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  • Synopsis of Lydia Story

  • Payday In the Swamp

  • Melton's Trial

  • Double-Crossing Governor  Eugene Talmadge

Payday In the Swamp

by Jim Steeley

Lydia Smith Stone Crews was the daughter of an old Indian fighter, William Smith.  She was raised on Cowhouse Island in the Okefenokee Swamp to be furiously independent.

Lydia became a legend in her own time as the “Queen of

the Okefenokee”.

When she was a small girl, Lydia’s pappy, William Smith,

as was his practice with all of his daughters, gave her a cow

and a sow with these words, “Take care of them and they will make you some money”.

Taking that word to heart, Lydia became a very shrewd

business woman – often stating, “I can out figure any man alive. I can make 4 or 5 dollars from  every dollar that I can lay my hands on and I don’t waste it by getting on the train and riding it out.”

As her reputation grew, she became known as a woman not

to be trifled with. She became both feared and respected by

those who knew or worked for her. From that cow and sow,

Lydia amassed a fortune in cattle, land, and timber. She has become the subject of many stories — some true, some just stories and some told so often they have become legends.

Lydia ran a large timber and crosstie business on Cow-

house Island at the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in the early part of 1900s in Charlton County, Georgia. She always managed her own affairs –she didn’t leave it for others to do. So, it was her custom to ride out on her mule to check on her workers.

On this particular day, she rode out to pay off the “woods

workers.” These men were cutting and hewing crossties that

she sold to the railroad. As the men lined up for their pay, she noticed that one fellow was still wearing dry clothes at the end of the day. Without a word, she lifted 

her skirt, walked through the water, climbed up onto a stump and declared, “Leroy, you have worked harder today to stay dry than you have for me. If you want your money you are going to get wet to get it!”

No doubt after that event, the word quickly got around

that if you didn’t want trouble with Miss Lydia, you better

make sure you didn’t ask for your pay in dry clothes!

This story was told to me by Mrs. Lillie Morgan, our house-

keeper, in Folkston, Georgia, in


SYNOPSIS of Lydia's Story, leading into trial and then double crossing the governor.

Lydia’s Siblings


Mary was the first of the eight daughters born to William and Sarah Stewart Smith. Very little information could be found concerning Mary, apart from the fact that she was listed as being eleven years old in the 1850 census of Ware County, Ga. When the 1860 census was taken ten years later she was not living in the William Smith household. She may have married and moved away.

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Born on New Yearís Eve, 1847, Martha Jane Smith was the second daughter born into the family. Marthaís health was apparently frail, for throughout her life she had attendants living with her. When she was thirty-one years old, a companion, Nancy Floyd, age 15, lived with her. In 1900, Sarah A. Crews, age 16, was living with Martha. No record was found showing that Martha ever married. She died October 29, 1923 and was buried in Bachlott Cemetery in Brantley County. [Cemeteries and More of Brantley County, Ga. by Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society, page 308; 1850 Census of Ware County, Ga.; 1880 Census of Charlton County, Ga.; 1900 Census of Charlton County, Ga. and Charlton County Herald, March 12, 1920, Dora Todd obituary.]

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The third daughter of William and Sarah Smith was Georgia Ann, born September l, 1850. She married Paul Columbus Johns. [1860 Census of Charlton County, Ga.; Cemeteries and More of Brantley County, Ga. by Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society, pp. 180, 186.]

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Keziah Caroline, born May 26, 1853, married Israel Champion ìChampî Johns, brother of Georgia Annís husband, Paul Columbus Johns. The children of this couple and the children of Georgia Ann and Paul Columbus Johns enjoyed a unique bond of kinship since their parents were two sisters who married two brothers, and they produced children that were double-first cousins. In the 1880 census of Charlton County, Ga. the Kizzie and Champ Johns family included Franklin C., age 9; Jeremiah G, 8; William, 7; Hilliam, 6; Elizabeth, 5 and Martha one year old. Keziah died July 22, 1885 and is buried in the Bachlott Cemetery, Brantley County, Ga. [Cemeteries and More of Brantley County, Ga. by Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society, p. 182, 183; 1880 Census of Charlton County, Ga.]

