Field Director, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Journalist, Author, Cultural Archaeologist
Periodic Instructor, OLLI at UVa
"Find what no one knows is missing.
Lend a voice to those who have none.
Embrace a cause some will hate you for.
Encourage hope, love and understanding in the worst imaginable places for those society condemns."
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THE DEATH PENALTY has been Virginia’s longest continuing tradition dating back to 1608, when George Kendall was shot for treason. Since then, Virginia executed 1,390 people. That is more killings than any other state, including Texas.
During the Jim Crow era, Virginia used hangings, then the electric chair, as legal lynching. Mostly young, Black males were frequently convicted in minutes-long trials then rushed into execution, sometimes with no legal counsel, and for such non-homicide crimes as highway robbery, attempted assault, or even scaring a white schoolgirl.
Click on the picture to read my cover story in the March 16, 2021 edition of Richmond's Style Weekly magazine on how Virginia abolished the death penalty.
SEVENTY YEARS AGO, ON MARCH 5, 1951, the decomposed body of an estimated five-year-old boy was found stuffed in a blue denim army duffel bag just south of U.S. 250 near Oilville Virginia, about 26 miles west of Richmond. This little boy was never identified. His mode of death was never publicly divulged. Unbelievably, he was never reported missing and his body never claimed.
Today, his identity and death remain shrouded in secrecy. Click on the picture to read the story.
If you have any information on this tragedy, please email me at .
"American Grotesk historytelling" at Medium.com here.
SEE AN ALMOST COMPLETE LISTING OF ALL MY ONLINE STORIES AT MUCK RACK
Diamonds in the Rough
“There have been remarkable people creating remarkable myths in Richmond,” poet and cult personality Lester Blackiston wrote in 1969 of a creative renaissance that had begun a decade earlier, in 1959. “At the very center of the region/province/city is the ‘Fan District,’ and the ‘Fan’ is home to the mythmakers of the last decade — and now, the Fan is daily becoming home to another phenomenon, a remarkable community of numerous individuals whose apparent intentions are to set in motion a pattern of artistic and spiritual consequences. These are the seeds of the garden, and it appears that spring is not far away.”
Click the illustration to read this story of the very beginnings of Richmond, Virginia's counterculture scene, in the Nov. 4, 2019 issue of Richmond Magazine .
Excavating the Past
Human remains discovered at the former Virginia State Penitentiary in Richmond -- in what is the largest mass burial ever discovered in Virginia -- may include national folk hero, John Henry. As researchers work to identify descendants and find out who these remains may be, the broken bodies tell their own stories.
Click the illustration to read this story in the June 25, 2019 issue of Style Weekly magazine .
Two nukes outside Goldsboro, North Carolina
Declassified documents show that in 1961, the United States Air Force accidentally dropped two armed nuclear bombs near the outskirts of Goldsboro, North Carolina, and came breathtakingly close to melting North Carolina’s east coast.
Click the illustration to read this story.
While the National Weather Service reports Richmond Virginia has more annual “fog days” than Afton Mountain 90 miles to the west, the dense fog between mile markers 99 and 104 on I-64 tends to blow in quickly and remain unusually uniform for long periods of time due to the unique geography of this part of the Blue Ridge.
Motorists in these first few interstate years often slowed to a crawl in visibility sometimes reduced to as far as their hood ornaments, and like their forefathers on Route 250 were even forced to sometimes navigate by opening the driver side door and following the centerline.
Click the illustration to read my Aug. 25, 2018 Staunton News Leader story on Afton's deadly fog. Subscribe to read all my stories there.
In 1992, my father toured Richmond, Virginia’s old Spring Street Penitentiary just before it was torn down. In the basement’s death row he found a hand-written log of a condemned prisoner’s final six hours dated Saturday, October 16, 1971. On that day I was twelve years old ...
This creative non-fiction piece was nominated in 2015 by the Rappahannock Review at Mary Washington University for a Pushcart Prize, the most prestigious literary prize in America.
It did not win, however.
Click the illustration to read it.
A Mystery on Monument Avenue
The pedestal of the Robert E. Lee monument might hold an amazing secret — a legendary and irreplaceable artifact related to President Abraham Lincoln worth upwards of a quarter-million dollars. Or it could be a fake.
Click the photo for my story in the December, 2017 issue of Richmond Magazine
Carnival of Death
A year before Virginia’s State Penitentiary in Richmond, known as “the wall” closed December 14, 1990, all the convicts transferred to other facilities across the state. One group of transplanted old-timers bragged to a now-retired Department of Corrections consultant that a handful of their brethren were sent inside the creaky old Richmond fortress between 1940 and 1990 then vanished. Admitted, but never released, transferred, executed, pardoned or paroled. They disappeared as effortlessly as discharge dates slip off an official prison ledger.
My interview, and link to my creative nonfiction short story, based on my Virginia State Penitentiary research, appearing in the Rappahannock Review, the literary journal of Mary Washington University
Click the RR logo (left) for the story
Before Loving there was Kinney
In 1967, Virginia couple Richard and Mildred Loving prevailed in their fight to overturn the ban on interracial marriages in their state, and the 2016 movie "Loving" chronicles their harrowing experiences.
Eighty-seven years earlier, another courageous couple also went to court to try to change Virginia law prohibiting marriages between blacks and whites, but with far less success.
My feature story in USA Today
Click the photo for the story
When Ruth Tinsley resisted a police officer’s order in 1960, a young journalist captured a moment in Richmond civil rights history
Story by Dale Brumfield
Photos by Malcolm Carpenter
Click the photo for the feature story in the January, 2017 issue of Richmond Magazine.
An Executioner's Song
Jerry Givens has carried out the deaths of 62 men, yet walks around a free man.
From 1984 until 1999, this soft-spoken man, living in eastern Henrico County, was Virginia’s official executioner. He performed his duty in anonymity, never telling his friends, family or even his wife, in compliance with the state’s original execution law and an oath of secrecy he and eight of his fellow corrections officers took in 1982 as its first “death team.”
Click the photo for the whole story in the April, 2016 issue of Richmond Magazine.