Guthrie Farm spread over a two mile stretch of rolling woods and pasture. Through its heart coursed a narrow tree-lined lane of dirt named Arc Road.
Tall pines and hardwoods stood thick on the road’s west border. At the sun’s high point almost no light penetrated the lush tree canopy. At night open fields on the east side of the road glowed silver as dew-covered pastures reflected the light of the moon and stars. Only a very few people had ever heard of Arc Road, but by noon on April 17, 1964, upon discovery of three county police officers, murdered, their bodies hidden in the woods, it was the obsession of everybody in the county.
A day later, the whole world would know the name. Gwinnett County, Georgia, 430 square miles of chicken farms, cotton fields and dirt roads, neither sought nor wanted the notoriety. The county in those days was still the Old South, where daily routines hadn’t much changed in a hundred years. Monday through Saturday was for work and chores. Sunday was for church and family.
Near the crossroads of downtown Buford, Georgia, there was a small country cafeteria where cozy booths lined three interior walls.
The patrons reflected the quaintness of traditional southern values in both dress and manners. They exchanged soft smiles and poignant anecdotes of former days living in rural north Georgia. It was the high space of those interior walls that held my attention, though, for they portrayed through enlarged faded photographs the story of early Gwinnett County law enforcement: sheriffs, police chiefs, and hard-nosed cops, the restaurant proprietor himself having been in law enforcement for two decades.
Although the men in those pictures of fifty years past may have lost their slender, youthful appearance, little had diminished their recollection of lawless behavior or the disgust from half a century before when three of their close police officer friends were viciously murdered on a forgotten dirt road not ten miles east of the café’s now barren walls.
On many occasions I had the honor of listening as Arnold, Dan, Edwin, Fred, George, Larry, Roger, and others, most notably Robert Hightower, recounted the black-and-white images of that time.
In exchange I felt an obligation to provide meaning for what occurred and memorialize those brave Gwinnett County patrolmen who perished one April night long ago. A journey for lost history fifty years earlier represented a long road. A road that had to be traveled to find old memories through doors that had to be opened.
It required not only diligence but a good amount of luck. I got lucky and entered musty attics, rustled through dark closets, and pried open closed chests. I walked among the best in law enforcement and through the dread of prison hallways. I often annoyed court recorders, irritated salvage yard operators, and fearfully admired the brilliance of medical examiners.
I found critical autopsy reports, articles of clothing, missing guns, a stray bullet, and, of all things cherished, two cigars and a book of matches inside an old motorcycle boot.
The journey allowed me to meet the most amazing people in my lifetime, a reward in itself well worth the trip.
This story, then, is not my story, but theirs, those who lived and cried through it as it happened. I only convey it; it is they who tell it, those amazing people, and their amazing story. Here now, I share it with you.