Two Months in Summer
A Story of Horror and Loss
The time was in the afternoon. Jimmy gave a whoop as he ran from the school. It was finally summer vacation time again! A summer vacation that Jimmy would soon find would be filled with adventure, mystery, and fear.
Jimmy hoped that this summer would
be special because he was going to spend two months with his cousin in
"What's wrong with you, Jimmy? Are you deaf? I called you about ten times."
"Oh! Hi, George. I'm sorry. I was thinking of something else."
"I wanted to ask you if you wanted to go camping with us next week. My dad is taking me, and it would be great if you could come."
"Gosh, George, I'd really like
to, but I'm leaving to visit my cousin in
"Damn, that sounds great. I'm stuck here all summer except for the camping trip next week because my dad can't get anymore time off. Maybe we can talk your parents into taking us to the beach after you get back."
"That's a great idea. I'll start talking it up to my mom, and maybe she'll have convinced my dad by the time I get back. See you in August."
As Jimmy rushed home, he was thinking about his best friend, George, and how much they liked each other. He almost spent more time at George's than he did at his own house. George's dad was the kind of person who was just a natural with kids - especially boys, whereas Jimmy's dad always seemed distant and was always grumpy whenever Jimmy's friends were around. Jimmy knew the feeling wasn't right, but he was glad that he would be able to have two months in which he didn't have to concern himself with disapproving looks and statements from his dad.
When Jimmy got home, his mom was waiting to take him shopping for some clothes he would need for his visit to his cousin. They went to the new shopping center out from town and bought a couple of pairs of Levi's, new tennis shoes, and some colored T-shirts. Jimmy knew he would probably be helping his uncle and cousin work in the fields, and he would need some clothes that would really take the punishment of that kind of work. He was a city boy and didn't have any really durable work clothes.
Jimmy thought that Wednesday would never come, but finally it was here, and he was getting ready to board the plane to begin his vacation. He knew his mother was about to cry, and he felt a little dryness at the back of his own throat but was holding back any tears. After all, he was twelve years old, and when he returned from his vacation, he would be a teenager. That meant that he was definitely too old to cry - at least to his adolescent mind. He was only going to be gone for two months, anyway. It wasn't as though he was leaving forever. He kissed his mother, shook hands with his father, and boarded the plane.
After the plane was off the ground, the dryness slowly went away, and he began, again, to look forward to his vacation.
He had to change planes in
To Jimmy, those men in uniform
looked so tall and strong and sure of themselves. He couldn't see below the
surface and understand that some of those men had had their souls damaged by
what they had experienced in far off
As he whiled away the time, he found the college students of most interest. After all, he would be in college before he knew it. At least, that's what his parents kept telling him. He saw pretty girls in miniskirts carrying shopping bags stuffed with just about everything but the kitchen sink and boys with long hair, navy blue blazers, striped ties, and cordovan Weejuns. He didn't know that he was witnessing a dying tradition of formal dress for college students, and that the future would bring shorts, sandals and exposed, pierced body parts.
Among the myriad announcements that
came over the loudspeaker, Jimmy heard the number of the flight he was to take
to his final destination. He was to land in
Jimmy was descending the ramp of the plane when he saw his aunt and uncle waiting for him at the gate.
"Hello, Jimmy, my boy. You're really looking fine; growing into a man," said Uncle Bill.
"My, Jimmy, haven't you grown, but how did you ever convince your mother to let you grow your hair that long?" exclaimed Aunt Fran as she ran her fingers through Jimmy's full head of wavy, auburn hair.
"Ah, Aunt Fran, everybody wears their hair long. Only a weird-o wears his hair short these days."
"Well," chuckled Uncle Bill, "we'll have to tell Barry we've made him a weird-o because we make him cut it short."
"This is Barry's last day at school," said Aunt Fran, "but he should be home when we get there."
"Well, let's get going," roared Uncle Bill. "If we take much longer, Barry will be climbing the walls wondering where we are."
Jimmy got his suitcase, and they
were soon in the car headed for his cousin's farm. As they drove, Jimmy admired
Barry was waiting for them at the entrance to the driveway. He jumped into the car shout how glad he was to see his cousin. He told Jimmy of all the plans he had made of things for them to do. Among the plans, were also their assigned chores that had to be done each day around the farm. Jimmy's chores were simple. He was to see that the cows were put out to pasture after his uncle had milked them, and he had to collect the eggs each day while Barry fed the chickens. Aunt Fran also insisted that both boys make their beds and straighten their room each morning before breakfast. After the chores were done, the boys could do whatever they wanted.
