Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Case of Murder

I'd never known anyone who was murdered in the whole of my life. All that changed on November 7th, 1985. Until then I didn't think that murders happened to people you really knew. Murders were on the news or in novels or on those TV crime shows. They just didn't seem to be a part of real life.

Murder is an ugly business. It destroys illusions of safety and gives you reason to believe that the world can really be a horrible place. When you're eighteen years old and two people you know are brutally murdered in their own home you get a sense of the unreal in a big way. When town chatter starts filtering in and you hear what people think and who they suspect the situation becomes even more gruesome. People get scared, but they get hungry for the details too. I don't know which of the two is worse.

Here in my hometown Rev. Dewitt Lewis and his wife Jesse Lou were the victims of a horrific double homicide. It happened on the date mentioned above and it was the first time in my experience that I actually knew people who were killed in such an unnatural manner. They were sixty-six years old. Quite affluent residents of Dalton, the Lewises were self made millionaires. Mr. Lewis owned and operated a very successful business, Dewitt's Electric Motor Rewinding and Repair. He was the minister of Brookwood Baptist Church where he and Mrs. Lewis were very active with their congregation. Semi retired, the couple was enjoying their life when this awful thing befell them.

Dalton was turned topsy turvy by the murders. It was the biggest news story to ever hit the town. Rumors started flying immediately. Everyone seemed to settle on one suspect in particular. Yet the police never arrested anybody. They made several statements to the press inferring that an arrest was imminent but one never materialized. Twenty-five years on this remains the situation.

I have never forgotten the Lewises or the murders that took them away from Dalton. Over the years there were snippets of news every now and then about the case but nothing ever came of any of it. I began to feel like Dewitt and Jesse Lou were being forgotten as the years passed and people moved on. It seemed such a tragedy to me for this to be so; a tragedy as equal in magnitude as what happened to them.

I started to write about the case a few years ago. I wanted people to remember them and I wanted something to be done about their deaths. I contacted various cold case groups but none of them would look at the crimes because I wasn't an immediate family member. I couldn't get the news to run anything new about the case. I was frustrated and angry. How could two good people meet such a grisly end and nobody was doing anything about it? Here in the 21st Century, with all this advanced forensic science at our fingertips, and nothing was happening to bring justice to these two dead people.

I also couldn't figure out why their immediate family wasn't demanding something be done. I remembered the rumors from 1985 and how everyone in Dalton thought they knew who the killer was, and I wondered...I wondered. If there was anything to this old feeling, why wasn't it being re-investigated?

In early 2004 there was a small bit of action on the case. The local police searched the home of the Lewis' grandson, Cary Dewitt Calhoun, here in Dalton. They would never say what they were looking for or why they obtained the warrant to search the residence. The home where he lived was in the Brookwood section of town, and it just happened to be a house that had been built by the Lewises, a house where their grandson lived when they were murdered, just about a mile away from the home where they were killed. Yet again nothing came of this. At least nothing that showed up in the news.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was contacted by a reporter for the local paper here in town. Mark Millican wanted to talk with me about the case. He had read a piece I wrote on the murders that went viral on the internet a couple years ago, thanks to my good friend and true crime writer Gregg Olsen. Mark was working on a story about the twenty-fifth anniversary of the unsolved killings and he was interested in my insights from the research I did for my article, and also he wanted to get some recollections about the Lewises, as I had known them personally. I was very heartened to know that someone was bringing some attention back to the case. The Lewises weren't being forgotten after all.

Mark's article was a piece of journalistic brilliance. He went into a lot more detail than I remembered seeing when the murders first took place. He went back to the Dalton police department and spoke to officers who worked the case in 1985. He even tried to talk with the Lewis' daughter, their only child. His work on this piece made a fabulous story, and he and I both hoped it would break open some kind of new lead in the case, but over a month has passed since this crime was revisited... and still nothing.

I decided to write again about the Lewis murders and I asked Mark some questions about his research for his article. He and I share the desire for justice for Dewitt and Jesse Lou. We made a good team on the project and I couldn't not write again about this without looking at it from his perspective. Mark didn't let me down.

1. Mark, what about this case drew you to it?
MM: Actually, it was an assignment, and since I am the ‘Cops & Courts’ reporter it fell to me to do the story. However, Dalton is my hometown. I had returned there after a stint in the service and was living there when – let’s just go ahead and call it what it was, a double homicide – occurred in 1985 before I moved to Ellijay to join the newspaper there the next year. So I remember well the crime and actually lived about two miles south of where it happened. I also worked for Dalton Parks and Rec Department for awhile and since Brookwood Park was one of the areas I kept up, I knew the ‘lay of the land’ around the neighborhood.

That being said, you can sense that it was more than an assignment. One of my pet peeves is seeing injustices done to people, and my job sometimes offers opportunities for people to have their stories told – with the hope that at times justice can be served.

 2. When we were corresponding while you wrote your article, I could sense the passion that was driving you in this case. Do you feel any differently about the case since you completed the article?
MM: Certainly. After talking to former Police Chief James Chadwick and current Chief Jason Parker, I was able to add to my knowledge of the case and in going back and looking in the archives of The Daily Citizen, I was able to refresh it in my mind.

As it turns out, much of the evidence in the case points to one person.

3. As a fellow Daltonian, the memories of that time are always fresh in the minds of our fellow citizens. Are you surprised at the amount of interest there still is in this case, after 25 years?
MM: Definitely. People who live here remember it like it was yesterday, and that even includes kids who can remember. I ran into a guy (he’s 37 now!) I used to coach in baseball and we were talking about it and he was like, “Oh, yeah! I remember that!” Of course, he was 12 at the time.

