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Johnny Vardeman: Anniversary of prosecutors 1967 death marked in Jackson County
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Monday is the 50th anniversary of the murder of Floyd Hoard, who at the time was Piedmont Circuit solicitor general prosecuting criminals in Jackson County.

Dickey Hoard, author of “Alone Among the Living: A Memoir of the Floyd Hoard Murder,” and others will observe the date with readings at 7 p.m. at the Jackson County Historic Courthouse in Jefferson. Hoard also will read from his new book, “The Missing Boys,” a novel about a murder in a small town.

The Floyd Hoard book is nonfiction, a true account of the murder of Dickey Hoard’s father.

When Floyd Hoard became solicitor general — or district attorney, as it is now called — of the Piedmont Judicial Circuit, Jackson County had a reputation of widespread criminal activity, including car theft and bootleg whiskey. With encouragement from a few Jackson County citizens, Hoard led numerous raids on the criminals’ operations. Several offenders went to jail, but the ringleaders were elusive.

On the verge of putting some of them away, he was to testify Aug. 7, 1967, before a grand jury about Cliff Park of Pendergrass, the accused mastermind of much of the criminal activity. As he got ready for court, he got into his 1967 Ford Galaxy shortly before 7:30 a.m. in the yard of his home on Ga. 335 outside Jefferson. When he turned the key to the ignition, 10 sticks of dynamite destroyed his car.

His family, including his wife, Imogene, three daughters and Dickie, age 14 at the time, ran into the yard to see what happened, but Floyd Hoard died at the scene. The murder made national news, and it lighted a fire under more citizens of Jackson and surrounding counties where crime was rampant.

State authorities got involved, and investigations led to Park and his associates being convicted in Hoard’s killing and sent to prison. It took two trials to put Park away for good. He faced the death penalty but died in prison.

Years following his father’s death, Dickey Hoard is said to have become somewhat of a rebel. Later he straightened out and became a school teacher and minister. He is pastor of Oconee River Wesleyan Church in Watkinsville today.

After publishing the book about his father’s murder, Dickey Hoard became a prolific writer. He also wrote “Through Fear of Death” and “The Race Before Us: A Georgia Love Story” before his latest book, “The Missing Boys.”

Monday’s event is sponsored by the Jackson County Historic Courthouse and Historic Archives. Dickie will sign copies of his book, which will be available for purchase. Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free, but the organization recommends reservations because of limited seating. The number to call is 706-387-7683.

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The old courthouse, which is being restored, is historic in many ways. Among its most sensational trials were the one in which the Floyd Hoard murder suspects were tried, and a couple of trials of suspects in the Charles Drake murder in 1956. Drake was a prominent Jackson County merchant who ran a store beside his home on U.S. 129 north of Jefferson.

James Foster was convicted in Drake’s murder, but later was freed after another man, Charles P. (Rocky) Rothschild, confessed to the killing.

Floyd Hoard had assisted Foster’s defense attorney, Horace Wood, in the case.

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Some other things you might not know about Floyd Hoard. His nickname was “Fuzzy.” He grew up in the Atlanta area and for a time played professional baseball. He also was a U.S. Army veteran, taught school and coached, but when he married Imogene Westmoreland, whose father was a prominent Jefferson lawyer, he studied law, passed the bar and entered practice with his father-in-law. He also for a short time served as editor of the Jackson Herald, Jefferson’s weekly newspaper.

Floyd Hoard was 40 years old at the time of his death. He and Imogene had three daughters beside their son Dickey. The family left their home after Hoard’s murder and never stayed in it again.

The highway between Jefferson and Nicholson, formerly Brockton Road, is named in Floyd Hoard’s honor. Portraits of him also hang in courthouses in the district he served.

The Jackson Herald is publishing a five-part series about the case in observance of its 50th anniversary.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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