Buckhead Tales: The Bogeyman

“I was crazy when it meant something. Now, everybody is crazy.” That was what Charles Manson told us, and he would have known. He just might have been the biggest bogeyman in my lifetime. He wasn’t just your typical garden variety of nut. He wasn’t like those who pretend they are a clown at some kid’s birthday parties while at the same time stacking them up in the basement like cordwood. No, those creeps are all too familiar to us now with their dungeons and torture shacks. Not a week goes by we don’t see about it or hear about it, on the TV it is just like the weather report. Charlie was bad, bad to the bone.

I was 14 years old when Mary Shotwell Little went missing at Lenox Square. It was 1965 and Lenox was the happening place for us all. It had opened in the summer of 1959 and soon became the town square for north Atlanta.

Everyone wanted to “go to the mall.” There were the two giant department stores, Rich’s and Davidson’s, plus a Colonial Stores supermarket and a bowling alley. My buddies and I used to swing by the Kresge Five & Dime for sandwiches. There was a bowling alley and an indoor driving range if you needed to work on your golf swing. In ’63 they opened a movie theatre and that is where I sat transfixed as James Bond cavorted on his spy adventures. By the way, Sean Connery is the one and only James Bond, the rest of those later actors are pale imposters. My mom worked at Rich’s in the drapery department and for two weeks I worked at Milton’s Clothing Cupboard until my general incompetence sent me back to the ranks of the unemployed.

Lenox was where we hung out. It was a safe place and the only trouble I ever personally encountered was when Joey Carone dared me to pocket some golf balls as part of some initiation process for a club he invented. Of course, security had me by the back of my neck within seconds and marched me to the bowels of the mall for a good talking to. They said they would call my parents and so I rode my bike home as fast as I could and unplugged the phone. My sister would plug it back in and I would unplug it again as soon as she left the room. After a few days of this I figured the case had gone stone cold and I didn’t need to worry anymore about my criminal history. My parents never found out.

This all goes to show that Lenox Square was the safest of the safest. Parents would drop their kids off and they would find their way home. This all ended on October 14, 1965 when Mary Shotwell Little disappeared. She had eaten dinner with a friend at the S&S Cafeteria at the mall. We all knew this spot well. Each Sunday at the stroke of noon when the service concluded at the Wieuca Road Baptist Church every family would race to their cars and speed down Peachtree Road to be first in line at the S&S at Lenox Square.

Our church was nearest to the destination, so we had a built-in head start. Also, we were Baptists, and as everyone knows that when the dinner bell rings you better not be standing between a Baptist and the food. I’m just giving you fair warning.

You can google up the weird details of Mary Shotwell Little’s disappearance to your heart’s delight. There are all kinds of red herrings that lead anyone astray who tries to take a stab at this still unsolved case. Her car was not in the parking lot, and then it was. There was conflicting evidence about every aspect of this case. She had received strange phone calls. There may have been a connection to her place of work. Those who have tried to make sense of this event have chased down one false trail after another. The case was confusing and 50 years later it remains unsolved.

There was something about this event that caused it to be deeply imprinted in my mind. I was young and the world was a safe place. A week later I was still young, but the world was not a safe place. Bad things could happen, even where I had once felt safe.

Years later a family that had been very close to my family at church and school experienced a tragedy at Lenox. A family member working security happened upon a burglary in progress, and the worst thing that could happen did happen. I was living in Florida by then, but my parents called me to tell me what went down. A tragedy beyond understanding or belief. I still wonder how his family members could get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other. Out of the blue. Could happen to anyone. But it happened to them so it could happen to me.

There are a lot of bogeymen in this old tired world. Some of them are real but I guess quite a few are just figments of our imaginations. Sometimes it is hard to tell them apart. I have a lot of good memories of Lenox Square, but a few bad ones. Living in North Carolina I only make it back to Buckhead once a twice a year. I might find myself driving past Lenox, but I don’t turn into the parking lot. I haven’t since 1985. It is the shadows. Too many shadows.

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Jim Tate
Author, Buckhead Tales

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