It was a Tuesday night in September of 1943 when Henry Heinz captured his man. For nearly three years someone had been breaking into his Mediterranean-style mansion on Ponce in the evenings, many times while he was still awake, sneaking around and stealing cash from one of his many wallets or his wife’s purse.
He vowed to catch the thieving devil, even offering his neighborhood patrolmen a reward of $100 if they captured him. But each time the intruder would slip away undetected into the Druid Hills neighborhood. Not that Tuesday night. He finally had his man. Unfortunately it would end in tragedy for Henry Heinz.
While his wife prepared for bed upstairs around 9:45 pm, Heinz was downstairs and discovered they were not alone. When he saw the shadowy figure in his library he didn’t hesitate. He pounced on the invader, yelling for his wife. Lucy Heinz responded to the shouts of “Momma” to discover her husband wrestling with a masked man. Her first reports to police indicated the intruder was a tall light-skinned African American or a Caucasian with a dark complexion wearing a skull cap, blue shirt, dark trousers and a white handkerchief as a mask. She did not see his face as he struggled with her husband.
Lucy Heinz didn’t panic. She ran to a bedroom where she knew Henry kept a gun. While she was grabbing the pistol, Lucy heard gunshots. She rushed back to find her husband with three bullet wounds in the chest and one in the arm. Henry Heinz was dead, sprawled out on the library sofa, his shirt soaked with blood. And so started the long, always complicated and always confusing murder investigation of Henry Heinz. Oh, and that story above is just the official version.
The Atlanta police would bring in many suspects for questioning, even shooting a member of the Heinz clan in their effort to find the killer. And while the Atlanta police, like Henry Heinz, would eventually capture their man, rumors would float down through Atlanta history that someone in the family was responsible.
Henry C. Heinz was an important high-society man in 1943 Atlanta. Born in New Haven, Connecticut on August 18th, 1879, his parents moved to Atlanta while Henry was young. Despite his birth up north, Heinz grew up and spent all of his formative years in Atlanta, attending Atlanta Boy’s High School (now Henry W. Grady High School) and Emory University.
Heinz is partially remembered for his association with Kiwanis International. He served three years as Treasurer and Vice President before becoming the first President of Kiwanis International from the state of Georgia between 1927 and 1928. And he was quite active in Kiwanis. In fact, Heinz made such a large impact within the organization that to this day the Kiwanis offer the Henry C. Heinz Award to individuals focused on helping the lives of young people. In addition to being recognized with the award, a donation of $1,000 is made each year to the Georgian Kiwanis District Foundation to be used for local scholarships.
Heinz was again elected Kiwanis International Foundation President in 1941, a capacity he held until his murder in 1943. But he was much more than a Kiwanis man, a leading figure in both business and philanthropy throughout Atlanta. He was one of the driving forces behind the Scottish Rite Hospital and was founder of the Atlanta Boy’s Club. He was a banker by trade, serving as director and vice-president of Citizens & Southern Bank. At the time of his death he was in his second term as president of the Atlanta Athletic Club.
And while Heinz is remembered for his involvement with Kiwanis, it’s his mysterious murder and his familial associations that seem to draw the most attention. See Henry Heinz was the son-in-law of the aggressive Coca-Cola tycoon Asa Griggs Candler. He married Candler’s only daughter Lucy on September 12th, 1918 and benefited greatly from this association.
Their immense Coca-Cola wealth made Henry and Lucy the target of criminals, way before he wrestled with his murderer in the Ponce mansion, then known as Rainbow Terrace. Most notably was an incident that occurred in the summer of 1928.
Henry and Lucy Heinz were touring the East Coast that summer, arriving in Atlantic City by early August. They checked into the largest hotel in Atlantic City, the massive Chalfonte-Haddon Hall (basically two hotels merged into one giant complex) that offered 1,000 rooms. It still exists as the Resorts Casino Hotel.
