False Justice: The Murder of Two Men and a Web of Greed and Lies

False Justice

 The Murder of Two Men and a Web of Greed and Lies 

 Written By: Lance J. Gosnell 

 While the names may have been changed to protect the innocent, the tragic injustice depicted here stemmed from actual happenings in history's darkened shadows. Center Ridge, Arkansas was a dusty town nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks. The sun beat down relentlessly as Alex Brinkley made his way along the worn dirt road leading into town. He tipped his hat to the few souls he passed along the way - the blacksmith, the general store owner, the ladies gossiping on the porch. 

 When he reached the small home he shared with his wife and daughters, Alex paused on the porch to light a cigarette. As he gazed out at the little farmhouses dotting the landscape, he thought back to how much Center Ridge had changed over the past couple years. 

 It all started when Marshall Baker arrived from Chicago. Baker was a large man with mocha skin and a gap-toothed smile. He strode into town wearing a fine suit and hat, carrying money from a life insurance policy. Folks were wary when Baker bought a plot of land right in town and opened a saloon. Negroes owning property and running businesses was uncommon in these parts.

 But Baker's saloon, with its swinging doors and lively piano music, became a popular spot for both whites and blacks alike. The saloon's success rankled some of the white townsfolk. One night, a fire raged through the saloon, leaving nothing but a smoldering skeleton. Baker's charred remains were found in the ruins, half-eaten by dogs. His death was ruled an accident, but folks knew better. Baker had been run out of town in the worst way. 

 With Baker gone, things settled down for a spell. Then there was the nasty business with Doc Chamness. Alex took a long drag on his cigarette, remembering that sweltering June night when the doc was found dead on his porch, shot right through the head. A shiver went through him despite the heat. 

 Folks assumed Alex did it on account of bad blood between him and the doc over Baker's saloon money. But Alex was innocent as a lamb. He had spent that evening fishing on the river with his buddy Rufus. Of course, that didn't stop Sheriff Pruitt from clapping him in irons and tossing him in jail. And it didn't stop Judge O'Malley from handing down a sentence of death by hanging. 

 Alex flicked the smoldering cigarette off the porch and went inside. His wife, Esther, was kneading dough for biscuits. His twin girls, Sarah and Maggie, ages six, sat at the table scribbling on slates. Esther looked up, her eyes rimmed red from crying. 

 "No word today?" she asked in a trembling voice. Alex shook his head grimly. It had been two months since the trial, and still no sign the judge would change his mind. Unless a miracle occurred, Alex had three weeks left before he swung from the gallows. 

 The thought made bile rise in his throat. He had been poor but happy, spending his days doing odd jobs around town, fishing, and playing checkers outside the general store. Now death loomed before him. Not just death - death for a crime he didn't commit.

 "I'm taking the girls down to the creek to fish," Alex said, trying to sound cheerful for their sake. He hoisted Sarah and Maggie into the wagon and clucked to the horse. As they bumped down the road, he kept up a steady stream of small talk, pointing out rabbits and interesting cloud shapes. 

 But his mind was a thousand miles away. Who had killed the doc? And why was Alex being blamed for it? He thought back to what folks were whispering around town. Rumor was the doc's wife Mary Jane had seduced the new doctor in town, Virgil Cross. Doc Chamness took to drinking and fighting with Mary Jane on account of it. Also, Mary Jane was one of only two witnesses who claimed to have seen Alex threatening the doc. The other was Sam Kennimer, a ne'er-do-well who was thick as thieves with the sheriff. 

 As he watched Sarah and Maggie splash in the creek, a dark notion took root in Alex's mind. What if Mary Jane and the sheriff had worked together to get rid of Doc Chamness and pin his murder on Alex? He had no proof, but it would explain the sham of a trial and his swift conviction. 

 Over the next few days, Alex turned the idea over and over, seeing how it fit together. By the end, he was convinced of it. Mary Jane wanted her husband gone so she could be with Virgil Cross. Sheriff Pruitt went along with it to frame Alex, who he hated because of Alex's friendship with Marshall Baker. It was crystal clear. Now Alex just had to convince the judge to spare his life long enough to investigate. 

 The day before the scheduled hanging, Esther burst into tears of joy - Judge O'Malley had agreed to see Alex about delaying the execution! Alex hastily cleaned himself up, put on his one good suit, and walked the three miles into town with a spring in his step. This was his chance to tell the judge his theory about Mary Jane and present the evidence. The truth would set him free! 

 He was escorted to the judge's chambers by a deputy with meaty fists and coffee-stained teeth. Judge O'Malley was sitting at his desk, silver-haired and somber. 

 "What's this about delaying your sentence?" He asked Alex. "Make it quick, boy." 

 Alex gathered his courage and launched into his story. He told the judge about Mary Jane's jealousy, the rumor of her affair with Virgil Cross, and how the sheriff had framed him to get him out of the way. 

 The judge held up a hand to silence Alex. "That's quite a conspiracy theory, son," he said. "But I've heard nothing but gossip to back it up. I can't overturn a conviction on hearsay." He sighed deeply. "I'm afraid the hanging will proceed as scheduled." 

 Alex felt the world drop out beneath him. "No! You can't!" he cried hoarsely. "I'm innocent, I tell you!" 

 But the judge had made up his mind. Alex was dragged, sputtering protests, back to his cell. He beat the walls in frustration until his hands bled. It was no use. He was out of time. 

 The next morning, a priest came to deliver last rites. Alex refused, cursing at the man. Then Sheriff Pruitt appeared to escort Alex to the gallows that had been constructed in the town square. "Any last words, Brinkley?" The sheriff asked snidely. 

 Alex raised his chin high. "I go to my grave an innocent man," he proclaimed. "May my blood stain the hands of those who put me here." 

 He thought of Esther, Sarah and Maggie as the rough noose was fitted around his neck. They gazed at him from the gathered crowd, faces wet with tears. Alex offered them a reassuring nod and mouthed "I love you." He felt oddly calm, comforted that he would see justice in Heaven if not on Earth. 

 The drumroll began, the floor dropped, and Alex Brinkley danced at the end of the rope. The witnesses gasped as his legs jerked wildly in his death throes. Then his body went slack, swaying gently in the morning breeze. 

 Alex Brinkley was laid to rest in an unmarked grave outside town. People left flowers, cards, and other mementos, despite the sheriff's order not to. Everyone knew Brinkley died an innocent man. 

 The story of his wrongful hanging took on mythic proportions as it was passed down through generations in Center Ridge. Some say that on hot summer nights when the wind blows just right, you can still hear the creak of the gallows and Alex Brinkley's footsteps swinging in the air.


Meet the real Alexander Brinkley & learn the true story the above historical fiction was inspired from.