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Murder, music, mourning and guilt: A look back at Gwinnett's darkest hour

Fifty years ago, the Everett family opened the doors of their home on Stonecypher Road in Suwanee to musicians of all ages and talent levels. The tradition, and weekly concerts, go on to this day.


Tommy Everett, the nephew of slain Gwinnett County police officer Jerry Everett, looks over copies of Atlanta and Gwinnett newspapers detailing the murders, investigation and arrests of suspects in the 1964 triple homicide. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Tommy Everett, the nephew of slain Gwinnett County police officer Jerry Everett, looks over copies of Atlanta and Gwinnett newspapers detailing the murders, investigation and arrests of suspects in the 1964 triple homicide. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

Ray Sexton had to pee. That’s how he found the bodies.

There were three of them, all police officers, manacled together by two pairs of handcuffs — their own — and shot many times in the back of the head. They were facedown in a briar-filled ditch, off an old trail off Arc Way near Beaver Ruin Road, just around the bend from the property of Mr. A.C. Mills.

“Walked right up on ’em,” Sexton says 50 years later. “So I started screamin’ and a-hollerin’ and everybody came running, naturally.”

Not far from the bodies was a damaged Gwinnett County squad car and a two-door 1963 Oldsmobile hard-top, the first things Sexton — then the police chief, then the sheriff, then several deputies, then more police officers — had seen upon arriving. The Oldsmobile was maroon and smoldering.

On April 17, 1964, Ralph Davis, Jesse Gravitt and Jerry Everett were murdered. They were 48, 55 and 28 years old, respectively, and together represented one-third of the Gwinnett County Police Department.

They were carried out of the woods by hand.

“It shocked the whole community,” Sexton says. “Shocked ’em to death.”

As the story goes, it was standing room only at Everett’s mother’s house that morning as men gathered to console and to brainstorm and to wonder what happened. Two women, a mother and daughter, brewed bottomless pots of coffee.

At some point, a familiar face came in and sat down near Leroy Everett, Jerry’s oldest brother. A former sheriff’s deputy, the man wore a distinctive hat and had a distinctive voice. He made a promise filled with venom, one directed at the man, or men, responsible for Gwinnett County’s darkest hour.

“Leroy,” he said, “you find the son of a bitch and I’ll kill him for you.”

The man was Alec S. Evans. Just over a year later he’d be charged with murder. For half a century, he’d proclaim his innocence.

•••

“I’m kind of homesick for a country, to which I’ve never been before. No sad goodbyes will there be spoken, and time won’t matter anymore.”

•••

For 14 months they searched, and men played music: bluegrass, a now-50-year-old tradition born of a nightmare.

By 1963, the band run by Roger and Randall Everett — Jerry’s brothers — was really cooking. They won Sleepy Head George’s talent show, and started playing for a few gospel radio stations. On Friday nights, the group would record performances on Suwanee’s Stonecypher Road, inside the living room of the Everett family matriarch. Reels were taken to Buford, Cumming, and Canton, and the music was broadcast on Sundays.

Each Saturday, the family band and other musicians would also put on a show at the house. The name Everett had become a well-known, well-liked one in Georgia’s music community.

When Jerry was killed, the musicians — much like the law enforcement community — gathered at his family home. Their music accompanied the grief.

“Everybody knew him, so everybody tried to help,” says Tommy Everett, Leroy Everett’s son.

The unknown suspects were called “the most wanted men in modern Georgia history,” and Gov. Carl Sanders dubbed the murders “one of the most dastardly crimes ever committed in this state.” The investigation was a long one driven by tremendous political pressure and full of false leads.

At various points in the probe, a 34-year-old “blonde with a lengthy police record” was brought down from a Virginia prison; a convicted robber in the Fulton County jail claimed nine people were involved in the murders; and police thought they had a similar incident on their hands when another officer claimed to have been ambushed by four people and shot in the leg. (The latter eventually admitted to having shot himself during a fight with his girlfriend.)