One month of the two Jimmy was to spend with his cousin had already passed. The boys were as tan as berries, and they had had many adventures in the woods and countryside around Barry's farm. Barry had just gotten a new bike which matched his long sprouting frame. He had fixed-up his old bike for Jimmy to ride. Those bikes gave the boys many more miles of countryside to explore.
The place Jimmy particularly enjoyed
was an old mansion named Twelve Oaks that got its name from the twelve
beautiful oak trees that bordered the circular driveway in front of the house.
The story of Twelve Oaks had become quite a local legend for it was one of bloodshed
and tragedy. Many locals swore the ruined mansion was haunted, and supported
their suppositions with tales of strange lights and ghostly images which seemed
to float by the windows. It was even said that Margaret Mitchell had gotten the
idea of naming the Wilkes' plantation in Gone With
the Wind "Twelve Oaks" after hearing the tales about the mansion
during a stay in
The mansion had been built as a
wedding gift for the only daughter of old Colonel Lawson. The Colonel was the
richest man north of
The engagement lasted for six months
until Twelve Oaks was built and furnished with the finest furniture handcrafted
The wedding was the biggest
When the wedding and reception were over, the couple rode off in a splendid carriage to spend the first month of their honeymoon in their new mansion. The couple was to spend the first night alone in the house, and the servants were to arrive the next day.
The servants arrived to find the front door standing open and bloody footprints that showed a man had run down the stairs and out the front door. In the bedroom, they found Laura, fiendishly mutilated, lying in a pool of blood in her bed. Beside the bed, they found the blood-covered hatchet that had been used as a murder weapon.
Laura's husband was nowhere to be found. Some said he had murdered Laura and planned to steal her jewels, but when he had realized the horrible thing he had done, he became frightened and ran without taking a thing. Some said he went mad, murdered his bride, and ran off into the deep woods to live as a wild animal until he died. Some even said he was a werewolf or vampire who lived upon the blood of his brides, but very few believed such superstitious stories. No matter what anyone said, the one true fact was that he was never heard from again after that horrible night.
The Colonel never fully recovered from Laura's death and was dead within three years of what the physicians of the time described as a broken heart. He had ordered that Twelve Oaks be closed up and had it written in his will that it was never to be reopened or sold.
That all happened seventy years earlier, but the locals still claimed that the ghost of Laura roams the halls of Twelve Oaks starting at midnight on the anniversary of her death searching for her missing husband.
Jimmy and Barry had been up to the front gate of Twelve Oaks many times, but they had never gone any further. They had both agreed to steal into the house on the night of July fifteenth to see the ghost of Laura, and that day had finally come. They could barely contain themselves thinking about their plan for that night. They would sneak out about when they were sure that Barry's parents would be asleep. They occupied most of the day with their regular chores and the added task of helping Uncle Bill with the firewood that he was cutting for winter. After a big dinner, making final plans for the cousins' birthday party on the eighteenth, and a little television, the boys went off to bed as they usually did, but this time they were just going to rest for about an hour and a half and then get up.
"Jimmy, Jimmy, wake up. It's ."
"We must have dosed off, Barry, I'm glad you woke up."
"I didn't go to sleep. Mom and Dad were just late getting into bed tonight. I've been waiting for their light to go out."
"Well, I'm all ready. Let's go."
It took the boys about twenty
minutes to get to Twelve Oaks on their bikes. When they arrived, they squeezed
through the front gate and walked slowly toward the building. There were no
lights visible, but a full moon in the clear
They had no trouble getting in because one of the large front windows had been broken by the falling branch of a tree. When the boys got inside, they found the house almost as it had been in 1897. The house was in a very remote area, and few people knew of its existence, so relatively no vandalism had taken place. They were amazed at how beautiful the house still was after all of those years. The rooms on the first floor had tall ceilings and huge crystal chandeliers. The entrance hall had the look of a giant checkerboard of black and white marble. At the rear of the entrance hall, was a wide circular staircase that led to the rooms on the second floor.
The boys were standing in silence staring at the massive beauty of the mansion when they became aware of a weeping sound coming from the landing at the top of the stairs. They both wanted to run but had come this far so were not about to "chicken out."
As they slowly climbed the stairs to the second floor, the weeping sound became louder and clearer with each step. The sound led them to the first door in the hallway. It was clearly coming from the other side of the door. Barry tried the door, and it opened almost as if by itself. The boys stood in the hallway until the door had swung completely open. They could feel cold air coming from the room as if they were standing in front of an open refrigerator. They gathered up their courage and stepped into the room. Once inside, they could see that it was a splendid bedroom.