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Nancy was the fifth daughter. Like her some of her sisters she was destined to grow to be very tall with a strong stature. She was born July 9, 1856, remained single all her life and died at age 56 on June 27, 1912. She is buried in High Bluff Cemetery in Brantley County, Ga. [Charlton County, Georgia Historical Notes 1972, page 264; Cemeteries and More of Brantley County, Ga. by Brantley County Historical and Preservation Society, page 308.]

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William and Sarah Smithís sixth daughter, Sarah, was born about 1858. Like her sisters, Sarah too was destined to grow up to be a very large woman. She also shared their traits of becoming exceptionally strong and self-reliant. And sadly, like her sister Hannah, she was later to choose a murderer as her companion. [1860 Census of Charlton County, Ga., Family No. 17.]

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Born about 1861, Hannah also inherited her fatherís genes and was destined to grow up to be robust, exceptionally strong and well over six feet tall. Because of her size, her nickname was ìBig Six.î She never married. [Charlton County, Georgia Historical Notes 1972, page 264]


Undisputed Facts

Around ten oíclock on the evening of February 15, 1931, while Layton Hendricks and Alvie Bostick were on Hendricksí front porch, Melton Crews stepped out of the darkness and raised his shotgun. He hollered ìHalt!î and when Hendricks tried to escape, he shot him. The buckshot caught him in the leg, and he fell to the ground. While Melton reloaded, Alvie Bostic ran around in back of the house to escape. Melton chased him and took a shot at him too, but he missed.

Several neighbors heard the report of the gun and the excited voices and came to see what had happened. Melton returned to the spot where Hendricks lay on the ground. Still holding his shotgun, he and Lydia watched as Hendricks lay begging to be taken to the hospital in Waycross. It was not until two hours later, just after midnight, that he was carried into his house. Finally an ambulance arrived and he was taken to the hospital in Waycross. By that time he had lost a great deal of blood.

Witness Tampering

Over the next two weeks, while Hendricks remained in the hospital, Alvie and Addie Mae Bostic continued to work and board with Lydia and Melton. Hendricksí condition declined steadily. Two weeks later (Saturday, February 28), the Grand Jury convened to investigate the shooting. They summoned Alvie Bostic and his wife to testify.

Lydia advised the couple to leave the county, and she gave them money to hasten them along their way. HOW DID THIS COME OUT IN THE TRIAL? CAN WE BOLDLY STATE THAT IT HAPPENED? LYDIA DIDNíT CONFESS IN THE CONTEMPT PAPERS THAT SHE DID THIS. The disappearance of the only eye-witness to the shooting hampered the inquiry. But when the court convened for its regular session the following Monday, word reached Folkston that Layton Hendricks had died during surgery. The shooting investigation became a murder inquiry and the grand jury immediately charged Melton with voluntary manslaughter.

The Sheriff located the Bostics in Pearson, at the home of Addie Maeís father. They were placed under arrest and brought to the jail in Folkston, where they were held as material witnesses (with privileges to come and go as they pleased) until a special session of court was called to bring the case to trial.

Lydia was then served with a petition to show cause why she should not be fined for Contempt of Court. The Solicitor-General alledged that: ìAs soon as the said Mrs. Lydia Crews learned that Mr. and Mrs. Bostic had received a subpoena to appear before the Grand Jury of Charlton County, Georgia, for the purpose of giving evidence as to whom and in what manner and under what circumstance J. Melton Crews had shot and seriously wounded Layton Hendricks, who has since died from said shooting, she advised, urged, assisted and caused Mr. and Mrs. Bostic to hide and secrete themselves from court and cause them to leave the county in order to keep them from testifying against her husband about the shooting.î [No. 14, The State v Lydia Crews, filed in Charlton County Superior Court Clerkís office March 10, 1931; and served on Lidy Crews ìpearsonalyî by W.H. Mizell, Sheriff on the same day.]

In her defense Lydia denied knowing that the Bostics had been summoned before the grand jury. She denied that Hendricks had died from the gunshot wound (as opposed to an infection that set in later). She denied knowing of any charge pending against Melton (since there had been no warrant for him at the time); and she insisted that if the matter was ever to proceed to trial, Alvie Bostic and his wife would be witnesses for the defense. She testified that the couple had spoken freely with her in the days since the shooting, and that all of their comments had been favorable to Melton.

