Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Homicidal Irony That Shadowed Jesse Hill Ford

A Ford, Not a Faulkner

 

Jesse was a free man but his reputation and finances were in shambles.


Although Sally stood by him through the trial, their marriage soon faltered. They divorced in 1973 and Jesse left Humboldt.


In 1975, Jesse married Lillian Pellitieri Chandler and published The Raider, a novel set during the Civil War. It garnered middling reviews with one review headlined "A Ford, Not a Faulkner."


He never published another novel.


The University of Alabama hired him as writer in residence for 1977-1978. As the Encyclopedia of Alabama notes, while there "he served as mentor to future best-selling mystery writer Richard North Patterson."


The original review that compared Ford to Faulkner.
The original review that compared Ford to Faulkner.
 In the years from 1985 to 1992, Jesse published many opinion pieces in USA Today. These pieces surprised many, as the former liberal had become a stout conservative. During the same time period, he wrote several screenplays.


In late May 1996, he underwent open-heart surgery. After that, he sank into depression.


On June 1, 1996, at 67, Jesse Hill Ford committed suicide. He killed himself with one bullet to the head - the same way he had killed George Doaks, Jr.


Jesse wrote much that will continue to be read and appreciated for years to come. However, he never fulfilled his early promise. Friend and associate Anne Cheney, author of The Life and Letters of Jesse Hill Ford, Southern Writer, commented, "I don't think he ever recovered from the trial."


Jesse will be remembered for his novels, short stories, and screenplays and for his work as an educator who nurtured other writers.


What should not be forgotten is George Doaks, Jr., a young man who was innocent aggression but lost his life to what can most charitably be viewed as a terrible error in judgment.


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