Rural places are often associated with safety – the isolation and limited contact with other people invokes the idea that those who dwell in these areas are safe from violent crime.
But bad things happen everywhere.
Like Donalsonville, Georgia. With a population of fewer than 3,000 people, this quaint hamlet probably thought that they were entirely safe from the evils found in cities.
Nevertheless, it was the site of the second largest mass murder in Georgia history in 1973.
Six members of the Alday family were brutally murdered by escaped convicts Carl Isaacs, Wayne Coleman, and George Dungee, along with Isaacs’ 15-year-old brother, Billy.
All for a tank of gas.
On May 14, 1973, Carl Isaacs and his half brother, Wayne Coleman enlisted a fellow inmate named George Dungee to help them escape from Poplar Hill Correctional Institute in Maryland.
They climbed out of a bathroom and hid in the nearby woods until they could steal a car. Then, they headed south.
They picked up Billy Isaacs, only 15 years old at the time, and committed a varying string of robberies while on the road to Florida.
They discovered that they needed gas while they were near Donalsville, Georgia and came upon the Alday Farm.
The Alday Murders
While the men were looking for a gas pump on the farm, they decided to ransack the trailer as well.
Everything was normal, until Jerry Alday and his father, Ned, arrived. Outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, the men were forced at gunpoint inside the trailer and shot in separate bedrooms.
Things only got worse – Jerry’s brother, Jimmy Alday, arrived on a tractor and was ambushed in the same manner – he was forced inside the trailer and made to lay down on the couch before Carl Isaacs shot him.
The next to arrive was Mary Alday, Jerry’s wife. The men were attempting to hide the tractor when she pulled up, and they restrained her inside the trailer before raping her on her own kitchen table.
The last two victims, Jerry’s brother Chester and uncle Aubrey, arrived in a pickup truck and were executed in the same way as all the other men – there were now five bodies in the Alday trailer, and the horror was not yet over for Mary.
The men took her out into the woods, several miles from the trailer. Once there, they raped her again before Dungee finally murdered her.
Aftermath, Trial and Sentence
The men abandoned their car in the woods near the spot where they left Mary and took her car instead. They later abandoned it in Alabama, where they stole yet another vehicle. They were arrested a few days later in West Virginia – they were found to be in possession of guns that were later matched to the killings, and property that belonged to the victims.
Billy Isaacs cooperated with police, agreeing to testify against his older brother in exchange for a 20-year sentence for armed robbery.
Carl Isaacs confessed to shooting Jerry, Ned, Aubrey, and Jimmy during interviews with a documentary filmmaker, as well as raping Mary and burglarizing the trailer.
These confessions were later introduced at trial.
He, Coleman, and Dungee were tried in Seminole County – all three were convicted and sentenced to death. However, these convictions and subsequent sentences were overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 1985, on the grounds that the pool of potential jurors in Seminole County had been tainted by the massive pretrial publicity.
All three men were re-tried in 1988 – the convictions were upheld, but this time, only Carl Isaacs received the death penalty. Coleman and Dungee received life sentences instead. This is very likely because Isaacs admits to pulling the trigger on most of the victims, and he is often regarded as the ringleader of the whole event.
Carl Isaacs was executed on May 6, 2003, at Georgia Diagnostic and Classification State Prison in Jackson. He was the longest-serving death row inmate in the US at the time, having spent 30 years there prior to his execution.
His appeals against this sentence went all the way up to the Supreme Court, but they denied it, and, his final options having been exhausted, scheduled his execution.
He declined to make a final statement but did ask for a final prayer before being put to death by lethal injection.
George Dungee died in prison on April 4, 2006. Billy Isaacs was released from prison in 1993 and died in Florida on May 4, 2009, at age 51. As of 2016, Wayne Coleman is the last surviving member of the group and remains incarcerated.
A film portraying the crimes called Murder One was released in 1988 – it starred Henry Thomas, and serves as one of the only fictional film accounts of the crimes.
In 1993, one of the only non-fiction accounts was published – Blood Echoes by Thomas H. Cook. Another fictionalized account entitled Going to Jackson was published by Janice Daugharty in 2010.
Other than that, there has been very little published about this case – there are few podcast episodes or available newspaper articles, and the murders even lack their own Wikipedia page.
The execution of Carl Isaacs, on the other hand, has been covered over and over again, mostly because of its polarizing effect on death penalty debates. Both pro and anti-death penalty organizations have published articles on the issue. This is likely because of the sheer amount of time that Isaacs spent on death row.
But there’s something that should not be forgotten – six people lost their lives that day in 1973, at the hands of Carl Isaacs and his friends. They were ambushed in a place that they thought they were safe and murdered in cold blood simply for being there.
All for a tank of gas.
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