoon, Riley Miller walked into the headquarters of the McConnellsburg Police Department and worriedly filed a Missing Persons report on his nineteen-year-old son, Richard Wayne Miller, a senior at the local high school.

Police officials asked Miller the usual questions. Had the boy acted strangely in recent days? Was he having personal problems? Had conditions deteriorated in his home life? In other words, was it possible Richard had run away?

Mr. Miller was adamant. His son was a good student, a member of the Future Farmers of America. He held down a job at the local Exxon station. He was an all-American boy.

But he had not come home the previous night, and Riley Miller wanted to know why. "I thought he might have gone to stay with a friend," he told police.

But he hadn't, Mr. Miller went on, his voice darkening with each passing second, a gloomy apprehension now rising in the faces of the policemen who surrounded him. As they listened, Richard Miller began to take shape in their minds, no longer a name on a form, but a young man with an easy smile and helpful manner, friendly, modest, a perfect son.

"I called all of Richard's friends," Mr. Miller insisted. "But none of them have seen him."

Mr. Miller had also called the Exxon station where Richard worked, but none of his coworkers had seen him since his departure the previous afternoon.

"When did he leave the station?" one of the officers asked.

"Around the middle of the afternoon."

"What was he driving?"

"A green Chevy Super Sport," Mr. Miller answered. "He was going into town to buy some auto parts."

"Did he buy them?"

"Yes, he did. Then got in his car and headed down U.S. 30."

Down U.S. 30, and into oblivion.

At 9:00 A.M. the next day, Pennsylvania State Trooper Larry Good received an urgent telephone call from Riley Miller.

"Someone saw Richard," Mr. Miller told him.


"Her name is Deborah Poole. She's with me now."

Good drove immediately to Miller's house and listened as Poole told her story.

At around 12:30 P.M. on May 10, Poole told him, she'd been on her way to pick up her children at her mother's house just off U.S. 30 when she'd seen Richard Miller traveling west in his green Chevy Super Sport. As their two cars approached Patterson Run Road and slowed down to make a left turn, she and Miller had glanced to the left and seen three white men and one black one as they hustled around the cab of a pickup truck. Both Miller and she had recognized the truck as belonging to a local resident, Lawrence Schooley. But Schooley had been nowhere around the truck, Poole added, and so she had become suspicious.

"Why?" Good asked.

"Because of the men around it," Poole said. "They didn't seem like they ought to have been in Mr. Schooley's truck."

"What did the men look like?" Good asked.

"The black one wore thick dark-rimmed glasses," Poole answered. "And one of the white ones had long light-brown hair."

Miller had become suspicious of the men too, Poole added, and after they'd made the left turn, they'd both stopped on Patterson Run Road to look at what was going on around Schooley's truck. Poole had remained in her car, but Richard had gotten out of his and walked up to where she had stopped.

"Did he say anything to you?" Good asked.

"Yes," Poole answered. "He asked me if I knew any of the men we could see around Lawrence's truck. I told him that I'd never seen any of them before."

"Did he say anything else?"

"Yes," Poole said. "He told me that he was going to hang around and watch where they went. If they pulled away, he was going to follow them."

According to Poole, Miller had then returned to his car and backed down the road to U.S. 30, from which position he would be able to observe the men at the truck, then follow them should they pull back out onto the highway.

"And that's where you left him?" Good asked. "Sitting in his car?" Poole nodded. "I didn't think anything else about it until I heard he was missing."

Later that same afternoon, Good consulted a recent Maryland State Police bulletin about a breakout at the Poplar Hill Correctional Institute, a minimum-security prison outside Baltimore. Three men had simply walked off the grounds at three in the morning on May 5. Two of the men, Carl Junior Isaacs and his half-brother, Wayne Carl Coleman, were white. The third, George Elder Dungee, was black. A fourth man, the younger brother of one of the escapees, was suspected of having joined the gang.

The next day, suspecting that the men Poole had seen around Lawrence Schooley's truck might be the same as those who had escaped from Poplar Hill, Good presented her with two separate photographic lineups. One consisted of six pictures of black men, all were wearing glasses. She identified George Elder Dungee as the man she'd seen sitting placidly in the back of Schooley's truck.

