Saturday, October 22, 2011

FBI Opens New Investigation of 1934 Jackson County Lynching

Old Jackson County Courthouse
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating the 77 year old lynching of Claude Neal, a black farm laborer accused of murdering a young woman near Greenwood.
Agents have been in Jackson County over recent weeks looking into the nearly eight decade old lynching as part of a new U.S. Department of Justice focus on approximately 100 unsolved crimes of the Civil Rights era. The FBI does not confirm active investigations, but local leaders have confirmed the presence of investigators in the county on a condition of anonymity.

Although the Claude Neal lynching is often called the "Marianna lynching," the man was actually killed in a remote wooded area near today's Parramore Landing Park in eastern Jackson County. His body was hanged from a tree at the Jackson County Courthouse.

Lola Cannady was attacked near the trees in the distance.
Neal was accused of murdering 19-year-old Lola Cannady on the afternoon of October 19, 1934. The young woman was reported missing after she left her home along what is now Dozier Road north of Greenwood to water hogs but failed to return. As concern grew over her whereabouts, family and neighbors began to search the vicinity for any traces of her. They found evidence of a fight near the hog pen, blood stains and a man's tracks leading to the scene from the nearby home of Sallie Smith.

Following the tracks to the house, the searchers found Sallie Smith and her niece Annie Smith washing a man's bloody clothes. A bloodstained hammer was also found. Annie Smith's 23-year-old son, Claude Neal, was not at home and did not return home that night. Suspicion immediately centered on him and the women later confirmed they had seen him near the hog pen with Lola Cannady and then heard her scream. They also confirmed that the bloodstained clothes belonged to him.

Lola's mother kneels over her daughter's body in 1934.
Lola's body was found early the next morning, dumped in a nearby wooded area and covered with logs and brush. She had been raped and beaten to death with a hammer.

Near the young woman's body, searchers found a piece of bloodstained cloth and the stem and loop of a man's pocket watch. The items turned out to be crucial pieces of evidence. The piece of cloth was matched to a ripped part of Neal's shirt and when taken into custody on the morning of October 19, 1934, it was discovered that his pocket watch was missing its loop and stem. The broken watch pieces found near Lola Cannady's body fit perfectly with Neal's damaged watch.

Claude Neal was arrested in Malone on suspicion of murder, but almost immediately Sheriff W.F. "Flake" Chambliss heard rumors that a mob was planning to seize him. The mob planned, according to the sheriff's reports, to take Neal back to the scene of the murder and allow Lola's father to kill him.

Deputy Dave Hamm
In order to protect the life of his prisoner, Chambliss transferred him first to the Washington County Jail in Chipley and from there to the Bay County Jail in Panama City. On the very night of Neal's arrest (October 19), however, Jackson County Deputy Dave Hamm observed a long line of cars passing through Cottondale en route to Chipley and Panama City. The Bay County sheriff was warned that a possible attack on his jail was being mounted and urged to move Neal immediately. The suspect was placed aboard a boat and carried to what is now Fort Walton Beach (then Camp Walton) and from there by car to Pensacola.

From Pensacola, Neal was moved again to the county jail in Brewton, Alabama. There, on October 22nd, he made a complete confession to the murder of Lola Cannady, but also implicated a second man named Herbert Smith.

Deputies in Jackson County took Herbert Smith into custody that same afternoon and quickly spirited him to the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee for his own protection. From there he was taken around through Georgia and Alabama to Brewton so he could confront Neal for implicating him in the crime. When Neal saw Smith in the Brewton jail, he admitted that the second man had not been involved and amended his confession to say that he had acted alone in attacking and murdering Lola Cannady.

Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on October 26, 1934, a group of men from Jackson County stormed the jail in Brewton and demanded that Claude Neal be turned over to them. They were armed with pistols, shotguns and dynamite. Taking the suspect by force from the jail, they drove back to Jackson County on secondary roads to avoid being spotted by law enforcement officers along the way.

Claude Neal at Courthouse
Neal was taken to a remote wooded area near today's Parramore Landing Park. There he was tortured for several hours and finally killed. His body was then carried to the Cannady farm near Greenwood, where additional bullets were fired into the lifeless corpse. From the farm the body was taken to Marianna and hanged from a tree on the courthouse grounds.

Sheriff Chambliss found the body at around 6 a.m. on October 27th and cut it down. Neal was buried at Nubbin Ridge Cemetery near Greenwood at 10 a.m. People from throughout the region continued to arrive in Marianna throughout the morning, however, and at 12 noon rioting broke out around courthouse square.

A man was saved from rioters by Jackson County deputies, who held the mob at bay from the doors of the courthouse by claiming they had machine guns and were prepared to use them. Governor Dave Sholtz ordered National Guard companies to Marianna from Tallahassee and Panama City to quell the rioting. They arrived late in the afternoon and the situation immediately calmed.

The Claude Neal case was featured prominently in the effort by the NAACP and other organizations to secure the passage of a national anti-lynching law. That effort ultimately failed when the bill bogged was filibustered in the U.S. Senate, but the nationwide outrage over the lynching played a significant role in bringing the long history of American lynchings to an end.

No one was ever arrested in connection with the Neal lynching, although both a coroner's inquest and the Jackson County Grand Jury returned reports blaming Neal for the murder of Lola Cannady. The grand jury did attempt to investigate the lynching, but was unable to obtain the name of any of the men involved.

I recently completed work on my new book on the 1934 outbreaks. The Claude Neal Lynching: The 1934 Murders of Lola Cannady and Claude Neal is now available in both print and Amazon Kindle formats. It can be ordered at the upper right of this page and also is available from Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna.

The book is the first on the topic in nearly 30 years and includes never before published details about both the murder of Lola Cannady and subsequent lynching of Claude Neal. Included are the only interviews ever given by some of the men involved in the lynching, original crime scene photos from 1934 and a detailed analysis of the evidence linking Neal to Lola's murder and a history of the lynching that differs significantly from previous accounts due to the inclusion of a large amount of new source material.

To learn more about the Claude Neal lynching, please visit

The St. Petersburg Times also released a story on the investigation today. You can read it here:

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