A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South
by Karen L. Cox
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 09 Oct 2017 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2017
In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery—known in the press as the “Wild Man” and the “Goat Woman”—enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate “Goat Castle.” Pearls was killed by an Arkansas policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. However, as was all too typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded “justice,” and an innocent black woman named Emily Burns was ultimately sent to prison for the murder of Merrill. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also lived to profit from the notoriety of the murder. In telling this strange, fascinating story, Karen Cox highlights the larger ideas that made the tale so irresistible to the popular press and provides a unique lens through which to view the transformation of the plantation South into the fallen, gothic South.
A Note From the Publisher
August 4, 2017 is the 85th anniversary of the "Goat Castle Murder."
“Goat Castle is a highly entertaining story about a long-forgotten murder. It is also a reminder of the racism and intolerance found in southern history and of how difficult change has been. It’s a terrific read.”--John Grisham
“Karen Cox masterfully demonstrates through a close look at the murder of Jennie Merrill how the sentimental rewriting of Civil War–era history did far more than engulf southern white culture in a romantic haze of ancestor worship; it was used as justification for racial segregation, lynching, and a legal system that routinely denied people of color justice under the law. This story will enrage readers while bringing tears to their eyes.”--Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones
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Average rating from 72 members
"Goat Castle" by Karen L Cox is not only an investigation of a murder that happened during the Great Depression in the Old South but also a fascinating and thought provoking examination of race relations during the decades after the end of the Civil War. There are a few books about the Goat Castle Murder but they are incomplete and do not know the whole story. They usually center on Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery who were the residents of Goat Castle and fallen "white" gentry, and to a lesser degree on Jennie Merrill who was the murder victim and the daughter of a former plantation owner. They also stress the guilt of African- American George Pearls as the perpetrator of the crime. Much is said of the fact that the Goat Castle residents were unfairly accused of this crime but Karen L Cox did much research going through court records and other research to bring forth other people involved in this ultimately very sad story and evidence that was overlooked. One who seems to have been lost to history is Emily Burns who was an "acquaintance" of George Pearls and the daughter of a former slave. Both Emily and her mother spent months in jail while Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery were able to avoid it. What has been lost to history is the fact that Dana and Dockery's fingerprints were found inside of the house where the crime was committed. Dockery/Dana and Merrill absolutely detested each other to the point where police were called and there were numerous legal issues on both sides for years which makes fingerprints very suspicious. Jennie Merrill definitely would not have invited either one for "tea". The fingerprint specialist was not able to be "found" which was very convenient for Dockery and Dana's case during the trial which resulted in their getting away with the crime scot-free. Pearls was shot and killed and convicted posthumously for the crime. Someone still needed to be punished for the crime and it seems that Emily Burns was a convenient scape-goat. That isn't to say she was innocent. She got involved with the wrong people and was the lookout while the crime was committed but she was not the one who pulled the trigger or planned the crime. Emily ended up spending eight hard years in prison before being released. Dana and Dockery not only got away with the crime but also made money from their notoriety. All in all, this wonderful book shows the decline of the Old South after the Civil War and how African-Americans still had a very long way to go for their freedom. I can't stress enough how wonderful this book was to read. I stayed up late to read and was reluctant to put it down. What strikes me the most is that justice was not truly done for the murder of Jennie Merrill and the descendants of former slaves really did not have their freedom or equal rights. My heart aches for Emily Burns for taking the full brunt for Dana and Dockery's crime which they planned and also I admire her grace after she was released and the life she led. I am so glad that Ms. Cox uncovered Emily's story and has set the record straight. She has also brought to light the prejudice and injustice that still prevails in the South to this day but this book is a fascinating account of a very interesting and important time in the history of the Old South. Highly recommended. I received a copy of this book from the publishers (thank you!) via Netgalley for free in exchange for an honest review.
An outstanding book! It reads like the very best of Southern Gothic literature, but it is actually a true story. Faulkner could not have crafted such a story with such incredibly eccentric characters. Additionally, the author captures the time period with everything it includes impeccably. It is a book that I will incorporate into my classroom. I highly recommend it!
I am a fan of Southern Gothic literature. My interest in Southern Gothic, and my love of true crime stories, drew me to Ghost Castle by Karen L. Cox, which tells the true story of a murdered woman, and the mysterious and odd cast of characters surrounding her death, including her neighbors, "The Wild Man" and "The Goat Woman". In this true story, the reader gets all the elements of fiction Southern Gothic including grotesque characters, dark settings (in this case, an old Southern home overrun with goats and pigs), and most importantly, an analysis of the Southern society in the 1930s. A solid read!
