In late June 1983, I was a newspaper intern for now-defunct Augusta Herald, learning the ropes under editor Deborah Jackson and being tolerated by veteran reporters Don Rhodes and the late Margaret Twiggs.
A call from my brother came: Monty’s been murdered. Could I find out what happened?
There was a confusing, yet thrilling, disconnect as I told Jackson about the call. She immediately told me to call the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.
The investigator – who shouldn’t have been one, and thankfully no longer is one – shrugged me off when I asked if Holice Montgomery “Monty” McAvoy had been killed.
“Yeah, but we’re not releasing anything about it right now,” he said with an air of self-importance.
Needless to say, that dismissive response didn’t satisfy Jackson. With help from someone with more experience, we pulled together the elements and filed a story in that pre-Internet era.
At some point it began to sink in: Monty was dead.
Monty, one of my brother’s best friends, a guy we’d hung out and fished with. He was a carpenter who once decided to build a boat. It was probably unsinkable, but so heavy we were surprised it could float.
Not long before, I had braved a swarm of yellow jackets (by “braved” I mean I ran, yelling and slapping) to operate the backhoe that we used to install a septic tank for his trailer.
He’d been found in the living room of that trailer where he was hooking up a set of stereo speakers. Someone who knew him had shot him in the back of the head, and he wasn’t found for a couple of days.
There have been a lot of murders during my ensuing 30 years in this business, many of which I’ve written about or reported on radio. It still jars me to realize that the first victim was someone I knew personally.
Perhaps that helps me to remember: Every murder victim is one who someone knows personally. Every one of them has someone who cares about them and who deserves, like the victim, some sense of closure.
There hasn’t been any of that yet for Monty, or for Wanda Huggins, or Craig Fallaw, the only three unsolved murders in Columbia County. There might not ever be.
Still, it’s good to know that a better man than that first investigator is working on the cases. Investigator Jimmy Edmunds is just the latest to take on Columbia County’s cold cases files, giving them a fresh look for new angles to explore.
There’s promise in Monty’s case, thanks to information from a neighbor who, inexplicably, wasn’t interviewed during the initial investigation – perhaps because that pompous investigator was too busy blowing off questions from a young reporter.
Best of luck to Edmunds in his pursuit of justice for Monty, for Wanda, and for Craig. They all deserve it.
We all deserve it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/barrypaschal.)