Apparently, on a whim, and desiring to get his hands on some quick cash, Harvey McGraw, 20, decided to rob Jaxon’s Filling Station, just south of Georgiana, Alabama. On the evening of March 16, 1939, he killed some time loitering at the station, claiming he was waiting on a bus, as Jaxon’s was also a Greyhound bus station. As the hour neared midnight at the all-night station, two men from the Montgomery area arrived at the station. One report states that the two men, Clifford T. Mann, 28, and Charles Wilkinson, 23, were in the station drinking a glass of milk, and they intended on renting one of the available cabins for the night. McGraw asked the attendant, Dennis Moore for change for a quarter. When Moore opened the register, McGraw produced a weapon and demanded the money. Different descriptions of the robbery say it was either $24, or $37. He then forced the two men into their car at gunpoint. Getting into the back seat, he told Mann to head south.
McGraw had the misfortune of choosing a target for his robbery that was equipped with a Police Transmission Radio Set. The State Patrol had strategically placed these in locations around the state. Dennis Moore immediately transmitted a call alerting Patrolmen Thigpen, and Sawyer in Georgiana of the robbery, and kidnapping. Calls went out to Mobile, and Pensacola, and a net was spread through southern Alabama.
McGraw was smart enough to keep away from the larger towns. He later was heard to say that he made Mann drive at speeds of 70 to 90 miles per hour. From the Greenville Advocate, March 30, 1939, “He had them leave U.S. 31 at McKensie, 6 miles south of the robbery site. At Red Level he left the McKensie-Andalusia highway and took a short cut over to the Andalusia-Brewton highway. At East Brewton he switched to the Brewton-Milton highway.”
By taking this route he was able to avoid officers watching the towns of Evergreen, Andalusia, and Brewton. The car ran out of gas about 8 miles north of Milton, near the Allentown community.
He made Mann, and Wilkinson get out of the car and began to tie them together, when according to McGraw when telling the story later, one of the men made a grab at the pistol. He shot him, and then shot the other one for trying to intervene in the struggle. It should be noted that both men were shot several times in the head, chest, and the back.
About a half of a mile away, farmer Turpen Wiggins, (the news paper articles use Williams, but no Turpen Williams can be found), heard what he thought was a series of automobile backfires around 3:30 am. Later around 8:30 he saw a vehicle parked about 200 yards off the road and walked over to investigate, where he found the two bodies tied together.
Who Was Harvey McGraw?
Harvey was the son of Elmer McGraw, a well-known resident of the Appleton community which lies north of Brewton. He was on parole from the Atmore prison after serving 6 months of a 1-to-5-year sentence for attempted burglary. He twice in one night tried to enter the home of W.F. Dantzler on the Appleton road, but was frightened away both times. He was convicted in October 1937. Harvey was known in the Brewton area, and had once worked in the Box Factory of the T.R. Miller Company.
Clifford T. Mann was originally from Elmore County, Alabama, but moved to Montgomery to engage in the Real Estate business. About four years before his murder, he became associated with the Praetorian Life Insurance company. He later became the General Agent, and office manager for the district.
Charles Wilkinson was a native of Montgomery, and currently unemployed. Previously he was a traveling salesman. He was accompanying his friend on his business trip at the time of the abduction.
A cab driver named Dick Carpenter, had a radio in his taxi. He heard a broadcast of the wanted murderer/kidnapper, and thought of a fare he had earlier driven from Milton to the L&N depot in Pensacola. He remembered the fare because the guy said he was going to catch a train heading east, which would have passed back through Milton. Carpenter alerted the police who contacted Sheriff Harrell in Chipley, Florida.
Sheriff Harrell boarded the train when it reached Chipley with a description of the wanted man. He approached McGraw and took him into custody. McGraw did make an attempt to use his pistol, but the Sheriff disarmed him and removed him from the train.
After the Arrest
McGraw immediately confessed to the kidnapping, and killing of Mann, and Wilkinson. Alabama could have tried him for armed robbery, which at the time, could have resulted in the death penalty. The Federal Government, also, could have tried him for kidnapping under the Lindbergh Law which could have resulted in a death sentence. Both Alabama, and the Feds were content to let Florida handle the trial, and punishment.
