Mercy for Some

David Beasley publishes a book about the darker moments in the Deep South’s history, including this excerpt about two Oglethrope students who launched a killing spree


Among the many skeletons in Georgia’s closet is an odious collection of racist and corrupt governors.

But E.D. (Ed) Rivers, who led the state from 1937 to 1941, is not often seen as one of them. A New Dealer who elevated education and health standards throughout the state, Rivers even considered a U.S. Senate run, but knew he’d never get the backing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why? Rivers may have been a Democratic stalwart, but he was also a onetime member of the Ku Klux Klan, even rising to the rank of Great Titan. As governor, Rivers made sure to feather the nests of his KKK friends, including that of Hiram Evans, who, with Rivers’s blessing, made tens of thousands of dollars by controlling the state’s lucrative asphalt contracts. Evans also happened to be the KKK’s Imperial Wizard.

These are some of the details recounted in David Beasley’s new book, Without Mercy: The Stunning True Story of Race, Crime, and Corruption in the Deep South. Beasley, a Macon native and twenty-five-year veteran of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, took a buyout from the paper in 2008 and spent much of the ensuing years rifling through archival boxes and tracking down old court records. His book, which was published last month by St. Martin’s Press, draws direct connections between Rivers’s corrupt administration and the equally perverted criminal justice system that the governor abided. The book’s central event takes place on a December day in 1938, when six black men were executed, one after another, in the electric chair at Tattnall Prison. The defendants were all convicted of capital crimes, but what makes the episode even more stunning is who avoided execution: an Augusta farmer who’d impregnated his own daughter, then killed the baby days after its birth. In this case, Rivers stepped in at the eleventh hour to commute the man’s sentence to life in prison. The farmer was white.

Rivers was also a central player in another infamous criminal case, this one in Atlanta. In the following excerpt from Without Mercy, two young Oglethorpe students—wealthy, white, from prominent families—go on a crime spree throughout the city, leaving two men dead in their wake. Ultimately their case would come before Rivers as governor, and its resolution—both would be granted pardons by Rivers in the waning days of his administration—speaks volumes about how under Georgia law in the 1930s, the notion of “equal justice” was nothing more than words on a page. 

—Steve Fennessy

More: Our Q&A with author David Beasley

You have to go back almost ten years before December 9, 1938, to get to the beginning of this story. Ed Rivers was an up-and-coming politician then, serving as a state senator from Lakeland.

It would be another eight years before Rivers would be elected governor, but he was trying to make a name for himself statewide, trying to lay a foundation. He was only thirty-three years old in 1928 and unknown to most Georgians. Rivers decided the best way to remedy that would be to run for governor, challenging the incumbent, L.G. Hardman, a wealthy physician, for the Democratic Party nomination. The energetic Rivers traveled up and down the red clay roads of Georgia, making speeches, introducing himself to the voters, apologizing for his young age with the joke “I am getting old as fast as I can,” and realizing he would probably not win.

He lost badly to Hardman in the Democratic primary, as most had expected, despite spending $10,000 of his own money, an amount that signaled Rivers was already an affluent young man indeed. He would grow wealthier over the years.

Back then, winning the Democratic primary in Georgia was the same as winning the election. Even though a third of Georgia’s citizens were black, they were barred by state law from voting in the all-important and all-white Democratic primary.

During the same time in 1928 that the ambitious Ed Rivers was on his quixotic quest to become governor, two college boys in Atlanta, George Harsh Jr. and Richard Gray Gallogly, were spending their time in a fog of bootleg liquor, cigarette smoke, and guns. They were both sons of wealthy and powerful white families and were classmates at Oglethorpe University, a private Presbyterian college near Atlanta that everybody knew because of its Gothic architecture.