Leroy Everett worked the night shift at Lockheed, clocking in every day at 2 p.m. He spent the first half of those days on the telephone with law enforcement, with friends, with just about everyone.

“It was just a sad time,” says daughter Diane Everett Dunaway, 16 when the killings occurred. “It was all they talked about and all they worried about.”

And all along, Alec Evans was there.

In the beginning, he joined Kelly Everett — Jerry’s brother and a Norcross police officer — in working the “hot car” angle. It was he who convinced the family to ask for the FBI’s assistance in the case, and who spoke regularly with WSB-TV reporter Don McClellan. Evans was no longer a deputy, having been convicted in 1963 of bootlegging whiskey alongside then-Gwinnett County Sheriff Dan Cole, but was trusted and seemed to be making progress.

Then the indictments came down.

In the summer of 1965, a Gwinnett grand jury officially tied three men to the murders. Two were Wade Truett and Venson Williams, friends and “business partners” from Hartsville, S.C.

The third was Alec Evans.

“Nicest dressed man you ever saw,” Sexton says. “Never dreamed of him doing something like that.”

•••

The trial of Alec Evans began on Oct. 18, 1965. He was tried only for the murder of Jerry Everett, a young father of three, allegedly so prosecutors would have the other two murders in their back pocket if something went awry.

It didn’t. The trial ended four days later with a guilty verdict and a death sentence.

The key evidence was provided by Wade Truett, whom authorities believed was there but did not play an active role in the actual killings. He was granted immunity for his testimony, and, like he had in Williams’ trial the week before, provided plenty.

The descriptions were precise, the details brutal.

“I used to help my daddy kill hogs a long time ago, when I was a boy,” Truett testified, “and when you hit a hog in the head with the ax it blows blood through its nose, back, makes a sound that you don’t forget very often, I never forget it … That is the sound I heard, I think I heard that night, that was the sound, the way it sounded to me, like somebody blowing blood through their nose.”

According to Truett — a career criminal who was in federal prison at the time on a “whiskey charge” — he and Williams had been running a garage in South Carolina when they purchased a wrecked maroon 1963 Oldsmobile. In one of the era’s most popular rackets, the idea was to find and steal an identical car, then fix the legitimately purchased vehicle with the stolen car’s parts. A healthy profit was to be made selling the original.

After purchasing the damaged car in early April 1964, the duo made one run to Atlanta to try to find a match but was unsuccessful. That’s when, according to Truett, Williams called “Alex Evans,” a man Truett claimed to have only met in passing once or twice. (Note: Evans is called both “Alex” and “Alec” in various documents and news stories of the time. His family says his name is Alec.)

By April 16, Evans had reportedly called and said he “had what we needed.” Truett and Williams drove down to Atlanta, Truett said, picking Evans up at a “moose club” near Buford. By 10 or 11 p.m., they were outside an apartment complex off Briarcliff Road in Atlanta, scoping out the vehicle in question. It wasn’t there, but they circled back around 1 a.m., spotted it, stole it and headed toward Gwinnett.

They pulled off the interstate at Beaver Ruin Road, then onto a dirt road called Arc, to put South Carolina plates on the stolen car and cover a few other bases.

As Truett threw the Oldsmobile’s tag across a field, headlights came over a hill. The police — Jerry Everett, Jesse Gravitt and Ralph King — had arrived.

Over the next several minutes, confrontations were made, cars were moved and cars were blocked in. The details are confusing but, according to Truett, everything culminated in this: Everett was walking back toward Williams, Truett and the other two officers. Evans had a snubnose pistol and a long-barrel pistol — the latter belonging to the officer — pointed at his back.

“Alex cocked his pistols and,” speaking to Gravitt, who was reaching for his own gun, said “touch it and I’ll kill you.”

Davis, Gravitt and Everett were handcuffed together in a line, their weapons removed. Evans asked Williams what to do with them.

“Well, when they put these uniforms on they automatically become S.O.B.’s right then, I don’t give a damn what we do with them,” Williams responded.

