Marion Stembridge murders rocked 1950s Milledgeville

written by Jonathan Jackson
The Union-Recorder

September 05, 2008 09:42 pm

Peter Dexter won the National Book Award for fiction in 1988 for his novel “Paris Trout”. The book was later adapted into a screenplay, and a 1991 movie version starred Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey. The work of fiction, however, had roots in a Milledgeville tragedy that began unfolding almost 60 years ago.
Marion Stembridge was a Milledgeville businessmen who, in addition to selling groceries, made a living as a local loan shark. These transactions were reportedly often made between Stembridge and people who could ill-afford to pay back the loans. One of these loans turned deadly in 1949.
Stembridge made a loan to a man named John Cooper, who purchased a car. Cooper returned the car to Stembridge in an attempt to rid himself of the note. Stembridge and an employee named Sam Terry reportedly drove to an area of town called Shantytown and confronted Cooper.
According to published accounts, multiple sources record that Stembridge and Terry began beating Cooper and that two women intervened in the attack. Stembridge shot the two women, wounding both. One of the women, Emma Johnekin later died from her wounds, and Stembridge was charged.
Stembridge claimed he shot both women in self-defense. Still, he was sentenced to one to three years for the shooting. Stembridge appealed the sentence and was released on bond. He was represented by Marion Ennis, Frank Evans and Jimmy Watts.
According to published accounts, Ennis grew uncomfortable with the case and ended his legal representation of Stembridge. Stembridge was tried again and convicted, but was released again.
His former attorney, Marion Ennis, reportedly attempted to have him prosecuted yet again, but could not persuade authorities to do so. In the course of events, Ennis was assisted by another attorney, Pete Bivins, in trying to get Stembridge back into court.
Federal authorities learned and later successfully proved in court, that Stembridge had not paid federal taxes in several years. It was a widely held belief at the time that Ennis and Bivins uncovered evidence that resulted in Stembridges conviction on tax evasion charges. It was a belief that Stembridge himself also held.
On May 2, 1953, the City of Milledgeville was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding when Stembridge went to Ennis office above the Campus Theatre and shot him with a .38 caliber revolver, killing him.
Stembridge then went around the corner to Bivins office in the Sanford building and shot and killed him as well. Stembridge then killed himself with the gun.
Peter Dexter took liberties with actual events for his award-winning work of fiction, Paris Trout, but the man behind the account was most definitely Marion Stembridge.

Copyright 1999-2008 cnhi, inc.

Photos


The Campus Theatre sits in the shadow of the Baldwin County Courthouse in this October 2007 file photo. The upstairs offices are also the site of a famous Milledgeville murder. The Union-Recorder

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