If you go
› What: Carole Townsend book signing for “Blood in the Soil”
› When: 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20
› Where: Hamilton Place Barnes and Noble, 2100 Hamilton Place Blvd.
› Information: 893-0186
Some criminals caught by Michael Cowart, a police detective in Gwinnett County, Ga., had committed crimes so heinous, Cowart banished them from his mind and subconscious into "the basement," the part of his psyche he never opened.
He double-locked serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin in the basement.
The gunman hated interracial couples, Jews and blacks, zigzagging across America in a green Gran Torino on a spree in which he murdered a pair of black joggers in Utah then gunned down Hustler publisher Larry Flynt for publishing photos of interracial couples.
In Chattanooga in 1978, he hid in a Pizza Hut parking lot and shot an interracial couple, 20-year old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student Bryant Tatum, who was black, and Nancy Hilton, 18, who is white. The shots from Franklin's 12-gauge shotgun tore through Tatum's heart and lung. He died; Hilton survived. She and Tatum had planned to marry.
Franklin would later confess to Tatum's murder and to bombing Chattanooga's Beth Sholom Synagogue at 20 Pisgah Ave. with 50 pounds of gel explosives and dynamite.
Cowart, now retired, unlocked his basement so Georgia journalist Carole Townsend could take a long, scary trek with him. She read police records from several cities and interviewed Cowart and others at length. And she spent years piecing together Franklin's homicidal trail that led him to hide out several times in Chattanooga.
It's all in her newly published book, "Blood in the Soil." Townsend, who lives in Atlanta, is planning an Aug. 20 stop in Chattanooga on her national promotional tour. As rhetoric from the presidential campaign trail becomes more vehemently divisive, she's been pondering Franklin's fantasy — which he shared with his idol, mass murderer Charles Manson — of starting a race war in America.
"It seemed more preposterous a few months ago than now," Townsend says with a sigh.
People who believed Franklin was stupid due to his bigoted, low-income upbringing were dangerously mistaken, says Townsend, who has also written "Magnolias, Sweet Tea and Exhaust," "Red Lipstick & Clean Underwear" and "Southern Fried White Trash."
"He would ramble on for hours in police interviews talking about how America was overrun by blacks and white Americans had to take our country back," she says. "But he had killed two black joggers in Utah and shot Flynt by the time Chattanooga cops linked him to the bombing murders he committed there. He got away with 16 bank robberies and 22 shootings in three years. He was smart and evil."
Her book is written mostly as a police procedural with chapters told almost entirely by various investigators. Switching drastically from one viewpoint to another can enhance the suspense but can also make the timeline confusing for anyone not familiar with the Franklin's case. But the narrative sweeps along in a hunt in which every day that Franklin eludes capture may mean the death of another innocent.
Townsend spoke with the Times Free Press the week the Brexit vote ratcheted racially divisive rhetoric in he United Kingdom while similar vitriolic speech littered the U.S. presidential campaign. Townsend pondered how closely some current vitriol over the connection between Brexit and immigration in the U.K. resemble the vision of a serial killer who was executed in 2013.
"Franklin was fueled by hate; a lot of voters are driven by hate this year," she says. "But whether it's an individual or a mass, hate only leads them to the same dark place. The name for that place might be 'nowhere' or 'ruin' or maybe 'hell.'"Much of Townsend's book uses the voices of cops and citizens who were part of the hunt for a killer who seemed to emerge anywhere in America without ever signaling his approach. Some of the most powerful words come from Cowart, the Georgia cop who pursued justice for the victims with grit and passion. He offers a chilling reminder to anyone deluded enough to think bullies and sociopaths vanish if ignored;
"I have come to realize in recent months that some stories never truly come to an end," Cowart says in the book. "Some curtains never close all the way. Some people never really die. Some wrongs are never righted because at the root of those wrongs is an evil so black and so malevolent that it simply cannot die. The darkness lives on because of its own black energy, its own putrid roots."
Contact Lynda Edwards at 423-757-6391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.