They decided to move the whole operation to the other side of another hill, where they wouldn’t be seen by any passing cars. Truett was told to move two of the cars while Evans and Williams escorted the officers to the new staging area.

Truett claimed that, as he walked back to the scene, he heard sounds like “a bunch of firecrackers, just a nickel pack of firecrackers lit at one time.” He approached a big oak tree and saw the police officers lying face down on the ground, heard the bloody gurgling. Evans was holding a flashlight as Williams bent down to remove bullets from one of the officer’s belts.

Williams then shot one of the officers two or three more times, Truett said. They set the Oldsmobile on fire and fled, throwing guns out the window one by one along Beaver Ruin Road.

Many others testified during Evans’ four-day trial, but Truett was the only one — or thing — that tied the former deputy to that night’s events. Evans was found guilty nonetheless.

His daughter, Judy Brock, was 15 at the time.

“I didn’t believe it happened,” she says. “And I didn’t believe that they would convict him.”

After two more decades in and out of prison, Truett died in 1983 in Cobb County.

Williams was paroled on May 4, 1989, his and Evans’ death sentences having been commuted to life in prison in 1971, when an appeals court ruled that attorneys in the original case had intentionally excluded all potential jurors who were against capital punishment.

Evans was not paroled, then or ever.

•••

“Beulah Land I’mlonging for you, andsomeday on thee I’ll stand. There my home shall beeternal. Beulah Land … sweet Beulah Land.”

•••

Alec Evans, now 87 and believed to be the longest-tenured inmate in Georgia, has maintained his innocence since the minute he was implicated. So has his family.

His wife testified during trial that he was home that night, watching TV and going to bed. His son did, too. His daughter, Brock, says she would have if she’d been permitted. A young girl in a courtroom was unseemly, her father had said.

“That particular night, we would have been watching ‘Dr. Kildare,’” a program about an attractive aspiring doctor, Brock says now. “Us girls naturally liked that program, but when daddy’s home, it’s a whole different ballgame.”

Evans himself is no longer allowed to share his version of the story. Over the last two years, the Georgia Department of Corrections has denied multiple requests for in-person and phone interviews made by the Gwinnett Daily Post, alternately calling it a safety concern and saying the department is “only entertaining interviews that discuss facility programs.” Further inquiries made by several state legislators were unfruitful.

Long-grayed and recently stroke-addled, Evans’ body won’t permit him to write letters.

He did, however, give an unsworn statement at his trial — meaning he couldn’t be cross-examined — and has spoken to a few journalists since. In 2002, he participated in a videotaped conversation with Stan Hall, who spent more than 20 years with the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office but interviewed Evans in an unofficial capacity. Evans’ family also shares his version openly.

Throughout it all, the story has remained the same. The alibi for the night of the murders, as mentioned above, is simple enough. Evans’ explanation of how he got tied to the case is more involved.

In short, he claims it was his good work helping solve the case that landed him in prison.

“I’ll die probably wanting the truth,” Evans told Hall more than a decade ago, “because people run scared from this case.”

According to Evans, he began helping with the investigation at the request of Ralph Davis’ widow, and he and Kelly Everett quickly decided it was best to begin looking at Gwinnett’s stolen car/chop shop epidemic. Before long, Evans was funneling information to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation about local salvage store operator Neil Hill and Dan Cole, the same former sheriff he had been arrested on liquor charges with.

In 1967, Hill pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the theft of a tractor-trailer holding $50,000 worth of merchandise. It was a different case that took place after the murders, but the same type of information that Evans claims he fed to the GBI.

In 1980, Cole and his two sons were convicted on insurance fraud charges “involving the destruction of two Buford-area homes and numerous automobiles.”

Evans still claims that Cole, who died in 2011, set him up.

“I tell you the only reason I am indicted is because of what I was doing,” Evans said during his trial. “And I think if you gentlemen, as I say, will take it on yourselves to check it, check it, it’s the truth, so help me God, I didn’t do it.”