Next Good presented her with a second lineup consisting of seven photographs of young white males. Poole picked William Carroll ("Billy") Isaacs as the longhaired youth she'd seen three days before. Billy Isaacs was the fifteen-year-old brother of Carl Junior Isaacs.

Some time later, a second witness came forward. His name was Norman Strait, and he told Good that as he'd been coming down U.S. 30, he'd seen several men loading material from a blue Chevrolet into Schooley's truck. He'd stopped to observe them more closely, and taken his hunting rifle from the gun rack and drawn a bead on each of the four men. Through the powerful lens of his hunting scope, he had watched them haul things back and forth between the two vehicles. One had remained idle while the others hustled about, and Strait had been able to get a good look at him. He was short, with long dark hair that often fell over one eye.

In a photographic lineup, Strait identified Carl Isaacs as the man he had sighted through the cross-hairs of his hunting scope. "I guess I should have shot that son-of-a-bitch right there," he would tell Good only three weeks later. "It would have saved a lot of lives."


ne thing was sure, and Carl Junior Isaacs must have known it as he led Wayne and George out of Poplar Hill on the morning of May 5, 1973. He was in command, a position he reveled in.

Born on August 9, 1953, Carl was the son of a father who abandoned him and a mother he despised. His father, George Archie Isaacs, had drifted up from Mountain City, Tennessee, where he'd worked as a delivery man and a service station attendant before finally coming north.

Once in Maryland, George took a variety of odd jobs, everything from working at a mushroom plant to plying his skills as a carpenter.

A woman proved his undoing, as far as remaining in the North was concerned. Her name was Betty, and when George met her she was already married to Carl Coleman, the father of her four children. Such incidental facts did not stop Archie and Betty from deepening their relationship, however, and when Coleman realized he was being cuckolded, he promptly signed a warrant against George, charging him with "breaking peace" between Betty and himself. As a result, George spent forty days in jail.

Once released, he went back to Betty. By then, Coleman had disappeared into the wilds of West Virginia, where he was later rumored to have been shot.

Though George would later describe Betty as a faithless wife who did "nothing but sit around and drink," he fathered so many children by her during the next few years that in 1988, when interviewed by a defense team psychologist, he could remember neither the names nor the exact number of his offspring. Their separate personal identities equally eluded him. "I'm just trying to remember which one that was," he said, when asked about the early life of Carl Junior, the son who would bring to the Isaacs name a singularly dark renown.

It wasn't very long before George had had enough of family life. Betty's own behavior toward him was bad enough, as he saw it, but even worse was her tendency to set the children against him. Egged on by Betty, they tormented him mercilessly, finally forcing him to do the "dirty thing," as he later described it, of abandoning them, the idea suddenly popping into his head as he sat in a diner after dropping Betty off at work. It was the kind of bizarre whimsy he'd already passed on to his eldest son, though in Carl it would take on a far grimmer character, horrendous acts committed with a shrug.

Once his father had deserted the family, and with his mother either drunk at home or holed up with her latest romantic interest, Carl and the other children were left to fend for themselves. Roaming in what amounted to a family pack, they moved along the streets while their neighbors watched them apprehensively from behind tightly closed doors.

What the neighbors saw was a collapsing family structure, its center gone, its sides caving in. Soon the Isaacs children were reduced to rags, though still wandering together, clinging to whatever loose strands of family life they might gather, particularly to such communal efforts as foraging for food in garbage cans.

But as the weeks passed, their lack of supervision finally drew the attention of various Maryland authorities. At the Hartford Elementary School, teachers noticed that the Isaacs children were unkempt, their teeth rotten, that they stank from unwashed clothes and poor personal hygiene. Called in to explain this condition, Betty Isaacs declared that it was up to the public school teachers to take care of her children, an attitude educational officials greeted with helplessness and dismay.

Over the next few weeks, the mischief and disorder of the Isaacs children grew steadily more severe, until, in April 1965, Maryland officials assumed full responsibility by declaring them wards of the state.

By that time Carl Junior, now eleven, had been caught stealing in his elementary school, as well as in Korvette's, a local department store. He was placed in a foster home, along with Bobby, his younger brother, and Hazel, his older sister.

For a time, the placement appeared successful. Carl joined the Boy Scouts and began playing trumpet in school.

