MURDER INTRIGUE DEEPENS
By Jennie Jones Giles
In the days following the discovery of the three murder victims, Henderson County residents began talking more openly about the male victims’ gay lifestyle, drugs and wild parties.
The mysterious presence of a female victim only added to the intrigue.
Glass and Shipman were gay men in a conservative, southern Appalachian Bible-belt community. It was a time in history and in a place where homosexuality was only discussed in whispers behind closed doors if at all.
Yet most residents knew Glass and Shipman were gay, and knew it before they were murdered.
“We had a report of Shipman and Glass missing prior to the bodies being found,” said retired Hendersonville Police Chief Bill Powers. “Both being homosexuals, we thought they were probably off partying some place.”
“After the murders, we kept hearing about all these closet homosexuals,” said former Tempo Music Shop employee Lynn Martin Blackwell. “But before the murders, the only people anyone knew were gay were Charles and Vernon.”
Some of the investigation led to a presumption that the pool of possible suspects was a large one.
“That man (Glass) had relationships with wealthy, prominent men all over Asheville and Hendersonville,” said a former SBI agent who investigated the murders.
As investigators followed leads among the gays of Western North Carolina, they also had to look at aspects of voodoo, possible Klan involvement and illegal drugs.
A higher priority also emerged for investigators: Who was Louise Davis Shumate and did she know Glass and Shipman?
“I believe the perpetrator tried to make it look as if voodoo was connected,” Powers said.
Glass wrote and sold a pamphlet on voodoo. He sold hexes and charms.
As late as 1985 – 19 years after the murders – the Spectator, a weekly newspaper in the Triangle area of Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham, published a story “Voodoo Suspected in Murders.”
The story quoted a Winston-Salem newspaper article from 1966. “The murders stumped officers and started talk about voodoo sacrifices in this part of North Carolina’s mountains,” it said.
Glass’s friendship with black jazz and R&B singers, and the visit of blues singer Esther Phillips to his home, added to the community’s conjectures. Most everyone in town knew that a cross was burned in Glass’s yard after her visit.
Adding to the Klan speculation was this: A cross burning took place 12 days after the murder about a quarter mile from the clearing where the bodies were discovered.
“The burning cross was reported about 4:30 a.m.,” Times-News editor Mead Parce wrote at the time.
The cross was about 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall and burning in the middle of the road. Powers and Henderson County Sheriff Paul Hill both called the incident a juvenile prank.
Involvement by Klan members in the murders was ruled out by all investigators. And the murder of Shumate did not lend credence to the Klan theory.
Shumate openly told her co-workers that she disliked blacks and integration, said Hendersonville Chief Donnie Parks.
Louise Davis Shumate
Did Shumate know Glass and Shipman? Why was she with them that Sunday in 1966? Was she an innocent victim?
Initial investigators focused on this aspect of the crime and the answers are still being sought.
“Evidence has revealed she had Henderson County connections,” editor Parce wrote in 1966.
It is known that Shumate’s mother was a native of Henderson County and many of her Dermid relatives lived here. Louise had attended St. James Episcopal Church in Hendersonville the weekend before the murders, said a family member in 1966.
An automobile license plate was issued from the Hendersonville Department of Motor Vehicle’s office to Shumate. The address given was Clairmont Terrace. There was not a Clairmont Terrace in Hendersonville, but there was a Clairmont Drive. She also used a post office box in Horse Shoe.
“It appears that the fourth person (in Shipman’s car July 17, 1966) was a friend of Mrs. Shumate rather than of Glass and Shipman,” an unnamed investigator said in an article written in the Asheville Citizen.
Some newspaper stories in 1966 said that blackberries were found at the site where her car was found on Old N.C. 191. The berries were “strewn about the area and a jar was found in which blackberries had been picked,” the Asheville Citizen reported.
SBI agent Gary Satterfield, the lead agent investigating the murders in 1966 and 1967, said there was no evidence Shumate was picking blackberries. There were no blackberries strewn about the area and no jar.