Along the way, Evans had at least one law enforcement official on his side: Arthur Hutchins, the GBI’s very first agent and future director.

“We would be very glad to see you, and rest assured we would make an effort to visit you if we are ever down that way,” Hutchins wrote in a friendly letter to Evans in 1988, speaking for himself and his wife. “We read your letter several times and have discussed it. We are not forgetting you, and are making every effort to ‘contact our friends.’”

In other letters, Evans’ lawyer expressed a belief that Hutchins, who died in 1992, was taken off the case because he thought it was headed in the wrong direction.

Mike Edwards, a former Atlanta police officer and Riverdale police chief, was working as a private investigator in the early 1980s when he took his own look at the case. He said Hutchins told him that he believed Evans was innocent.

Edwards stopped short of saying he believed Evans’ story, but said there were “issues” with the investigation and expressed his opinion that the trial would not have resulted in a conviction if held today. He also got a phone call threatening his life after he interviewed a few key players in the case.

“It could’ve been a call from family members of the deceased that wanted it to stay at rest, it could’ve been somebody that was just so certain that Alec and the other guys killed them, that really wanted him to be punished, or it could’ve been the persons that actually did it,” Edwards says. “I don’t have a clue. But I did get a death threat while working the case.”

•••

“I’m looking now across that river, to where my faith is gonna end in sight. There’s just a few more days to labor, then I’ll take my heavenly flight.”

•••

Dorothy Everett, the wife of Leroy, died during childbirth in 1968. Leroy died three years later, sitting at the same table where Alec Evans had vowed to help. Michael, their oldest son, quit school and went to work to support his five siblings. They put a single-wide trailer on their grandmother’s Suwanee property and did their best.

In the years in between, a barn was built on the same land. People and bands and well-wishers kept coming, and the music never stopped. The leaders of the family band, Randall and Roger Everett, died in 2007 and 2010, respectively, their bodies eaten away by cancer.

Even then, the show went on.

The house band, which no longer has an actual Everett in it, still carries the Everett Family Band moniker. An ongoing passion, a coffee can for donations and a few strict rules — mostly “no alcohol” — have kept everything running. Very little has changed over the years, and that’s made the place a bucket-list destination for bluegrass acts across the world.

Darrell Wilson, a recently retired district attorney from Ellijay, has been playing with the Everetts since the ’60s. Alongside son Ron, he now leads the family band.

“You get to know each other and to appreciate each other,” Wilson says. “And that’s just as important, or more important sometimes, as the music you play.”

On this day, musicians of all skill levels have been filing into the home on Stonecypher Road nearly two hours before showtime. They pick in the living room and in the kitchen.

Members of the band sit around an old wooden table, the night’s set list in front of them. A female bassist named Lisa Hoyle plays, croons and smiles: “If the river was whiskey and I was a duck, I’d dive to the bottom and I’d never come up.”

The tune is a happy one, and every concert at Everett’s Music Barn is an authentically Southern, family-friendly good time.

The fun, though — the camaraderie, the music, the love — is forged from long-ago suffering.

“This family went through hell,” says Tommy Everett, a murdered policeman’s nephew. “The Everett family in general went through hell for 50 years.

On Saturday, after half a century, a radio man finally called Jerry Everett, Jesse Gravitt and Ralph Davis home. A long line of squad cars filed toward the old house on Stonecypher Road, and a gospel song played.

An old-timey gospel song about a land so close to Heaven you can taste it.

•••

“Beulah Land I’m longing for you, and someday on thee I’ll stand. There my home shall be eternal. Beulah Land … sweet Beulah Land.”

•••

Video

Looking back over the 50 years at Everett's Music Barn

Fifty years ago, the Everett family opened the doors of their home on Stonecypher Road in Suwanee to musicians of all ages and talent levels. The tradition, and weekly concerts, go on to this day.

Fifty years ago, the Everett family opened the doors of their home on Stonecypher Road in Suwanee to musicians of all ages and talent levels. The tradition, and weekly concerts, go on to this day.