The Indictment

The State charged that Melton ìÖwillfully and of his malice aforethought did kill and murder by shooting the said Layton Hendrix with a certain shot gun which the said J. Melton Crews then and there held, and giving to the said Layton Hendrix then and there a mortal wound, of which mortal wound the said Layton Hendrix died Öî

Grand Jurors named on the true bill were L. Knabb, Foreman, T.E. Bryant, J.F. Larkins, J.M. Wilson, S.F. Canaday, E.H. Wright, O.K. Prevatt, Chas. H. Gibson, J.T. Thrift, Henry Mancill, G.C. Hodges, James Raulerson, W.O. Raulerson, W.W. Chism, W.H. Quarterman, V.A. Quarterman, G.W. Allen, Noah Stokes, C.J. Altman, J.D. Roddenberry, W.L. Chancey, J.M. Canaday and J.P. Russell. Named as witnesses on the indictment were Allen Carter, Otis Robinson, Hatty OíBerry, Mrs. Arthur (not legible), Mrs. Bertie Hendricks, Easton Ricketson, O.M. Hines, Dr. Will Folks, Dr. H.A. Seaman, Addie Mae Bostic, Alvin Bostic and Robert Rice.

A reporter disdainfully wrote, ìIt appears that Crews has been lording over that territory.î [Charlton County

Herald, March 6, 1931.]

Trial was set for May 28, 1931, at a special term of the court. Lydia hired Blalock & Blalock, of Waycross and Mingledorff and Gibson of Douglas, to present Meltonís defense.

Meltonís Statement:

ìShe (Mrs. Hendricks) went on to the house and back over there frightened and said somebody was trying to break in. I said ìMaybe it is Layton and Alvieî and she says, ìNo, I called Layton and if it had been Layton he would have answered me. Somebody else.î

ìMe and Miss Lydia walked over there and looked all around the house and didnít see anybody, and we come back and she asked Bosticís wife to go over there with her to get the baby. She had left him over there. And she went over there and come back and said she seen them run away from the house again.

ìI was standing in the hall and she come in there and she says, ìYou go out at the back way and slip around and see if you can find out who it is,î and as I started out I told Miss Lydia to cut the lights out, and she cut them out on the front porch, and I went out the back way and went around the garage and come back around the back of the house.

ìWhen I got about half way around the house I heard a screen window tearing off, and as I entered sort of around the house he seen me before I seen him, and dashed to run, and I hollered, ìHalt!î and he didnít Ö give no answer, and as he went over the fence they hadnít made no alarm yet; and after I fired the first time I seen the glimpse of the other boy running, and I went back around the house the other way, and he was going out toward the bushes, and I heard the rattle of the bushes and I fired again.

ìI didnít know who it was, and I hated I shot the boy. We always have been friends, and hated it till yet, and I am mighty sorry I had to do what I done. I wouldnít have done it for nothing in the world if I had knowed who the boy was.î

Blalock presented testimony that Hendricks had been drinking and that he refused all help, and was finally carried inside under his own protests.

Percy Walker, who drove the Sheriff to Racepond that night, said he never saw Melton or Lydia try to keep anyone away or prevent them from helping Hendricks. The doctor who arrived on the scene said Lydia told him ìDo all you can for himî and that she would pay the bills. He said Melton told him he thought the men were burglars.

The Nurse

A nurse from the Kingís Daughtersí Hospital in Waycross said Hendricks told her that Melton didnít know who he was shooting at, and that he felt sure that if Melton had known who it was that he would not have shot; that Lydia and Melton were the best friends he had in the world, and that he felt not the slightest ill-feeling toward them, and that when he got well he intended to return to live at their place.

Dr. ÖÖÖ Williams testified that Hendricks died three weeks after the shooting as a result of infections in the wound. Blalock suggested that it could even have been caused by the ether used in surgery:

Blalock: Too much ether will kill anybody?

Dr. Williams: Yes.

Blalock: A person never regain consciousness, but remain

between twilight and death, and the spark of life flickers out?

Dr. Williams: A very easy way of going. I hope I go that way.

Blalock: Witness excused.

The Stateís Case

The State produced three main witnesses, Alvie Bostic and his wife, and Mrs. Hendricks, the wife of the victim. All of them contradicted Meltonís account of the shooting and said that Melton was aware that the noises were not made by burglars, but by Layton Hendricks and Alvie Bostic.