Harsh and Gallogly were tall, handsome, and well dressed. Harsh, the nineteen-year-old son of a Milwaukee shoe manufacturer, was well traveled, having taken a trip around the world as a teenager. Gallogly, twenty years old, was the grandson of the owners of the Atlanta Journal newspaper and WSB radio station. His family owned a big share of the media in the state’s capital and largest city.

Both Harsh and Gallogly had lost their fathers, Harsh to death, Gallogly to divorce. Harsh was only twelve when his father died, leaving him a $500,000 trust fund. Gallogly’s father, James A. Gallogly, a West Point graduate and decorated World War I veteran, was an attorney and a stockbroker. The family tried to encourage Richard Gallogly to follow his father in the military tradition, sending him to Culver Military Academy in Indiana, but it did not stick. He returned to Atlanta to attend Oglethorpe, where he took to drinking and carousing. And that did stick.

In February 1928, Gallogly’s mother, Frances Gray Gallogly, remarried. Her new husband was a prominent physician, Dr. Worth E. Yankey.

They all lived with Frances’s mother, Mary Inman Gray, widow of Atlanta Journal editor and owner James R. Gray, in a stone mansion on the 2800 block of Peachtree Road. The house was called “Graystone.” Richard commuted to Oglethorpe, which was about five miles north on Peachtree.

Graystone was the kind of home that had a name and was known by that name, where weddings and funerals were held, along with piano recitals and teas. It was there that the granddaughters were “presented to society.” At Graystone on September 18, 1928, Richard Gallogly’s cousin, Mary Louise Brumby, married Charles Christopher McGehee. Mary Louise was the daughter of Thomas Brumby, president of the Brumby Chair Company, maker of the famous rocking chair. The Brumbys, like the Grays, were newspaper publishers, owners of the Marietta Daily Journal.

At the wedding of Mary Louise and Charles, they had an orchestra, accompanied by a lady playing a harp. The bridal party descended the staircase, which was decorated with ferns and baskets filled with Easter lilies.

The betrothed said their vows underneath a canopy of white satin. In the dining room was a heart-shaped bride’s table that had been used in the weddings of the bride’s mother and aunts, including Richard Gallogly’s mother. More flowers: dahlias, lilies, swainsona, white roses.

Only a few days after the flowers had wilted and the music of the harpist had faded, Richard Gallogly and George Harsh launched a killing spree.

This was the Roaring Twenties. Prohibition was in full force, so Harsh and Gallogly went to an illegal roadhouse south of Atlanta with three other college buddies, where they drank bootleg corn liquor out of a gallon jar. Gallogly excused himself, went to his car, and returned with a Colt .45 pistol, which he placed on the table. The .45 was a big, powerful weapon, for years standard issue in the U.S. Army. But it was not just a pistol, Gallogly said. It was a tool to control other men, to be “the absolute master of any situation.”

On Saturday night, October 6, at about ten o’clock, they robbed an A&P grocery store on Hemphill Avenue. With at least ten customers still in the store, Harsh—well dressed in a blue coat and a felt hat, wearing a collar and a tie—entered with his pistol blazing. His bullets struck a clerk, S.H. Meeks, and I.V. Ellis, the store manager, who was counting the night’s cash receipts. Bullets struck the wooden grocery store counter and drilled a hole in a large coffee container.

Ellis, wounded in the left arm and right leg, managed to reach under the counter, pull out a pistol, and return fire. Harsh fled, without having taken any loot, to the getaway car driven by Gallogly. Harsh had minor gunshot wounds. Ellis survived, but Meeks died twenty-four hours later.

Just ten days after the Meeks murder, Harsh and Gallogly struck again, this time at a pharmacy on the corner of Eighth Street and Boulevard (now called Monroe Drive). Harsh entered the store at about 11:15 p.m. and pulled the .45. Gallogly stood guard at the door, and Jack Mahoney, Harsh’s roommate at Oglethorpe and a fellow pledge of Kappa Alpha fraternity, was in the getaway car.