Shumate had gone with a friend to the site along the French Broad River to pick blackberries in past years. Blackberries were ripe for picking in July. But, there was nothing at the scene to indicate Shumate was picking blackberries or planned to pick blackberries.
Despite this lack of evidence, some investigators continued to speculate that Shumate was picking blackberries that Sunday in 1966 when the murderer, with Shipman and Glass, happened upon her.
“We never could make an association with Shumate and these two men,” Powers said. “It appeared she was out on the old Mills River Road picking blackberries. Those two may have just happened up on her.”
“She was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” retired Buncombe County Lt. Harold Crisp said.
Shumate was seen in the weeks preceding the murder on dates with a Hendersonville resident who was married, a present-day source told the Times-News.
Shumate’s niece, Linda Shirlin of Buncombe County, said her aunt would spend weekends and weeks at a time in Henderson County with a friend.
When Shumate bought her 1962 Ford Fairlane in November 1965, she took it by her niece’s home to show the family.
“I have a very good friend who has a car almost just like mine,” Shumate told Shirlin.
When the family found out after the murder about Shipman’s car, also a 1962 Ford Fairlane, “we felt certain Shipman was the very good friend,” Shirlin said.
Shirlin’s father, Shumate’s brother, died in 1988.
“He always wondered what she was doing with those men,” Shirlin said. “He believed she had gone to visit one of them. She loved to party with her friends.”
The Times-News reported in a story following the murders that a woman visited Glass when he was hospitalized at Pardee Hospital in the winter of 1965-66. The source, an unnamed hospital employee, identified Shumate from a photograph as the female visitor.
A witness told investigators that, in the summer of 1965, Glass and Shipman had a party at the George Vanderbilt Hotel in Asheville, where Glass was a night clerk. A woman named Virginia was called, who in turn called a woman named Louise to come to the party. The witness said this woman was Shumate.
The late “Happy” Sotolongo worked at Tempo Music Shop in the spring of 1966. Sotolongo told investigators that in May 1966 Glass’ aunts Dorothy Glass and Eleanor Adams and another woman were in the back of the shop drinking wine.
Glass introduced this woman to Sotolongo as his “foster aunt Louise of Asheville.” Sotolongo identified Shumate from a photo as the woman Glass referred to as his foster aunt.
Co-workers of Shumate’s at the Taylor Instrument Co. in Arden noticed that every night but Thursday, Shumate would leave work from her second-shift job and drive toward Asheville. On Thursdays, she drove toward Hendersonville.
“Every Thursday, Shumate brought a package to work and left it with the security guard in the guard station,” said a co-worker who asked to remain anonymous. “It was a brown package, wrapped tightly with string, like you used to get in hardware stores.”
Speculation among employees about the contents of the brown package was the main topic of conversation after the murders. Some co-workers speculated it was drugs.
Shumate’s family also speculated about drugs. The family suspects Shumate may have been addicted to prescription pain killers, Shirlin said.
“Back then, people didn’t label prescription drugs in the same category as other illegal drugs,” Shirlin said.
Before her mother’s death in 1965, Shumate tried to get Shirlin’s father to renew their mother’s prescription, but he wouldn’t, Shirlin said.
“He said she didn’t need them,” she said. “Aunt Louise got mad. There was an argument. Aunt Louise wanted the pain medicine.”
Shirlin wondered if Shumate may have been getting the pain pills illegally.
Drugs were at the parties at Glass’ house, several sources said. Drugs found at the parties were marijuana and Dexedrine and Benzedrine, both stimulants.
“Shipman and Glass catered the nightclubs in Asheville,” said retired Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department deputy John Harrison. “Word was they gave drugs for sexual favors.”
Two other mysteries relating to Shumate still puzzle her family. Following the murders, Shumate’s brother came into possession of a diamond ring that belonged to Shumate, her nephew, Sam Davis of Fletcher, said in a recent interview.
