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Murder is not a rarity at North Hall park
Corps may heed sheriffs request for upgrades at Belton Bridge
James Carlton Smith was stabbed at Belton Bridge Park in Lula and died Aug. 21, 2004. This cross was placed at the park in his memory. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A history of violence
Murders at Belton Bridge Park
May 10, 1979: Edmond Hoyt “Beetle” Turner, 44, of Lula, is found dead of a gunshot wound in the back of his pickup truck, which is submerged in five feet of water in the Chattahoochee River at the park. Three people are later convicted of his murder.
Aug. 10, 1981: Mark Desnoyers picks up three hitchhikers in South Carolina. They kill him and dump his body in the river at Belton Bridge Park.
Aug. 21, 2004: Former East Hall High School football player James Carlton Smith, 20, is stabbed in the chest. Smith is one of 30 or more people who gather at Belton Bridge Park late that night. The man charged in his death, 19-year-old James Matthew Grizzle, is acquitted of murder.
Feb. 14, 2010: Richard Schoeck, 46, is found lying next to his Ford F-250 truck parked at Belton Bridge Park, dead from multiple gunshot wounds. His wife, Stacey Schoeck, calls 911 at 9:30 p.m. to report his death. No arrests have been made in the case.

Source: Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Times archives
*Note: One other murder occurred at Belton Bridge Park in the 1980s, according to authorities.
Efforts to find additional information about that death have been unsuccessful.

A few rut-filled acres of sand and mud surrounded by thickets and gnarled oaks on the banks of the Chattahoochee River have as dark a past as any spot in Hall County.

Belton Bridge Park, where a week ago a Snellville man was shot to death, is a park only in the loosest sense of the word. There are no benches or picnic tables, no grills or boat ramps in the federally owned property north of Lula. The only indication it’s a park at all is a generic sign with the hours of operation: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Authorities say the remote location, late hours, lack of lighting and proximity to the river make Belton Bridge Park a prime spot for criminal activity, and its grim history confirms that.

When Richard Schoeck was killed last week, it was at least the fifth murder at Belton Bridge Park in the last 30 years, officials say. Schoeck, 46, was shot multiple times less than 100 feet from a 6-foot wooden cross that was erected to memorialize the park’s last homicide victim, who was stabbed to death.

When that death occurred in 2004, Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and asked the agency to close the park down until improvements could be made. It was not.

Last week, the corps has become more responsive to the sheriff’s requests.

"The corps has a positive relationship with the sheriff’s office and will work with them to resolve this issue," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Lisa Coghlan said Friday.

Sheriff’s officials were able to find the names of four homicide victims who died at Belton Bridge Park, including Schoeck. But at least one other person, a woman, was killed at the park sometime in the mid to late 1980s, Cronic said.

The first known homicide at Belton Bridge Park was in May 1979, when 44-year-old Edmond Hoyt "Beetle" Turner was shot to death. His body was placed in the back of his pickup truck, which was submerged in 5 feet of water in the Chattahoochee. Four days after the killing, a Lula man and an Alto couple were charged in the murder.

In August 1981, Mark Desnoyers picked up three hitchhikers in South Carolina. They killed him and dumped his body in the river at Belton Bridge Park.

In 2004, James Carlton Smith, 20, was stabbed in the chest at the park, where more than 30 people had gathered for late-night drinking and "mud-bogging," the sport of driving trucks through heavy mud.

The man accused of killing Smith, 19-year-old James Matthew Grizzle, was acquitted by a jury the following year.

Richard Schoeck’s murder case remains a mystery with no arrests. Authorities are saying little about the shooting, which was reported by Schoeck’s wife about 9:30 p.m. on the night of Feb. 14. Stacey Schoeck was to meet her husband at the park after driving from a relative’s home in Cleveland,
authorities said.

Besides the deaths, the park is known as a spot used for drinking and drug use.

Cronic said there are several factors that make Belton Bridge Park a haven for crime.

"You’ve got an area that’s fairly well isolated," Cronic said. "Combined with that, you’ve got areas within the park that provide opportunities for concealment. After it rains, there’s parts of the park we can’t patrol with a Crown Vic (patrol car). There’s no lighting, and lighting is always a significant issue with the deterrence of crime. It just creates an environment that’s more conducive to bad activities than good."

Cronic wants to see the corps pave portions of the park, which lies in a flood plain and tends to collect large mud puddles in wet weather. A gate, daylight-only park hours as well as lighting would also "go a long way toward making it something for the people up in that area to enjoy," Cronic said.

Cronic said he spoke this week with Tim Rainey, local Operations Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and came away encouraged that changes may be coming to Belton Bridge Park. In the meantime, it could be closed temporarily.

"We have asked that the park be shut down until improvements can be made," Cronic said.

Coghlan said the corps is "looking at possible improvements to the park such as paving, lighting and reduced hours."

Cronic said he doesn’t want the park shut down permanently.

"They need something up there, and with some improvements, it could really be a plus," he said.

Editor's note: Because of an editor's error, an earlier version of the headline on this story incorrectly located Belton Bridge Park.