By this time, Atlanta merchants were on their guard, having read newspaper accounts of a rash of armed robberies, including the deadly A&P shoot-out. When Harsh drew his weapon and in an “extremely nonchalant” tone announced that it was a stickup, the twenty-four-year-old pharmacist, Willard Smith, immediately pulled a pistol. Harsh hit Smith with a bullet in the lung; Smith managed to get Harsh with a bullet to the hip. As the bullets flew, smashing bottles of ginger ale on the store shelves, James Stephens, a black fourteen-year-old delivery boy who had been asleep in a window seat, ran out the door. Gallogly, posted in the doorway, tried to stop him, punching him in the face.

Once again, Harsh left the robbery without any money. And this time, his wound was serious.

“As I limped out to the waiting cars, I could feel the warm blood running down my leg and squishing in my shoe,” he would recall. “If I didn’t die from that wound, I knew a hangman’s noose was waiting for me, or worse, a prison cell for the rest of my life.”

Smith [the pharmacist] died of his wounds October 21, leaving behind a widow, Mary Belle Smith.

Gallogly and Mahoney had to get Harsh to a doctor quickly, but obviously, they couldn’t take him to a hospital. They tried to get an Emory University medical student to give Harsh a look, but the student refused, worried about what his classmates might think, and the questions they might ask about how Harsh had been wounded. They drove Harsh instead to the Sixteenth Street apartment of Jack Wright, a stockbroker and a friend of Harsh’s from Milwaukee, and then called Harsh’s personal physician, Dr. Julian Riley, who arrived at 3 a.m. and was told his patient was injured “scuffling for a gun in a drugstore.” Riley took Harsh to St. Joseph’s Hospital.

As Gallogly and Mahoney drove home that morning to Graystone, Mahoney tossed Harsh’s shirt and bloody underwear into Peachtree Creek, first cutting out the name tags that identified the clothes as belonging to Harsh.

They weren’t so careful with Harsh’s bloody trousers, leaving them behind at Wright’s apartment on the floor of a closet. The Atlanta Journal the next day called the robbers “thugs,” having no way of knowing that one of them was the grandson of the newspaper’s owner. Harsh left the hospital the next day and returned to his dormitory room at Oglethorpe, telling other students he had slipped and fallen on a bottle.

It was only a matter of time, however, before gossip about Harsh’s injury reached the Atlanta Police Department. Wright, the stockbroker from Milwaukee, mentioned the incident to his secretary, who repeated it at a dinner party. Detective John W. Lowe was soon knocking on the door of Wright’s apartment. Wright was out of town, but a maid let Lowe in. There he found a pair of bloodstained pants with a bullet hole in the hip. A tag inside the pants led detectives to a dry cleaner, who identified Harsh as the customer.

Saturday, October 27, was a crisp fall day, partly cloudy, with a low in the forties and a high in the sixties, great football weather. Lowe and a motorcycle policeman stopped Harsh at the corner of North Avenue and Peachtree Street as he was heading to a football game between Georgia Tech and North Carolina, which Tech would win 20–7. Lowe confronted Harsh with the bloody trousers. And then it was all over. Harsh quickly confessed to the two killings and five other robberies and named Gallogly as his accomplice. Harsh blamed it all on liquor, but he could not have been too drunk during the crime spree, because he gave police very detailed information about the seven robberies and two killings the students had committed.

“Harsh remembers even the slightest details of each one of his performances,” said Lamar Poole, chief of the detective bureau. “I don’t think it would be possible for him to retain those details if his mind had been blotted by drink.”

Gallogly was arrested that same day after leaving another college football game, the homecoming game at the University of Georgia in nearby Athens. In the side pocket of Gallogly’s cream-colored roadster convertible, police found the .45-caliber pistol. But unlike Harsh, Gallogly wasn’t confessing to anything.

