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Who was Earl D. Lee and Why Name a Street after Him?

Friday the street leading to the new Douglas County Jail will officially become Earl D. Lee Boulevard in a dedication ceremony scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Editor's note: Lisa Cooper's newest work can be found at douglascountyhistory.blogspot.com.

If you have read any of my meager offerings regarding Douglas County history you know I’m not originally from here. I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s in the South Fulton area, so I didn’t exactly know the daily news in Douglasville, but one person I did know about was Sheriff Earl D. Lee. Most people from this part of the state know who he was.

Some people take on a persona – they become a larger than life character – a person who ends up with so many stories swirling around regarding their accomplishments and exploits that it’s hard to know where the truth ends and the myths begin.

Sheriff Lee is such a person, and as far as most are concerned regarding him the delineation between fact and myth doesn’t matter.

Sheriff Earl D. Lee was a giant of a man and most certainly deserves the recognition of having a street named for him. Tomorrow the street leading to the new Douglas County Jail will officially become Earl D. Lee Boulevard in a dedication ceremony scheduled for 1:30 p.m. The ceremony will take place at the intersection of S. Cherokee Boulevard and Fairburn Road.

Sheriff Lee was a native to Douglas County born here in January 1931 to Eva Inez Couch Lee and Grover Clinton Lee, a Douglas County commissioner. Sheriff Lee attended schools in Douglas County including Winston Elementary, Mt. Carmel Elementary, and graduated from Douglas County High School in 1948.

Before becoming involved with law enforcement Sheriff Lee worked for Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, and in 1953 he began working for his father-in-law, Wade Belcher who owned a feed and grocery business in Austell, Georgia. Sheriff Lee had married Mr. Belcher’s daughter, Betty in 1950. Eventually they would have three daughters.

By 1964, the political bug had bitten Sheriff Lee, and he ran for Deputy Sheriff at the time Claude Abercrombie was running for Sheriff. While it seems a little strange to us today there was a time when deputies ran for office just as the candidates for sheriff.

Claude Abercrombie was elected and he and Deputy Sheriff Lee began their term on January 1, 1965. At that time the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was located within the Sheriff’s residence which was provided by the county. It was located at 6730 Church Street.

Sheriff Lee resigned his position in April, 1972 in order to run for the office sheriff. Approximately 800 votes separated Lee and Abercrombie but the newly elected Sheriff Lee began his reign as Sheriff on January 1, 1973.

During the next several years the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office expanded greatly with Lee at the helm. He began in 1973 with eleven deputies, and one of his first moves was to do away with the sheriff’s county provided residence. He used the residence but not to live. He took the home and converted it to offices for the Sheriff’s Department.

While he served as sheriff, Lee attended workshops, seminars, and schools honing his skills as a lawman both at the state and national level. He attended the FBI.

National Academy in Washington D.C. and the Management School for newly elected sheriffs in Los Angeles, California. The training and education wasn’t just for the Sheriff though. Sheriff Lee also sent his staff to the FBI Academy and the National Police Institute.

Apparently Sheriff Lee was doing something right because the citizens of Douglas County elected him for another four-year term in August, 1976 followed by two more four-year terms in August, 1980 and August, 1984, and he was named Douglas County Citizen of the Year in 1973.

Several new divisions were set up during Sheriff Lee’s time in office including a Patrol, Communications, Detective, Warrant and Narcotic Divisions. A detective who handled the schools was also hired, and in 1976 the first female deputy to become a certified peace officer worked for the Sheriff’s Department.

1980 saw the first drug dog, Lt. Bandit, serving the citizens of Douglas County. At one point due to the efforts of Lt. Bandit and the department approximately $365,000 in drug related money was confiscated.

In 1983 the Sheriff’s Department moved into the facility they are moving out of currently. At that time the new facility was replacing a 30-year-old jail that was overcrowded and inadequate.

While in office Sheriff Lee assisted state legislators to update Georgia laws regarding standards and requirements for sheriffs around the state, and was the first sheriff appointed by the Governor to investigate another sheriff.