“Goat Castle” is much more than a highly entertaining historical true crime story. It is also a “warts and all” window into the “Old South” of America post-civil war. Karen Cox illustrates throughout the book how despite emancipation for African-Americans occurring decades earlier, just how far away from freedom and justice they actually were, with ultimately the only two people convicted for the crime being African-Americans. “Goat Castle” gives the reader an insight into the workings of the police force and justice system and richly details the lives of those directly involved in the crime. This book brilliantly recreates the time in which a terrible crime took place, a crime often overshadowed by the post-depression public’s appetite for antebellum Natchez, Mississippi. I enjoyed this true crime book enormously. It is well written and excellently researched and shows the fallibility of the justice system for African-Americans that unfortunately continues to this day.
Goat Castle is a true and compelling story of a dark era in Southern history as it serves as an example of the disastrous effects of the Jim Crow South. In the mid-1930s the murder of the wealthy, eccentric Jennie Merrill received national attention because the prime suspects were her neighbors, the Wild Man and Goat Woman of Goat Castle, so named because goats and other animals lived in the ruins of an historic plantation. However, due to a twist in circumstances and a change in public opinion, the only person to serve time for the murder was a young, Black woman, who was not even in the house during the murder. This book is well-researched and the author's research supports her conclusion that there was a serious mistrial of justice, much of it due to the way the media portrayed the Wild Man and Goat Woman, who became celebrities in the press. I had never heard of this case but the title and description of the book intrigued me as I've become more interested in Southern history upon moving south. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Southern history.
Many thanks to Karen Cox, the University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. Goat Castle is a meticulously researched re-telling of the murder of Jennie Merrill, a wealthy Natchez, Mississippi citizen and descendant of plantation/slave owners. Karen Cox succeeds in breaking down the romanticism of the post-slave trade era in Mississippi and brings to life the 'real south'. Her book excels magnificently in it's gritty realism, not only detailing the events of the actual murder and the suspicions surrounding Jennie Merrill's oddball neighbors, but also bravely takes the narrative off course and paints a wonderfully vivid picture of the south, it's race relations, economic climate and the people who lived there. I've not read anything by Karen Cox before, but its plain to see that she is a exquisite researcher and has a fabulous gift for true crime narrative. I'm a self-confessed true-crime fan, having read quite a lot of books, and this is easily up there with the best of them.
I don't normally state what a book is about when I review it as the title and ocver of non-fiction books generally state what the book is about.. Here we go. Per Goodreads -In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery--known in the press as the -Wild Man- and the -Goat Woman---enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate -Goat Castle.- Pearls was killed by an Arkansas policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. However, as was all too typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded -justice, - and an innocent black woman named Emily Burns was ultimately sent to prison for the murder of Merrill. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also lived to profit from the notoriety of the murder. Or as I paraphrase it ... A black woman went to jail instead of two white murderers because she was guilty of being a black woman in Mississippi. (Sounds like everyday news to me lately!) If we made this book into a movie no one would NOT believe the plot that in the year 2017 someone innocent spent years in a Mississippi Prison - a place not known for its luxuries or fair treatment of inmates. The author has wicked research skills as this book is so full of facts and provides such concrete evidence. The fact that fingerprint analysis was in its infancy and made a part of this case was a pleasant surprise to this True Crime junkie. Read. This. Book. Thank you, Net Galley for the opportunity to review this book ---
Anyone who has a fascination with the history of the deep South, Jim Crow South, and class relations will certainly welcome the well-researched Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South. The historical detail surrounding the families of influence, the city of Natchez and the Civil War era sets the stage dramatically for this true crime story. Immediately, the reader is immersed in a time where they can “feel” the tension between the central figures and the pains of the vile ways POC were treated. Karen L.Cox does spend a lot of time providing in-depth backgrounds of our main figures and their families, which can feel a bit drawn at times, out but I can appreciate how this may be necessary in order to capture the essence and attitude of how class (and race) plays a significant part in the actions, response and those unanswered concerns in this story. For instance, Jennie Merrill was a woman with a very affluent background and saw herself as such. A woman like Octavia Dockery was below her in class and Jennie Merrill had no use in speaking with her, thus having servants or the sheriff to deal with her disputes – and disputes she had! In her Merrill’s own words, “I have never spoken to Miss Dockery in my life,” probing the question – Why were the fingerprints of the strange couple Octavia Dockery and Dick Dana’s in the Merrill home at the time of her death when she loathed them so much? If Jennie Merrill had no use in speaking with Octavia Dockery, she certainly would not invite the couple into her home for tea. So, why were they there? When Jennie Merrill ends up murdered, someone must be held accountable. This being the Jim Crow South and Jennie Merrill being a white woman, it’s no surprise that the crime and punishment is handed to a black person(s). George Pearls had no chance to defend himself or share his whole truth, being shot and killed by a police officer before he could ever go to trial for the Merrill murder. Emily Burns, however, did live with 8 years in jail for a murder that she did not commit – once again, showcasing the injustices of the South towards black women and men. It wouldn’t have gone any other way. This fascinating book is necessary and fair – giving a voice to the truth. The historical detail, along with the many photographs throughout, went a long way for this reader!