The Atlanta Journal published Gallogly’s full name and Peachtree Road address, including his middle name, Gray, and the name of his mother, but little else about his background. They didn’t mention that his grandmother owned the newspaper and WSB radio station or even that he was from a prominent Atlanta family.

The Atlanta Constitution, the Journal’s morning rival, wrote that Gallogly was the grandson of James R. Gray, “who was one of Atlanta’s best-known citizens.” And that was an understatement. As a young lawyer, Gray had married into the wealthy Inman family, and he’d purchased controlling interest of the Journal in 1900. It was one of the most respected newspapers in the South, counting among its alumni Margaret Mitchell, author of one of the bestselling novels of all time, Gone with the Wind, and Erskine Caldwell, who wrote two bestsellers of his own.

Gray’s was a powerful voice of moderation when Leo Frank, a Jewish pencil factory manager, was convicted in 1913 of the murder of a twelve-year-old employee, Mary Phagan, and sentenced to death by hanging. It was a huge case, attracting national attention, and Gray wrote an editorial in the New York Times calling on Georgia governor John Slaton to commute Frank’s death sentence to life.

Slaton did commute the death sentence, but a mob seized Frank from the state prison in Milledgeville, drove him back to Marietta, the town where Phagan had lived, and hanged him from the limb of an oak tree.

It was only a year later that Gray was among thousands of people who gathered to celebrate the rebirth of Oglethorpe University. Originally located in Milledgeville, the college had closed during the Civil War. It had now been rebuilt on a new campus on Peachtree Road. As editor of the Journal and a staunch Presbyterian, Gray had been the leader in the resurrection of Oglethorpe. Gray died on June 25, 1917. His funeral was held at Graystone, and President Woodrow Wilson was among those who sent his condolences.

This family was a bastion of respectability—and then came Gallogly’s scandalous arrest for two murders. It was embarrassing to the Atlanta Journal and the Gray and Inman families. It was embarrassing to Oglethorpe University. Gallogly hadn’t pulled the trigger in either case, but under Georgia law he could be found guilty of murder as an accomplice. Both he and Harsh could die in the electric chair. As a matter of fact, they could be dead before Christmas.

The newspapers called Gallogly and Harsh “thrill killers.” They killed only out of boredom, for the thrill of it and not for money, the press said. Harsh and Gallogly [got] two of the best lawyers in town: Harsh retained William Schley Howard, a former congressman, and Gallogly chose Reuben Arnold. Both lawyers had been members of Leo Frank’s defense team.

At the Fulton County Jail, the authorities treated Harsh and Gallogly like celebrities, taking them out to a barbershop for haircuts before the press photographs on Monday.

Someone sent a giant fruit basket to Harsh at the jail. He shared with other inmates, including Gallogly. Then on Thursday afternoon, it was off to the psychiatrist’s office downtown. Escorted by sheriff’s deputies, the shackled Harsh smoked cigarettes as he entered the downtown office of Dr. Frank Eskridge.

“X-ray photographs were made of Harsh’s head and other parts of his body,” the Atlanta Journal wrote. “Exact measurements were taken of his muscles, his nervous reactions were carefully recorded, and he was questioned closely as to events in his past that might throw light on his mental condition.”

Yet Harsh didn’t appear crazy to the Atlanta Constitution reporter who interviewed him in jail. “Harsh, tall, manly, well built, and pleasing of facial features, receives his visitors with a ‘glad to see you, sir,’” the reporter wrote. Harsh expressed deep regret for the killings. “Everything that I can undo I am trying to undo,” said Harsh. “I only wish I could undo the rest.”

Gallogly’s only statement to the reporter was that he would not interfere with the police investigation.

Harsh’s trial began on January 15, 1929. Unlike in many capital cases in Georgia at the time, which were tried within two or three weeks of the defendant’s arrest, Harsh’s team had two months to prepare. The state sought death. Harsh was to be tried only on Smith’s murder. The prosecution held the Meeks case in reserve if needed.

