Conviction in girl's 1951 murder left doubts

 

 

Augusta police always thought they’d found the killer of little Lois Janes in 1951. A jury agreed.

But were they wrong?

Lois was a 7-year-old girl whose body was discovered April 27, 1951, floating in the Augusta Canal. Searchers had been looking for her for days. Her face had some wounds. An ear was missing.

A few days later, Lovey Ivey, the simple-minded fisherman who found her, confessed to her murder. He said Lois’ grandmother Mamie Price and Lois’ uncle Elmer Price paid him $75 to “do away” with the girl. Their motive, he claimed, was about $4,000 in insurance money.

The trials of Mamie Price, her son Elmer and Ivey received nationwide attention. The court was told that the story began the night of April 21, 1951, when Mamie Price, who lived at 1928½ Broad St., sent Lois to a store to get some groceries.

When she didn’t return, a search began. Police were called and hundreds of people spent days looking around Broad Street, along the banks of the canal, Sibley Mill, the mill village, back alleys, sewers and even a pasture near the Savannah River.

On April 27, Ivey reported finding Lois about 6 a.m., floating in the canal by the headgates at Sibley Mill. 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.

Police began to question everyone connected to the family and the disappearance, and 11 days later, Ivey, then 57, confessed. He said he received the child’s body from Mamie Price, who gave him $75 to hide it. He said he kept the body in a pasteboard box and later returned it to Mamie Price, but his account was to change in coming months.

Price, 54, was indicted along with her son Elmer and Ivey. She was tried first, and Ivey was the star witness.

He now testified that he had killed the child but “didn’t mean to.” He said Mamie and Elmer Price had delivered the child to him the night of April 21. She began acting up and he accidentally strangled her to keep her quiet, he said.

That was good enough for the jury, and Mamie Price was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Her attorney appealed and the Georgia Supreme Court granted her a new trial. She was freed, and prosecutor George Hains decided there wasn’t enough evidence to try her again.

Next her son Elmer Price went on trial, and he was found not guilty.

At his own trial the next year, Ivey changed his story again. He said he didn’t kill Lois, even by accident. He said his confession had been beaten out of him by police, who had kicked and stomped and cursed him for days.

He said that they made him tell the story about the insurance plot and that he really had just found the body.

The jury didn’t believe him. They convicted Ivey and gave him life in prison.

One of his attorneys, Wil­liam M. Fleming Jr., who would go on to become chief judge of the Augusta Judicial Circuit, said there were doubts about Ivey’s guilt, but initially he had confessed. And that was that.

Many in the community thought Ivey got a raw deal. One of them was Chris Bra­dy, the city editor and a columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. He contacted the then-famous “Court of Last Resort” group, founded by Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the Perry Mason stories. These investigators went around the country looking into lost causes and cases of possibly innocent people convicted of serious crimes.

Their initial investigations began to cast doubts on Ivey’s guilt. But before they could make their case, the lead detective died and they appeared to lose interest.

Three years later, Ivey, died at age 62 in the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, but not without one last twist of fate.

In 1961, the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole met just before Christmas and voted to deny Ivey a pardon. Only later did someone point out to the board that Ivey had died in prison three months earlier.

The board’s clerk expressed surprise, but added somewhat defensively, “We’re in charge of pardons. … The board of corrections is in charge of the inmates.”

Decades of doubt linger
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