It was a shocking news bulletin in February 1928, when people first heard that former Cleveland Police Chief Homer Caswell Simpson was arrested for the brutal murder of C.A. Perry, a cashier at the Georgia State Bank in Kingsland, Ga.
Simpson and Malcom Morrow were accused of luring Perry to a plantation near Kingsland, where accounts from that time stated Perry was shot and wounded then taken back to the bank and forced to open the cash vault inside. The two men reportedly drove Perry to the Florida line, wrecked the car and got away on foot, leaving Perry to die.
Perry was found by a passing motorist and made a dying statement, naming his killers, in what was then described as “one of the most brutal murders in Georgia’s history.”
Simpson was not only a former police chief in Cleveland but a World War I veteran who served with the 30th Division American Expeditionary Force. His father, Jacob H. Simpson, served in the Tennessee Legislature. These facts made it all the more strange that the Cleveland resident would find himself in the middle of a first-degree murder trial.
“The whole thing is amazing,” Newton said. “It’s 83 years old, but it’s still fascinating. Years ago I went to a yard sale and bought the book that Mr. Simpson had written himself. I read it and fell in love with it. It brought me to tears. It was heart-wrenching. I loaned it to someone and never got it back. I just thought it would be a good story for the people of Cleveland to read because it is a part of our history. He was one of Cleveland’s finest.”
Simpson and Morrow were convicted of committing murder and set to die by electrocution on Sept. 11, 1929. With months to live, there were appeals made to the Court of Appeals of Georgia and to the State’s Supreme Court. Both courts, however, affirmed the conviction. Appeals to the Georgia prison board and then-Gov. L.G. Hardeman were also denied, according to the newspapers.
In the meantime, Simpson was putting down on paper his version of what really happened, declaring his innocence in the murder of Perry. His parents and siblings were doing everything they could to save his life. But time was not on their side. As both men were moved from a Macon, Ga., jail to the State Prison at Milledgeville on Sunday, Sept. 8, it was announced their execution was set for that Wednesday. Time was up.
Then, to the astonishment of some, Morrow suddenly confessed to the murder. The local newspaper in Milledgeville wrote, “Within a few hours before he was to die in the electric chair at the Georgia state prison here for the murder, Malcom Morrow today made a statement to the prison authorities in which he absolved Homer Simpson, his alleged companion, of all blame in the crime for which they were convicted.”
In his own words, Morrow was quoted as saying, “I shot Perry and I am willing to take the blame. If Simpson dies for the crime for which I, alone, am responsible, he will be getting a tough break at the hands of the law.”
The article went on to say, “State officials, however, indicated that Morrow’s confession would have no effect on the execution of the death sentence. The men were indicted, tried and convicted jointly.”
A noon conference with the governor by the mothers of both men was in vain. No matter how many tears, their pleadings would not stay the execution of their sons. Jacob Simpson was unable to attend the meeting due to injuries he sustained in an automobile accident on his way home after a meeting with the governor the week before.
One newspaper reported, “He suffered from two broken bones in his hand and shock.” He was said to be “heart broken over the tragedy that had befallen his son.”
In a farewell letter received by the Cleveland Daily Banner in September 1929, and printed the day Simpson was to die, the former police chief made his final statement to the people who knew him best.
In part he wrote, “To my dear friends at dear old Cleveland who have been faithful in your efforts to help me: I want to thank each one of you for your kindness in all that has been done both in your petitions and letters, and your faithful prayers. But dear ones it looks like that all is in vain and there seems to be no mercy for me.
“After the good jury signed the petition for me and also wrote personal letters in my behalf, and the Chief Justice and his associate justice wrote letters and also went in person to the governor, and said I did not have a fair trial, and also said that according to the laws of the state of Georgia that I did not deserve the death penalty, after all this was done, with the good petitions and letters, and good prayers, I felt encouraged. But after all it looks like I will have to say goodbye to you dear ones.
“Now dear kind friends I love you all and appreciate your kindness, but it seems that the time has come when you can do no more for me, and now my last request of you is that please do what you can to comfort and cheer my dear kind old Dad, and my precious darling mother, my sweet sisters and dear brothers, who have been so faithful and done everything that they can do.”
Sometime after the stroke of midnight on Sept. 11, 1929, Simpson and Morrow were put to death in the electric chair. Simpson’s death, however, raised new questions which burned in the minds of many: Was he really guilty of murder? Did he deserve the death penalty? Should the law on criminal conspiracy be changed?
On Sunday, Sept. 15, a funeral service was held in Cleveland for Simpson and his grieving family. The following Monday’s front page of the Banner had the caption: “THOUSANDS AT SIMPSON RITES. Some Place Attendance at 10,000 Sunday; Funeral 7 Hours Long.”
The article said in part, “Many attended the funeral for the love and respect held for the deceased, but the thousands were there out of idle curiosity, as it was the first time in the history of this city that a man who had paid the supreme penalty for such a crime was buried in this city.”
It was estimated that more than 7,000 people passed the body before it was removed, the Banner stated, adding, “The program for the service had been planned months ahead by the convicted man and was carried out to the letter.”
Simpson’s father went on to write a book defending his son, “The Life and Fate Of Homer C. Simpson: The Man Who Was Electrocuted for a Crime He Did Not Commit.” The book is no longer in print but a photocopy of it remains at the History Branch of the Cleveland Public Library.
Engraved on his two-piece gravestone at Fort Hill Cemetery South on Ocoee Street are the words: “Homer C. Simpson, executed for a crime he did not commit.”
A descendant of Simpson is reportedly writing a book regarding the incident titled, “Homer Simpson Must Die.”
In the State of Tennessee, criminal conspiracy allows for more than one person to be tried for a crime, including murder.
Section A under Tennessee code 39-12-103, reads: “The offense of conspiracy is committed if two (2) or more people, each having the culpable mental state required for the offense that is the object of the conspiracy, and each acting for the purpose of promoting or facilitating commission of an offense, agree that one (1) or more of them will engage in conduct that constitutes the offense.”