COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A day after the indictment, District Attorney Bill Smith said he’d seek the death penalty if Gary was convicted of the Stocking Strangler murders.
Around a week later, word spread that Gary attempted suicide in the Muscogee County Jail.
A torn sheet hung from the ceiling of his cell, but reports say Gary never actually tried to hang himself. Police believed he was just trying to be transferred to a mental institution.
Come December of 1985, staff found a hole in the wall of Gary’s cell. He’d been trying to break out of yet another jail.
After that, he was moved to a more secure location. Specifically, a 70-square-foot private cell with television and radio.
During Gary’s stay in jail, multiple judges were recused until Judge Kenneth Followill was ultimately assigned to the case.
Attorney August Siemon acted as as Gary’s lead defense counsel. Attorney Bruce Harvey and Gary Parker were co-counsels, until they withdrew in late 1985.
While selecting a jury, Attorney Siemon insisted a “community prejudice survey” be conducted.
101 potential jurors were sworn in. If they were determined to be jury-eligible, they were put in a group.
Twelve jurors and four alternates were intended to be chosen from that group.
Instead, the jurors were ultimately chosen from outside of Muscogee County, as Gary’s attorney worried local residents would hold a bias against the suspected strangler.
The jury makeup was as follows — nine men and three women from age 23 to 68. There were nine white jurors and three black jurors assigned to the trial.
With the jury finally selected, the trial officially began in August of 1986.
Gary faced seven felonies – three counts of murder and four counts of burglary in the cases of Martha Thurmond, Ruth Scheible, and Kathleen Woodruff.
During the opening statements, Gary told the courtroom he hadn’t ate in forty days. He also claimed he’d been abused by jailers who refused him medical care.
At one point, he said to the court he did not “care about this circus.”
As District Attorney Bill Smith spoke, he focused partly on the commonalities between the strangler victims.
One major commonality being that all the victims were elderly white woman who lived alone, who were raped and murdered.
Six of the crimes were committed in the Wynnton neighborhood, with evidence of forced or attempted forced entry on each house.
All of the victims were beaten before they were murdered.
Specifically, five out of seven were murdered by being strangled with a stocking. One was by a scarf, and one by a curtain cord.
And then there were the fingerprints.
Gary’s prints were found in the cases of Thurmond, Scheible, Woodruff and Ferne Jackson — the last being a murder Gary was not being tried for.
Outside of the fingerprints, physical evidence was minimal.
Crime investigators were able to determine the victims’ rapist and Gary both had type O blood, but seeing as this was a common blood type, this fact alone could not convict Gary. Hair samples taken from the scenes were also found to be inconclusive.
Smith concluded his opening statement right around dinner time.
The next morning, Siemon began to address the court.
He spoke on the physical evidence, saying Gary’s fingerprints being found at these crimescenes didn’t necessarily mean he was a murderer, but merely that he was at these spots at some point in time.
Siemon went on to speak about the hair samples, calling it “opinion evidence.” He then told the court that the late-night ride with Columbus police across the Wynnton neighborhood was fabricated.
In closing, Siemon asked that his client receive a fair trial.
As the opening statements ended, witness testimony begun.
Six witnesses testifided in Scheible’s murder.
A delivery woman who saw Scheible the day she was murdered.
The patrolman who responded to her house when a family member became concerned.
A CPD detective who was called in for back-up.
The Muscogee County medical examiner who analyzed her autopsy report.
A crime laboratory technician who spoke on the hair samples.
And a woman who said she saw Gary running around her neighborhood on the day of Scheible’s murder.
At the end of the testimony, Siemon called for a mistrial, which was denied by Judge Followill.
The next person to testify was Martha Thurmond’s son. He spoke in detail on the security of his mother’s home, which had countless locks and an anti-burglary screen.
The CPD patrolman who responded to the scene also testified. He spoke on how he found Thurmond’s body covered with a bloodstained sheet.
The detective who previously talked on Scheible’s murder testified once again. He said that between the sheer amount of locks in Thurmond’s house and the police department’s phone number being taped to her wall, it was clear she was scared of being attacked.
The medical examiner returned to the stand, stating the autopsy showed Thurmond died with injuries that typically require a substantial amount of head trauma.
Three other witnesses spoke on fingerprint collection from Thurmond’s crimescene.
Later, the court heard testimony from a man who’d known Gary since childhood and lived down the street from Thurmond’s home. His testimony ultimately helped prosecution place Gary at the scene of the crime.
The court’s focus then turned to Woodruff.
Woodruff’s maid took the stand. She told the courtroom how she discovered Woodruff’s body the morning after she was murdered.
Up next was Woodruff’s son who was shown a photo of his mother’s body at the scene of the crime. He confirmed that it was infact his mother.
A Columbus patrolman spoke on finding Woodruff’s body, then the medical examiner returned to the stand. He told the courtroom about the autoposy results, specifically mentioning how Woodruff was strangled to death with a scarf.
Another Columbus police officer testified. He said at the scene, it looked like a struggle took place with Woodruff, and that someone went through both her closets and her jewelry box.
A man with the identification division of CPD took the stand next. He explained how a fingerprint found near one of Woodruff’s windows matched Gary’s.
Next and last was a fingerprint examiner who told the courtroom he was able to identify Gary’s palm print within the house.
As the fingerprint examiner left the stand, nearly two days worth of testimony concluded.
Next, the courtroom would hear from the sole living, known survivor of the Stocking Strangler.
“A look at the Stocking Strangler” comes out every Wednesday on WRBL.com.
WRBL would like to thank William Rawlings; author of the Columbus Stocking Strangler. His book has served as a useful resource for this web series.