Suddenly the door slammed shut causing the boys to jump with alarm and turn to face, standing in front of the closed door, a thing so horrible and frightening that it caused both to scream in horror. It was a woman in a long white dress stained dark red from the blood that oozed from a mass of open cuts on her face and chest. In her right hand was a bloody hatchet.
Before the boys could move, the dreadful apparition wailed, raised the hatchet, and brought it down with a crashing blow upon Barry's shoulder. The blow from the hatchet was so forceful that it completely severed Barry's arm from his shoulder. Barry fell screaming in pain to the floor but the thing lunged to its knees and continued to chop at his body.
Jimmy was paralyzed by the unspeakable sight before him then his instinct of flight took control, and he ran. He flung the door open and ran in panic down the stairs, through the grand entrance hall, and into the night through the broken front window. As he ran down the seemingly endless driveway, the front gate seemed to be getting farther and farther away. Jimmy thought his heart would burst from the pounding, but above the sound of his own straining heart, he could hear the dull chops of the hatchet as it mutilated Barry's body.
Headline: Twelve Oaks Again the Site of Unspeakable Horror
Seventy years to the date of the brutal slaying of Laura, the daughter of the renowned Colonel Jeffrey Lawson, another equally horrifying murder has taken place at Twelve Oaks, the mansion constructed as a wedding present for the doomed bride. Sometime during the early morning hours of July 16th, a local lad, William Barry Harris, aged 12, was murdered in the very room of the mansion in which Laura Lawson Jakes was slain. Barry was the son of Frances and William Harris, lifetime residents of Armuchee. Mrs. Harris is the former Frances Branch. Both the Branch and Harris families have lived in and around Armuchee for generations.
Barry and his cousin Jimmy, son of Mr. Harris's sister, Bethel Harris Carney and husband Jason of Tampa, Florida, had sneaked out of the house a little before midnight on July 15th in order to investigate the folklore pertaining to the presence of the ghost of Laura which supposedly appears each year on the anniversary of her death. Jimmy came bursting into the Harris home a little past 1:00 AM on the morning of July 16th exclaiming to his aunt and uncle that Barry had been attacked at Twelve Oaks. Mr. Harris immediately called the Floyd County Sheriff's Department and then rushed to the scene of the crime. When he arrived, he discovered the mutilated body of his son.
Sheriff Joe Johnson states that there is apparently no motive for the crime and that no murder weapon has yet been discovered. Do to the damage to the boy's body, he speculates that the murder weapon is some sort of ax. Jimmy Carney was questioned but his answers and his explanation of the event were "confused" probably due to shock. He has been admitted to Fulton County Rehabilitation Center outside Atlanta for observation.
When interviewed, the caretaker of the Lawson estate stated that he had checked the condition of Twelve Oaks about a week earlier, and nothing seemed amiss. He also stated that, because of its secluded location in a far off section of the estate, the mansion was seldom bothered by anyone. The caretaker's major duties involve caring for Colonel Lawson's mansion and overseeing the workings of the stables. The Lawson mansion and stables are supervised by trustees of the estate assigned by the National Bank of Georgia. Because Colonel Lawson had no living relatives at the time of his death, his fortunes provide for various charities and the maintenance of the estate.
When contacted, the trustees for the estate stated that Twelve Oaks would be sealed in a more secure manner and surround by a chain link security fence. The Colonel insisted in his will that the mansion be secured and not destroyed or sold. Because of its remote location, there has been little trouble vandals and the like, and the trustees feel that these new measures will make the site completely secure.
The legend of Twelve Oaks is well known to all who have lived in and around Rome for any period of time. There was even a short story based upon the legend entitled The Dreadful Night of Twelve Oaks written by Marian Wilson. This latest event will surely add to the legend.
JULY 18, 1980
As he ran down the seemingly endless driveway the front gate seemed to be getting farther and farther away. Jimmy thought his heart would burst from the pounding, but above the sound of his own straining heart, he could hear the dull chops of the hatchet as it mutilated Barry's body.
Thump, thump, thump, the sound of those deadly chops reverberated in his scull as the ghastly image of his cousin's murder pierced his being.
"Jim, Jim, I've been knocking over and over," shouted Nurse Kelly as she shook him awake. "Have you been having that same dream again?"
As Jim slowly came to consciousness, he realized what he was being asked. He retorted in anger and desperation, "I've told you and the doctors, it's not a dream, it's not a dream, it's a memory!"
