Decades of doubt linger

Michael Holahan/Staff
Curtis Janes stands on the banks of the Augusta Canal, where the body of his murdered sister was found in 1951.

It was a crime said to have caused more rumors in Augusta than any case in the history of the city.

 

Fifty-seven years ago today, an exhaustive six-day search ended when a derelict bait fisherman found a 7-year-old girl floating in the Augusta Canal.

Eleven days later, the fisherman, Lovey Ivey, confessed to killing Lois Janes and implicated her grandmother Mamie Price and uncle Elmer Price. He claimed they paid him $75 to "do away" with the girl. The motive supposedly was $4,000 in insurance money. The trials of Mrs. Price, her son and Mr. Ivey received nationwide attention.

Mr. Ivey's conviction was investigated by The Court of Last Resort, a group founded by attorney-turned-writer Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason. Members of that group, an organization of private detectives and lawyers dedicated to the causes of innocent people wrongfully convicted of serious crimes, came to Augusta six years after Mr. Ivey's conviction at the request of Augusta Chronicle City Editor Chris Brady.

In a pink dress

The story began the night of April 21 when Mrs. Price, who lived at 19281/2 Broad St., sent her granddaughter to a nearby store to buy some groceries. When she didn't return in an hour or so, Mrs. Price sent the child's 8-year-old brother Curtis "Stevie" Janes, who also lived with Mrs. Price, to search for her. She had been seen shortly after 9 p.m. with her face pressed against a plate glass window of a Broad Street store, watching a TV set inside.

Later, police were called and hundreds of people joined an extensive search that went on for days around the Broad Street area, along the banks of the Augusta Canal, Sibley Mill, the mill village, back alleys, sewers and a pasture near the Savannah River.

On April 27, Mr. Ivey reported finding Lois floating in the canal by the head gates at Sibley Mill around 6 a.m. An initial autopsy indicated no criminal assault, although her left ear was missing, there were two gashes on her face and both of her feet had been shoved into one side of her panties.

In an effort to solve the case, Augusta police brought in a lie detector from South Carolina and tested family members and other people brought into headquarters for questioning.

Confession

Eleven days later, Mr. Ivey, 57, confessed to receiving the child's body from Mrs. Price, who he said hired him to hide it for $75. He said he kept the body in a pasteboard box and later returned it to Mrs. Price, but his account of events was to change in coming months.

The 54-year-old grandmother, Mr. Ivey and Mrs. Price's son, Elmer, were indicted. Mrs. Price was tried first, and Mr. Ivey was the star witness for the prosecution. He testified that he had killed the child but "didn't mean to." He said Mrs. Price and Elmer Price had delivered the child to him the night of April 21. He insisted he didn't mean to kill her, but she started acting up and tried to run away, so he grabbed her around her neck and held her until she stopped struggling.

Mrs. Price was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Her attorney Isaac S. Peebles appealed the verdict, and the Georgia Supreme Court ruled she should have a new trial because there wasn't enough evidence for conviction. She was freed, and Solicitor General George Hains did not try her again.

Elmer Price was found not guilty at his trial.

Changing story

At his own trial the next year, Mr. Ivey did an about-face and denied killing Lois. He said he had confessed and testified at two separate trials that he had killed her because police had kicked, stomped and cursed him day and night after his arrest. He even denied knowing the Prices before he found the child in the canal.

The jury didn't believe him, though, and found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. He died in Reidsville State Prison in 1961.

His defense was handled by four young court-appointed lawyers: Albert Ingram Jr., R.W. "Bill" Barton, Grady Rozar and William M. Fleming Jr., who recently retired as chief judge of the Augusta Judicial Circuit.

Mr. Fleming said last week that he couldn't say he believed beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Ivey was guilty, but he had confessed, and the physical evidence corresponded with the confession.

"Lovey Ivey was sort of a rum head," he said. "That's another reason his story was suspect. You wouldn't want to get him involved in something like that because you couldn't have any trust and confidence in him."

Curtis "Stevie" Janes, who was sent to look for his sister so long ago, definitely does not think Mr. Ivey was guilty.

"To me it was all a crock," he said. "I know my grandmother didn't do it, and my uncle didn't do it. I think whoever did it is still out there or dead."

Mr. Janes, now 65, said at first Mr. Ivey picked his father out of a police lineup, but when he proved he had an alibi, Mr. Ivey picked his uncle out.

"When the Richmond County sheriff got hold of him, (Mr. Ivey) confessed. He was a simple-minded fisherman. He just did what they told him to do," Mr. Janes said.

Mr. Janes said his family were cotton mill people, and because they had some insurance policies on Lois, authorities went after his grandmother although she wasn't the beneficiary. His mother was.

As for The Court of Last Resort, its investigation found a "strong possibility" that Mr. Ivey didn't kill Lois. It called his guilt debatable.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.

THE DISAPPEARANCE AND SLAYING OF LOIS JANES

April 21, 1951: 7-year-old Lois Janes disappears after being sent to buy groceries on Broad Street

April 27, 1951: Lois' body is found bobbing in the Augusta Canal near Sibley Mill by Lovey Ivey, a fisherman.

May 8, 1951: Mr. Ivey confesses to receiving Lois' body from her grandmother Mamie Price and uncle Elmer Price and hiding it.

May 28, 1951: A grand jury indicts Mr. Ivey and Mrs. Price.

June 7, 1951: A grand jury indicts Mr. Price.

June 27, 1951: Mrs. Price is found guilty of conspiring with her son to have the child killed for insurance money and sentenced to life in prison, largely on the testimony of Mr. Ivey.

July 1951: Mr. Price is found not guilty.

Feb. 19, 1952: Mr. Ivey is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison after denying he killed Lois.

Feb. 11, 1952: The Georgia Supreme Court rules that Mrs. Price should be granted a new trial if there is sufficient evidence to corroborate Mr. Ivey's testimony of her involvement. She was not retried.

March 26, 1958: Earl Stanley Gardner's Court of Last Resort takes on the Ivey case.

September 1961: Mr. Ivey dies of a heart attack at Reidsville State Prison.