The Gribble House Ax Murders

Every town needs a gruesome gory ax murder and Savannah, not to be out done by any other town, had a Triple Ax Murder!

The diabolical crime was committed on December 9, 1909 at a Mrs. Gribble’s shabby cheap rundown boarding house on West Perry Street.

Carrie Ohlander, a 36 year old deaf lady, lay in the hall; her bloody head crushed and her throat cut. Eliza Gribble, 76, Ohlander’s crippled mother, was found dead with a smashed skull in a back bedroom. Maggie Hunter, 35, had a busted skull, but was still alive and lying at the front door in a pool of blood. She died three days later.

A bloody ax, found in the house, was believed to be the murder weapon. The crime happened at 2:00 in the afternoon on a busy street and, odd as it was, there were no witnesses. There was no sign of a struggle.

How could this horrendous crime happen without anyone seeing or hearing anything? Was it a robbery-gone-wrong or was it a revenge killing? No matter what it was, it was murder and mayhem in true Savannah style.

Police stomped all around the crime scene, so did attorneys, reporters and morbid curiosity seekers. Everybody and anybody was welcomed in to see the dead and give their assessment of the fiendish assaults. Evidence was compromised. Gossip, hearsay, and suspicious behavior was reason enough to haul somebody off to jail. They let lose the Bloodhounds, a $1,000 reward was posted and anybody with a bloody ax was suspect. (I guess they forgot the murder weapon was left at the crime scene)

There wasn’t very many bloody ax welding killers around and eventually the suspects narrowed down to three. 1) Maggie Hunter’s third x-husband JC Hunter from Guyton who turned out to really be David Tayler; a horse thief, a bigamist and an x-convict. 2) William Walls, a family friend and a possible lover of Maggie. 3) John Coker. A cocaine addict neighbor said John Coker did it, but it was discovered she lied and wanted the reward money to buy herself two gold teeth and a diamond ring.

All three men denied the killings.

On her deathbed Maggie told Reverend John S. Wilder who the real murderer was, but he never divulged that information and nobody asked.

Matters got more complicated and weird when rumors spread that Maggie Hunter had a premonition about her pending demise. The morning of the murders she told a friend that ‘Bloody work would be done.’ And when an insurance salesman tried to sell her an insurance policy for JC she told him, ‘I won’t live long enough to collect’.

Apparently in Savannah a death premonition is evidence enough for a conviction. It was decided the crime was not a botched robbery, but a sinister premeditated murder by Maggie’s vengeful x-husband.

JC Hunter was sentenced to death by hanging. He went to prison, but wasn’t hanged and instead spent his time working as a waiter in the Confederate Veterans’ Home. In 1923 he was pardoned and returned to Savannah as a free man.

After the murder and mayhem, the boarding house opened again. But typical of Savannah’s restless dead folks, they just wouldn’t stay dead. Living persons who rented rooms in The Gribble House said blood stains reappeared on the walls where the three women were killed and misty apparitions wandered the halls.

The Gribble House was demolished in 1941. The lot is now a car barn for Old Town Trolley Tours and they say the portion built over the scene of the triple bloody ax murders is haunted.

This is a True Crime Story and I didn’t have to make any of it up because sometimes truth is stranger than fiction; especially in Savannah.

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