Monday, April 4, 2016

Crime and Punishment in South Georgia

Crime and Punishment Museum
(Old Turner County Jail)
241 East College Avenue
Ashburn, Georgia

The war in Europe had been heating for only a few months when the front page of The Atlanta Constitution noted that a touch of winter was being felt in Georgia. The paper was almost entirely taken up with news from the fighting that the minor note on page 7 might be totally disregarded by the average reader.

12 September 1914
Page 7

HANGED FOR THE MURDER OF HIS MOTHER-IN-LAW

Ashburn, Ga., September 11.—(Special.)—Miles L. Cribb paid the death penalty on the gallows in the county jail here this afternoon at 1 o’clock for the murder of his mother-in-law, Mrs. Mary E. Hancock, near Rebecca, in November, 1913. Only a few close friends of the family were allowed to witness the execution.

After bidding his aged mother, brothers and little 9-year-old son goodbye the condemned man mounted the scaffold with signs of nervousness.

Sheriff King sprang the trap at exactly 1 o’clock. Twelve minutes later Cribb was pronounced dead. The body was turned over to relatives who will leave tonight for Jones county where Cribb will be buried tomorrow.

The murder for which Cribb was hanged was serious enough to make a headline on the front page of The Atlanta Constitution’s front page.

8 November 1913
Page 1

THREE WOMEN ARE VICTIMS OF ENRAGED FARMER’S FURY; ONE DEAD AND TWO DYING

Miles Cribb of Rebecca, Ga., Kills His Mother-in-Law and Seriously Wounds His Wife and Sister-in-Law.

EFFORT MADE BY WIFE TO SECURE ONLY CHILD LEADS TO THE TRAGEDY

Estrangement Between South Georgia Farmer and His Wife Leads to the Death of Aged Woman and Wounding of Her Daughters

Cordele, Ga., November 7.—(Special.) Enraged because his wife would not agree to a reconciliation with him after a brief separation of two weeks, M. L. Cribb, a Turner county farmer, living about two miles from Rebecca, tonight about 6 o’clock shot and instantly killed his mother-in-law, Mrs. J. G. B. Hancock, fired two bullets into the body of his wife, probably fatally wounding her, and then turning the pistol on his sister-in-law, Miss Sallie Hancock, fired the remaining bullets, inflicting a wound from which she will probably die during the night.

Reports are to the effect that Cribb went to the Hancock home about 6 o’clock and, pushing open the dining room door without a word of warning, ripped out a revolver and shot Mrs. Hancock, 70 years of age, dead in her chair at the supper table, fatally wounded his wife and seriously wounded his sister-in-law, Miss Sallie Hancock.

[…]Cribb hastily left the scene before aid from nearby neighbors reached the wounded women and sought a hiding place in the woods nearby.

Miles Cribb made his way to his brother’s home where he attempted suicide by putting his revolver to his head but his brother, Rev. W. J. Cribb, was able to grab the weapon from him and urged him to surrender. The article notes that this horrific incident stemmed from his mother-in-law’s attempt to get custody of the couple’s child, presumably the son mentioned in the article about the hanging. The 1913 article concludes with the gathering of a mob wishing to lynch Mr. Cribb.

[…]Feeling is strong against Cribb in the Rebecca district, and is rapidly growing stronger, and it is believed that Warden Putman is trying to get Cribb to a place of safety early enough prevent mob violence.

[…] Late reports from the little town are that a mob has formed near the scene of the shooting and will make an effort to take Cribb from the officers f they are located. These reports have not been verified.

The streets of Rebecca are practically deserted, nearly all the male citizens having gone to the scene of the tragedy.

The following day Mr. Cribb again was in the front page headlines of The Atlanta Constitution:

9 November 1913
Page 1

I Know I Must Pay Penalty But Save Me From Lynchers, Cries Cribb, Women’s Slayer

Cordele, Ga., November 8.—(Special.) Miles L. Cribb who was the principal actor in one of the dastardly and horrible crimes ever enacted in the section of Georgia…is now safely confined in the Dougherty county jail [in Albany, GA]. While he is now probably safe from mob violence, feeling in the community near the scene of the tragedy continues [to be] very intense, and it is thought that until he is given trial, if then, it will not be advisable to return him to the Turner county jail.

[…]Upon the arrival of Putnam [the warden who arrested Cribb] and Cribb on the outskirts of Ashburn they found a mob had gathered there, intending to do violence to Cribb if he was brought there. [Sheriff John A.] King was notified of the whereabouts of Cribb, and eluding the angry citizens, he took him in an automobile as rapidly as possible to Sylvester and then to Albany.

Once the furor died down, Mr. Cribb was eventually transferred to the Turner County Jail where he faced a jury next door in the Italianate halls of the Turner County Courthouse on January 6, 1914. Both Cribb’s wife and sister-in-law survived their wounds and were present. Word of the trial was not published in The Atlanta Constitution until nearly a month had passed.

7 February 1914
Page 12

CRIBB MUST HANG FOR BLOODY DEED

Wife Smiles as Ashburn Man Is Sentenced for the Killing of His Mother-in-Law.

