Tonight’s season premiere of A Crime to Remember examines the serial killer Lee Roy Martin, also known as “The Gaffney Strangler.” Martin terrorized a small South Carolina community from 1967 to 1968, killing four girls and forever shocking the country.
How Lee Roy Martin Became “The Gaffney Strangler”
Adding to the complexity of the case, the husband of one of Martin’s victims, Annie Lucille Dedmond, was falsely imprisoned for the murder of his wife. After Dedmond’s murder on May 20, 1967, Martin went on to kill three more women: 20-year-old Nancy Carol Paris, 14-year-old Nancy Christine Rhinehart and 15-year-old Opal Diane Buckson.
Prior to the murder of Buckson, Martin called the editor of The Gaffney Ledger to report the names and locations of the his first three victims. The confession cleared Dedmond’s falsely imprisoned husband, but Martin warned that he intended to take more lives.
Martin’s final victim was abducted while waiting for her school bus. The girl’s body was found in a wooded area several days after her February 13, 1968, abduction.
In the subsequent trial, Martin was reportedly not given adequate right to counsel and thus he did not get the death penalty. Fate caught up with Martin while he was serving four life terms. On May 31 of 1972, Martin was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate, Kenneth Rumsey.
“The Gaffney Strangler” remains one of the most chilling serial killers in American history, but to really understand the impact of Martin’s gruesome acts, you have to understand America in the late 1960s.
A Small Town Is Terrorized By Two Spree Killers
In many ways Gaffney has not changed much since the late 1960s. In 1970, there were 13,131 residents in the Peach Capital of South Carolina and as of 2014, there were still just 12,597 residents. The look of Gaffney, especially the downtown area which is on the historical registry and featured prominently in A Crime to Remember, also remains largely unchanged since 1968.
Despite the size of the small town, Gaffney is home to two serial killers. After Martin’s killing spree, Patrick Tracy Burris shot and killed five people in 2009. Burris, known as a repeat offender, had a 25-page long criminal record before his shooting spree. The first murder occurred in Gaffney on June 27, when Burris shot and killed peach farmer Kline Chase after Burris had inquired about buying hay. After his first murder, Burris went on to shoot and kill four more victims. The deputy director of South Carolina State Law Enforcement Dvision summed up Burris:
“He was unpredictable. He was scary. He was weird.”
Unlike Martin, Burris never made it to trial. After his six day killing spree across a 10-mile stretch surrounding Gaffney, Burris was shot and killed by police.
A Landmark Sparks Controversy And Captures Hollywood’s Attention
As you’ve been reading this and watching tonight’s episode, you might have wondered why you recognize Gaffney. Aside from the town’s infamous criminal history, the city was featured prominently in the Netflix series, House of Cards. The series’ central character, Francis Underwood, hails from Gaffney.
Additionally, Gaffney’s controversial peach-shaped water tower has grabbed national news attention. Outside of Hollywood fame, the water tower, also known as the Peachoid, has been the butt of many jokes due to its suggestive shape. And just this February, the Peachoid got a $120,000 makeover, which prompted another round of media coverage for the small town.
1968 South Carolina: A Pivotal Year In The Civil Rights Movement
It’s difficult to summarize the many groundbreaking and heartbreaking moments of 1968, but several key events shaped South Carolina as Martin was adding to his body count. No doubt the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the spread of school integration should be referenced when considering the time period of these heinous crimes. As noted in the opening moments of A Crime to Remember, the black and white communities were sharply divided across the South. Martin seemed to be a threat to only young white women in Gaffney, but that all changed when he abducted and killed Opal Diane Buckson.
After Buckson’s initial disappearance, the entire community worked together to scan the back woods in hopes of finding the young woman. The racial divide that defined the South was temporarily put on hold as the tiny town desperately tried to stop Martin from taking another life.
Laugh-In Marks The Changing Cultural Tastes
Print media was king in 1968, so it’s no surprise that Martin addressed his disturbing letters to the local Gaffney newspaper. Also consider that in 1968 there was no cable TV, almost no satellite-TV transmissions and no home video recorders. With a captivated audience, the three major networks rounded out the market place for anyone looking for news or entertainment. Despite the relatively limited information sources, times were changing. In 1966 there were only 5 million homes with color televisions, but by 1968 there were nearly 14 million American homes with color televisions.
Looking at the nightly television lineup, you could see the sharp divide between the counterculture’s laugh-in and the “safe” 1960s shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Bonanza,” “Family Affair,” “Gunsmoke” and “Here’s Lucy.” The big screen was also a sign of the changing times, and horror and crime classics like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Bonnie and Clyde” premiered in 1968.
From the civil rights movement to the changing media landscape, 1968 was a pivotal year for America and Lee Roy Martin’s brutal crimes proved to be another sign that innocence was dead.
Get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the series along with sneak peeks into this season’s most memorable cases in the A Crime to Remember immersive site.
Main image: Murderpedia and A/P