In 1944, george stinney was young, black and sentenced to die special reports postandcourier.com hiv mouth sores pictures

The girls’ bodies were stiff when the preacher’s boy found them in a shallow, waterlogged ditch in the woods. They were on their backs, like a pair of discarded dolls, bruised and broken beyond repair. On top of them lay a bicycle, its front wheel gone from the frame.

There were no signs of a struggle when Dr. Asbury Cecil Bozard examined the bodies, but it was clear they’d met cruel and violent ends. Mary Emma had a jagged, two-inch long cut above her right eyebrow and a hole boring straight through her forehead into her skull. Betty June suffered at least seven blows to the head, so punishing, the doctor noted, the back of her skull was “nothing but a mass of crushed bones.

Nothing like this had ever happened in Alcolu, a sawmill village along the northern hill of the Pocotaglio Swamp in rural Clarendon County, some 80 miles north of Charleston.


Alcolu was a place anchored by the lumber mill, where men and women went to church twice on Sundays, and green fields teemed with bolls of cotton every summer before bursting into clouds of white fuzz each fall.

For the most part, black and white families lived separately on opposite sides of the railroad spur. But at the mill, men of both races toiled side by side for the D.W. Alderman and Sons Company from the first blow of the mill whistle each morning until the last sent them home at night.

The battered bodies of Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, were found in a waterlogged ditch in these woods on property owned back then by a prominent white man in Alcolu. Michael Pronzato/ Staff By Michael Pronzato mpronzato@postandcourier.com

That afternoon, George and Amie were home with their half-brother, Johnny, who was visiting from their grandmother’s house in the nearby town of Pinewood before reporting for military duty. Their parents were away, and their brother Charles had gone with their sister Katherine to the beauty parlor.

George shared a humble three-room company house with his parents and three younger siblings near the railroad tracks in a part of Alcolu reserved for black families. His mother was a cook at Alcolu’s school for black children and his father, George Sr., a former sharecropper, worked for the mill.

Like most families in Alcolu, they were poor, but they were fed and clothed. The Stinneys grew vegetables in the garden and drank fresh cow’s milk in the morning. Whatever else they needed — with whatever extra money they had — they purchased from the Company Store on Main Street. On Sundays, they walked to church with the rest of Alcolu’s black families at nearby Greenhill Baptist Church.

Amie, who was 8, played in the yard with a young brood of Rhode Island Red hens as a pair of black cars drove up their street. She watched as white men in suits stepped out of them and walked into the house through the backdoor. Amie hid in the chicken coop as they hauled George and Johnny away in handcuffs.

Meanwhile, news of the double murders spread to Columbia and Charleston, fueled by the vicious nature of the crime — plus another salacious detail: Clarendon Deputy Sheriff H.S. Newman told the papers that within 40 minutes of his arrest, George had confessed to killing the girls. He added that George fatally struck them after they resisted his sexual advances. When they threatened to tell their parents, George picked up a foot-long railroad trestle spike and attacked the younger girl first, bashing her several times on the head before turning his weapon on the other.

Newman refused to reveal where George was detained as talk of lynching the boy swirled around Alcolu. Not even George’s parents knew where he was. Days turned into weeks as the trial approached, and neither parent saw nor spoke to George. Mrs. Stinney prayed furiously. They didn’t have any money. What could do they do?

Protests mounted as the date of George’s execution neared. In Charleston, organizers for both the white and black ministerial unions petitioned Gov. Olin Johnston to grant George clemency on the basis of his age and commute his sentence to life imprisonment. Hundreds of letters and telegrams inundated the governor’s office from all over the state and across the country, most of them begging for mercy on George’s behalf.

People appealed to Johnston’s sense of fairness and Christian justice. They noted similarities to another high-profile case that same year involving a white Parris Island teenager, Ernest Feltwell Jr., who pleaded guilty in federal court to the murder of an 8-year-old girl. Feltwell, the 16-year-old son of a marine corps warrant officer, attempted to rape the girl in the woods on Dec. 3, 1943. When she started to scream, he admitted to covering her mouth with his hand until her body went limp.

After Feltwell’s arrest in February 1944, no expense was spared in his defense, including the appointment of three attorneys. They consulted a nationally known criminologist, employed a lie detector test and committed Feltwell to a state hospital in Columbia to determine his sanity. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Others warned Johnston that executing George would only embolden black activists at a time of already heightened racial tensions. “His execution will give the negroes of South Carolina a ‘martyr’ and another battle cry with which to arouse their followers,” cautioned W.R. Pettigrew, minister of Citadel Square Baptist Church in Charleston.

Johnston would not budge. He was locked in a bitter battle against ardent segregationist Sen. Ellison “Cotton Ed” Smith in the Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate and could not afford to look weak on issues of race. Besides, he had concluded the brutality of George’s alleged offense outweighed any consideration for his age. To those who demanded clemency, Johnston responded with a letter, describing in grisly detail one version of the crime.

“I have just talked with the officer who made the arrest in this case. It may be interesting for you to know that Stinney killed the smaller girl to rape the larger one. Then he killed the larger girl and raped her dead body. Twenty minutes later he returned and attempted to rape her again but her body was too cold. All of this he admitted himself.”

Parishioners leave Greenhill Missionary Baptist of Alcolu after a February service. George Stinney Jr. and his family worshipped in the church before he was arrested and sentenced to die in 1944. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff By Andrew Whitaker awhitaker@postandcourier.com Why Now?

Saturday marked a grim anniversary in South Carolina’s history. Exactly 74 years had passed since someone brutally killed two innocent white girls in the small town of Alcolu and then dumped their bodies in a watery ditch. For decades, history blamed George Stinney Jr., at least until a judge threw out his murder conviction a few years ago. But if George didn’t kill the girls, then who did? As the years pass, fewer people remain who might answer that question. Too much evidence and too many memories already have vanished into the dustbin of time to prove anyone’s guilt in court. So, before history can silence any more of the story, The Post and Courier set out to ask the question one more time and explore a second theory about what happened that day in 1944 – an event that forever changed this small, tight-knit community. Part 2