‘Widow’ death brought media spotlight

Published 3:57 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Before we take a look at news from 1954, I have a follow up to my column from last week.

In that column, I wrote about Rhonda Belle Thomley Martin, the female “Black Widow” serial killer from Perdido who poisoned family members over a period of several years. Now I have learned the name of the prison officer who was on duty the night she was electrocuted at the local prison.

According to Junior Robert, a retired prison officer, Murray C. Roberts, led the execution team that snuffed out the life of this notorious killer. Junior told me that Murray was his uncle and they both talked many times about that eventful night. He said the state of Alabama paid the team “bonus” fees for carrying out the execution.

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He said the team also got three extra days off work as part of the bonus package. He related that officials did not know at that time Martin would be the last female executed in Alabama.

That execution drew news reporters from all over the world. The accounts, as well as her horrific escapades, were carried in leading magazines and newspapers worldwide. Local motels and Mobile hotels and motels were flooded with reporters on hand to cover the event.

In some current news, there seems to be some dissatisfaction with the new college football rating system. I have reason to believe that this new rating system fails to pass the “eyeball” test. In other words when watching teams play it is very easy to recognize some are simply better than others.

Take Ole Miss, for example. In my opinion, the Rebels would sweep Florida State off the field. And Auburn would easily overpower teams like TCU and Ohio State. I am sure there will be plenty of objections to this power rating system when the final votes are in as the season ends.

Now, let’s take a look at some news from 1954.
Mike Simpson and his son moved his Simpson fertilizer plant to Atmore, providing jobs to several local residents. The plant, which sold to local and area farmers, was located just off Highway 21 north across the Frisco Railroad tracks.

The famous Hummingbird passenger train had an unexpected layover as tracks had to be repaired and two train freight cars had to be put back on the track following a slight derailment. Passengers, mostly from up north, toured the town talking with residents and local merchants. Ernestine Miniard of WATM quoted one of the passengers who said, “You can just feel that down-South Southern charm in Atmore.” The train was en route to the west coast.

Fairhope Creamery made its debut here in 1954. “Churn Fresh Buttermilk” was its biggest seller. I would be willing to assume many of you knew exactly how the old folks would church the milk as they sat on the front or back porch in the cool of the evening pumping that wooden paddle up and down in the large wooden churn. I certainly do. One thing about that … you never knew when your milk cow may have eaten bitter weeds, causing a very bitter taste.

The Advance classified section carried these ads. “FOR SALE: 1946 Chevrolet 4-door with 1950 motor. $200. Call 7163-R.” “LOST: One tarpaulin 16’x28’. Reward $5. Call 715-M.”

Nearby Florida Forest Rangers begin wearing their new green motif uniforms that year. For years they worked in their khaki clothing.

In 1975, Buford Coon and W.D. Driskell of McCullough were named the top cotton growers in the county and Susan Tennant represented nine southern counties in the “Miss Alabama” contest in Birmingham.

Amelia Solomon, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Preston Solomon of Walnut Hill, won a coveted baton twirling award at the Escambia Florida Talent Show in Pensacola.

Former Atmore radio station owner and highly talented technician Dale Gehman won the top award in a TV and electronics contest in Birmingham. The senior at Atmore Vocation Center in later years drew on his expertise to build and manage a radio station here. Serving the Atmore community with news, music and information, the station was recognized for its diverse programming and talented announcers.

In other news, you probably know this column is carried nationwide on the Internet and we never know who reads it. But, for some reason this week we received more emails than normal.

One man, a Mr. Jernigan, formerly of Bay Minette and now living in New Mexico, wrote, “I was employed at Goodwill Manufacturing Company back when we were paid with $2 bills.” He went on to say, “I had a difficult time telling some of my friends that I did not win those bills at the Pensacola Dog Track.” He was, of course, referring to our column last week when I wrote the $2 bill story.

One other reader, Jerry Flannigan, formerly of Century and now living in Pace, Fla., commented on the potato sheds column written two months ago. He said, “I worked at a shed operated by Mr. and Mrs. Erickson who was from Minnesota. I started out sewing 100 pound bags and loading boxcars…” He related, “One day Mr. Erickson sent his wife and me in their Oldsmobile sedan to get a bale of burlap bags at O’Farrell’s Supply … the bags fell out of the trunk coming across the Main Street railroad track … and she and I struggled to get that 500 pounds of bags back in to the car trunk just before a train coming from Canoe got here.” Jerry said that was his fond recollection of the Atmore potato sheds.

From another nostalgic vein, do you remember that young girl doing those “Open 8 to 8 Don’t Be Late” floor covering commercials on TV? Well, she is not a little girl now. In fact she has grown into a very beautiful young lady. She was reportedly seen not too long ago doing those commercials.

And, remember Brenda and Diane, the attractive ladies who advertised Leon Atchison Furniture commercials on TV? Apparently they no longer advertise on TV as the store, I believe, is now out of business.

Next week, we will have more news from the past.

“…yes…it always whispers to me…those days of long ago…”

You can email Lowell McGill at exam@frontiernet.net.