Fifty-one years ago next month marks one of the most sensational crimes in Georgia’s history: the execution murders of three Gwinnett County policemen.
Officers Marvin Jessie Gravitt, 52, of Norcross, Ralph E. Davis, 49, of Buford, and Jerry Reed Everett, 28, of Suwanee, were handcuffed together and brutally killed after confronting car thieves preparing to strip down an Oldsmobile stolen in Atlanta earlier that evening. The murders occurred in the early morning hours of April 17, 1964, off Arc Road, or Arcadia Way, a narrow dirt road near Beaver Ruin Road.
A neighbor, C.A. Mills, in the then-sparsely populated area alerted police to suspicious activity near his home. He called Gwinnett County police, who dispatched officers Gravitt, Davis and Everett to the scene.
They discovered Alex Evans, a former Gwinnett deputy, Wade Truett and Vincent Williams with the stolen car. The three suspects managed to get the pistols from the three policemen, handcuffed them together and walked them into the woods, where they were murdered.
Mills had reported cars racing up and down the road. When the police car arrived, one of the cars backed up at a high rate of speed. When it stopped one of the officers got into the car with the driver, but the police car became wedged in between the suspect cars.
The criminals burned the Oldsmobile to destroy evidence as they apparently didn’t have time to strip it before being discovered.
Mills called police again at daybreak saying he could see the apparently abandoned police car. The officers hadn’t been heard from since being dispatched to the scene.
When officers arrived that morning, they found Davis had been shot five times in the head and face with his own revolver. Everett had been shot four times, twice in the head, and Gravitt five times in the head.
Officer Ray Howard Sexton and Sheriff’s Deputy Homer Grizzle found the bodies about 8:45 a.m. Fellow officers were shocked to find the bodies of their friends. Some speculated that they must have known some of the killers.
Three officers’ pistols were found on the side of the road about a mile and a half from the murders scene.
Gwinnett County residents were stunned as they learned of the murders within their small law enforcement agency.
Soon almost 50 officers from several agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation, joined local officers in rounding up people for questioning. The Gwinnett County Commission offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers.
Because the bodies weren’t discovered until after daylight, the suspects had several hours to get away and go into hiding.
It would be more than a year of investigating, questioning people of interest and tracking down leads before a Gwinnett County Grand Jury convened to indict suspects in the murders. On July 1, 1965, crowds gathered in front of the Lawrenceville courthouse to learn whom the grand jury would indict.
Just as many residents were shocked to learn of the murders, so were many surprised to learn that one of the suspects was Alex Evans, 38, of Buford. A career law enforcement officer, but unemployed at the time of the murders, he had gone around the county “investigating” the crime on his own, even talking with family members of the victims.
The others indicted were Wade L. Truett, 34, of South Carolina, serving a federal sentence for hijacking a truck load of liquor, and Vincent Eugene Williams, 34, a Tennessee native who had been in and out of prison and was serving a federal illegal whisky sentence.
Trials began October that year, Truett having turned on his partners, testifying against both Evans and Williams in their separate trials. Authorities allowed Truett immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony. He claimed although he helped handcuff the officers, he didn’t shoot them, that Evans and Williams did. In his trial, Evans claimed innocence in a rambling, sometimes inaudible statement from the stand.
Found guilty, both Evans and Williams were given death sentences, but ended up with prison terms. Truett died in 1983; Williams also has died. Evans, about 88. remains in Johnson County Prison in Wrightsville, still maintaining his innocence, claiming he was home with his family the night of the murders.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.