An innocent is murdered and raped in a small southern town. A black man is convicted of her murder. Later the convicted murderer's sentence is overturned. The girl's grandfather begins an investigation that reveals a massive coverup of the facts. Toby Thomas - a top investigative journalist digs up more than he bargains for in the sleepy town of Crawfordville. This fast paced story moves from Alabama to Las Vegas and from Panama to Argentina.
This work of fiction is entirely the product of the author's fertile imagination, however it was inspired by tragic events that took place near Brewton, Alabama in October 1988. The true story of those events is much more bizarre than any fiction.
The Publisher (excerpts)
Crawfordville, Alabama- present
Driving north up U.S. Highway 29 across the Florida state line into Alabama, Toby felt the weariness creep up his neck into his eyes. This was always a bad sign. It was time to pull over, go through a drive-thru for a burger, and get a beer to take to whatever motel had a flashing vacancy sign. His destination was less than 20 miles away; he could probably get the burger, the beer, and room when he got to Crawfordville. The thought invigorated and motivated Toby to push on. A good night’s sleep and a late wake-up call were just the ticket. He could push all of his doubts about re-inventing himself aside as he slumbered until tomorrow…
Six weeks before his journey to Crawfordville, Toby Thomas had basked in the glory of being the top investigative reporter of a major newspaper in Houston. Unfortunately, on his last investigation, he pushed too hard and was pushed back - out of a job and out of Texas. Oilmen played rough…and for keeps. Toby was savvy enough to know when to make a career move. He had sent resumes to Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi and even Tulsa, but everywhere they landed, surprisingly, no interest was shown. Toby Thomas was through in everyplace it counted to be a journalist of the Southwest genre. He had washed himself out of the big time. He was “blackballed” in the only industry he had ever known. When the strange and unexpected letter arrived from The CrawfordvilleCourant, Toby was surprised and curious about how the small Alabama paper had found him. Maybe it was the resume service he had registered with on the web or was it a sympathetic, but anonymous, co-worker with contacts who secretly helped him out? No matter, a wounded, but wiser, Toby Thomas had an escape route out of Texas. He would sort out the whys and who’s later.
In the office of the editor and publisher of The CrawfordvilleCourant, Toby was to have another surprise. Like he planned the night before, Toby slept late into the morning at the Conecuh View Motel. After eating a scrumptious breakfast of smoked link sausages, eggs, grits, and “cathead” biscuits at the motel restaurant, Toby was ready to tackle the day. The day started with a ten o’clock appointment at the Courant with the owner and publisher, Mr. John Bradley Crenshaw. Mr. Crenshaw started his conversation by saying,
“Thomas, I’ve been waiting on you for 5 years…”
Toby was stunned. What was this old fart talking about? Crenshaw didn’t try to hide his age or to be trendy in fashion. With bushy, once - blond, eyebrows on a craggy forehead, and deep-set hazel flecked green eyes surrounded by a myriad of wrinkles. John Crenshaw looked to be in the indeterminable range of age between seventy and eighty. His seersucker suit clothed a lean body that did not seem punished by advanced age. His politically incorrect, unfiltered and unlit, Lucky Strike dangled from his thin lips.
“…I’ve been reading your investigative articles for the past few years. I’m extremely impressed by your thoroughness at getting to the bottom of things. You’re too good, Toby, and I knew the axe was going to fall…and when it fell, I would have to move quickly to get you with the Courant." Toby was not a talker, but a highly refined listener who felt that the best thing to do was to listen to Crenshaw as closely as he could while the old man was talking. He had the impression from Crenshaw’s predatory eyes that John Bradley was normally a grunter and a nodder - not given to lengthy episodes of speech like he was doing now.
“I have a proposition for you, Thomas.,” the old man continued, “I will give you a ten percent increase above your last job to work here. You know that’s a bargain. The cost of living in Crawfordville is at least thirty percent less than Houston and you can safely walk the streets at night.” Anticipating a question from Toby, Crenshaw said,
“But there’s a catch, here you can’t do any reporting…”
Shocked out of his silence, Toby exclaimed, “Can’t do any reporting! You had me drive ten hours from Houston to tell me that you don’t want to hire me as a reporter? What in the hell am I here for? I could stay in Houston and sell insurance for the money you’re offering me. I came here to be a reporter. That is what I do!” Toby started to rise and leave.
“Sit down!” Crenshaw had the voice of one comfortable with authority.
“I know you’re a good reporter, Toby, but you’re a better investigator and that’s what I need you for - an investigation - an extremely private investigation that involves a great deal of personal risk.”
Toby was perplexed. This guy is either nuts or very brilliant he thought. “For the kind of deal you’re offering me you could hire some very good private investigators, and besides how could I investigate anything in a small town like this without everyone knowing about it? You’re talking about a feat of magic, Mr. Crenshaw.”
“True indeed Toby, but I’ve got that covered as well. You can leave if you want to, and I’ll be happy to pay your expenses both ways, but if you want to hear me out, ‘chill out’ as the young people say and listen to my proposition in full.” Grudgingly, Toby eased back into his seat and listened as Crenshaw related his story. What did he have to lose?
“About fifteen years ago in Crawfordville we had a murder. It was the murder of a young girl who was also raped and tortured. Within six weeks of the murder, the alleged assailant was caught and a few months later was brought to trial, convicted and sent to face the executioner. The victim was white and the murderer was black. DNA evidence linked the murderer to the crime.
DNA evidence in the form of sperm from the girl’s vagina and hair samples located at the crime scene. As the prosecutor in the trial stated, it was an open and shut case. That was the end of it, or so I thought. Rumors have quietly swirled below the gossip level for several years now, and recently some new events have stirred my suspicions that there was much more to the case than came out in the trial. Toby, I want to hire you to probe around and see what was missed in the original investigation.” Crenshaw lit his Lucky Strike and waited for Toby’s response...
“That’s an interesting story Mr. Crenshaw, but not unique. What more could be revealed than came out at the trial? Why are you willing to pay me so much money to look into it? And, again, I ask you how could I keep my probing a secret in such a small town as Crawfordville?” Toby loosened his tie. He hated ties. He continued, “I guess what I’m asking is why are you so interested in this case that you would hire one of the top investigative reporters in the country - albeit a temporarily ‘washed up’ one - to do your skullduggery for you?”
“Those are all good questions Toby, but you didn’t ask the one that was most important of all. You didn’t ask how much danger there would be in an enterprise of uncovering the misdeeds of wealthy, powerful, and very dangerous men? This is what this assignment is about Toby, very wealthy and powerful men who have covered up the real facts of a horrible deed to protect themselves. I want you to dig, Toby, until you get to the bottom of it. Expose these men and bring them down!”
John Bradley Crenshaw knew how to set a hook. ‘Danger’, ‘rich’, and ‘powerful’ were key words that a risk taking, adrenaline-fed journalist such as Toby Thomas couldn’t resist. He smiled to himself as Toby inched forward in his seat. Toby’s voice was tighter when he said,
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