Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carlton Gary: The Columbus, Georgia Stocking Strangler

"Forces of Evil"

The city of Columbus felt like it was under siege. The police appeared ineffectual. They were frustrated, overworked and overwrought. Then, amazingly the case took an entirely new, grisly turn.

In February 1978 Columbus Police Chief received a bizarre, frightening letter supposedly from a white racist group of vigilantes called the "Forces of Evil." The Forces of Evil wrote that if police did not apprehend the Stocking Strangler by "1 June," they would murder a black woman in retaliation for what were believed to be murders of white women by a black man. That black woman, the letter went on to assert, would be Gail Jackson. She had already been kidnapped and was being held by the group. She would die unless the police caught, in the letter's terms, the "S-Strangler."

Investigators learned that Gail Jackson was a black woman from nearby Fort Benning. And, chillingly, she was missing.

While they were still puzzling over the disappearance of Gail Jackson, the police received a second letter from the supposed Forces of Evil. They demanded a $10,000 ransom for the kidnapped woman's freedom.

Columbus police took this baffling, frightening letters to the Behavioral Science Unit of the F.B.I. As Jordan wrote in Murder in the Peach States, that unit "came to some startling conclusions. They felt the author, or authors, of the 'Forces of Evil' letter was not seven white men, but more likely one black man. The profilers believed he probably already killed Gail Jackson and that the letters were intended to divert attention away from the real killer. The profile predicted him to be an artilleryman or military policeman. An excerpt in the letter which stated, 'the victims will double' led profilers to believe that he may already have also killed two other women. ... They also believed that he might be the stocking strangler."

Investigators eventually arrested William Hance for the murder of Gail Jackson. He was a black artilleryman at Fort Benning. He confessed to having authored the "Forces of Evil" letter and to have killed two other women in addition to Gail Jackson. However, there were no links between Hance and the Stocking Stranglings.

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