Engraved on the inside of the ring are the initials “LDR.” Davis said the last initial is definitely an “R,” not a “S.”
“Dad wondered if maybe she had married a second time and didn’t tell us,” Davis said.
A couple of years after her death, her brother received a call from an official with the Asheville Federal Savings and Loan. Shumate had a savings account with the bank and the amount was $12,000, Davis said.
“Dad had no idea how she came into possession of $12,000,” Davis said.
In 1966, $12,000 was a large amount of money, equivalent of $72,240 today; more than a person who spent her career employed at department stores would normally be able to save.
Investigators were also searching for the identity of the fourth person seen in the car with Shipman, Glass and Shumate on Sunday, July 17, 1966.
Three witnesses told investigators the man was sitting in the back seat next to Shumate.
One witness described the man as wearing an outdated blue pin-stripe suit. He was tall and thin and had thin light-colored hair. He wore wrap-around sunglasses.
A composite sketch was drawn. The sketch was drawn from a kit. Two sketches were recently recreated of the suspect.
Despite 40 years of searching, the identity of the man is still unknown.
Early in the murder investigation, then Sheriff Paul Hill gave his theory of the murders to the Times-News.
Hill believed that Shumate left her apartment in Asheville at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17. She drove to the spot on the French Broad River, where she was joined by an unknown person or persons. They left in another car, leaving hers at the spot where it was found.
They drove to Hendersonville, where they joined Glass and Shipman at Shipman’s house.
After a phone call at 5:30 p.m., they left Shipman’s house and drove around.
They were seen on Evans and Little River roads. They eventually arrived at the spot where the bodies were found and where they were killed. The killer or killers drove Shipman’s car to the spot where it was found by a group of young people before dark July 17, 1966, about three blocks from Shipman’s home.
From July 1966 to the present, several persons of interest have been investigated, as the third man in the car that Sunday in 1966, and also the possible murderer.
OFFICIALS: NO KLAN, HATE GROUP INVOLVEMENT
By Rand Cheadle
Henderson County natives still speak of the possibility of Klan involvement in the murders. The theory was shared by many, and mentioned by John Sholar, then publisher of the Western Carolina Tribune.
In 1965, “CBS Presents KKK: The Invisible Empire,” reported and narrated by North Carolina native Charles Kuralt, hit the airwaves. It aired again in 1966. The documentary depicted rare scenes of secret meetings and initiations. The battle for civil rights by black Americans was taken as yet another Klan battle cry.
In the mid-60s, the Klan became more visible throughout the nation, making an effort to influence the civil rights agenda.
The mere existence of Charles Glass and Vernon Shipman as gay men violated the Klan’s code of moral standards. The fact that their shop sold black music and Glass’ known friendships within the black community also made him a logical target.
In the early 1960s, Glass’ celebrity black friend, blues singer “Little” Esther Phillips, traveled to Hendersonville by train and was a house guest of Glass. A cross was burned in his yard.
As with other theories, the scene where the bodies were discovered was seen by some as possibly carrying a “message.” The burning cross and cross design of the Klansmen could be echoed in the cross-like silhouettes formed with the victims’ bodies.
Klan executions fit two primary models – a ceremonial hanging or lynching, and the less ceremonious disappearances, where victims were efficiently shot and then the bodies dumped.
In 2006, a written overview of this case, along with the final artist’s rendering of the scene where the bodies were found, were forwarded to Anthony Griggs, a research analyst at the Intelligence Project/Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.
The Intelligence Project monitors hate groups and extremist activities throughout the United States and publishes the quarterly Intelligence Report, providing comprehensive updates to law enforcement agencies, the media and the general public.
“Both myself and our chief investigator looked at this case,” Griggs responded. “We do not see anything that might indicate Klan or any other white supremacist involvement.”
No cryptic Klan message can be read at the site where the bodies were found.
