Claude Neal was a 26-year-old black man living with his mom when he was accused of raping and murdering 19-year-old Lola Cannady, a white female from Jackson County, Florida. Cannady lived near Neal and did not return one evening after leaving home on a walk to water the family hogs. In the search for Cannady, friends and family discovered her body in the fields of the family’s land. The body had been hidden in the woods under two logs and a pine tree branch. It was believed that Cannady was killed with a hammer taken from her family’s farm.
After the body was discovered, Sheriff Flake Chambliss focused on two suspects: Claude Neal and Calvin Cross, who was white. Sheriff Chambliss received numerous reports that Neal had been seen in the field by the same water pump Cannady walked to that evening. A quick arrest was made, and Neal was held in jail for about two hours.
Although the evidence gathered against Neal was enough for him to be a prime suspect in the murder, it was not enough to completely prove that he was guilty of the crime. Supposedly, there was evidence found in Neal’s home that the sheriff believed linked him back to the crime. Bloody clothes were found, cuts were on Neal’s hands, and his explanations of his whereabouts and cuts were not consistent.
However, there were rumors spreading that Cannady had been murdered by a white man, who had asked Neal’s mother to wash his clothes for payment. However, that was not the only rumor spreading through town. It was also said that a white man who lived in Malone, Florida, had already confessed to killing Cannady and that he had given Neal money in exchange for trading clothes with him after committing the murder.
Neal had not been charged with killing Cannady, but that did not stop the lynch mobs from gathering and searching for him. Once the newspapers began spreading the news about Neal being a suspect, the lynch mobs believed they had their killer. Neal was moved about several times from jail to jail, and he was held under the alias John Smith for vagrancy.
On October 22, Neal confessed that he and another black man named Herbert Smith raped had murdered Lola Cannady. He also later made another confession and stated that he had acted alone. On October 26, a small mob of people arrived in Brewton; while one group distracted the sheriff, others arrived at the jail where they searched the cells and captured Neal. They took him back to Jackson County and, while doing so, continued reassuring one another that what they were doing was justified. A large group formed to witness the Neal lynching on the Cannady family’s land, and estimates of the crowd’s size ranged from hundreds to several thousand.
Neal was then tortured and subjected to castration, forced auto-cannibalism of his genitalia. He was repeatedly stabbed, burned with hot irons, and had his toes and fingers removed. He was then hanged before the group finally killed him. After he was murdered, his corpse was tied to an automobile and drove across the Cannady property. George Cannady added three bullets to Neal’s forehead since he hadn’t taken part in the actual murder. The lynch mob began riots and began burning the homes of innocent blacks living in the area.
The National Guard had to be called in to gain control over the town. After the lynching of Claude Neal, many white southerners began to rethink the racist practice.