To super simplify, this is basically a story of a "Have" living next to a "Have not" and tensions boiling over after a years-long neighbors feud. Jennie (Joan) Merril is the "Have" with her inherited money from family plantations, etc. Next door you have kooky Dick (Richard) Dana and Octavia Dockery, otherwise known as Wild Man and Goat Woman, the "Have nots". They live in what was formerly known as Glenwood but mostly called "Goat Castle" now because the main house is filled with goats and chickens and vermin as it's falling down around them. There has been a years-long feud between them since Dick and Octavia moved back into Dick's former home because of the animals wandering over onto Jennie's property and causing damage. The Sheriff has been called repeatedly, the lawyers have been dragged into it and lawsuits filed. So when Jennie Merril turned up murdered one night after a botched robbery attempt, and evidence pointing towards those in Goat Castle was found, questions need to be answered. The authorities go off on another tangent, however. A sad and provocative story. True crime and history fans should enjoy this one, I sure did, a wonderful story with lots of background and history. I was given an ARC by Netgalley and the publisher, for my review.
The Goat Castle is a fascinating read. I've toured many of the majestic antebellum homes of Natchez, but I had not heard of the Goat Castle story. Cox does a good job describing the history of Natchez as well as the very interesting families of the main characters surrounding the murder. The story also reflects how Jim Crow laws allowed one person to take the brunt of the blame for the crime, while two others avoided long term prison and capitalized off the story.
Good read about a murder in the South during the Civil War Era. It is also a look at race relations back during that time. The book was well written and flowed very easily. The history provided is also informative. There were some slow spots in the book and sometimes the character backgrounds was a bit much. Overall, good read. The story was interesting. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
I thought that the author did a great job outlining the murder of Jennie and the lives of her murderers. I liked all of the pictures of Goat Castle and of the principle people involved in the crime. I think its a great true crime book that illustrates the double standard of Jim Crow in the deep South. I just wish that the two main culprits, who were white, would have had some kind of consequence for their actions. Yet that was not to be. I did find that towards the end of the book, the author tended to repeat herself, I know she felt it was necessary since it was repeated during the court proceedings, but it was over kill. and dragged the book down. Overall a great book that was thoroughly researched.
A fascinating tale of Southern gothic that almost defies description. I don't want to add too many spoliers here, but if you love a read that almost seems too far-fetched to be true then you'll absolutely love this book. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery—known in the press as the "Wild Man" and the "Goat Woman"—enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbour, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. If this was the blurb for a new movie, you'd dismiss it as far too bizarre to be true and this is only the tip of the iceberg. I absolutely loved this book and have been recommending it to people who like their true crime with a side order of random. Five stars from me - it had me googling and researching for hours after finishing it. What a book!
This non-fiction book reads like a novel because the events are just that out there. It is a story where race, gender and greed during the great depression combine to create a historical moment that reveals much about the issues of the day. Well written, with a cast of bizarre and fully developed characters, the story is one that is as relevant today as it was then. I read this quickly as it just swept me up. I highly recommend it
A fine book very well researched and very well written. For me, at times, it got a tad too academic almost but do stick with it as it becomes fascinating. A very good tale well developed.
A meticulously well-researched book on a 1932 murder in Natchez, Mississippi. It delivers up history and an exposé of racism, but in a page-turning true crime format that's fun to read. The main premise of the book is racial inequality in the criminal justice system. The evidence points to two whites and two blacks having collaborated on the murder, the whites received vastly gentler treatment that did the one surviving black woman, Emily Burns, who served as a lookout. My only complaint about the book is the author's failure to illuminate Mississippi's homicide statutes. It grated me that she called Emily Burns innocent of murder without analyzing Mississippi's laws regarding complicity. A discussion of the felony murder rule -- and whether Mississippi follows it -- would have been in order because it is a likely explanation for Emily Burn's murder conviction. Nevertheless, that one glitch doesn't take anything away from the main premise of the book. Even if you assume Burns was guilty of murder, the other two white principals were as well, and the difference in the court's treatment of the white and black defendants is shocking. I recommend this book, and on more than one level -- it works as a historical true crime book for a lay reader AND as a history book for the professional.