“That doesn’t mean it isn’t possible,” Griggs said, “just that we don’t see any evidence of it.”
There was a Klan recruitment rally in Henderson County two years following the murders. Local folks attended for the novelty aspect. They drove by honking horns and laughing. The robed participants soon packed up and left. As far as anyone knew or could see, the recruitment rally was a failure.
VOODOO THEORY SURFACES
By Rand Cheadle
It was a fascinating theory: A triple murder, each victim’s body made into the form of a cross.
Vernon Shipman’s throat was perpendicularly crossed with an 18-inch length of scrap iron. A liquor bottle was crosswise over Louise Shumate’s neck. And Charles Glass’s crutches were positioned to create a cruciform.
This hideous crime had to be something ritualistic and dark, townspeople said. Something like voodoo.
And Glass’s pastime fueled the rumors. Writing books about potions and hexes under the pseudonym Charles Le Verre, he was a “voodoo” practitioner.
The urges to influence future events, to gain control over one’s environment are found throughout the world. To have some kind of supernatural insurance is what fascinated Glass. But in spite of what he called it, Glass was into hoodoo, not voodoo.
The words hoodoo and voodoo are often used interchangeably.
But hoodoo, “root work,” is a form of traditional folk medicine – a mix of African, American Indian and European uses of plants and herbs combined with folk magic. Glass was a hoodoo practitioner.
Voodoo, more properly referred to as vodun or vodou, is derived from a West African word for “god.” It is a religion with a complex belief system, supernatural beings who can intercede on the part of devotees, and a strong relationship with the after-world, a “world of the dead” whose inhabitants affect the lives of the living. There are sacrificial rites, generally limited to domesticated animals.
Voodoo, a religion of slaves and of those who feared being enslaved, took root in the Americas, where it was quick to absorb many elements of Christianity.
Charles Le Verre
Glass wrote a booklet Tales of Voodoo and Black Magic, compiled by Charles Le Verre, French for “glass,” and published by Tempo Distributors in Hendersonville.
“This book makes no supernatural claims, but it is intended for entertainment and knowledge of mysterious voodoo rites that have been practiced by root doctors,” the booklet says. “The reader reads this volume with no misgiving of claims or guarantees of any practice mentioned herein.”
Glass uses a secondary character to share the herbal and magic formulas, a “wise old priestess named Mama Tebe.”
“A man came to get charms and blessings for luck in the numbers game. A little boy climbed a tree to watch Mama Tebe make the charm. She took a little piece of red cloth and cut it into a piece 2×4 inches. She took a handful of bay leaves from the inside of a skull and crushed them finely on a stone. She then took a needle and thread and sewed up three sides of the cloth to make a bag. Then she crammed the bay leaves into the little bag and muttered at the same time: ‘You will bring luck and wealth to whoever carries you in the name of God.’ She said this 27 times for 27 is a magical number. It is told for 3 times 9 is 27 and 7 equals 9.’”
In this story, Mama Tebe was making a mojo.
The book, mimeographed on pale green paper and fastened with staples, sold for $2. Glass sold copies by mail throughout the United States using ads placed in black American magazines.
Glass was also known to use voodoo dolls, sticking them with pins and performing hexes on people. Sticking pins in dolls is associated with New Orleans hoodoo. The source of this concept is still a mystery.
The victims’ bodies were positioned in a rough semi-circle. In traditional voodoo, a ceremony starts with an intricate design drawn on the ground. A large number of these “veve drawings” were reviewed and few bore any similarity to the pattern made by the bodies.
In true voodoo, the cross establishes a link with the Roman Catholic pantheon of saints or is a symbol of a deity known as “Mawu.”
The liquor bottle on Shumate’s throat is also interesting from the perspective of alcohol being used frequently as an offering in some voodoo rituals.
As a voodoo sacrifice, the mode of death would be completely wrong. Animal sacrifices in voodoo, as in ancient Judaism, are made by cutting the animal’s throat. These victims were killed by blunt force trauma.
