She was young, white and missing; sadly all of the requirements for mainstream media attention in 1941 Atlanta. When Mildred Seymour Williams’ body showed up in the basement of 1117 Stewart Avenue (Stewart Avenue is now Metropolitan Parkway) the crime was dubbed in the press “The Two Day Trunk Murder Mystery”, when in reality it had fermented over the course of four months from late 1941 to early 1942.
Mildred Seymour Williams was only 22 years old when she disappeared on November 21st, 1941. She was last seen at her job, a local shoe store where she was a popular saleswoman. It was Friday, and when she didn’t return from her shift Mildred’s husband P.M. Williams called police. By the end of the weekend the newspapers were running stories about the missing shoe store worker.
Because of the attention in the press Atlanta police received many tips. One of the tips indicated the young woman was being held in a neighbor’s home against her will. Homes nearby her 640 Mayland Avenue address were searched, but nothing turned up. Christmas and New Year’s passed with an occasional story about the missing woman, but it looked like the name Mildred Seymour Williams would fade into Atlanta history.
Then on March 19th, 1942 two workers cleaning out a basement made a remarkable discovery in an old car trunk: a dead Mildred Seymour Williams. She had been tied up, her head was battered and the body was heavily decomposed. Police determined she had been in the trunk since November 1941. Oddly, she was fully clothed and wearing her jewelry. And the basement was in a home originally searched by police back in November 1941. It was the home of the Griffin family, a hodgepodge of ages and different sexes led by their matriarch the 46-year-old Minnie Lee Griffin at 1117 Stewart Avenue (now Metropolitan Parkway). It’s unclear exactly who was in the home during the four month period Mildred was in the trunk, but a census in 1940 listed Thomas (24), Mary (25), another Mary (17) and James (14) as living in the home that neighbored the Williams property.
What followed was the “Two Day Trunk Murder Mystery”, where individual members of the Griffin clan were dragged in for police questioning and subsequently sensationalized in the Atlanta newspapers. But quickly a suspect emerged: the quirky Minnie Lee Griffin. Then, on March 20th, 1942 Minnie confessed to the crime with a story that confirmed she was beyond quirky and quite insane.
According to Minnie, it started with an argument. She had called Mildred Seymour Williams over to her home that Friday evening in November, thinking Mildred was having some sort of sexual affair with her son-in-law Kenneth Hubert. Minnie was convinced Mildred was trying to break up her daughter’s marriage to Kenneth and confronted Mildred.
The only real fact that can be determined past Minnie Lee Griffin calling Mildred Seymour Williams to her home that Friday evening is that Mildred turned up dead in the trunk four months later. Minnie’s story goes that when she confronted Mildred with the affair, Mildred became defensive and declared that she was going to continue in her relationship with Kenneth Hubert. This infuriated Minnie, so she grabbed a broom handle and started beating Mildred.
According to Minnie, Mildred retreated into the Griffin basement after the attack. Griffin followed and picked up a heavy object (she could not recall what this object was) and began hitting Williams in the head. These blows killed the 22 year old. Minnie then tied up the body and stuffed it in the old car trunk. She told no one about the murder.
That was Minnie Lee Griffin’s story. But as police investigated the teenage James Griffin, Kenneth Hubert and other members of the Griffin and Williams households, they determined a large part of her story turned out to be false. Police could find no evidence of an affair between Hubert and Williams. In fact, it became apparent to police the whole affair was a creation from Minnie Lee Griffin’s neurotic mind. And she really believed the untrue story. In short, Minnie Lee Griffin was insane.
When Griffin was tried in June and July of 1942 crowds filled Superior Courtroom 420, with people standing in the aisles and the outside corridor. But as Griffin family members testified about the strange actions of Minnie, and news of the affair turned out to be false, the sensationalism that surrounded the story in the press and public faded. Minnie Lee Griffin was convicted on July 4th, 1942 for the murder of Mildred Seymour Williams and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
Because Griffin was insane she would avoid death at the hands of the state of Georgia. While in danger of execution several times, in April of 1943 she was declared insane by the courts and possibly transferred to the Georgia State Sanitarium in Milledgeville, now known as Central State Hospital.
That’s where the trail of Minnie Lee Griffin goes cold for History Atlanta. Unable to locate an obituary, it could be she passed away inside the Sanitarium. We have reached out to Central State Hospital, but have yet to hear back. We will update this story. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!