Truth really is stranger than fiction, not sure this would be believable as a novel but it's a true story that hooks you early on. The event being looked into is the the murder of a daughter to one of the richest men in America back in the early 1930s in the deep south when slavery had been abolished but not attitudes. The Goat Castle case as it got named was national news for a long time partly because of the victim and partly due to the characters that would be considered to far fetch to believe even in a Charlie Chaplin film or Laurel and Hardy at times, only this is definitely not a comedy but a true event. Karen Cox has dug deep done her research and some more to bring us this book a true story where she introduces the people then the facts of the case. Your innocence was more defined by skin than fact, a lady or the Goat Lady as she becomes known is born well before her time she would probably be a PR or Jounalist of incredible renown today, but definitely not a hotel owner or house keeper. This book did take a little getting into but you do need the start to what becomes a incredible book that is almost impossible to put down, I guess innocence even today is viewed by what you see and what you believe but this goes deep into attitudes of the time where the guilty are treated differently because of skin rather than fact, At the time the facts would be that a prisoner could be set free because the public out cry generated by press as opposed to now where Social Media tends to direct people, how ever now a smart attorney can sometimes get a guilty person freedom, and you will see this isn't a new phenomenon. This is a book I highly recommend one of which you will not find else where another that is truly alike in my opinion. I received a free copy of this from NetGalley for a honest review.
This book will give you a completely different view of the old south, it links you to the distant past with the southern belles of yesterday and the change their lives and family history take as one of the worst parts of American history is retold through this story. The writing gives a vivid picture of the two opposing families and their background from where they came to where they are now. I found myself questioning how I would react in that time given the same circumstances, if I were to be in the position of the town folk, I would hope I would react differently and be blind to color or circumstances, but one never really can know until they are in that situation. This book shows the stark contrast between the rich and poor, slave and master/land owner. The differences in culture and the very things that makes us all human. Very good book, it makes you take stock in what your own beliefs are and gives you a different way to view things, that maybe you never thought of before.
Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox The true crime account of a gothic Southern murder which happened during the Great Depression in the Old South as told by Karen L. Cox was a book I could not stop reading. The characters in the story are unique to the declining Old South after the Civil War, but I knew nothing about “Goat Castle” when I requested the book from netgalley. The investigation is both a fascinating and thought provoking examination of race relations in the south decades after the end of the Civil War. The ironic scam that Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery were able to perpetuate on the American public, claiming to be fallen "white" gentry as the Goat Woman and Wild Man is an amazing story. The Jim Crow laws allowed the case to take a turn in 1932 that should be impossible today, yet the details of the investigation in 1932 surprised me. Even though they did not follow the trail, the fingerprint identification was impressive. Octavia Dockery was way ahead of her time with her expertise in throwing people off guard through proposed lawsuits. The sociological implications of the aftermath of the Civil War are accurately described in Natchez, Mississippi in 1932. The decline of huge southern plantations and the forgotten days of “Gone With The Wind” are realities, and the scramble to survive the depression make harsh reality of daily life. Life was hard for black citizens even though they gained their freedom. Life also changed for the wealthy white slave owners who had to adjust to a loss of both physical land and slave property. Jennie Merrill was the murder victim and the wealthy daughter of a former plantation owner. This crime, like so many others, was poorly planned and conceived in anger. Had they done any research they would have learned that she did not keep large amounts of money in her home and several lives would have been changed. Greed caused her death, but the murderers received no monetary award from their actions. African- American George Pearls is the perpetrator of the crime, yet his untimely death hides more than it solves. Dockery and Dana resulted in getting away with the crime scot-free. One person who seems to have been forgotten in other accounts is Emily Burns who was an "acquaintance" of George Pearls and the daughter of a former slave. Both Emily and her mother spent months in jail while Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery were able to avoid it. Emily Burns was a convenient scape-goat who was in the wrong place at the right time. Emily ended up spending eight hard years in prison before being released. Yet she was grateful and survived the ordeal. This true story would be a great book to pair with novels or short stories about the American Justice System and how it has evolved. I received a copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.