Alvie Bostic's Testimony

Bostic told his story to a packed court room when he took the stand as the only eyewitness. He said Hendricks had been unhappy lately and had said ìI am going to leave this here damn placeÖ..I am going to get drunk, raise Hell and bust Racepond wide open and go to South America or somewhere else.

The Day and Night of the Shooting

After supper that Sunday night, he and Hendricks went out to feed the mules. They had been drinking but were not drunk. Hendricks said he was going to leave. He wanted to go home and take his best suit out of the house without his wife knowing. The two men carefully stayed in the shadows as they approached Hendricksí house. While Bostic remained in the shadow about twenty feet away, Hendricks played a game of cat and mouse with his wife. He knocked on the banister of the front porch and ran back into the shadows with Bostic. Addie Mae came out on the porch with a shotgun. She said ìI knew if it was anybody besides Layton I could bluff them but I knew if it was him I couldnít because he knew there wasnít a shell on the place, and he knew I didnít know how to handle the gun; and I heard the boys laughing out the back of the house; so I went back in the house and I didnít know but what Miss Lydia and Melton would go to bed and turn the lights off. I didnít know but what Layton would go on off. Maybe he was drinking some Ö. that is the reason he was out like he was, around my house.î She snapped the gun and looked around for a moment, and then went back inside.

Mrs. Hendricks was frightened, and moments later she ran next door to Lydiaís house. Hendricks went around back and entered the house through the back door and Bostic went up onto the front porch to wait for him.

While he was sitting on the porch, he saw Melton walking around outside with his shotgun. ìI didnít know what he was doing with the gun,î he said. Hendricks came out through a window on the front porch and said that he could not get to his suit because of a locked door inside the house. He went back for a few moments, and just as he emerged through the window again, Melton appeared. Hendricks bolted away and jumped over the banister, as the shot rang out. Bostic said, ìI looked around and glimpsed him and the smoke out of the gun, and Hendricks fell over.

Bostic said he ran behind the house while Melton reloaded his shotgun and chased him. He stumbled and fell just as Melton fired and the shot hit the old cypress corner post of Hendrickís cane patch, about two feet away.

He testified that the shooting was without justification; that Hendricks was in full view, and that Melton had to know who he was shooting.

He said Lydia came outside and she and Melton stood over Hendricks and did not offer him any help. He sat on the ground and put Hendricksí head in his lap and tried to calm him. ìÖit was mighty cold weather ÖÖ He was lying there shaking and freezing to death and bleeding and I sent my wife into Hendricksí house and brought some quilts out there and I had taken them and tucked them under him the best I could.

Witness Tampering 

Bostic testified that immediately following the shooting, Lydia renewed the employment arrangements of himself and his wife, and for the next two weeks they continued boarding and working in Racepond. On Saturday, February 28, the grand jury convened to investigate the shooting. They summoned Bostic to appear before them as the only eyewitness.

ìMiss Lydia thought they were going to jerk me down here and put me in the chain gang account of drinking a little whiskey, or messing with it, and she had told me that the best thing I could do was to get on away from there.

He said he accompanied Mr. Rowan, a fur trader, to Kingsland. When he told Rowan he was going to Pearson, Rowan said he was also going there in a day or two and he invited him to go fishing with him and then to Pearson.

To help Bostic get out of the county, Lydia excused a debt that he owed for some furniture he had recently bought from her. She also returned the ten dollars he had already paid and that gave him enough money to get out of the county until the matter subsided. 

The sheriff assumed he would be at Mrs. Bosticís fatherís home in Pearson, went there and arrested the couple and brought them to the jail in Folkston.

Mrs. Hendrickís testimony

Hendricksí wife testified that the light from Lydiaís porch was sufficient for Melton to have seen Layton Hendricksí face at the moment of the shooting.

Mrs. Hendricks said ì I went over to Miss Lydiaís house, and before I got to the gate I noticed Melton walking up and down the porch and before I got to her gate he says "Didn't somebody hit on your porch?í  I says ëYes, but it was Layton.í ì

She said she was concerned because she knew the two men had had words earlier that evening, when Layton accused Melton of stealing some of his whiskey. She said that Melton and Layton had argued over a broken flashlight earlier in the evening and Melton had been angry that Hendricks had broken it and said it was because he was drunk.

