There seems to be little doubt of the guilt of Paul Reed and Will Cato in the brutal slayings of the Hodges family of Statesboro, Georgia, and the deliberate burning of their home on July 28, 1904. Their brutality was matched by the retaliatory savagery of August 16, 1904.
On the night of July 28, 1904, in a region of Bulloch County, Georgia, known as the Sink Hole, neighbors were alerted that the farmhouse of the Hodges family was on fire. Those who answered the alarm found blood on the gatepost, the tracks of four people in the lane that ran by the house (one of them barefoot), and, further on, an odd shoe cast aside, a bloody knife, and in what was left of the house, five burning, indistinguishable corpses-Henry Hodges, his wife Claudia, nine-year-old Kittie Corrine, two-year-old Harmon, and Talmadge, six months. By morning, "the entire population of Statesboro was at the scene, and hundreds from all portions of surrounding counties." The following day, July 30, all were buried in a single coffin at the Friendship Baptist Church.
One man recognized the odd shoe as one of a pair he had recently bought for a black tenant, Paul Reed. The Reed cabin was searched, and the mate to the shoe was found. Paul Reed and his wife Harriet were arrested, and soon thereafter Will Cato. The story Harriet Reed told under pressure condemned her husband and his friend.
Tales circulated that Henry Hodges had buried his life savings, three hundred silver coins, in an iron kettle behind the chicken coop. The night before the murders, Hodges surprised Cato and Reed on his place. A quickly concocted story convinced Hodges of their innocence. The next night they returned at 8:00 p.m. to steal the silver treasure. After a struggle, Henry and Claudia Hodges were killed, and the two murderers fled.
Within the hour they doubled back with matches, dragged the bodies into the farmhouse, and discovered "little Kittie" hiding behind a trunk. She pleaded for her life, offering a nickel in return. They bashed in her head. Harmon and Talmadge were left to burn alive in the blaze, which was ignited with lamp oil.
Paul Reed's unfounded claim of a black terrorist organization called the Before Day Club made a bad situation worse. According to Reed, the terrorists met nightly to plan robberies and executions of well-to-do whites. News of the fictitious organization, printed as truth, spread beyond the borders of Bulloch County. imaginary clubs were discovered in other Georgia counties, as well as in Alabama and Virginia. Eighteen other Bulloch County blacks, supposed ringleaders and accomplices, were arrested. In Pavo, Georgia, three supposed Before Day Clubs meeting houses were burned. Soon residents of other counties were offering to help in the lynching and quelling of Bulloch blacks. Later the press was forced to recant their irresponsible reports of the Before Day Clubs.
Mass meetings of whites were held. An All Day Club was formed to rid Bulloch of the troublesome, and to counter the imagined threat of organized blacks. Before and after the trial of Reed and Cato, a wave of violence against blacks went unchecked. Blacks were whipped for vile language, for riding a bike on the sidewalk, for filing complaints against the floggers, and on "general principle." Sebastian McBride, three days after giving birth, was whipped, without explanation, in her home. Her husband protested, was dragged into the woods, whipped, and shot. He crawled home and identified the attackers to sympathetic neighboring whites. Three of the five attackers were arrested but never indicted. McBride died from his wounds.
in Register, Georgia, Albert Roberts (an "unoffending negro") and his seventeen-year-old son were hit by bullets fired into their cabin by a marauding band of whites. Roberts died from his wounds.
A temporary calm took hold when Cato and Reed were spirited to Savannah by Sheriff Kendrick, who said, "I hated to protect the negroes . . . but I did my duty. I dread to face my friends back in Statesboro."
On August 2, a coroner's jury examined the evidence and charged Paul Reed and Will Cato with the murder of the Hodges family. The Atlanta Constitution reported that the interest in the case was so great that businesses and farms were neglected. Regional newspapers called the six members of the coroner's jury "The best citizens of the county." Advertisements ran in the Statesboro News offering photos of the murdered family for twentyfive cents apiece.
A special session of Superior Court was convened at 10:00 a.m. on August 15, the earliest date permitted by law. By daybreak that morning the people were arriving in Statesboro by buggies, wagons, and all manner of vehicles. The trains advertised halfprice roundtrip fares and added extra coaches to accommodate the crowds. "Rev. Harmon Hodges . . . a brother of the murdered man opened the court with prayer . . . and afterwards begged his listeners not to do anything rash." Will Cato was convicted before court was recessed that evening. Paul Reed's trial followed in like manner the following morning, ending well before noon.
While the attorneys and judge were congratulating themselves on the expeditious nature of their work and the speed of the convictions, lynchers were attempting to get to the prisoners with an outside ladder to the second floor. The militia was ordered to unload their rifles and hold back the mob with rifle butts and bayonets alone. The Savannah Guards, members of the Oglethorpe light infantry, were stationed outside, while the local militia was posted at critical points, most importantly the stairways leading to the prisoners. With the increasing nastiness of the mob, officials pleaded for the rule of law. To Reverend Hodges's plea the mob responded, "We don't want religion we want blood." Members of the militia were captured and disarmed. A deputy sheriff seized the captain of the militia and threw him down the stairs to the mob. Sheriff Kendrick led the charge. He unlocked the cell door and pointed out Cato and Reed. Ropes were placed around their necks, and they were hurried into waiting wagons. The remaining militiamen stood idly by as the mob and their captives made their way to the lynching site.
Women waited with jugs of kerosene at their front gates along the route of the procession. The crowd of two thousand grew impatient and tired in the Georgia heat, and an alternative to the Hodges farm was chosen as the lynching site. According to several accounts, the mother of Henry Hodges was asked to name the method of execution. "Burn them," she said.
Reed and Cato were given time to pray and confess. Reed named other members of the fictitious club. Cato's pitiful mumblings were incoherent.
The two men were chained to a pine stump, and wood was stacked to the height of their legs. Each man was soaked with ten gallons of oil. Cato begged to be shot. Reed beseeched, "God have mercy!" When the photographer asked for room to work, the crowd politely gave way.
As Cato flung his head about wildly in a futile attempt to avoid the flames, members of the crowd threw pine knots at him. When the bodies were still and evidently dead, the crowd dispersed. The fire was maintained until the corpses were reduced to ashes. Souvenir hunters unlinked the chains and chipped away at the stump. Two boys excavated the ashes in search of bones.They wrapped the fragments in handkerchiefs and offered them to Judge Daly, who refused them."Photos of the statesboro horrors for sale" Under this headline, which appeared two weeks after the lynching, photos were offered for sale of the family, the murderers, and the lynching. They were the work of T. M. Bennett, as are the postcards reproduced here.