Karen L. Cox, "Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South"
Karen L. Cox, Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South
Wednesday, October 18, 7pm
In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery—known in the press as the "Wild Man" and the "Goat Woman"—enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate "Goat Castle." Pearls was killed by an Arkansas policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. However, as was all too typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded "justice," and an innocent black woman named Emily Burns was ultimately sent to prison for the murder of Merrill. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also lived to profit from the notoriety of the murder by opening their derelict home to tourists.
Strange, fascinating, and sobering, Goat Castle tells the story of this local feud, killing, investigation, and trial, showing how a true crime tale of fallen southern grandeur and murder obscured an all too familiar story of racial injustice.
“Goat Castle is a highly entertaining story about a long-forgotten murder. It is also a reminder of the racism and intolerance found in southern history and of how difficult change has been. It’s a terrific read.”—John Grisham
Karen L. Cox is an award-winning historian who has written op-eds for the New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and the Huffington Post. Her expertise on the American South has led to interviews with the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Mic, The Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal, Slate (France), the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, the Houston Chronicle, and the Charlotte Observer, as well as international newspapers in Germany, Denmark, Ireland, and Japan. She has also appeared on BBC Newshour, Black Politics Today, The Mike Smerconish Show (Sirius XM), C-SPAN, Canadian Public Broadcasting, Minnesota Public Radio, Georgia Public Radio, and Charlotte Talks.
She frequently gives public talks to both community and academic audiences, and is an OAH Distinguished Lecturer.
Cox is the author of three books and numerous essays and articles on the subject of southern history and culture. Her first book, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, won the 2004 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize from the Southern Association for Women Historians for the Best Book in Southern Women’s History. Her second book, published by UNC Press in 2011, is Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture. She is also the editor of Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History (University Press of Florida, 2012), which won the Allen G. Noble Book Award from the Pioneer America Society for the Best Edited Book on North American material culture. She is created the blog Pop South: Reflections on the South in Popular Culture where she wrote over 100 essays about representations of the region and its people in popular media.
Her forthcoming book, Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South, will be released October 9, 2017.
Cox is originally from Huntington, West Virginia, and is professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.