On the Sunday morning of August 5th, 1928, Henry left early to golf on the mainland while Lucy stayed at the hotel room. After finishing breakfast she discovered the room had been robbed. And it wasn’t just a little amount stolen out of her purse. It was her entire travelling jewelry collection, insured for $93,000, but worth nearly $120,000. The theft included a brooch with 10 diamonds, a platinum chain with 257 diamonds, a necklace with 137 pearls and several rings. One ring alone was worth $35,000 and held a massive 20-karat diamond.
It was good haul for the thief or thieves. Police descended on the hotel when Lucy discovered her gems were missing, and they held Thomas Sears, the African American bellboy who had delivered Mrs. Heinz’s breakfast. He denied any involvement with the theft.
When they searched Sears they didn’t find anything. Then they searched his home. When they didn’t find anything there, police started tearing apart the hotel, thinking Sears had squirreled the treasure away. The police would never find Lucy’s jewelry. The couple returned to Atlanta that Wednesday following the theft.
But Heinz was an important man, at that time listed as a Coca-Cola executive in the press. So they had to charge somebody, right? So on September 2nd, 1928 the 28-year-old Sears was indicted in Mays Landing Criminal Court. When Heinz was interviewed by the Atlanta Constitution concerning the case, he was convinced Sears was the thief.
So what happened to Sears? He was acquitted. Not only would they never find Lucy’s jewelry, but no one was ever charged beyond Sears. Heinz would bring a lawsuit on behalf of his insurance company in 1930 against the hotel (it looks like it was thrown out). What did he expect? It was 1928 Atlantic City… hadn’t he ever watched an episode of Boardwalk Empire?
Fast forward to September 28th, 1943. Can you blame Heinz for being obsessed with catching the thief? But he made the terrible mistake of attacking the intruder, rather than calling the authorities. Shoot, I would’ve locked myself in the bathroom, started crying and called the cops.
But that’s not what happened. It was 10:00 pm when Lucy called the hospital and the police (among others). The first reports that came across the radio indicate Heinz and a “friend” were wrestling with a burglar.
The two responding officers, Marion Blackwell and Bill Miller, were the same two officers Heinz had offered the $100 reward if they caught the burglar. So they were quite familiar with the Heinz home, even patrolling into the grounds each night in an effort to catch the thief. So when the call came across their radio they knew exactly where to go.
When they pulled up to the mansion Miller jumped out and entered the front door of the home, while Blackwell pulled the patrol car around to the back. When Blackwell entered the back door he received a description of the suspect from Mrs. Heinz, and returned to his patrol car to put out the description of the suspect. That’s when someone took a shot at him from the bushes. Suddenly, Blackwell was in a gunfight.
“He’s shooting at me,” Blackwell yelled to his partner Miller, who had come through the front door to discover Heinz dead in the library. Blackwell returned fire at the figure darting between the shrubs, and was quickly joined by Miller. That’s when the figure in the bushes fired a few more rounds, and both of the officers responded by opening fire. Their bullets found their mark, striking the dark figure in the shadows.
Little did they know they had just shot a member of the Heinz family. See, along with calling the police and the hospital, Lucy Heinz also called her son-in-law (and neighbor) Dr. Bryant King Vann. He wasn’t the burglar; he was a dentist. They had struck him in the abdomen and arm. Whomp, whomp.
When Dr. Vann was interviewed by the press on October 1st, he couldn’t recall who fired first. The responding officers could never understand why Vann started taking shots at them, since Blackwell and Miller were clearly visible inside and outside the lit-up mansion. One source I came across indicated the patrol car even had the red and blue lights going. Regardless, Vann did start taking shots at them. And his story was a little odd.
Dr. Vann lived at 761 Lullwater Road, which was connected to the Heinz property by a dirt path. That night he had been at drill for the Georgia State Guard, and when he returned home he started the water to take a bath. That’s when the telephone rang. It was Lucy, frantically calling about an intruder shooting Henry. He grabbed his pistol and hit the streets.
Streets? Yep, instead of sneaking through the dirt path from his home to the Heinz mansion, he actually entered the property through the front gate on Ponce. He immediately ducked into the bushes, and made his way around to the back of the home.