"Let's have none of that. Today is your birthday, and your mother is coming to visit. Try to be controlled. You know what happens when you get off on that tale of yours. You don't want to have to be isolated and restrained on your birthday."
The fire that had been glowing in his eyes diminished as he resigned himself to the reality of his life. He lit the first cigarette of the day - one that would continue with uncountable reinforcements until his exhausted body and mind gave itself to sleep that night. And thus would end another day of waste multiplied by weeks, months, years.
My Dearest Brother Bill,
Today was our sons' birthday, and I visited Jimmy at Fulton Center. He has now spent half of his life at that dreadful place. Even though the center is so horrible, whenever I consider the alternative, I will be eternally grateful that you were able to use your influence with Sheriff Johnson to protect Jimmy from the prosecution for murder on which the sheriff was so intent. Because you did that in the midst of your mourning for your beloved Barry, it makes your actions even more noble and caring. However, each time I am permitted to visit, I wonder if we made the right decision thirteen years ago to have him committed. To this day, he insists that he is innocent in the death of Barry and continues to tell the same unbelievable story of a malevolent specter. Jimmy is nothing but skin and bones. He looks so pale and coughs too much. All he does is sit with his head hung, smoking one cigarette after another. I am so worried about him.
My doctor has recommended that I not visit Jimmy again because his verbal attacks upon me have become so stressful that they are causing health problems. My son hates me for putting him into that place. Oh, God, what should I do? If only Jason had not left me, things might be a little easier. I spoke with him and finally asked for a divorce shortly before his accident in Alabama. He was still angry with me for agreeing to put Jimmy in the center. As you know, he was weak and never gave me the kind of support I needed in our marriage. It's ironic that because we never were divorced, I, at least, got financial support from his life insurance. If it were not for you, Fran, and George Campbell's family, I don't think I would have survived.
Even though the terms of Jimmy's confinement is that only I be allowed to visit, I have made the request that Jimmy's old childhood friend, George Campbell, also be able to see Jimmy. George has recently moved to Atlanta and would be able to visit more often than I. He always comes to see me whenever he visits his parents. The only time I ever get a favorable response from Jimmy is when I tell him about George and his family.
I have spoken to Dr. Rowan at the center, and he is willing to have George visit if you approve. I hate to burden you with another decision at this time when Fran is so sick, but it would relieve me to know that Jimmy had a true friend who could visit. Please let me know you decision as soon as you can.
I so love you, my big brother.
NOVEMBER 12, 1980
From the Tampa Tribune
Obituary: Bethel Harris Carney
Bethel Harris Carney (43) succumbed to heart failure November 10 at St. Joseph's Hospital. Born April 23, 1937, Mrs. Carney was the widow of Jason Carney who died in an automobile accident in Alabama earlier this year. She is survived by a son, James Harris Carney, of Atlanta, Georgia, and a brother, William Harris, of Armuchee, Georgia. At the time of her death, Mrs. Carney was employed by the First National Bank of Tampa as a teller. Services will be held on November 14 at Blount Funeral Home in Rome, Georgia. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Fulton County Rehabilitation Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
JULY 30, 1985
From the Rome News-Tribune
Obituary: William Sherman Harris
William Sherman Harris (55) died July 29 in the Floyd County Hospital as a result of a massive stroke. Born July 4, 1930, Mr. Harris was the widower of Frances Branch Harris and the father of the late William Barry Harris. Mr. Harris is survived by a nephew, James Harris Carney of Atlanta. Mr. Harris lived all of his life in Armuchee and was a lifetime member of the Floyd Springs Methodist Church where a service of Christian burial will be held tomorrow at 10:00 AM. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Floyd Springs Methodist Church Organ Fund.
NOVEMBER 10, 1998
"Jimmy, you're looking awfully low today. As a matter of fact, you look like death warmed over."
"One thing I can always count on from you, George, is to be straight and tell me the truth. I know why you came today, and I appreciate it. It's been eighteen years since Mamma died. I still miss her so much it hurts. I hate myself for being so cruel to her whenever she came to visit. I sure wish I could feel her hug one more time before I die."
"Hell, what are you talking about? You'll outlive us all."
"Now, you're not being straight. I know the doctors have told you that the smoking has finally caught up with me. Of course, it's been the only thing about this goddamned place that kept me going. Now it's helping to put me out of my misery."
"You're right, Jimmy, I know, and I should be straight with you. You've been my best friend all of my life, and I really love you for it. It's really weird to think that you are the one locked up in the booby hatch, and yet, you are my rock. You were there to support me when little Susie died and when Mona left me. You're all I've got, Buddy, and I can't face up to you leaving me."