Harsh had confessed, so there was really no question of his guilt. He would present an insanity defense to avoid the electric chair. But a jury would decide Harsh’s fate.

Harsh’s lawyers put up psychiatric and other medical witnesses, complete with X-rays of Harsh’s entire body. The doctors concluded that “Harsh’s spine is curved, that his pituitary gland is small, that his heart is small, that his pelvic bones are unequal, and that there are traces in various parts of his body of an infection of some kind,” the Atlanta Journal wrote. Yet no one could quite say how those conditions would cause a man to murder. Harsh had “irresistible impulses,” the experts said. He was a social recluse with “mind quirks.” And a neighbor from Milwaukee testified that as an infant, Harsh fell out of a baby carriage, tumbled down seven steps, and hit his head.

Yet not one witness called him delusional. He had pledged a fraternity at Oglethorpe and frequently golfed at Atlanta country clubs. And a perfectly lucid essay he wrote at Oglethorpe about his first day on campus was introduced by the prosecution. A prior essay, on bathing in the Ganges River in India, was so well written that Professor James Rough thought Harsh had stolen it from a book. Rough did not know that Harsh had actually been to India on his round-the-world trip after his father’s death, and he asked Harsh to write another essay. This time, Harsh praised the students and staff at Oglethorpe for helping a young freshman on his first day. How could a deranged man write so clearly and eloquently? the prosecution asked. The defense did point out, however, that Harsh had misspelled “psychologist,” and that the composition “indicated an attitude of fear as a freshman.”

Finally, the prosecution presented evidence that Harsh robbed not for the thrill of it, not as a psychological compulsion, but for money. He and Gallogly burned through their allowances so quickly that they were desperate for more money to buy liquor. There was, for example, an employee at an Atlanta barbecue stand who loaned Harsh $5. The collateral was a Swiss-jeweled watch engraved with the initials G.R.H. for George Rutherford Harsh.

With the testimony concluded, John Boykin, the prosecutor, gave his closing arguments. He was no man of nuance. “He demanded that George’s head be shaved and enough electricity be sent surging through his body to send to him to eternity.”

William Schley Howard, in Harsh’s defense, told the jury what most observers already knew about Harsh. You could see it in the courtroom. Harsh lacked any visible emotion about anything. “We went to that jail and talked with this boy,” Howard told the jurors. “We asked him why he did it, and he said he didn’t know. He showed absolutely no emotional reactions, and we came away convinced that the crime he committed was not that of a sane man.”

Cocounsel Ben Conyers resorted to blaming bootleg liquor, based in part on one of the many bizarre medical claims from physician witnesses. “Doctors have told you that they found 58 percent of potash in the boy’s body,” Conyers told jurors. “Where did it come from? It came from the bootleg liquor that is being consumed in our community as in every other community in the land.”

This Georgia jury didn’t believe it. It took only fifteen minutes to deliver a sentence: death.

Harsh’s mother and sister cried, but Harsh reacted like Harsh always reacted. “There was not a tremor to indicate stress, nor the slightest twitching of the hands, nor the heightening of color in his face,” the Journal reported.

Harsh was to die “by electrocution in private, witnessed only by the executing officers, his relatives, counsel, and such clergymen and friends as he may desire.” The date was set for March 15.

Back in his jail cell, Harsh lay on his cot and calmly smoked.

He would appeal, of course. And he had solid grounds, apparently.

Judge E.D. Thomas, in his charge to the jury, said that Harsh had not asked for an acquittal and “the only question for you to determine is the measure of punishment that will be meted out.” In fact, Harsh’s attorneys pointed out in their appeal, he had pleaded not guilty. Despite the confession, the jury could have found Harsh not guilty based upon “mental irresponsibility.”

The Harsh conviction might well later be overturned on appeal, but for now, Boykin had secured a victory. But Boykin had trouble with Gallogly as that trial began on the frigid morning of January 29, 1929.