While he couldn’t remember who fired first, he did know that the first shot from Officer Blackwell struck him in the arm. Wounded, Vann now noticed two men, instead of one, and he returned fire. That’s when Blackwell and Miller returned fire together, and one of their bullets struck Vann in the abdomen, knocking him to the ground.
When the officers descended on the injured dentist they began beating him (according to Vann), thinking he was the burglar. The police always denied this. When he explained to them that he was related to Heinz, they backed off. Vann was treated by a neighbor who happened to be a doctor, and was eventually rushed to the hospital in the ambulance that arrived to pick up Heinz. It’s a strange twist in a murder mystery that continued to confound police.
According to the newspapers of the time, for nearly three years burglaries were happening at the home. The same papers relate four or five instances where the DeKalb County Police and Atlanta Police responded to calls from Heinz. Twice the burglar entered the house, the other times they failed to get in. The first time he or she took a little bit of money out of a change wallet and the second time they took $210 (in interviews Vann related that Heinz had two wallets, one for small change and the other with more than $200).
The murder scene could be described as chaotic. One responding officer testified that he witnessed between 12 and 15 officers along with 15 to 20 other people, including family members, neighbors and friends.
Heinz had four bullet wounds, three in his left chest and one in his right arm from a .38 caliber pistol. The killer left behind the destroyed workings of a Swiss-made wrist watch, along with a button from a shirt, both presumed to be ripped apart during the struggle.
Also, while processing the murder scene, police found a large smudge of a black oily substance on the dining room window that was open along with a single fingerprint. Detectives J.A. Preston and H.C. Newton, the officers assigned to case, thought the smudge could mean it was a masked white man trying to disguise himself as an African American.
For years after the case rumors would persist that a family member had gunned down Heinz. The obvious suspects are Lucy and/or Vann. But the gun Vann carried was a .45 caliber pistol missing five shots. And, if he was the burglar, why would he hang around and wait for the police? And then start shooting at them? In his interview with the press Vann deflected any suspicion, telling the reporters Henry and Lucy had been having “trouble” with the husband of an African American cook. This was just one instance in a pattern that routinely singled out African American men by the white public and police during the investigation.
Over the next few weeks police brought in a number of male suspects, all African American. Each failed to meet the criteria of the killer. The first was Randall McHenry, who was picked up a few blocks away from the murder scene. He was quickly released. By September 30th the police were convinced the fingerprint they found matched an “escaped Negro convict” who had broken out of Tattnall Prison named D.C. Black. When he was captured and questioned police determined he wasn’t their man.
The following week another male African American suspect was arrested and released. Then two more black men were arrested. All were determined not to be the killer. The investigation, headed by Atlanta Police Chief Marion Hornsby, was looking desperate. Weeks turned into months, and it seemed like the killer of Henry Heinz would get away with it, fading into Atlanta history.
The public, the press and the relations of Heinz were not impressed. The Candler family put up a $2,500 reward for information that would lead to the killer. Lucy hired a retired city detective turned private investigator renowned for blending into shady bars and saloons, Raymond Ector, to track down the killer. Despite his interviews with the press in which he reported the investigation was “progressing satisfactory” and he had located “new witnesses” Ector never came close to finding the killer. And on December 11th, 1943 a burglar struck again in the neighborhood.
It seemed life had returned to normal in the neighborhood by early 1944. But the murder still lingered. Occasionally Chief Hornsby would come under fire for the failed investigation of the Heinz crime, along with the other unsolved murder of Mrs. Barron T. Wilson on November 26th, 1943. It wasn’t until 1945 when police would catch their big break in the case, and it still remains to be seen if they actually caught the right man.
It was January 13th, 1945, when police stopped a car on Peachtree Road. After questioning the male driver who was alone, Officer J.O. Smith felt the need to write down the license plate numbers of the car along with the driver’s name before letting him go. It seemed like a suspicious yet inconsequential traffic stop.
Later that night a burglar was interrupted creeping through the home of Hughes Spaulding on Peachtree Road, roughly in the same area where police stopped the suspicious vehicle. Officer Smith put out the description of the driver and the vehicle he had stopped earlier. Police found both within minutes.
