Snippets from Bertha
About a month ago I published a blog on my upcoming book. It’s at the printers now and I can hardly await its arrival. I feel somewhat like an expectant father, and I’ve been there and done that.
At my age I chose to self-publish “Bertha” which is my first book. I didn’t figure I had two or three years to waste playing games with agents and publishing houses. My main goal was to save the story from being lost to the future. It was a story that galvanized the community for nearly two years. Folks were waiting at their door for the Newspaper to run so they could see what happened next.
It could have happened in any small Southern town, and most likely many had their own form of Bertha, or traumatic incident. I simply chose to set this one in the community from which it happened.
Now back to the blog from a month ago. I had a lot of hits on that story, and a lot of e-mails. I didn’t have a single comment that didn’t like the entry. But I did have many requests for an additional tease. The established standard says don’t publish excerpts or snippets from an upcoming book, but I’ve never been real good at playing by the rules, so I shall honor that request. And I’m going to throw some photos from the book at you also.
Please remember these snippets are from a draft that was corrected many, many times. I simply do not have the finished PDF in front of me.
Frank Russell, lead investigator in the Bertha Hill case
Frank Russell the chief Deputy Sheriff has walked downBroad Streetto get a bite to eat. He’s in deep thought about the day’s event and he fails to see the owner of the Restaurant—Joe Adams –slide into the booth next to him. Joe like frank had at one time been a Rome Police Officer. After they exchange greetings Frank begins to ask his friend about Leroy Hill and his habits.
“Slow down pard,” Joe said. “Yeah, Leroy drank a lot. But he didn’t get falling down drunk like some of my customers do.
“I really run a restaurant, and sell beer. I don’t actually run a tavern like some of the other folks do. There is still a good bit of drinking that goes on, but most of them old boys were familiar with my police background and they don’t drink too much here.
“I guess I failed to mention that most of the crowd that Leroy drew was either women, or guys looking for women. Leroy was one good looking man, at least that’s what the women seemed to think. And it must be true, because he always had one with him that usually picked up his tab. If Leroy had a problem, it was money and women. He always had too little of one and too much of the other.”
Leroy Hill, dressed for the ladies.
After the first day’s initial investigation, Frank knows he’s got some problems. He ends the first day lying in bed and going over the day’s events, and dwelling on what’s coming.
“Frank didn’t waste any time getting to bed. He lay there in the dark, looking to where he knew the ceiling was. As tired as he was, he couldn’t sleep. His mind was running wide open. What have I missed? What have I missed? He kept repeating over and over to himself. Those eyes and that smile-or was it a smile?
Finally rest, sleep, peaceful sleep once again conquered his accelerated mind, and slowly but surely, turned everything black.”
The next day after the body had been sent to Jennings funeral home an autopsy was performed there. Frank was required to testify before a coroner’s jury, so his partner, Deputy Harry Davis attended his first autopsy. Frank got there as fast as he could but it was basically over when he arrived. He picked Harry up and they started toward the jail.
“What’s the matter buddy, you look a little pale,” Frank said trying to sound sincere.
“Frank,” Harry said. “That doctor pulled Leroy’s fingernails and toe nails off. Not all of them but some on each hand and foot. Then he cut him open. He started picking up his insides. He would hold each piece up and announce what it was so that one of them funeral home guys could write it down. He’d just turn it over and over, poke on it some and then put it in a bag. I know that he took samples of stomach, liver, kidneys, and intestines and then he got hair samples. It was awful, just awful.”
“Guess I owe you one Harry,” Frank said as he stopped for a light onBroad St.
“You’re mighty right you do,” Harry said. “And it ain’t gonna be cheap either.”
“Wouldn’t want it to be,” Frank said. “Tell you what I’m gonna do. I got a call this morning before I went to the Sheriff’s meeting from Chief Wood Quarles at the Rome P.D. He said that they was having a supper this Friday night at a cabin down near the lock and dam and he wanted me to come. He said I could bring a deputy or two with me. I think the Sheriff will be there, too.”
“Frank, I ain’t feeling real good. Don’t want to talk about food right now.”
“Well, I gotta let them know Harry. And Joe Adams is doing the cooking. Gonna be a big chitlin supper. I know how you love chitlins. I can remember watching you eat a hog gut a mile long-and you know Joe. He boils them first. A lot of cooks don’t. I ain’t crazy about the smell of boiling hog guts. But after he gets them good and tender he cuts them up in six inch pieces and fries them good and brown. They’re great, unless you get a kernel of corn that didn’t pass through. But you know that Joe takes his hog guts when they’re fresh and cleans them real good. They’re creek flung and stump whupped.”