By May of 1966, however, the darker angels of his experience had begun to reassert themselves. He was caught stealing again, first at his school, then at the construction site where his foster father worked. A psychologist declared the thievery, along with numerous other incidents of bad behavior and foul language, to be entirely consistent with Carl's background and advised against any form of therapy.

Predictably, the stealing continued. His schoolwork slumped as well, so that by December he was failing four subjects.

By May of 1967, Carl's behavior had darkened considerably. Now fourteen, he'd begun to resent the whole notion of school attendance. His bouts of truancy lengthened steadily, and even less taxing activities came to represent additional elements of the "straight life" for which he now harbored a growing contempt. Finally the Boy Scouts dismissed him, a circumstance that led to even more heated arguments with his foster parents.

Increasingly beyond restraint, Carl grasped the solution most ready-to-hand: flight. On May 22, he ran away from his foster home, though he seems to have had little idea of where to run. He wandered the streets until, two days later, he was picked up by authorities and placed in the Maryland Training School for Boys on Old Hartford Road. Two subsequent psychological examinations found him suffering from depression, a poor self-image, and pronounced inability to handle his increasingly angry and tumultuous feelings.

After a short stay at the Maryland Training School for Boys, Carl was placed in a second foster home in October 1967. Almost immediately after placement, he began to act out. His performance in school was poor, and his new foster parents found him a disruptive and uncontrollable presence in their home.


Excerpted from "Thomas H. Cook's True Crime"
by .
Copyright © 1990 Thomas H. Cook.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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

  • Contents
  • Blood Echoes
    • Title Page
    • Acknowledgments
    • Author’s note
    • Dedication
    • Contents
    • Chapter One
    • Chapter Two
    • Chapter Three
    • Chapter Four
    • Chapter Five
    • Chapter Six
    • Chapter Seven
    • Chapter Eight
    • Chapter Nine
    • Chapter Ten
    • Chapter Eleven
    • Chapter Twelve
    • Chapter Thirteen
    • Chapter Fourteen
    • Chapter Fifteen
    • Chapter Sixteen
    • Chapter Seventeen
    • Chapter Eighteen
    • Chapter Nienteen
    • Chapter Twenty
    • Chapter Twenty-one
    • Chapter Twenty-two
    • Chapter Twenty-three
    • Chapter Twenty-four
    • Chapter Twenty-five
    • Chapter Twenty-six
    • Chapter Twenty-seven
    • Chapter Twenty-eight
    • Chapter Twenty-nine
    • Chapter Thirty
  • Image Gallery
  • Early Graves
    • Title Page
    • Dedication
    • Acknowledgments
    • A Note on the Book
    • The Convergence of the Twain
    • CHAPTER 1: City of Seven Hills
    • CHAPTER 2: Fire in the Night
    • CHAPTER 3: Boney and Claude
    • CHAPTER 4: “Where Is Lisa Ann?”
    • CHAPTER 5: “Where I Left Her”
    • CHAPTER 6: “To Feel Like a Father”
    • CHAPTER 7: Roman Centurion
    • CHAPTER 8: Who Was Lisa Ann?
    • CHAPTER 9: “2 Good 2 Be 4 Gotten”
    • CHAPTER 10: Unraveling Threads
    • CHAPTER 11: “Are You Patricia?”
    • CHAPTER 12: Bearing Witness
    • CHAPTER 13: Voices
    • CHAPTER 14: Full Court Press
    • CHAPTER 15: Twenty-five to One
    • CHAPTER 16: “I’ll Take Him”
    • CHAPTER 17: Judy
    • CHAPTER 18: “Why?”
    • CHAPTER 19: “I Thought He Would Throw Up”
    • CHAPTER 20: Advisaries
    • CHAPTER 21: Life and Letters
    • CHAPTER 22: The Little Chicago of the South
    • CHAPTER 23: The Ones Who Got Away
    • CHAPTER 24: “She Did”
    • CHAPTER 25: “The Main Part of a Woman”
    • CHAPTER 26: “He Was Always Smiling”
    • CHAPTER 27: “Al Did”
    • CHAPTER 28: “How Would You Draw Hers?”
    • CHAPTER 29: “Evil, Evil”
    • CHAPTER 30: “She’s Mine”
    • CHAPTER 31: “If It Had Been True”
  • Image Gallery
  • About the Author

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