When they approached the vehicle (it was parked near a bridge over a creek) the suspect was seen tossing a pocketbook into the water. Police arrested Horace Blalock and brought him downtown for questioning. Alarm bells sounded in the minds of police during their initial conversation with Blalock. While he admitted to robbing 14 other houses, he let slip that he “didn’t have to wait until they went to bed”. This was a statement I’m sure Blalock later wished he could take back. Police couldn’t help but connect this bold burglar with the Heinz murder mystery that had been bugging them for more than a year.
Police reviewed their evidence from the Heinz murder scene, focusing on the single fingerprint found by Atlanta crime-scene guru S.E. Vernoy on one of the Venetian blinds that covered the window the killer had entered in the dining room. Of course it took some time to make the match, and the press was foaming at the mouth trying to obtain the name of the suspect. Embarrassed by the past leads and the suspects that never panned out, police stayed mum, waiting for a final say from the F.B.I. on the fingerprint.
Word came back from the Feds on January 18th and they confirmed what Atlanta fingerprint experts already indicated: Horace Blalock’s fingerprint was a match with the one found at the murder scene. The local press exploded in glee when police revealed the name of railroad worker Horace Blalock. It looked like they finally had their man.
Police had kept Blalock isolated in Fulton Tower from other prisoners, friends, newspaper men and his family during his imprisonment, hoping to surprise him when they had solid evidence. Now with the F.B.I. confirming the print, they decided to confront him.
They sat down with Blalock late on January 18th, 1945. According to the burglar the two interviewing detectives were ironically sipping Coca-Cola when they suddenly started bringing up the Heinz murder from 1943. It surprised Blalock, who thought he was being held for burglary. As the suspect drank an orange soda pop he suddenly became dizzy; during his trial he maintained he was drugged by the police.
What followed was a 15 hour interview that, according to Blalock, completely broke his spirit. In the beginning he denied having a role in the killing, but as the morning dawned his tune changed, and he asked for a piece of paper and pencil so he could write out his confession.
According to police he decided to “tell the truth and ease my mind”, and afterwards immediately asked to see his wife and three children. With him when he signed the confession was Chief Leo Nahlik of the DeKalb County Police and Capt. Ben W. Seabrook of the Atlanta Police Identification Bureau. This was all reported by the press on the 19th; at trial the police would backtrack, denying it was a 15 hour interview, indicating they gave Blalock a break to sleep overnight. Only the police and Blalock know what really happened.
The confession Blalock wrote out on a yellow sheet of paper stated he was familiar with Rainbow Terrace, having entered the residence twice before. These break-ins were successful, and the second venture just a few weeks before the murder netted the railroad-worker-turned-burglar $80 from Lucy’s purse in the dressing room.
In the early evening of September 28th, 1943 Blalock and his family were visited by friends who invited them on a country drive. Blalock was recovering from a recent surgery, and used this as an excuse to stay in. His wife was eager to go, but Blalock continued to resist. She decided to take the kids and leave with the friends. When the road-tripping party departed, Blalock became restless and decided to head out, drive around and make some money getting into some trouble. He eventually made his way to Rainbow Terrace.
As he crept through the grounds, Blalock could see Henry and Lucy in the sun parlor; Henry was reading the paper while Lucy was sewing something for the Red Cross. They were listening to the radio. Lucy left first, retiring upstairs for bed. And then Henry left the room; that’s when Blalock made his move, entering the home through a dining room window.
Thinking he was being ninja-quiet, Blalock was surprised when Henry Heinz confronted him. Trying to get away, he stumbled backwards over a chair. That’s when Heinz pounced on him. Blalock was in a wrestling match for his freedom.
Blalock pulled out his gun. The two grappled over the weapon and one shot went off, nearly ripping off Blalock’s thumb. But the misfire also allowed the burglar to gain control of the weapon, and he twisted the gun into Heinz’s chest, pulling the trigger several times, killing him probably instantly.
According to his confession, Blalock fled the home and sprinted across a nearby park (this could be the park across the street designed by Frederick Law Olmsted). This matched a trail of blood the police found the night of the murder. Initial newspaper reports never mentioned this trail of blood. The next morning, with his thumb bleeding badly, Blalock tossed the gun in the Chattahoochee and went to a doctor to get stitched up.
