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Remorseless Killer’s Lifeless Hands end a Manhunt
posted January 15, 2008
GUEST COLUMN – In the end it was a pair of
hands floating in a jar of formaldehyde that brought to a conclusion
all the speculation about what had happened to a remorseless killer.
For months law enforcement officers from Aiken to Columbia had wondered
where Monroe Hickson went after he escaped from the state prison in
Columbia in 1966.
Hickson, who killed three Aiken merchants and a housewife in less than
nine months in 1946, was serving a life sentence plus 20 years at the
time he took flight and made the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
The FBI followed cold and hot trails across several states before
the hunt ended at the University of North Carolina Medical School,
where Hickson had been taken for treatment as an indigent in December
“All they had left was his arms and hands,” the late Aiken Sheriff Paul
Grant said at the time. “The rest of him was cremated. The hospital
said he had been brought there with some kind of disease.”
Grant, who arrested Hickson while serving as an Aiken detective in
1957, said fingerprints lifted from the hands identified their owner.
Hickson had been living in New Bern, N.C. under another name after
fleeing the state.
Hickson was a criminal from his teen-aged years to his death and spent
most of his life sitting in jails or roaming about the countryside. In
1931, at the age of 22, he was sentenced to five years in prison for
assault and robbery, got out of jail two years later, and in 1942 was
sent back for 18 months after a theft conviction.
Before he was convicted and sentenced a fourth time, for a robbery at
New Holland in northeastern Aiken County in 1947, he killed four
people, nearly killed a fifth and almost cost an innocent man
death in the state’s electric chair.
Hickson’s downfall came in August of 1957 when he was arrested for the
savage beating of Lucy Parker, who ran a dry goods store in
Graniteville. He was out on parole for the New Holland crime when he
returned to the county and resumed his life of crime.
Soon after the attack on Ms. Parker officers caught up with Hickson,
whom they referred to as “Blue.” During questioning by investigators he
suddenly began to talk, and he spun a sordid tale of killings and
beatings during robberies that netted nothing but small change.
Grant, who later was elected sheriff and served in that capacity for 16
years, said Hickson took officers down a long path of crime that
reached its zenith in 1946 with the murder spree. The violence sent
emotional shockwaves through the community and put fear in the hearts
Hickson’s first victim was David Garrett, an Aiken storekeeper who was
beaten to death with an axe and robbed of a pistol and $22 in cash on
April 17. On April 28 he shot and killed Mr. and Mrs. Edward Bennett in
their small store at Six Points and made off with $8 and a second
Ironically, Hickson was picked up by one of several posses assembled to
search the county after the Bennett killings, but officers were not
able to connect him to the murders and had to let him go. He didn’t go
far. In September he broke into the house of Annie Wiseberg and stole
$5 after beating her to death with a piece of firewood.
Christine Cholakis, an employee of an Aiken liquor store, was lucky.
She was the only survivor of his Aiken crime spree. He hit her in the
head with a brick in December while robbing the liquor store but she
managed to overcome her awful head wound.
Hickson again took a walk, but the following year he was convicted of
the New Holland robbery and got a 20-year sentence. He spent 10 years
in jail, was released on parole and came back to Aiken in 1957. An
investigator said that if Ms. Parker had died Hickson may have
continued with his random robberies and killings.
Ms. Parker was able to pick Hickson out of a lineup, and the subsequent
interrogations of the suspect took officers back over the years and
resolved a lot of unanswered questions for detectives who were still
seeking clues in four killings.
Hickson’s crimes created not only a lot of fear and outrage among Aiken
residents but almost sent an innocent man to the electric chair. L.D.
Harris, a befuddled and hapless drifter, was caught in a dragnet
looking for the Garrett and Bennett killer.
Harris, whom some say was totally bewildered by what was happening to
him, was indicted for murder, convicted and sentenced to die by a jury
picked from a community seething over the Bennett killings.
The anger was fed by the fact that the couple’s deaths orphaned
four small children. The Bennetts were described as a quiet,
well-respected couple devoted to their children, and pictures of the
slain couple and their children were published in the local paper and
fueled the rage.
Aiken attorneys Leonard Williamson, Julian Salley and Dorcey Lybrand,
an all-star lineup of local defense counsel, represented Harris and
became so convinced the meek, illiterate man wasn’t a killer they took
his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lybrand, heavily involved in politics at the time, dropped out after
finding that public sentiment was turning against the lawyers and could
cost him politically. But Williamson and Salley soldiered on to win a
5-4 decision that overturned the death penalty.
“If one Supreme Court justice had gone the other way, the state would
have executed an innocent man,” Williamson said in recalling the appeal
that was filed. Williamson later served as a state prosecutor for many
In interviews granted me when I worked as a reporter for the Augusta
Herald years ago Williamson and Salley said they not only believed
Harris was innocent but suspected the real killer was right under the
noses of law enforcement most of the time.
Williamson said he lost a lot of friends because of his role in the
case but he was driven by his oath which obligates lawyers to defend
even the most vile of criminals. Hickson’s confessions helped turn the
tide of public opinion back in favor of the defense team.
Unfortunately for Harris, he was not freed by the court ruling
that blocked the death sentence. He was brought back to the state
criminal court system and returned to prison. He was sitting on a life
sentence when Hickson began confessing to the killings.
Grant and Police Chief E.M. Hanna said Hickson furnished officers with
details about the killings that could only have been known by the man
who committed the crimes.
J.M. Sprawls, who left law enforcement to build an insurance
business, was police chief at the time the Bennetts and Garrett
were killed, and he told a crowd gathered to start a reward fund that
the crimes were related and likely were done by one person.
Sprawls’ observation, which later proved to be on the mark, was called
into question by several law enforcement investigators who viewed the
killings differently, but Hickson’s confession upheld the former
Williamson said he kept up with Harris for several years but lost track
of him after the man left the county and moved to Washington, D.C. He
said he later learned that Harris was killed after falling out of a
window in a high rise apartment complex.
“He never had much going for him, but at least he wasn’t executed for
something he didn’t do,” Williamson said in the last interview he
granted on what once was a spectacular case.
Editor’s note: This story by Carl Langley, first appeared in the
Augusta Herald, where the writer served as news editor.
original material is property of
EdgefieldDaily.com and cannot be reproduced, rewritten or redistributed
without the expressed written permission of Edgefield Daily.com
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