“Some day the good Lord will bring this back to your face,” George Thomas said. “You can’t beat the law.” His armed companion John Thomas Russell responded with a foretelling answer:
“I know I can’t,” Russell replied as the pair walked across the dark golf course greens on November 23rd, 1942. This nighttime scene was at Black Rock Country Club in Atlanta.
The 57-year-old George A.H. Thomas was manager at Black Rock Country Club and father of six; the 27-year-old John Thomas Russell was a young and talented African American golfer and caddy. Russell later confessed he looked up to his manager Thomas as a mentor.
That unlucky November night in Atlanta history Russell came back to his work, thinking nobody would be there. He came armed with a gun along with the goal of stealing expensive golf clubs. Unfortunately, Russell discovered his boss George Thomas was still in the office and quickly asked him for $20.
When George Thomas refused this panicked request, Russell struck him over the head with his gun and made Thomas open the club’s cash register. He loaded up a small amount of loot in a golf bag with some valuable golf clubs. He then ordered George Thomas out onto the golf course with the intention of tying his victim to a tree and making a getaway.
The duo approached the 16th tee when the prophetic exchange was made. At some point immediately after this conversation Thomas lunged for the barrel, the pair struggled and Russell responded by shooting Thomas.
The body of George Thomas was discovered in the wooded area around that 16th tee the next day on November 24th, 1942. Initial calls went out for two armed suspects, newspapers of the times reported. The next day on November 25th, 1942 a single suspect John Thomas Russell was rounded up and quickly confessed to shooting George Thomas. According to the newspapers, Russell was resolved to face punishment for his crimes.
Whether it was Russell’s morals, police pressure, his status as an African American or a combination of all three, his confession, trial and sentencing proceeded rapidly. His trial lawyers never read his confession until it was offered in court; they asked for a recess, read the 30-page confession and then had no objection when court resumed.
Like he had predicted while walking with his murder victim, John Thomas Russell didn’t beat the law; on January 22nd, 1943 he was sentenced to die in Georgia’s electric chair. And like his trial, the end approached swiftly for Russell. The appeal process for a minority death row inmate was null and void in 1940’s Georgia, and this case provides a perfect example. John Thomas Russell was electrocuted to death by the state of Georgia in Tattnall Prison just seven months after his sentencing on August 20th, 1943.
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