Michael Atwood Mason, anthropologist, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., reviewed this case. Mason often consults with Washington-area law enforcement when ritualism is suspected.
“To an anthropologist, the situation is fascinating but none of it is conclusive,” Mason said. “Certainly there are elements of symbolism, such as the form of the cross. But the cross has symbolic meaning in many cultures that don’t at all correspond.”
Most importantly, authoritative sources note that there are no certifiable deaths related to voodoo ceremonies.
“Deliberate and horrifying? Yes,” Mason said. “Voodoo: no.”
Glass used to sell stuff he made as charms. He used to mix an elixir. And he sold voodoo curses.
When it came to voodoo, or hoodoo, maybe Glass was simply a creative entrepreneur. In contemporary talk, one would say that Glass’ mojo was working, he had indisputable charm and charisma.
For some in Hendersonville, maybe his mojo was working too well.
IN 1960s SOUTH, GAY MEN LIVED A LIFE OF SECRECY
By Rand Cheadle
The fact that Charles Glass and Vernon Shipman were gay was one angle of the investigation and a factor in theories of how and why these men, along with Louise Davis Shumate, were killed.
The mid-1960s was a time when homosexuality was talked about somewhat more openly in larger cities and in the media. But openness about gays was not common in a small Southern town like Hendersonville.
In a two-part story in the June 26, 1964, issue of Life magazine, homosexuals were said to be starting to “swarm” in large cities.
In 1966, this was not the case in Hendersonville.
In many towns in the Bible belt in the 1960s, gays had well-organized social networks that were critical for survival and shielding their sexual identity.
Within the gay social networks, there were often the flamboyant or the rebels or those who could not or did not conceal their sexuality. But many tried to pass as heterosexual.
The fear of being “outed” was real. Families, careers and reputations could be destroyed.
Most people knew Glass and Shipman were gay. Glass was more open about it than Shipman.
“That man (Glass) had relationships with wealthy, prominent men all over Asheville and Hendersonville,” a former SBI agent said.
Shipman had only disclosed his sexuality to one co-worker, his employer said, and was a model employee. Shipman’s family roots were deep in Henderson County and his parents were members of the First Baptist Church in Hendersonville. Glass and Shipman operated Tempo Music, a popular record store on Main Street.
The Glass party scene included a wide spectrum of people. It was flavored with Glass’ fascination with the exotic – voodoo, oriental art and culture and R&B music.
In the items sent to the landfill from Glass’ house, “there were a lot of old pictures and books of nude children,” the hauler said.
With titles such as Sunshine and Health and Jaybird, glossy nudist magazines were a phenomenon of the late 1940s through 1960s. The publications were filled with photographs of individuals, couples and entire families with children, engaged in a wide variety of outdoor summer camp activities, such as hiking, camping, barbecuing and swimming.
The most available publications specifically for homosexual men were categorized as “physique” magazines, featuring photographs of athletic men in swimming suits or in athletic or bodybuilder poses. These magazines did not depict any sexual activity.
In the 1960s gays became known to the public only when there were encounters with law enforcement or as victims of violent crimes.
In most states in the 1960s, sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex was a crime. In the South, the sodomy laws began to be vigorously enforced after 1965, with large numbers of men arrested in Southern cities such as Jackson and Hattiesburg, Miss. Gay bars were forced out of business as they were randomly raided for catering to a gay clientele.
The brutal murders of Glass and Shipman brought their sexuality to the forefront, and for some people hiding their sexual orientation became more important.
Following the murders, investigators called on people they identified through Glass’ phone records. A retired SBI agent said many of the gays in the region were shocked and appeared frightened when he visited.
Based on the direction of the investigation in the first months, some well-known residents had reason to believe they would be outed and dragged into a murder trial, purely because they were friends of the victims.
That never happened as the murder investigation ended without a suspect brought to trial.