He quickly became known as a happy-go-lucky young man who liked to sing and play guitar. He had an abundance of talent and people would visit to listen to him perform. On May 3, a routine cell inspection found a pistol, fashioned from a bar of soap, was discovered. There was one humorous report that he tried to break out of jail and when he brandished his soap gun at a guard, the barrel fell off exposing his ruse. Sheriff Joe Allen denied that that had happened. He said it was found in the search.
At the end of May an arraignment was held with Circuit Judge L.L. Fabisinski and McGraw pled guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, throwing himself on the mercy of the court. The proceeding had to be delayed for a few hours because McGraw was under 21 so his father, Elmer, had to be retrieved from the Castleberry, Alabama area to attend the arraignment. His court-appointed attorney, Woodrow Melvin had a conference with the McGraw’s to give them options, but Harvey insisted on the guilty pleas. He was heard to say, “What’s the use? I’m going to burn anyway”. The following day Judge Fabisinski sentenced McGraw to death.
Either, just before, or just after his court appearances, Harvey McGraw was baptized in Pond Creek on Highway 90, west of Milton. His grandfather, Sherman McGraw was a Holiness Minister, and had visited Harvey in jail. When the Judge was asked if he could be baptized, he said it was up to Sheriff Allen. The Sheriff, at least two deputies, and about 30 Holiness preachers led by E.G. Holley, met a Pond Creek. Harvey wearing a white shirt, and dungarees, and handcuffed to Deputy Purvis Baxley, Sr., (whose son Purvis, Jr. years later was the first principal of King Middle School), stepped into the water and was baptized. “I feel saved now”, was all he had to say.
On June 17 it was reported in the Pensacola Journal that Harvey gave a statement through his attorney, Woodrow Melvin, for publication in the area newspapers.
“I wish to express my extreme regrets for the crimes I have committed, trusting that the public will realize that I KNOW what a terrible deed it was. I trust that folks who think that the only reason I am grateful is because I was caught and sentenced, will change their views on the matter. Everyone knows that I entered pleas of guilty at my trial in circuit court here last month, which proved that I wasn’t seeking to evade justice.”
On September 4, 1939, approximately 6 months since he committed the crimes, Harvey McGraw was led to the execution chamber at Raiford prison. At 10:06 am, Sheriff Joe T. Allen “turned the rheostat” which sent the current through his body. McGraw made no final statement to the 38 witnesses but he did silently mouth the Lord’s Prayer while it was recited by Prison Chaplain, Rev. Leslie Sheppard.
McGraw’s father and uncle were at the prison but did not go to the death chamber. They were there to take his body back home for burial. The paper claimed he was going to be buried at the Center Grove cemetery, north of Brewton. Actually, his remains, along with other family members are located at the Zion Hill Baptist Church cemetery.
Clifford T. Mann left a widow. He married Eva Louise Glover in Montgomery on April 18, 1936. She also worked for the same Insurance Company, and they had no children.
Charles Wilkinson also left a widow, but no children. He married Mary Lou Hughes on Jun 21, 1938 in Montgomery.
The two friends who were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time are both buried in Section One at the Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery.
Jaxon’s Service Station was a well-known establishment in southern Alabama. It was located on Highway 31, about one mile south of Georgiana. It was also a Greyhound Bus station, and had tourist cabins to rent by travelers.
I could not find through census records, or marriage and death records, anyone named Turpen Williams. I did find, however, a farmer in the Allentown census record of 1940, named Turpen Wiggins. Since Turpen is an uncommon name, and Wiggins could have been misunderstood as Williams, I believe Wiggins was the actual name.
1940 FL / Santa Rosa / 57-15 (Allentown)
Wiggins, Turpen 48 Alabama Farmer
Claudie 35 Alabama, wife
Vernell 17 Florida, daughter
Joseph T. 15 Florida, son
Dewey 12 Florida, son
James Dewey Wiggins b. 7 Dec 1927
Joseph Turpen Wiggins b. 24 Feb 1926
Dora Vernell Wiggins b. 15 Oct 1924, md Rassie Thrash (1911-2006) 19 Sept 1942 in SRC.