By Jennie Jones Giles
When Charles Hill and Larry Shipman made the grisly discovery of the three bodies in a grassy clearing behind the Lake Summit dam, their first thought was to alert the law.
They drove back down the quarter-mile dirt trail to North Lake Summit Road to find a telephone. There were no cell phones, few houses. It would do no good to drive the half mile back to U.S. 176 near the “High Bridge” over Green River.
Few people lived on the winding mountain road, the main highway from Hendersonville to Spartanburg.
“My grandmother lived down the road, so we went there to make the phone call,” Hill said.
The quickest way from Hendersonville to the scene was down the mountain on U.S. 176. Though close to completion, Interstate 26 was not yet open for traffic. Four Seasons Boulevard did not exist.
“They sent Ray Allen down,” Hill said. “Ray Allen drove the ambulance. He worked for Jackson’s (funeral service). He drove a red ambulance. I don’t think they believed us at first.”
Within a few hours, the Henderson County Rescue Squad, Sheriff’s deputies, Hendersonville police officers, Highway Patrol troopers and others converged on the clearing.
From their first contact with the crime scene, inexperienced investigators made mistakes that made solving the case more difficult.
Officers tromped around the isolated spot in disbelief, touching evidence, picking up objects.
“It looked like a herd of buffalo walked all over the crime scene,” Hendersonville Police Chief Bill Powers said in an interview 40 years later. “I’m sure the stuff there could have assisted in the investigation.”
Procedures were nothing like those depicted on “CSI Miami.”
“Law enforcement didn’t have the knowledge and training they have today,” said retired Buncombe County Sheriff’s Lt. Harold Crisp. “They didn’t preserve the crime scene.”
Law officers from Hendersonville, Henderson County, Buncombe County, the Highway Patrol and the SBI all showed up. Yet early on, no single agency took charge.
The location of the bodies made the murder a Sheriff’s Department case, but other agencies had a stake.
The city Police Department was investigating the missing person reports of Shipman and Glass.
The SBI, which eventually took over as the lead investigating agency, had superior technical tools and more advanced training.
The Buncombe County deputies and Highway Patrol troopers showed up if for no other reason than the magnitude of the crime.
A brutal killing
The inability to preserve important evidence from the scene was not entirely the fault of the lawmen. Nature did its part, too.
The bodies had been there for days in temperatures in the mid to high 80s, and through several summer thunderstorms.
Using flash bulbs and vehicle headlights for illumination, investigators made crime scene photos that night. The photos show blood stains on the grass and severe decomposition of the bodies. They hint at the killer’s brutality.
The bodies of the two men and a woman were lying in a crude semi-circle. The woman was on the far right. Grass near the victims’ heads was stained with blood. Each victim suffered brutal blows to the head that crushed their skulls.
All three victims were on their backs.
A wallet found in the grass identified one victim as Vernon Shipman. There was no money in the wallet.
A small change purse also found on the ground contained a driver’s license identifying the female victim as Louise Davis Shumate. The change purse held 16 cents.
Since Shipman’s partner, Charles Glass, who managed the Tempo Music Shop in downtown Hendersonville, was also missing, officers figured Glass was the third victim. His wallet was later found during the autopsy, also containing no money.
The men were fully clothed. Glass, in the middle of the semi-circle, had on a blue pin-striped shirt with navy blue pants and coat. He was wearing gray socks, with a boot on his left foot and a loafer on his right foot. Glass had suffered a broken leg several months earlier and was still using crutches. His right arm was folded across his chest.
Shipman, on the far left of the semi-circle, was wearing a blue pin-striped shirt and blue pants. He was wearing brown socks and brown Oxfords.
Shumate’s body was exposed. Her light-colored blouse was pulled back from her shoulders, with most of the blouse rolled up under her back. Cloth sandals were still on her feet. Her black slacks were pulled below her knees. A black bra was found a few feet away. She had been sexually violated with the upright portion of a car jack.
Each victim wore a watch.
Glass wore a self-winding calendar watch, the type that would slowly stop working if there was no movement. It had stopped at 1:58. It is not known how long it would take for the watch to stop or if it had stopped in the afternoon or at night.
An empty Schenle Scotch whiskey bottle was placed across the woman’s neck, atop a scarf. The bottle had an ABC stamp showing that it had been purchased at the liquor store in Hendersonville.
Shumate’s prescription sunglasses were found in the grass nearby.
Some clues touched off rumors about the occult.
A pair of crutches was placed in a cross shape on Glass’ chest.
A piece of scrap iron, an eighth-inch thick, an inch wide and 18 inches long was placed across Shipman’s neck.
There were puncture wounds of some type on the bodies of the woman and Glass.
“We thought, when we first got there, they were made with a shotgun,” Powers said.
Later autopsies determined these wounds were not made from a shotgun but from a sharp-pointed object.
Contrary to rumors still circulating today, there was no other mutilation of the bodies and no sexual assault of the two men.
An agent with the State Bureau of Investigation arrived from Asheville by 10 p.m.
The two young men who stumbled on the bodies, Charles Hill and Larry Shipman, were still at the scene waiting on Henderson County Sheriff Paul Hill to arrive. Hill arrived sometime after the SBI agent.
“It was 2:30 (a.m.) when they let me go home,” Charles Hill said.
By Saturday morning, residents of Henderson and surrounding counties could talk of nothing else. The triple slaying was the most sensational crime in the county’s history.
The Saturday afternoon edition of the Times-News headline announced the news in black letters across the top: “Bodies Found in Triple Slaying.” The issue broke all-time sales records, as readers snapped up 10,000 copies.
“No resident, young or old, could recall when an incident similar to the one reported today had taken place,” editor Mead Parce wrote in that day’s Times-News. “The triple slaying is the worst known case of homicide in Henderson County history.”
The New York Daily News and other big-city papers sent reporters to Hendersonville, known as a pleasant mountain resort town if it was known at all.
“America was still a very wonderful place to grow up, but for me that started to change after that,” said Robin Farquhar, executive director of the Flat Rock Playhouse, who was 16 that year. “I think the community was surprised and horrified that something like this could happen in sleepy little Hendersonville. I guess our innocence was shattered by that situation.”
Farquhar said he couldn’t remember how he first heard about the murders, but he does remember the news coverage that followed.
“A lot of outside news people came here to talk about it and the community certainly was abuzz about it,” he said. “I know it suddenly became clear that something big had happened.”