The sun began to set…

The sun began to set…
On the drive over, my ally (retired ATF agent) had filled the minutes with personal remembrances of Charley, some local moonshine history involving the immediate area and what he had been able to glean from others about that night. As we neared the hallowed ground, J instinctively slowed the car to 35 mph while we each began our personal descent into October, 1966. And I feared it wouldn’t be too difficult to do. Although the better part of the ride had shown rural aspects of Valdosta as more progressive, we were now in an area that seemed stilted by time. As the sun moved lower in the sky, the Georgia pines rose higher to meet it sending their shadows to stretch long and exhausted in the road ahead of us. Emotionally, we too felt stretched and exhausted, but the day wasn’t over yet. I thought about what R had sent in the last text message. The grim reaper meant only one thing — death. As J slowed to a crawl, I sent another message to R and asked if the image was in direct correlation to Charley? The answer came back swift enough – “yes”. Try as I might to remain in the moment; I could not seem to let go of the fear that in my eagerness to pursue this thing I might have just placed us all in greater danger for the name I had sent was of a man still living. I did my best to keep an even demeanor. R had written earlier that afternoon to trust my gut and I was trying… it was just that my gut was so tied up in knots by the time we maneuvered into the bend, I was having a hard time deciphering what it really meant to say!
When in doubt… always remain calm I say, so I focused on what was just outside my window and concentrated on letting go of what was inside my head. Spring had just begun to tip-toe across the southern portion of the state and while the afternoon had been hot- there was a coolness beginning to settle into the air and that suited me just fine. My mind had been filled with so much information in the last several hours that I was beginning to feel claustrophobic inside my own body. Outside my window, the sun continued its dive into the tree tops as we rounded a long curve, broken up by several small bridges in succession. As J searched for a place to light, I tried to imagine what the landscape might have looked like, before suburbia’s crush. There wasn’t much traffic, but there wasn’t much room to pull over either. Just past the last small bridge before the river we drove onto a roughly poured asphalt pad some 20 feet beyond the curb. We got out one by one in silence. While my husband and C took off towards the river to pace off the distance between the bridge and where reports had claimed the body to be, our chaperone educated that the path beyond the rope in front of us was most likely the same one that led into the woods where a clubhouse for the local law enforcement once existed. This was the clubhouse in question referred to in our earlier meeting of the day. J took photos of the area while I tried to take it all in from another angle — Charley’s!
With the recent drawing from my notebook, I began to search the terrain for where Charley’s car might have been located. If you followed common thought, the car would have to had been in the right (westbound) lane and not ½ on the shoulder or even completely off the road as suggested by the man with the crooked teeth- as there was no shoulder wide enough to house such a vehicle back then. I looked at the drawing again. There was no way he could have been correct. Too many pertinent elements had been omitted, yet it had certain fundamentals that mirrored R’s drawing from the first session. I knew then that whatever I would see in the report and crime photos the next morning would either confirm or deny what I was physically able to produce this afternoon. In order to afford enough clearance for a 1966 Ford sedan, I had to keep moving further eastward back to the second small bridge. Even then, it would have been damn near impossible to pull off. The boys continued to count footage and ultimately ended up closer to the same small second bridge that had caught my attention. As they counted the last few steps, I recalled something else R had said in that session. Charley had told her after the impact at the front right tire and the deadly blow to his skull- he presented as being moved 4-5 feet and propped up on something of another texture. Stone- concrete… I looked at the lip of the second small bridge where the embankment peeled away from the shoulder. The bridge had concrete parapets that supported the guardrails that followed. Could this have been what Charley had been propped up against while the blood from his fatal head wound flowed down his back into the right back pocket of his pants where his wallet laid? Remember; the interior of the wallet had blood in between the photo shields. You cannot get blood to settle into that location, if the body was not upright for an extended amount of time. So at some point, he had to have been upright which means the fatal blow was not committed in the same place the body ultimately was staged. As the light began to shrink away from us, we each spent a private moment in commemoration and reverie. I could not imagine what J might have been feeling at this point. To know that the road beneath her feet and the pines just beyond her reach held a memory of her father she would never be privy to was almost unbearable for me to suffer.
I tried to think of this scene in chaotic darkness, with the sounds of the night broken by the syncopation of rain, the rancorous screeching of Charley’s mistress and the abusive assaults as the shooter attacked and threatened to maliciously bring Charley to heel. Deeply moved, I climbed back into the car and kept silent vigil while the remainder of the trip was filled with further background information and a trip to the infamous 4-way stop where Charley often met those with information and where BM’s nightclub once ruled the night.
So far my trip had garnered more information in 7 hours, than I had been able to unearth in the previous 6 months. R was right. No one I would meet that weekend would be by chance…and everything I would see was for a reason!

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