In Statesboro, Georgia, Cato and Reed were doused with oil and burned alive at the stake after an all-white jury convicted them of murdering a white family of five.
BACKGROUND: Police rounded up about a dozen black men after finding Henry R. Hodges and his family murdered and their home set ablaze. They claimed the crime was part of a robbery masterminded by a “Black Mafia” that was forming in Bulloch County. The bizarre theory alleged that black ministers who led the group were ordering members to rob and murder whites who were mean to blacks.
ARRESTS & TRIAL: Despite the numerous arrests, the police settled on Cato and Reed as their final suspects. Angry whites from surrounding counties were drawn to the trials by lynching rumors printed in the Savannah Morning News. The rumors and unsubstantiated stories about the murdered Hodges children offering their pennies in return for mercy helped vilify Cato and Reed before the trial even started.
The stories assumed the guilt of the suspects and sensationalized headlines such as, “WILL LYNCH PRISONERS AS SOON AS CONVICTED” fueled the mob frenzy.
“People who know the feelings of a large element in Bulloch County say that the chances of the murderers being legally hung are very slim, and that avenging of the killing of the Hodges Family will be at the hands of those in the community where the crime was committed. They look for something to happen as soon as the Negroes have been tried and sentenced, if not before,” an Aug. 15, 1904 article said.
CONVICTION & LYNCHING: About 1,000 men, with guns and whiskey in tow, showed up for the trial. They crowded the Bulloch County Courthouse the day the all-white jury delivered the final guilty verdict and the judge sentenced Cato and Reed to hang. But the verdict didn’t satisfy their demands for vengeance.
The mob waited until most of the unarmed infantry soldiers guarding the courthouse were gone and, according to the soldiers’ reports, stormed the building and kidnapped Cato and Reed with the help of the Bulloch County Sheriff and his deputies.
Nooses were placed around the necks of the condemned men and they were dragged down North Main Street to various sites until the mob decided on a clearing two miles northwest of town.
Cato and Reed were tied with ropes and chains to a tree stump, each man was doused in 10 gallons of oil and burned alive before a cheering crowd.
Hundreds of citizens brought their children to the scene to gather souvenirs, according to newspaper accounts. The lynchers and spectators didn’t fear reprisals, the paper reported. Two youngsters even presented the judge with charred pieces of Cato and Reed’s bones the following day.
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