"If there's one thing I've learned from being in this place is that we are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for, so you'll be all right. After all, as Scarlett says, 'Tomorrow is another day.' Seriously, I love you, George, and I need for you to believe something for me. You know that I have grown to be religious enough not to want to die with a lie upon my lips. I swear to God and to you, my beloved friend, that I did not kill Barry."
"I never, ever thought that you did. You know that I'm not into all that religion stuff, but I swear to you, my dear friend, that someday I will prove your innocence."
George gathered the skeletal form of his friend into his warm arms and held him as he coughed weakly until his breath ceased, and peace finally came to his tortured soul.
JULY 15, 2000
From the Rome News-Tribune
Headline in the community section: Lawson Estates Celebrates First Anniversary
It's been a hundred years since the death of Colonel Jeffrey Lawson for whom Lawson Estates was named, but the story of the grisly murder of his daughter is still told today. In fact, the 103rd anniversary of her death is tomorrow. In spite of its dark history, Lawson Estates remains the desired place to live for the successful young business people in Rome. It's close enough for an easy commute and yet has the feeling of elegant country living. Developed on Colonel Lawson's extensive acreage, Lawson Estates is comprised of the finest homes starting in the price range of a quarter million dollars. All of the homes are equipped with state-of-the-art electronics including complete computer control and a separate room for viewing movies and videos. A sense of history is given to the Estates by the presence of the grand clubhouse which was the Colonel's manor house. The original stables provide shelter for the horses owned by the residents. There are numerous riding trails throughout the Estates.
Colonel Lawson's daughter, Laura, was murdered in 1897 on her wedding night in the mansion named Twelve Oaks built by the Colonel for a wedding present. Most believed Laura was murdered by her husband, but it was never proven, and he was never found. The Colonel ordered that the mansion be closed and never be sold. A local youth, Barry Harris, was murdered in the mansion in 1967. It was believed that he was murdered by a cousin his age with whom he stole into the mansion on the anniversary of Laura's death. Harris's cousin, James Carney, was committed to Fulton County Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta where he remained until his death in 1998. After the 1967 murder, the mansion was sealed and fenced with a security fence. Because of the instructions in the Colonel's will, Twelve Oaks could not be torn down or used in any way as part of Lawson Estates so a large, dense wooded area was left to surround the mansion. Most of the streets in the Estates have been named for the famous horses which were born or trained at the stables, but the street that comes closest to the wooded area is called Twelve Oaks Circle in small recognition to the legend of the mansion.
A ball is planned for this evening at the clubhouse to celebrate the first anniversary of the Estates. Most attendees plan to dress in period costumes. The manor will be decorated as it was 103 years ago when it was the site of Laura's wedding reception.
At 11:30 that evening, a black Saab drove by the scene of the elegant party and turned onto Twelve Oaks Circle. It came slowly to a stop at the place farthest from any houses and nearest to the wooded area surrounding Twelve Oaks Mansion. George Campbell dressed in walking shoes, jeans, and a T-shirt slid out of the car and began walking toward the woods. He carried a large canvas sailing bag which contained a camera, a flashlight, a crowbar, and a large pair of wire cutters.
It took George about thirty minutes to make his way through the dense forest before he finally arrived at the security fence. The wire cutters made light work of making a passage through the fence. George hoped that the crowbar would be as efficient on the metal coverings installed over the doors and windows. His wish was fulfilled for the old wood of the mansion barely held the screws which mounted the covers. George didn't know it, but he had chosen the very window that had invited Jimmy and Barry thirty-three years earlier.
In 1967, all the boys heard was the sound of crickets. As George stepped through the window, he heard that same cricket serenade, but it was augmented by the far distant sound of music coming from the party at the clubhouse.
JULY 16, 2000, 12:23 AM
In the still Georgia night, a thick forest of trees and brush envelop an old mansion long since gone to seed. All is quiet except the crickets, the sound of music from afar, a short scream, and the thump, thump, thump of a hatchet.
JULY 20, 2000
Rome Police Department, Officer's Report:
At 9:30 AM, Lawson Estates security reported the presence of a deserted vehicle on Twelve Oaks Circle. After investigation, the black 2000 Saab 9-5 was found to be registered to George Campbell of Atlanta. Neighbors in the area were interviewed, but none were acquainted with Mr. Campbell. There was no answer when an attempt was made to call Mr. Campbell's home in Atlanta. The vehicle was impounded, and the Atlanta police were notified. The whereabouts of Mr. Campbell remains unknown.