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Our History: CSI Douglasville - 1875 Style

It's Douglas County history and thrilling CSI adventure reading, all in one!

By Lisa Cooper

It was early morning on Sunday, Nov. 7, 1875 when the body was discovered.

It was found lying in the middle of a road one mile outside of Douglasville.

Cries rang out and soon a crowd had gathered.

The body was that of a man. Later the scene would be described in The Atlanta Constitution as ghastly. The man was lying on his back, his clothes nearly all burned off down to his waist.

He had obviously been shot.

There were no signs of any struggle or convulsions in the death hour.

The dead man was identified by those in the crowd as James Seals.

County officials were summoned, and Dr. C.C. Garrett was authorized to conduct a post mortem examination.  Dr. Garrett (1850-1913) was a recent graduate of the Atlanta Medical College and had set his practice up in Salt Springs/Lithia Springs where he would practice medicine, eventually serve on the Douglas County School board and also serve as the first resident physician of the Sweetwater Park Hotel, but all of that would come later.

At the scene Dr. Garrett probed the body and found that the ball had entered the chest in the direction of the heart.

It was thought best to remove the body to the courthouse to continue the post mortem, and if possible by dissecting the body to find the ball.

Dr. Garrett having opened the thorax, proceeded in a skillful manner to trace the direction of the ball; he found that it had passed through the apex of the heart, entering the bowels through the diaphragm, and passing through the left lobe of the liver in the direction of the right kidney.

It was now dark and he suspended until morning, but it was then thought unnecessary to proceed any further.

The ball would stay where it had lodge for now since the perpetrator had been identified.  James Clinton had been seen with James Seals leaving town just the evening before. The Atlanta Constitution advised [Clinton’s] testimony alone was sufficient to cause his arrest for the commission of the crime.

Rumors had begun to fly muddling the case, however.

Newspaper reports stated there was hope that a connection could be made between the accused Clinton and the killing of a man named Hicks near Dallas some five years ago. Hick’s house was fired and as he ran out of the house he was shot and killed by parties in ambush. It is thought that Clinton’s evidence will disclose the perpetrators of this deed.

I’m not sure if any information ever surfaced regarding the Hicks murder, but within hours two other names surfaced as possible accomplices: George W. Stewart and James F. Sisk.

The wheels of justice moved much faster in those days and by November 12th per the paper….James Clinton had been committed for the murder of James Seals. The evidence was very strong against him, and the current opinion was that Clinton would turn state’s evidence against his two accomplices who were to have a preliminary examination.

Things weren’t such a slam dunk, however, because the men told conflicting stories and pointed their fingers at each other.

Confronted with the conflicting stories, the authorities called Dr. Garrett back into the investigation for some more sleuthing.

At this point the body had to be exhumed because Dr. Garrett was set upon finding the ball from the murder weapon.  ....It was thought that procuring the ball might lead to some circumstantial proof against the party implicated. …Dr. Garrett continued the examination finding the ball in a few minutes in the spine just above the right kidney.

Bullet/ball molds were made from the gun belonging to James Clinton, and it was found as had been suspected to correspond with the bullet molds, and with the remaining balls in the pistol of James Clinton, who was first arrested, tried and committed to prison

Yes, Clinton was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. James F. Sisk was acquitted, but the matter involving George Stewart drug on for a couple of years with his guilty verdict being appealed.

The story continued on March 28, 1877 with a report regarding an appeal from Defendant Stewart based on new evidence…an affidavit from someone named John Strickland.

The article states [Stewart] was indicted for the offense of murder and charged with the unlawful killing of James Seals in the county of Douglas.

The article advised that both James Clinton and his wife, Charlotte had testified against Stewart at his trial.

Mrs. Clinton said that on the night Seals was killed in the forepart of the night Stewart came to her house and borrowed her husband’s pistol, that after twelve o’clock that night her husband lying on the bed, Stewart came there to bring the pistol back and she went and got it. Stewart then called to her husband and said, “Jim, we have killed him.”

John Strickland's affidavit advised.....that on the night of November 6, 1875 (the night Seals was killed) he stayed at James Clinton’s and that Defendant George W. Stewart did not come there that night; that he got there about one hour and a half in the night, whilest Clinton was eating his supper; that when he got up from supper went and got the pistol from under the head of his bed and carried it off with him, returned home at a late hour in the night; Deponent asked him when he returned what time it was, and he said the clock had stopped at one, Deponent has never communicated the foregoing facts until today to the Defendant, or his counsel. This affidavit is dated February 8, 1876 after the trial.

I have to wonder why Mr. Strickland didn’t testify during Stewart’s original trial, don’t you?

At this point I’m not aware if Mr. Stewart won his appeal and escaped life in jail.

I’m also a little foggy regarding the motivation behind murdering poor James Seals.

However, I didn’t want to wait regarding sharing the story with you because it was just so interesting with Dr. Garrett’s input.

Don’t you think?

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