Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South, by Karen L. Cox
Timeline of Events
1932 – Depths of the Great Depression
March: First Natchez Pilgrimage of historic homes under the tagline “Come to Natchez, Where the Old South Still Lives.” Tourists from thirty-eight states visited Natchez, earning the town national attention.
Late July: A black man named Lawrence Williams, a.k.a. Pinkney Williams (“Pink”) arrives in his native Natchez from Chicago (where he was known as George Pearls) to look for work. Within a week he becomes a boarder at the home of Emily Burns and her mother Nellie Black. Pink seeks work from Jennie Merrill as well as her cousin Duncan Minor. He also meets Merrill’s eccentric white neighbors with whom he eventually plots to rob Jennie Merrill.
August 4-5: Jennie Merrill killed in her home Glenburnie during failed robbery. Pearls/Williams very likely the triggerman. Her neighbors Richard “Dick” Dana and Octavia Dockery were arrested at their home Glenwood later that night on August 4th based on comments they made to Sheriff C.P. “Book” Roberts. Merrill’s body discovered in a thicket about 100 yards from her home during the early hours of Friday, August 5.
August 7: George Pearls, a.k.a. Lawrence Williams, a.k.a. “Pink” shot and killed in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, during an unrelated incident while traveling back to Chicago. Gun found on his person used bullets that matched those found at Merrill’s residence. By this time, the story has made headlines in the New York Times.
August 8: Fingerprint evidence collected from inside Merrill’s home identified prints of both Dana and Dockery and they are charged with murder.
Aug 7-14: By now, the story of Dana and Dockery’s eccentric life, along with their jailhouse photo, circulates nationally. Hundreds of people, curious to see “Goat Castle,” come to Natchez and trespass onto the grounds and inside the house.
Meadie Pearls travels by train and escorts her husband’s body from Pine Bluff back to Chicago. Natchez authorities go to Chicago to identify Pearls.
August 14: Two black women, Emily Burns and her mother Nellie Black, are arrested after Pearls/Williams trunk of belongings were located in their home. They are held for four months without an attorney.
August 15: Attorneys volunteer to represent Dick Dana and Octavia Dockery and secure their released on their own recognizance.
Late August: Investigation continues, several arrests made within the black community.
August 23: After eight days of intense questioning, Emily Burns “confesses” to what happened the night of the Merrill murder and is charged as an accessory.
Sept/Oct: As investigation continues, Dana and Dockery begin selling tickets to tour Goat Castle—one to see the grounds, a second to go inside the house. Dana offers piano concerts in the home. They also go on tour in MS and LA to make money, presenting themselves on stage as the “Wild Man” and the “Goat Woman.”
Mid-November: Sheriff Roberts presents evidence to Grand Jury expecting several indictments. Only Pearls and Emily Burns are indicted.
November 25-26: The day after Thanksgiving—the trial of Emily Burns begins. It is completed by noon the following day. She’s convicted by a jury of 12 white men and sentenced to life in prison. She could have been given a death sentence, but there was doubt among members of the jury of her involvement.
December 5: Emily Burns enters the Mississippi State Penitentiary known as Parchman.
August: Octavia Dockery files lawsuits—one of her own and one on Dick Dana’s behalf—suing Sheriff Roberts for false arrest and humiliation. He counters that she and Dana profited from their notoriety. Case is dismissed, but Sheriff re-arrests the pair for Jennie Merrill’s murder. Unable to secure a jury, the judge declares a mistrial.
1933-1940: Even as the Natchez Pilgrimage becomes a national tourist event focused on the grandeur of the Old South, people continue to flock to see Goat Castle and its residents.
December: Mississippi Governor Paul B. Johnson suspends Emily Burns’ sentence during his Christmastime “mercy court.” She returns to Natchez, where she eventually remarries and earns a living as a seamstress—a skill she learned in prison.
October: Richard “Dick” Dana, the “Wild Man,” dies.
February: Octavia files a lawsuit claiming she was Dana’s common law wife and that she’s entitled to keep Glenwood “Goat Castle.” Judge rules against her. She dies three weeks after filing her claim.
September: Emily Burns, known to her family as “Sister,” and to those younger, “Cousin Sister,” dies in Natchez.
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