That was his written confession. He didn’t describe a motive, but during interviews leading up to the trial Blalock’s lawyer Guy Smith indicated the 38-year-old burglar blamed his stealing on crafty women and his desire “to play the Bug”. It seemed his injury that caused the surgery had made him desperate for cash; the insurance that he received from the railway company just wasn’t enough.
If you’re not familiar with “the Bug”, it’s a street lottery or numbers game that was popular throughout the 20th century here in Atlanta. We have done a story on it before called Eddie Guyol – The Numbers King of Atlanta. It’s an interesting read and one of our favorites.
Blalock was quickly indicted and the trial started in March 1945 headed by DeKalb prosecutor Roy C. Leathers. The speed at which this happened stirred up the rumors in Atlanta. Was it a backroom deal setup by Coca-Cola money? Was someone in the family somehow responsible?
The trial was sensationalized in the Atlanta press. When Lucy Heinz took the stand she stated Blalock “looks a lot like” the burglar that killed her husband, despite the fact the man was wearing a mask and in the beginning she stated to police the intruder was a light-skinned black man or dark-complected white man.
There were flaws in the prosecutor’s case. Police never found the murder weapon and Horace Blalock spent more than an hour on the witness stand claiming he was doped by police. The jury was initially deadlocked, not over Blalock’s guilt, but whether he should die in the electric chair. Why? Was there doubt in their minds that he had actually committed the crime? Whatever they were thinking, on March 18th, 1945 the jury convicted Horace Blalock for the murder of Henry Heinz. He was sentenced to life in prison.
That’s a curious conviction for an African American man that murdered a prominent white citizen in 1945 Jim Crow Atlanta. White justice was never kind to African Americans in these types of crimes. Cut and dry cases that are similar would see a black man lynched before trial or electrocuted in Tattnall Prison within a year of a conviction. For an example of how swift Jim Crow justice could be in black-on-white crimes read our story on The Murder of George Thomas, which occurred on an Atlanta golf course in 1943. The murderer in that case was electrocuted within seven months.
Lucy Heinz couldn’t stay in Rainbow Terrace, haunted by the memory of her late husband. At the urging of her children she moved into a suite at the Biltmore Hotel loaded with personal belongings from the mansion. She remarried quickly (only adding to the rumors that she was involved) to Enrico Leide on February 5th, 1946.
After Lucy moved out of the mansion, Rainbow Terrace became a target of neighborhood teenagers and rowdy Emory students; several of them were caught vandalizing the home in early 1945. Returning Word War II veteran Dr. Robert Sarbacher, who would become Dean at Georgia Tech’s graduate school, purchased the home in July of 1945.
Sarbacher led an interesting life, studying under Albert Einstein at Princeton, serving in the Navy during the war (he was a Navy consultant into the late 1950’s) and tinkering with personal inventions throughout. Many UFO conspiracy theorists cite Dr. Sarbacher as a source that UFOs do exist, a subject he came into contact with through his work as a Navy consultant in the 1950’s.
Before he started talking about aliens Sarbacher sold the home in 1949. It was a boarding house by the 1960’s and abandoned by the 1970’s. Fellow History Atlanta writer Ray Keen can remember going to the grounds to see the deteriorating mansion before the Metzler Muirhead Wright development company purchased the property in the middle 1980’s. They fixed up the main house, splitting it into condos, and built townhouses around the structure. The result of the $7 million project can now be seen as the Lullwater Estate.
Horace Blalock was paroled from a Georgia state prison on May 18th, 1955. He abandoned his family and left Atlanta soon after, passing away in Cherokee County in 1972. His release merely ten years after he supposedly committed the murder only adds one more strange twist to the long list of odd circumstances in the murder of Henry C. Heinz. Was it Lucy? Was it another family member? Was it Horace Blalock? Or was it a random burglar who got away with it? We love cut and dry endings, but in this case from Atlanta history, we will probably never know the exact truth. Special thanks goes to Ray Keen and Hans Hammer for contributing to this story.