A few moments later, while they were inside Lydiaís house, ìMelton come through the hall and Mrs. Bostic says ëIt is Alvie and Laytoní. She says, ëThey are on the front porch.í And time she said that, he went just like that. I said ëMelton, donít go do nothing to those boys,í but of course he didnít notice anything I said; and I thinks this wonít do. Before we had time to do anything Melton had the gun and was going through the hall, and that upset me so I asked him not to bother the boys. I had just pulled off my shoes and I started to put one on and I think maybe I can run out there and tell him Melton is coming with the gun and by the time I got to the door barefooted I heard the gun fire. I heard my husband holler, and he went to calling me. He (Melton) knew who it was. He had to know. He was told.î

Mrs. Addie Mae Bostic stated that about five minutes earlier, Melton had said ìLayton was messing around to get killed, and he reckoned he could be the one done it.

I heard him say that Hendricks accused him of stealing some whiskey. That was about half an hour earlier. Ö.He asked me when he come in who that was on the porch, and I told him it was Alvah. ìWell,î he said, ìI done liked to have shot him.î 

Mrs. Bostic and Mrs. Hendricks sat fearful in the side bedroom, nearest the Hendricks house, with the lights turned off. Melton went out again with his gun, and returned and went out through the back way, and in a few minutes I (Mrs. Bostic) heard a gun fire and learned that Hendricks had been shot. 

One of the witnesses called by the State was Dr. William Morgan Folks. He had come from a family of several generations of doctors and was the grandson of the Dr. William Barden Folks who was the namesake of Folkston. [History of Ware County, Ga., Revised by Laura Singleton Walker and Marcia M. Black, pp 375, 380.]

In the end, the State was unable to prove any of the accusations that Melton and Lydia had stood over Hendricks and held him at gunpoint on the ground while he was wounded and bleeding. Witness after witness affirmed that Hendricks was there because he refused to allow anyone to move him, refused to see the doctor in Folkston and insisted on being taken to Waycross. A substantial case could have been made that Hendricks contributed to his own mortality by those actions, which delayed his emergency medical care by three hours.

The Verdict ñ Motion for a New Trial Fails ñ Appeal fails

Finally, it was the eyewitness testimony that swayed the jury. The jurors returned their verdict the next day, May 29, 1931, finding Melton guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter. Oscar E. Raynor, one of Meltonís close friends, was foreman of the jury. Others serving on this case were John D. Mizell, J.P. Russell, Earnie Bell, W.R. Dinkins, V.D. Bennett, Henry Smith, R.E. Chesser, H.P. Bryant, Henry Mansell, J.S. Joyner and W.H. Robinson. It appears that two men served on both the grand jury and trial jury in this case.

In the end, Blalock had failed to persuade the jury. Meltonís sentence was to serve not less than fifteen and not more than twenty years in the Georgia state penitentiary.

Blalock and Blalock filed a motion for a new trial, which ended in failure. When they attempted to have the verdict overturned on appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court on February 3, 1932 and all the legal proceedings were over. In February 1932 Melton was assigned to the Pierce County chain gang in nearby Blackshear, to begin his sentence.

Melton Crews has been assigned to the Pierce County gang

and was taken there last week to begin his sentence. All efforts in his behalf have ceased and it is generally understood that after a certain time application will be made for his release on probation. Crews, it has been said, will make every effort to become a model prisoner, to gain the good favor of the officials. His being placed in Pierce gives his family and friends an opportunity to see him, and his aged wife to encourage him. His sentence was 15 to 20 years.

Charlton County Herald

March 4, 1932

[1] The men were Joseph C. Allen, George W. Anderson, William J. Dinkins, Joseph H. Gainey, James V. Gowen, Charles L. Mattox, Owen K. Robinson, Jesse W. Vickery.

[i]Our Georgia-Florida Frontier: Part VI, The Seminoles: Seminole Wars to 1838, p. 43-4 by Albert Hazen Wright

[ii]History of Charlton County, Ga. by Alex S. McQueen, p. 163.

[iii]History of Charlton County, p. 42-6

But the story doesn't end there...--

Lydia purchased Melton's freedom from Gov. Gene Talmage with a bribe for $2000. She gave him $1000 in person, and promised to pay another $1000 when Melton was set free, but she never paid the governor the second payment, and he was forced to drop the matter.

from DeBrahm's Report
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