Harsh had confessed, but Gallogly hadn’t. He was outside the drugstore when Smith was killed, he admitted. Yes, Smith was killed with his gun, the one he had in his car after the University of Georgia football game, the weapon he had owned since he was a cadet at Culver Military Academy. But prosecutors, Gallogly said, must understand this: Harsh was drunk that night, and he, Gallogly, tried desperately to keep him from robbing the drugstore. And he’d had no idea Harsh had taken his gun from his automobile.

Harsh refused to testify. After all, what were they going to do to him if he didn’t? He was already on death row. So Gallogly’s version of the story wasn’t challenged.

And unlike Harsh, a Yankee from Milwaukee, a carpetbagger even, Gallogly was a hometown boy. So it was easier to believe that the Yankee boy did the shooting, not Gallogly.

If jurors did not already know who Gallogly’s family was, all they had to do was look in the courtroom. On the opening day of jury selection, there sat Hoke Smith.

Smith, who had sold the Journal to the Gray family, was U.S. secretary of the interior under President Grover Cleveland and was later governor of Georgia and a U.S. senator. Although a progressive, as governor he was the one who led the push for a state constitutional amendment that disenfranchised black voters, a trade-off for the support of former congressman Thomas E. Watson, a powerful racial demagogue. Blacks already were barred from voting in the Democratic primary, but the amendment made it much more difficult for them even to vote in the general elections, and black voter registration plummeted. “Negroes are better laborers and citizens when out of politics,” Smith said, explaining his support of the new restrictions.

In an effort to get Smith, their man, their former owner, elected governor, the Atlanta Journal editors suddenly changed their minds about disenfranchisement for blacks. Disenfranchisement of blacks wasn’t so bad after all, the Journal decided, throwing its support behind Smith, who won the 1906 election in a landslide.

And here he was, Hoke Smith, this Georgia political legend, sitting next to Gallogly on the opening day of the trial. Smith “shook hands with Mrs. Worth Yankey and patted the defendant, Dick Gallogly, on the shoulder with his left hand,” the Journal reported. “With his hand still resting on the boy’s shoulder, he engaged Mrs. Yankey in conversation and later drew up a chair and took the seat between Gallogly and his mother.” The young man was as connected as you could be in the state of Georgia.

Boykin had little testimony to contradict Gallogly’s assertion that he tried to talk Harsh out of the robbery. One of the prosecution witnesses was Tom Kirpatrick, a soda jerk at the drugstore who had been present during the robbery and who had identified Gallogly at the jail three weeks after the killing as the man who was standing at the door. On cross-examination, Kirpatrick admitted that he had been hiding behind the soda fountain for much of the time that the bullets flew. He also confirmed that he originally told police that the gunman, who turned out to be Harsh, matched the description of Roy Dickerson, the notorious robber. So perhaps Kirpatrick was not a very reliable witness after all.

Even James Stephens, the fourteen-year-old delivery boy, could not specifically identify Gallogly as the man in the doorway, testifying that he was running too fast to get a good look.

Then Gallogly took the witness stand in the huge courtroom with its mahogany-colored wooden benches, high plastered ceilings, and marble-tiled floors, packed to the brim with lawyers and spectators.

Georgia law at the time allowed a defendant to make an unsworn statement to the jury with no cross-examination allowed. Gallogly started reading his statement to the jury but talked so fast and so low that Reuben Arnold suggested he stand directly in front of the jury box, which he did.

Gallogly had met Harsh the previous June and was enthralled, he told the jury. Harsh “told me much of his adventures in Milwaukee, and they were very interesting.” Gallogly continued, “I am satisfied that drink caused George Harsh to commit this robbery.”

In an account that differed substantially from Mahoney’s, Gallogly told the jury that on the night of October 16, he, Harsh, and Mahoney went for a ride in Gallogly’s car. “We were headed for no place in particular. We rode for a few hours and as we neared the Eighth Street pharmacy, George had me stop. George said, ‘I am going to rob that store. You and Jack wait here.’ I argued and pleaded with George not to do it.”

