When I found out that Claude Abercrombie, former Douglas County sheriff and commissioner, had left this life I knew that I would devote my next column to him, but I didn’t want to repeat the same accomplishments found in his obituary or other recent news articles.
I’m always hearing how life was so much simpler in the old days — fewer incidents of crime, and life was at a slower pace, so I thought I’d see what the historical record revealed.
What sorts of challenges did Abercrombie face as he took office on New Year’s Eve 1964?
In the early morning hours of January 1, 1965 Sheriff Abercrombie was monitoring traffic throughout the county.
At one point Sheriff Abercrombie experienced a “Mayberry” moment as one gentleman who was a bit unsteady on his feet stumbled into the jail looking for the safety of cell.
The brand new sheriff had to ask the Otis want-to-be to have a seat until a cell could be found, and then joked that he was unaware he would be providing “walk-in” service.
My research indicates that though Sheriff’s Abercrombie’s first few hours in office were a bit calm, the next few months were extremely busy.
In fact, within just a few days of taking office bullets were whistling during a high speed chase down Highway 78. The chase had started when Deputies Earl Lee (Yes, “that” Earl Lee) and Cliff Myers spotted a couple of suspicious characters at the car lot in Lithia Springs that used to sit across from the drive-in.
The suspicious men hopped into a Mercury and headed west on Highway 78 towards Douglasville. Speeds reached 100 mph or more as Deputy Lee hung his head out the passenger window and fired his revolver at the fleeing car.
The men in the Mercury retaliated by slamming on their brakes periodically and swerving all over the road.
Cliff Myers stayed on the fleeing car’s bumper best he could.
Deputy Lee radioed ahead asking for a road block.
Clarence Pilgrim, a Douglasville policeman, maneuvered into position at Broad Street and Price Avenue (where O’Neal Plaza is today). As the Mercury flew by Pilgrim grabbed his shotgun and fired hitting the right front tire.
The driver lost control of the car and wrecked near J. Cowan Whitley’s funeral home (today’s Hightower Family Funeral Home). One of the men was arrested on the scene, and while the second suspect got away, he was finally captured a few days later.
It turned out the men had burglarized Beulah Grocery Store, taking cigarettes, socks, and cigars, and were given 18 month sentences.
Two weeks later Sheriff Abercrombie had to call in the bloodhounds from Carroll County to chase down a Lithia Springs man suspected in burglaries covering a six county area. The suspect had been stopped on Sweetwater Road, but had eluded capture.
It was soon discovered the man lived on Gordon Street in Lithia Springs. A search of the home uncovered a large stash of stolen items.
Sheriff Abercrombie had only been in office approximately 45 days when The Commercial Bank was robbed.
It was 12:20 on a Thursday afternoon.
There were eight people inside the bank, but no one even realized what had happened until the robber left and bank president Lloyd calmly said, “Call the sheriff. We’ve been robbed.”
A lone gunman had walked into the bank and handed bank president Lloyd a note as he leveled a pistol at Lloyd’s face. Lloyd was at the “notes payment” window just inside the door while teller Janice McCravy was at lunch. Later, Lloyd would state the barrel of the gun looked like a cannon.
The note was written on the back of a brown U.S. Treasury envelope, the kind that government checks used to be mailed in.
The gunman told Lloyd not to follow. A companion was outside in the parking lot watching with a rifle aimed at the door.
Once the man was out the door Lloyd sounded the alarm.
Sheriff Abercrombie was on the scene within two minutes along with his deputies, Douglasville Police, GBI and FBI agents soon followed.
Clues were slim. It was assumed an accomplice had picked the man up, and they had made their getaway.
Sheriff Abercrombie and his men — on the job for just 45 days — worked what little clues they had and got their man. The bank robber lived in Hiram and worked at Lockheed.
He was given a 10 year sentence.
Abercrombie not only nabbed The Commercial Bank robber, but also managed to snag a Villa Rica bank robber, too. Abercrombie set up a road block at Highway 5 and Interstate 20. The robber was nabbed with the money he took from the bank in a sack on the front seat where it had been thrown.
These events only took me up through March, 1965 — just three months in office.
I was amazed, and a little disappointed that I’ll have to save all of the moonshine busts Sheriff Abercrombie participated in for another column.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories.