Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

After carefully reading and rereading everything I could find about the murder of Martha Russell (who was supposedly a witch) in 1929, I concluded, like one of the ladies that brought the story to my attention, that she was right. The entire case was swept under the rug by Rome Police and those serving on the coroner’s inquest, believing she probably got what she deserved due to her stock in trade or business. There was no doubt she was murdered and had told a neighbor to watch out for her, something was about to happen. She had also told the Johnsons when they said she could stay and live with them that as long as she lived, she had friends that would put a curse on her if she did move in with them.

As we have stated, over the years Martha had accumulated thousands of clients. What interviews the police did were all positive, or at least they were according to the newspapers. With police tactics being in a primitive mode, I’m sure they were lost and had commission pressure to close this case, which they did.

Our police department began coming of age in 1966, our Board of Commissioners in 1969. Some of you will understand that, to others it will take another story.

So what do you do about Martha Russell, Mike? Just write it off and forget it? Actually, it was too good a story, it fits right in with a book I’m writing, or maybe two. So I called a real witch that lives in the Acworth-Kennesaw area and told her everything I had on Aunt Martha. She was extremely interested.

A little background if I may. Right after “Bertha” came out, I got an email from a gentleman who said his wife had ancestors down toward Atlanta that had a strange murder in their family. I filed it away, thankfully didn’t throw it away. Later it popped up again. It seems that two teenage sisters were burned alive in their home in Decatur in 1923. The house was burned down around them. Firemen stated it was arson.

One year later to the day in Saint Petersburg, Florida, the girls’ mother and father were shot in the head. Police arrested and tried the 19 year-old son for the murder. He was sentenced to life, but deemed crazy (as a Bessie Bug) and transferred to Chattahoochee Mental Institution, located almost on the Georgia, Alabama and Florida intersection. Anyway, our boy escapes and heads for Savannah. He has said he had blasphemed against the Holy Ghost and was told by this rabbit, or sometimes a dove, that he could only get redemption through fire, blood and water. He was headed to Savannah to drown his girlfriend.

The press picked up on the escape and, like Martha Russell, they had a field day with the “Holy Ghost Murderer on the Lose.” It is a scary story.

All five (no, he didn’t drown the girlfriend) are buried in Liberty Hill Cemetery in Acworth. I posted a little about it on my Facebook page a year or so ago. I got a message in the next couple of days from my witch that she had been visiting the girls’ graves. And so had I. My grandson and I left them some flowers on the anniversary of their death.

My witch friend comes to Rome and visited Aunt Martha several times. She tells me that she is sure Martha was more of an herbalist than conjurer or necromancer, and is at peace. Well, there’s no way to question her statements. She did consult with another witch in Chattanooga that runs a store, and no, I don’t know what all she sells, but I do have a book from there as a Christmas present. They put their heads together and came up with some results. They concluded the frog skins (mentioned in a previous column) were used to reverse a curse. It just causes it to slide away.

I know by now many of you are having a Sunday morning chuckle. Witches were burned and tortured in the middle ages and Salem Witch trials were and are still quite famous. So witches are old school, right? This young lady, who reminds me of the “Good Witch Glenda,” has a Facebook page called “Hecate’s Cauldron” which has over 25,000 followers. I asked her if all those were real witches. She said, “Heck no, a lot of them are just curious, and then there are your wannabes, but a lot of them are the real deal.” So be careful, your next door neighbor may be a witch and you not even know it.

Now that brings me to part two real quickly. If you have any age on you at all, we all knew somebody who could talk the fire out of a burn or remove a wart and other things like repeating a verse in the Bible to stop bleeding. And yes it works, for certain people. My present WIP (work in progress) is dealing with a “granny witch” high up in the Appalachians that practiced all kinds of medicines and had midwife capabilities.

These witches had medicines from the Scots-Irish mixed with Native American, African American and even some Melungeon* cures and remedies. The book I got from the Chattanooga witch is about Native American cures. It was written by a Cherokee. Of course, I’ll put the Mike spin on it, too, with help from a certain witch.

I call it “The Crabapple Tree.” Look for it sometime this year.

*Melungeons are groups of people of tri-racial heritage — thought to have European, African and Native American ancestry — found in the Southeast.

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Lucy and the Ghost Train.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com.