“Stop the car Frank,” Harry said in a crisp harsh voice.
“Harry, you all right? You’re kinda turning green around the hair line buddy,” Frank taunted.
“Stop the car Frank,” Harry said again.
Frank and Harry were waiting for Bertha in the Greystone Hotel and made the arrest when she came to meet Leroy’s mother who had just arrived from North Carolina. They guided her out of the Hotel into the waiting patrol car.
“Bertha could feel her heart beating all over her body. It seemed it was in her throat preventing her from speaking. She thought for a minute that it would choke her to death or that she would pass out.”
Once she arrived at the jail, she was booked in and made the trip to the second floor and was placed in a cell.
“Bertha eased into the cell. There were four bunks. The light was not too bright, and it took a few minutes for her eyes to adjust. The two bottom bunks were occupied and there was another woman stretched out on one of the top bunks. Bertha realized that she didn’t have a place to sit. She could hear the jailer as he walked down the corridor and slammed the steel hallway door. She turned her back to the women in the cell, grabbed the bars and sobbed uncontrollably.”
Criminal defense Attorney Mack Hicks had just been appointed to defend Bertha, and he was very unhappy about it. It was a Friday afternoon and he just wanted to go to his club and have a few shots of bourbon whiskey.
Bertha Hill in court with her defense team.
“But no, I’ve been appointed to defend this female cracker for poisoning her whole damn family. This case had the necessary ingredients to ruin his career, or at least cause it grievous harm.”
He entered the jail and asked to see his client. She was ushered into the small interview room where Mack was waiting.
“She stood behind her chair and let her eyes settle on the man looking up at her. Their eyes locked in contact, and neither looked away for several seconds.”
“Mack looked the woman over from head to toe and thought to himself, not bad, I’ve seen a lot of good looking women in my life and this one is better than average. And she had something. Mack could spot that immediately, although he didn’t know what.
She’s about five foot seven he thought, and just a little heavy. But she has a good build. Not fat at all but would probably go a hundred forty pounds coming out of the bathtub. He had always considered himself a connoisseur of fine female flesh and this girl was grade A.
“Five foot eight,” She said without moving her eyes. “And I’d probably go about one thirty five or thirty eight right about now. I fill up a thirty eight C but can’t handle a D. I’ve been here almost two months and know I lost a little. Do I pass?”
“How’d she do that? She read my thoughts right down to the letter.
“Oh yeah, I think you do,” Mack said indicating for Bertha to take a chair.
Bertha was in the small waiting room the morning her trial started.
Standing room only for the Bertha Hill trial in Rome, Georgia
“How many people are out there Mack?” she asked.
“I’m not gonna lie to you Bertha, the courtroom is packed.”
“Oh Lord,” she said. “They’ve come to see me fed to the lions.”
Bertha was deathly afraid of going to the electric chair.
“Look Bertha, you’ve got to get over this thing about the electric chair,” Mack said. “Nobody’s gonna put you in the chair.”
“How do you know Mack?”
“Cause they don’t put women in the chair. That’s how.”
“Oh yeah,” Bertha said as her anger became evident. “Then why don’t you tell me about Lena Baker. They damn sure put her in the chair last year and she’s as dead as a doornail.”
“Ok Bertha let me rephrase that. They don’t put white women in the chair.”
“Mack you think she didn’t feel it cause she’s colored? The woman had three kids. She was drinking with a white man that she worked for and was seeing on the side. She said they got into an argument and he pulled a gun, while they were wrestling it went off and hit him in the head.
Does that sound like an electric chair case to you? She faced an all white male jury and you see what she got. Now I’ve got to go out there and face the same kind of jury that thinks I killed my Mama and Papa along with Leroy. And you tell me not to worry.”
I hope you enjoyed some of the “snippets” from Bertha. I’m told that it will be ready for order by July 1st. Our first endeavor is to have a launch Party at the Rome Area History Museum on the first Saturday that we can. We hope to have a Bertha window up at the museum soon with news clippings, photo’s, articles from Detective Magazines, and a quilt top she made while in jail.
We chose to have our party at the Museum because during the War it was McClellan’s five and dime, where Bertha worked when the sky fell in on her. Some say she’s still there.