This is part one of a five-part series on the Stocking Strangler; a serial killer who murdered elderly women in Columbus during the late 1970s.
COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — In the late 1970s, thousands of deadbolt locks were installed in Columbus homes.
Windows were nailed shut. Pawn shops saw an increase in firearm sales.
Some local shopping lists started including items like burglar bars or mace canisters.
And some local residents started feeling less enticed to wave at the stranger driving down their street.
Although the name “Stocking Strangler” may not immediately ring a bell for incoming freshmen or newly stationed soldiers, it’s resonated in the mind of locals for over forty years.
The nightmare began for the Columbus community on Sept. 11, 1977 when a 64-year-old woman was beaten and sexually assaulted in her home. A knotted-up stocking was found on top of her dresser.
She awoke later on and provided law enforcement with a brief description of the man; a black male between 5’11” and 6″. She said the man had an afro around an inch to a half-inch in length.
A few days after the attack, tragedy struck Columbus’ affluent Wynnton neighborhood when a well-known community member and employee of the Columbus Health Department didn’t show up to work on time.
Police responded to the home of 60-year-old Mary Willis “Ferne” Jackson. After forcing their way into the house, officers found Jackson dead with a sheet covering her half-naked body.
Jackson had been beaten, raped and strangled with a nylon stocking.
Fear continued to set in for Columbus residents.
This fear struck 71-year-old Jean Dimenstein in late September when someone tried to break into her neighbor’s home.
A couple nights after, a man took the hinge pins off of Dimenstein’s front door. She was beaten, raped and fatally strangled with a stocking.
Murmurs of a murderer deemed “Stocking Strangler” or “Chattahoochee Choker” began to spread around town, up until a breakthrough was seemingly made.
In mid October, police announced a man was arrested in connection to the case.
Jerome Livas was taken into custody after his 55-year-old girlfriend, Beatrice Brier, was found raped and beaten to death.
The community’s sense of relief was quickly dashed when another elderly woman was murdered in late October.
89-year-old Florence Scheible was just over a week away from her 90th birthday when her home was broken into. She met a similar fate as prior victims — sexually assaulted and choked with a stocking.
Seeing as the man suspected to be the strangler was behind bars, it was clear to locals the case had yet to be cracked.
The tragedy continued in mid-October when 69-year-old Martha Thurmond didn’t show up as expected to her mother-in-law’s home.
A family member went to Thurmond’s home. She knocked on her door, but no answer came.
She called police, and upon arrival, officers found Thurmond strangled to death.
Afterwards, Columbus saw two months of peace through the majority of the holiday season.
The peace came to an end just a few days shy of the year’s end.
Rich, accomplished, and elderly women continued to be a target for the strangler as he chose a wealthy, household name as his next victim.
Three days after Christmas, 77-year-old Kathleen Woodruff was found raped and strangled to death within her home.
The new year came shortly after. January passed with little occurrence, but come February, the Chattahoochee Valley saw a familiar pattern re-emerge.
In February, another woman was attacked, but the man ran away when a security alarm sounded off.
Two blocks down the road, he broke into another house where he raped and strangled 78-year-old Mildred Borom.
Another couple months passed with no sign of the strangler.
And once again, the calm came to an abrupt halt.
61-year-old Janet Cofer was an avid churchgoer and an elementary school teacher.
She loved her dog named Buffy and her son named Mike.
In mid-April, Cofer was strangled to death in her bed.
The Columbus community had yet to realize that would be the last murder at the strangler’s hands.
Later on, Columbus police received report of a stolen gun from a woman named Theda Cartwright – the girlfriend of a man named Carlton Gary.
But who exactly is Carlton Gary?