As stated in the 25-year story on the investigation, Parker says he still has people remark about it “in passing.” Interestingly, there is no hue and cry from the family about solving the case, but more on that later.

4. What was your primary goal in writing the article for the anniversary of the murders?
MM: I kept running into brick walls when it came to law enforcement authorities and court representatives naming a suspect, so making that link and coming up with the name that we could go to press with became my overriding goal. But we had to do it in an official sense, and that literally came together at the eleventh hour.

5. Tell me what happened.
MM: How we got the ‘Smoking Gun’ linking Cary Dewitt Calhoun to the investigation:
As the week leading into Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010 – the 25th anniversary of the murders – drew to a close, things got very interesting. I had been transcribing voluminous notes into the computer and realized what was missing – we still didn’t have the name of the primary suspect, and the cops weren’t going to give it to me. Outright, anyway.

On Thursday around lunch I stopped in at DeWitt Electric to ask to speak to Mrs. Cox personally – DeWitt and Jessie Lou Lewis’s only child. I was told by an employee that she had fallen down a flight of seven stairs the day before. I left, went back to the office, and determined to call Mr. or Mrs. Cox the next day after she’d had another day to recover from her fall.

On Friday when I called Mrs. Cox and asked how she was, she was very curt and wanted to know what I wanted. When I began to explain that we were doing a 25-year anniversary story of her parent’s murders, she said, “You just want to hurt our family.” I tried to ask her how she felt about the murders never being solved, and she never let me get the question fully out before cutting me off with, “I’m not available for comment.” I thanked her and hung up the phone.

Moments later I got a call from the unnamed employee wanting to know what I was up to and I told him I was writing a story. He told me they were concerned the renters in the Lewis’s former home might read the story and want to move out. I told him that was not going to stop us from writing the story. He then said Mrs. Cox might be contacting an attorney about me harassing her, and I related to him how I handled the conversation. When he told me that he had given me her injury condition and that I shouldn’t have called her, I told him I was prepared to talk to Mr. Cox if he answered, and I did inquire about Mrs. Cox’s condition to preface my attempt at an interview.

In the initial article on the murder 25 years ago, Mr. Cox had gone on the record with our reporter at the time and told her it had to be someone the Lewis’ knew, and went into their security measures at their home. I simply wanted to ask him if he still felt that way.

At the same time, I was trying to get a sidebar story together about a home near the murder scene that police searched in 2004. I was stymied because I was mistakenly searching archives in 2003 at lunch and frustrated I couldn’t find anything. It was getting late in the work day and finally I took a break and drove to Panera for a cup of coffee. I just needed to get away from the office and think. I called Bruce Frazier at Dalton Police just to see if I could get anything, anything at all. He told me the home was searched in February of 2004. It was 4:40 p.m. and I knew the library would be closing soon, so I sped that way. En route, I called a friend in the courthouse and asked her if she could get me property ownership records on a piece of property even if it was just 10 til 5. She said sure. (I have a brief background in real estate sales and paralegal studies and knew if I had an address the records are public.)

But there was a dead end at the library. Library archives had not been completed past 2003 and I walked out frustrated. Desperately, I called Frazier once more and asked if he would give me the address of the home searched in 2004. He said, “Sure, it’s 506 Lakemont Drive."
Just like that. I called my girl at the courthouse and she laid out the ownership by year. The home belonged to grandson Cary Dewitt Calhoun when it was searched for evidence related to the murders. Still no arrest was made, and he sold the home to his mother within days.

Here’s the link on the new evidence story:

6. What kind of feedback have you received from the article?
MM: Favorable. A lot of it has come obliquely, through other newspaper staff members who have talked to people in the community. For instance, our news editor talked to a man who was one of the Lewis’ neighbors, who said simply, “It needed to be said.”

Other feedback while I was actually writing the piece was not favorable, but that was entirely from the family and a DeWitt Electric employee.

7. Are you planning any further journalistic work on this case?
MM: Not unless something breaks in the case. My plate stays pretty full with all the crimes, court cases and features I have to cover and write.

8. Thanks for allowing me to be involved in the work you did, Mark. I enjoyed collaborating with you very much.
MM: Carey, it has been my pleasure. Your input into the main story – that of knowing the Lewises personally – is what every reporter dreams of in this type of story. It put the “personal touch” into the lives of a long-dead beloved pastor and his wife who were brutally murdered. My most fervent hope is that there will be a break in this case. I believe someone out there knows something, but is fearful of stepping forward.

And that is exactly the sentiment around Dalton concerning this case. I have always hoped that someone, somewhere, at some time, would reveal something to bring about a closure to what happened and provide an explanation as to why the Lewises were so mercilessly slaughtered that night so long ago.

Like Mark, I've also wondered time and time again why their family hasn't been insisting that something be done. If it had been my parents who were murdered, I would be screaming for justice from every rooftop I could find. The police would never hear the end of me on the matter until someone was in prison for killing them. It would become my life's work to bring this killer to justice for what was done.

A footnote to my original article on the murders was used by Mark in his story, and the next day after it ran the Daily Citizen News used it as their Quotable Quote for that day. I think it's only fitting to close this new writing with that same thought.

"There is still a killer walking around who knows what he did that night all those years ago, and there are still two people dead who deserve justice."

(If anyone who reads this knows anything that might help bring this case to a close, please contact the Dalton Police Department at 706-278-3333.)

Carey Parrish

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