In this recent Douglasville Patch article current Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller advises, “(Sheriff Lee) was a law man’s law man…I heard many FBI agents, many GBI agents and many law enforcement agents say, ‘If anything ever happens to me, I want Earl Lee to investigate it.’”

In a 2011 article written by Randy Rider, Lee was remembered by Rider …as one of the finest investigators that I ever met. He would run 72 hours and look behind him to see who was hanging in there. He would fall on the couch in his office take a few and off we went again. The man loved the chase and when it was over he would find a new one. Several times there were strings of crimes in neighboring counties and we knew he prayed for one to step over the line. “Stay out of Douglas County” meant something then.

Sheriff Lee took part in several high profile investigations including the Missing and Murdered Children in Atlanta. A 2008 Douglas Sentinel article details a few of the others:

Paul John Knowles, a serial killer whose 18 known victims included a Florida highway trooper. On December 18, 1974, Lee and GBI agent Ron Angel was transporting Knowles to a site where the killer claimed he disposed of the weapon used to kill the trooper. Knowles used a paper clip to free himself of his handcuffs and tried to take Lee’s gun. He was shot dead by Angel.

Phil Hanson October 11, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Very nice! A lot of stuff I never knew.
Helen Chambers October 11, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Let's not forget Earl Lee also started the first In-mate roadside clean up program, with a converted school bus to transport non-violent in-mates to and from road clean-up of litter. This program as grown over the years and now includes State Prisoners, something every resident, new and old can see the benefits of daily. Much credit goes to Sheriff Miller for continuing this program. Many counties within the state immediately followed with this program, but it was started with Douglas County Superior Court Judge James and lower court judges initiating it with "Community Service Workers" added to their sentences. Soon every county was doing this!
Helen Chambers October 11, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Thanks to Lisa Cooper for her hard and detail work to keep the history of Douglas County available to residents. Keeping alive the great memories!
tanya October 11, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Lee was a great man!!
Lisa Cooper October 11, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Thank you, Phil! Thank you, Helen! Earl Lee was a very fine law enforcement professional and a great citizen of Douglas County. I can't wait to research more about his accomplishments and exploits. You can be sure that I will be sharing more in future columns here at Patch and at my website Every Now and Then.
jessica north October 13, 2012 at 06:25 AM
That's my pawpaw for you... Dville was known as Earl's County!
Helen Chambers October 13, 2012 at 07:28 PM
Yes, it was Jessica and still is as far as the long time residents of the County is concerned. Many wish he could be resureceted, but since only "the one" was we must trust in "him" to carry us through our tough times with the now Sheriff and deputies he has provided to carry on your PawPaw's work giving them the strength and courage.
Lynne Lee Parrish October 14, 2012 at 03:30 PM
When I first saw the headline for this article I was skeptical about reading it. I was afraid it was going to be terribly negative. Much to my delight it was very accurate and I applaud Lisa for taking the time to dig into the past history and paint a picture of a legendary lawman and what he means to Douglas County. By the way Lisa you may not be aware of this but WHO IS EARL LEE was on billboards and bumper stickers all over Douglas County as he ran for Sheriff in 1972! I will also add to the question of who is Earl Lee: He was a man who loved his family and truly dedicated to serving the citizens and the County he loved. I am proud to say he was my daddy
Lynne Lee Parrish October 14, 2012 at 03:31 PM
You know it Jess!
william kirkham October 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I have been in DC since August of 1985. I loved Earl Lee he was a gentle, but stern man. He could show passion as well as get the truth out of the matter. It has been told that Sheriff Lee did WHATEVER it took to get his man...In some law enforcement agencies officers would plant things on someone for notoriety. Let it be understood that Sheriff Earl Lee identified whom was a true criminal. He did WHATEVER it took to get his man. I felt safer in this county back in those days. I wish we had a sheriff of that caliber today. It is my opinion our sheriffs department today is full of political endeavors rather than love for Douglas County. My conversation with Sheriff Lee made a respectful impression in my early adult years that lasts even till today.
william kirkham October 18, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Lynne, what happened to Mr. Earl, I have always wandered what caused his death?
william kirkham October 18, 2012 at 07:09 PM
what are they gonna do with the old jail?

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