Ashburn, Ga., January 6.—(Special.) “We, the jury, find the defendant guilty,” was the verdict returned this afternoon by the twelve men who had been chosen to decide the fate of Miles Cribb, who was placed on trial in Turner superior court this morning at 8:30 o’clock charged with the murder of Mrs. Mary E. Hancock, hos mother-in-law, in the Rebecca district last November.

Silence pervaded the crowded courtroom from the time the bailiff in charge of the jury announced to the court that they were ready to enter until the last word of the sentence of death was uttered by Judge Cox, fixing Tuesday, March 3, 1914, as the date of execution.

Between his aged mother on the right and the Rev. W. J. Cribb, his brother, on the left, the unfortunate man sat with bowed head for the most part throughout the trial which lasted from 10 a. m. to 1:30 p.m. The mother of the defendant sobbed constantly, as did the defendant, himself, as his counsel feelingly pleaded for mercy from the jury.

[…]The wife of the defendant, together with her relatives, who occupied the front seat, smiled her approval of the verdict and sentence as the condemned man was turned over to the sheriff.

[…]It is very likely that Cribb will remain in the jail here until his execution as the bitter feeling toward him immediately after the crime has almost subsided.

Cribb languished in the Turner County Jail for a number of months before he was executed there in September, less than a year after his heinous deed. The Turner County Jail is not atypical of turn of the century jails that remain in small towns throughout the South. It’s a heavy brick building in the reigning vernacular style of the period with some Romanesque-revival elements. The building takes on a very solemn air, especially when compared to the righteous flamboyancy of the courthouse next door. The jail features a tower-like element on its west corner that echoes the clock tower on the courthouse and the steeple of the Baptist church that can be seen between the two when viewed from College Street. This solemnity gives the building the air of strength, order, and as a place to avoided.
 
Old Turner County Jail, 2015, by Jud McCranie. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
According to a 2003 article, the jail’s strict architectural lines led it to be referred to as the “Turner Castle” by locals. It was constructed in 1906 for Turner County which had been established the previous year. The jail opened in 1907 for inmates. As was common in small town jails, the building provided a home for the sheriff and his family as well as room for inmates. The sheriff’s wife was tasked with providing meals for the inmates as well as her husband and family.

At the back of the building a metal staircase leads to the second floor where male inmates were confined in small 7’X 7’ cells. Two bunks on either side provided sleeping accommodations for the inmates, four of which could be confined in a single cell. The second floor also held a “death cage” where Cribb would have been confined in the hours leading up to his meeting with state-sanctioned fate. This cell is just a few steps from the steel trap door that would drop Cribb to his death at the end of a strong rope. This harsh conditions persisted until the county opened a new jail in 1994.

According to the jail’s documentation in the Georgia Architectural and Historic Properties Survey, the solemn mood of the jail sounded like something akin to a revival service for Cribb’s hanging, the last hanging conducted in Turner County and the second hanging in the jail (the other was in 1907). Mrs. Netta Shingler, who sang a hymn before the execution, described the event as a “once in a lifetime” event attended by the sheriff, deputy sheriff, school superintendent, and a prominent local Methodist minister. A service was held where Mrs. Shingler notes that “if the prisoner heard us he made no signs but those conducting the service were overcome.”

The jail has been preserved as a museum examining the harsh jail conditions that once existed throughout the South. Among the artifacts displayed here is a bloody shirt collar of Miles Cribb’s shirt from his execution. While the museum explores the spirit of crime and punishment in the South, spirits persist here as well, trying to tell their own stories. The spirits slam doors, shake beds, and have been noted to leave indentions in the old mattresses in the cells. Museum staff have allowed a number of paranormal investigation groups investigate the jail with one of the groups, Southeastern Paranormal Investigative and Information Team (S.P.I.R.I.T. Paranormal), having a piece of tile thrown at investigators in the basement during their 2012 investigation. Reportedly, the tile shattered on an opposite wall.

During this investigation members of the team had a variety of personal experiences seeing, hearing, and feeling things. A member of the Ghosts of Georgia Paranormal reported that during their investigation in 2013 that he heard voices throughout the building. The Albany Herald has just recently reported on ghost tours of the jail that are now being conducted on Friday and Saturday nights by the Paranormal Society of Middle Georgia. Perhaps Miles Cribb is still pitifully pleading forgiveness for his heinous deeds.

Sources
“Ashburn, GA. Museum puts a lock on history.” Vindy.com.
     15 July 2003.
“Ashburn man spends the night in haunted jail.” WALB.
     12 June 2015.
Big Bend Ghost Trackers. “Investigation Report for the
     Crime and Punishment Museum.” 6 October 2007.
Blanchard, Haley. Georgia Architectural and Historic Properties
     Survey: Turner County Jail. No date.
“Cribb must hang for bloody deed.” Atlanta Constitution.
     7 February 1914.
Ghosts of Georgia Paranormal Investigations. “Investigation
“Hanged for the murder of his mother-in-law.” Atlanta
     Constitutition. 12 September 1914.
“Historic jail in Ashburn offering ghost tours.” Albany Herald.
     27 March 2016.
“I know I must pay penalty but save me from lynchers. Atlanta
     Constitution. 9 November 1913.
S.P.I.R.I.T. Paranormal. “Investigation Report for Crime
     & Punishment Museum.” 23 June 2012.
“Three women are victims of enraged farmer’s fury.”
     Atlanta Constitution. 8 November 1913.





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