Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Nightrider and Lady Sundown: The Bonnie and Clyde of Georgia

Secret Codes

On October 3, cemetery worker John Hancock and his fiancée, Janice Kay Chatman, accepted an invitation to go riding around.   Although the young woman in the car was a complete stranger, these two lovers decided to go anyway.  Authors Michael Newton and Jennifer Furio say they were invited to a party and that there were children in the car, but other authors indicate otherwise.  Cook, whose account is most deeply researched, states from Hancocks story that the young woman told them she was lonely and just wanted some company for a little while.  As a Christian, he later said, he felt obligated to do what he could for her, so he and Janice got in.  On the way, they talked with the woman, who showed them her Cobra CB radio and got into a conversation with someone on the other end called the Nightrider. She acted as if she did not know him, but later events indicated otherwise.  Newton says that the couple played with the children, but Cook writes that the children came into the situation at a later point. 

Cobra CD radio
Cobra CD radio
 

John and Janice had CB handles of their own, so when John saw the weakness of the frequency that their driver was using to chat with Nightrider, he wondered what was going on.   This Nightrider character seemed to be quite close rather than where he said he was.  He communicated with Lady Sundown in a way that John could not decode, so he just relaxed and went along for the ride.  (Newton insists that her name was Lady Sundance, as a take-off from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.)  But then to Johns surprise, the woman took them outside town.  She came to a stop where Newton says a rather large man was apparently waiting (Cook says she parked first and he came in behind them in a Red Granada).  This man was the mysterious Nightrider. 

John introduced himself and Janice, and Nightrider said he wanted to find some booze.  Then they all drove away together in two cars to yet another spot that was miles from where they had all come together.  Nightrider pretended that he was looking for someone who could supply them.  John no longer had any idea where they were.  He had lost his sense of direction.

To his surprise, when he was allowed to get out to urinate, Lady Sundown walked up to him with a handgun and ordered him into the woods.   She walked him down a narrow road and then he heard Nightrider yell at her to get it over with.  She told John not to worry about his girlfriend.  Nightrider yelled at her again and John soon found out what they had in mind when she shot him in the back.  He felt the impact in his right shoulder and fell to the ground, stunned.  Fortunately for him, Lady Sundown was in a hurry and did not pause to make certain that she had finished him off.

John Hancock, victim & survivor
John Hancock, victim & survivor
John was shocked and dazed by this unexpected turn of events, but still alive.  He lay there for some time, feeling himself losing blood, but then revived.  He knew he had to act quickly.  He heard the cars drive off and when he was certain he was alone, he ran to the road to find someone to help.  He had no idea what this evil couple had planned for his fiancée, but he hoped he could rescue her before he passed out from the pain in his back or from loss of blood.   Managing to flag down a helpful truck driver, he made it to the hospital, and a nurse called the police.

John had been shot through the right shoulder and would recover.   The police initially suspected it may have been a drug deal gone bad, since John was saying that a woman had shot him and he had seemed to put up no resistance.  And then there was his manner.  While he spoke to them easily enough and they detected no dishonesty in his account, writes Cook, he seemed oddly unconcerned about his fiancée, or even about his own attack.  It also seemed to be a rather strange story altogether, especially the part about getting willingly into a car with a complete stranger, for no apparent purpose.   Even so, there had been a number of reports over the past few days of people being accosted by a woman driving around in a brown Dodge with white stripes.  That lent his tale some credibility.

John was able to supply a description that gave police a break in all of the recent puzzling cases, although Cook says that this occurred serendipitously rather than as a result of his interrogation.  John was being taken into the police station for a polygraph by skeptical patrol officers when he overheard Kenneth Kines playing the tape of the female caller.  He recognized the voice as the woman who had shot him.  Telling his story again to Kines, he offered physical details of the couple for a composite sketch.  For Kines, this was a real break in the case.

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