As he stepped out of the car, Harsh reached into the side pocket of the roadster and removed Gallogly’s .45-caliber pistol, Gallogly said. Harsh’s own pistol had recently been taken away from him and hidden by his sister and brother-in-law, who were worried about the trouble the weapon might cause him, Gallogly explained. He followed Harsh to the drugstore and, at the doorway, pulled on his friend’s arm. “He jerked away from me and went on in anyway,” said Gallogly.

While Harsh was inside the drugstore during the robbery, Gallogly stood outside. He quickly heard one shot from a small-caliber gun (Smith’s) and two shots from a large-caliber weapon (Gallogly’s own .45 held by Harsh), he told the jury. But Gallogly denied striking the delivery boy.

“I am not guilty of murder,” Gallogly insisted. “Willard Smith would be alive today if George Harsh had come back out of the drugstore when I took him by the arm and tried to stop him.”

In closing arguments to a packed courtroom, Boykin, the district attorney, warned the jury that anything other than a death sentence would make Gallogly a free man very shortly. He would be in prison for only two or three years before “some softhearted governor turns him out on a pardon,” said Boykin.

Arnold, the defense attorney, countered that the prosecutors were bloodthirsty “headhunters.” If the jury acquitted Gallogly, he could always be reindicted as an accessory to the crime after the fact, which would carry a maximum of one to three years, Arnold argued. “Mercy is an attribute of God himself,” Arnold said.

The jurors, all white men, deadlocked, 6–6. Six wanted to acquit; six wanted life in prison. The judge declared a mistrial. Boykin tried Gallogly a second time. Once again, the jury deadlocked. The prosecutor was ready to go a third time, but on April 1, a deal was reached: Gallogly would plead guilty and get life in prison. In exchange for the plea, Harsh’s death sentence would be overturned, and he too would get life.

Gallogly said he was pleading guilty “solely to save his friend, Harsh, from the electric chair.” He was also tired of the trials, he said, and wanted to spare his family from having to go through another one.

In a statement, Harsh thanked Gallogly. “Dick is not guilty of any murder,” Harsh said. “It is a great thing to have a friend who would do what he has done for me.”

District Attorney Boykin said the most he could have hoped for by trying Gallogly a third time was life imprisonment. The prosecutor believed Harsh and Gallogly were equally guilty and should have the same punishment. He did not want to be accused of favoring Gallogly over Harsh with a lighter sentence.

Harsh was from another state and had only two relatives, his sister and brother-in-law, in Atlanta, said Boykin. Gallogly was “a local boy who grew up here and is surrounded by relatives and friends of wealth and influence.” So Harsh would be allowed to live.

Years later, Harsh would describe wealth as the real reason he and Gallogly escaped the gallows. “At the time of the two trials, my family could have easily raised a million dollars,” he wrote. Gallogly’s family “wholly owned the Atlanta Journal, the most powerful paper in the Southeast at the time, and millions were popcorn to them. Such money could keep criminal cases in court until the defendants died of old age.”

They had been saved from the electric chair, but they still faced the notorious Georgia chain gang. Unless their families’ money and influence could once again work miracles, Harsh and Gallogly faced this sentence: “to be confined at hard labor for a term not less than” their natural lives.

But neither Harsh nor Gallogly expected to end up on the chain gang. They knew that their families’ money and influence would likely lead to shorter prison terms, and cushier time while they were in prison.

Harsh and Gallogly did not know Ed Rivers at the time, but they would become all too familiar with him after he was elected governor in 1936. As governor, Rivers would come to control their fates.

Excerpted from Without Mercy by David Beasley. Copyright © 2014 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press LLC.

Read more: Our Q&A with author David Beasley

This article originally appeared in our February 2014 issue.