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Fatal property feud simmered for decades
Authorities knew about dispute, didn't expect violence
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Two Lumpkin County neighbors, both men in their 70s, had a 20-plus year dispute over their property line. On Monday morning, Jewell Crane, 76, was found dead of an apparent gunshot wound. Lewis Dempsey, 73, is charged with murder in the death. - photo by Stephen Gurr

DAHLONEGA — The long-standing feud over a disputed property line between Lewis Dempsey and Jewell Crane was no secret to local law enforcement.

Lumpkin County sheriff’s deputies were called to the neighbors’ rural homes northwest of Dahlonega numerous times over the past 20 years to "help keep the peace," sheriff’s investigator Darren Martin said.

Earlier this year, Dempsey, a retired plumber and ex-military man, visited the sheriff’s office and asked for extra patrols of the Mill Creek Road area where he and Crane both lived while Dempsey had a new land survey conducted, Sheriff Stacy Jarrard said.

"I had knowledge of a dispute going on," the sheriff said. "I had no idea it would result in this."

Today Dempsey, 73, makes his first appearance before a magistrate court judge on charges of murder in the Labor Day shooting death of his 76-year-old neighbor Crane, a farmer. Dempsey remains in the Lumpkin County jail without bond.

According to public records, the likely bone of contention between the two was a 100 feet deep, 500 feet wide swath of land that both men may have believed was theirs.

Property plats on file in the Lumpkin County Clerk of Courts office show that Crane owned 63 acres south of Dempsey’s 40-acre lot. Both heavily wooded properties are off Mill Creek Road, a rural, winding two-lane about five miles northwest of Dahlonega.

According to a survey commissioned by Crane in 1986, there was "no conclusive evidence" from differing property deeds as to where Crane’s land ended and Dempsey’s began. The border line drawn on the plat gives the benefit of 100 feet to Crane, while the document acknowledges it could be further down.

That inconsistency of property records was not unique to the area. In the early 1980s, two people fought in court over title to 40 acres of land that bordered Dempsey’s property to the north. A specially appointed examiner determined that because of spotty deed records, neither an Atlanta real estate investor nor one of Crane’s relatives, Christene Harden, could prove they held title to the land.

There is no record of any lawsuits or other court actions between Dempsey and Crane. And while sheriff’s officials have been called out to the property for years, no one was ever charged with a crime.

Martin said he did not believe anyone’s life was ever threatened in the ongoing feud.

Monday morning, the men met at the area of dispute and an argument ensued, authorities said.

"There was apparently some recent development and that’s what they were meeting on," Martin said.

A witness in the area heard a gunshot. A call to 911 was placed and Crane was later found dead of an apparent gunshot wound. Crane’s wife was home but did not see the shooting, Martin said.

"No one witnessed the actual confrontation," Martin said.

Relatives who stood outside Dempsey’s home Tuesday declined to speak with a reporter.

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