Several months ago after I had written a post about an infamous Attala County murder case, the Leon Turner case, Ann Breedlove, genealogy researcher in the Kosciusko, Mississippi Library, told me that an Attala County native, Stokes McMillan, was writing a book about the murder case. At that point, Stokes was still writing the book, hoping to get it published before the end of this year. Recently, Ann contacted me again and told me that she had been in touch with Stokes, who told her that publication of the book, "One Night of Madness" was near. Ann wanted me to know that she had given Stokes my email address, thinking that I might want to profile his book on Mississippi Memories. Twice during the past two weeks, Stokes and I have communicated by email about his book, and he was kind enough to share with me the following information, taken from the book's preface:
"In 1950, a small-town Southern newspaper photographer snapped a once-in-a-lifetime photograph of the capture of two killers. Taken in a farmyard setting deep in the heart of Mississippi’s pine forests, the photo exudes activity and danger. Two men are being frisked as they lie on their stomachs spread-eagled in the dirt. Between them, a rough-looking character in convict’s striped pants stands guard with a pistol in each hand, a bloodhound at his side. Months after this dramatic picture first appeared in a low-circulation, country weekly newspaper, it garnered the prize as America’s best journalistic photograph of 1950 by the prestigious National Press Photographers Association, beating out six hundred entries from newspapers around the country, including the biggest and richest. This award-winning photo is on the cover of the book. Naturally, the honored photographer's wife, who also happened to be the daughter of the newspaper's editor and publisher, was proud of her husband's major accomplishment, and she decided to build a scrapbook about the photo. Her scrapbook would contain the blue-ribbon picture and the story behind it: a story of mayhem, murder, posses, and trials as recorded by articles from several national newspapers and shown by numerous 8 x 10 black-and-white glossies taken by her husband. When the material she gathered outgrew the grossly undersized family album, she pasted everything into a 30 x 30 inch behemoth normally used for page layout at her father's newspaper."
The photographer who took the photo (seen below) and who won the award, and his wife who built the scrapbook, were Stokes McMillan's father and mother.
According to Stokes, his father was present at the capture of the murderers, pictured here in this photo that won the National Press Photographer Association's Best Photo of 1950 Award.
In the preface of his new book, Stokes provides some background of the writing of the book:
"As a little boy, I occasionally pulled the scrapbook from its storage spot beneath my parents' bed and gazed over its collection of photographs, but I had no thought of reading the accompanying newspaper articles. My parents told me the rough details of the story, and that was good enough for me. Decades passed. Eventually, I inherited the scrapbook. Like my mother, I kept it beneath my bed, but took no interest other than to pull it out a few times to show the pictures to my children and to share with them what little of the background story I remembered. Then I tucked it back under the bed and relegated it to the back of my mind.
Things changed as the 2001 Christmas season approached. Our middle child, then a college sophomore, stated that his gift wish was to have a poster made of his grandfather’s award-winning photograph. He wanted to hang it in his apartment. A great idea, I thought, so I made posters of that photo and one other from the scrapbook for him and his two brothers. So that I might provide my family with more interesting details behind the photos, I decided to take the time over the holidays to read the scrapbook’s newspaper clippings.
I laid the large scrapbook out on a table and turned to its first page. A headline from the January 29, 1950, St. Louis Post-Dispatch blared “Murder in Mississippi” in bold print. I began to read, and time melted away as a story of violence, fear, race, love, revenge, politics, and courtroom drama captured me. When I finally closed the cover, I knew that the story of this 1950 event deserved more than to be secreted within the pages of an old scrapbook—it deserved to be told, and ownership of the scrapbook made me the one to tell it."
The preface of the book continues as the author tells a little about himself:
"My mother always said there's printer's ink instead of blood in my veins. My great-grandfather, Wiley Sanders, founded the Kosciusko, Miss. newspaper, the Star-Herald. He handed it to Stokes Sanders, my grandfather and source of my name. Stokes's only son died young, so ownership of the paper went to my mother. Her husband, my father, became the de facto owner/publisher while mom managed kids at home. Unfortunately, years later, when dad asked his children if we wanted the paper, neither my older brother or sister accepted. I was an early teenager with my eyes on space. I declined his offer and eventually majored in aerospace engineering at Miss. State. I moved to Houston, married a Texan, and went to work for NASA, where I am nearing retirement after working at Johnson Space Center for over 30 years."
Stokes admits that he underestimated the time it would take him to write the book about this event that occurred in his home state of Mississippi. He initially believed that it would take him about 2-3 years. But now, after 8 years, Stokes is looking at an early December publication date for the book. And it sounds as if he has loved every minute of the project.
If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of "One Night of Madness," a true account of the Leon Turner murder case, please contact Stokes McMillan at firstname.lastname@example.org.