Dead Man Coming
By Charles Postell
If I had my way about it, I’d have me a big oven and I’d pre-soak ’em. I’d pre-cook ’em several days, just keep them alive and let them suffer. Seminole County Sheriff Dan White, 1973
It was her domestic delight every day. Ernestine Alday had a huge lunchtime table prepared for her farmer husband and three adult sons, soon to come in from the fields, hungry, looking forward to a hearty mid-day meal.
Ernestine, 60, had prepared pot roast, mashed potatoes, peas, squash, okra, butter beans, corn, biscuits and gravy, and iced tea.
Little did she know as she fixed the lunch table that day, the same as she had prepared the family ritual meal for years, that her husband, four sons and a daughter-in-law, in a few hours, would all be dead, brutally murdered.
Dead Man Coming, a rare and out-of-print book written by Albany Herald reporter Charles Postell, was published in 1983, an account of the murders of six members of the Alday family, shot to death on their farm on River Road south of Donalsonville, on May 14, 1973.
Leader of the gang was 19-year-old Carl Isaacs, who already had snuffed the lives of 14 people.
Dead were 62-year-old Ned Alday, his sons, Jerry, Aubrey, Jimmy and Shuggie (Chester), plus daughter-in-law, Mary, wife of Jerry.
Including ringleader Carl Isaacs, three other members of the gang were Billy Isaacs, 15, their half brother, Wayne Coleman, 27, and a black man, George Dungee, 35.
Carl, Wayne and George, days before, had escaped from the Maryland State Penitentiary, picked up brother Billy Isaacs, commandeered a car in Pennsylvania after murdering its owner, then headed south for a spree of uncontrollable mayhem, random robberies and wonton and senseless killings.
There are three books on this true-crime subject—Blood Echoes by Thomas Cook, Brothers In Blood by Clark Howard, and this one, the most extensive and detailed, and heavily researched, Dead Man Coming.
All three books are out-of-print, difficult to obtain even used copies, particularly Dead Man Coming. Few copies of Dead Man Coming exist today, and if one offered for sale, it’s price easily tops $150.
Having obtained a copy recently, the book is a brutal account of the lives of four young killers, how they methodically without remorse or emotion, murdered execution style, six members of the Alday family, sexually assaulting several times Mary Alday before dragging her into the woods, firing two slugs into her naked body, then taking a photograph of the scene.
It began after lunch on this day, when dad, Ned, and son, Jerry, noticed a strange vehicle parked behind Jerry’s mobile home, where he lived with his wife, Mary.
When the two men stopped to investigate, they discovered four strange heavily armed men had broken into the mobile home. Jerry noticed Carl Isaacs was wearing his western style hat and his target pistol and holster.
Lured at gunpoint out of their vehicle and into the mobile home, the two Aldays were subjected to a round of terror before they were systematically shot to death.
Next, two other brothers, Aubrey Alday and Shuggie Alday, noticed the vehicles around Jerry’s mobile home. They pulled into the driveway in their pickup truck, and were greeted with guns to their heads as they entered the mobile home. They also were subjected to a round of terror, then shot to death, execution style. Next, Jerry’s wife, Mary, drives home from work at Seminole County Department of Children and Family Services in Donalsonville, is accosted, stripped naked and repeatedly raped. Jimmy Alday is next to arrive, is forced to lie face down on the living room couch, then shot.
The crime and frustration
The book, Dead Man Coming, is a culmination by author Postell from years of research, and hundreds of interviews with Alday family members, the jailed Isaacs on death row, police, crime investigators, Isaacs family members, judges, lawyers, prison guards, psychiatrists, journalists, hundreds of persons otherwise drawn into the case. Of the three books, it holds the most interest among readers and collectors. Libraries and book stores are asked for it constantly.
Through these interviews, Postell pieces together as close as possible what possibly transpired within the mobile home during a brutal two-hour time line.
Then the gang escapes in Mary’s car, abandoning the vehicle they came in, after murdering its owner in Pennsylvania.
As they drive into West Virginia, low on funds and gas, they botch a convenience store robbery, and eventually are captured. Their subsequent trials in Donalsonville and guilty convictions, get them the death penalty sentences except for Billy Isaacs, 15, who turns state’s evidence for a negotiated plea and sentence. But Billy subsequently is tried later for the Pennsylvania murder regarding the stolen car, and is sentenced to 100 years in prison.
Postell writes that Donalsonville people became frustrated with the law, watching the courts take forever to get through the trials. Then there were retrials, court delays, court appeals to the executions that went on and on. The slayings took place in 1973. Carl Isaacs was sentenced to die in the electric chair, but it took 30 years for the state to carry out the sentence.
A retrial for Wayne Coleman resulted in a hung jury for capital punishment, so he was sentenced to life in prison. George Dungee was declared mentally incompetent because of an IQ test score of 68. He was re-sentenced to life in prison.
Courts granted new trials because the appeals court ruled that the adverse publicity and public sentiment against the defendants in Donalsonville in 1973, would not have allowed them to get a fair trial.
Then the appeals and the court delays all added to the frustration of the people and the Aldays. They wanted revenge and finality, and some wanted to take the law into their own hands and string up the murders from the nearest tree.
In granting retrials, as an example, the appeals court cited Sheriff Dan White, who said at the time, “If I had my way, I’d have me a big oven and I’d pre-soak em, I’d pre-cook ’em several days just to keep ’em alive and let them suffer.”
The Aldays were described as hard working farmers, a close-knit God-fearing family, pillars of the Spring Creek Baptist Church, and salt-of-the-earth people.
It wasn’t long before investigators lifted enough clues from the abandoned Pennsylvania vehicle the murderers left behind. Within hours, they were positively identified as the escapees from Maryland State Penitentiary.
A group of local men, mostly farmers themselves, had driven to the Bud Alday house in their pick-up trucks in 1973, gun racks in the rear window, and asked Bud’s permission to go after the gang, capture them, and string them up from the nearest tree, taking the law in their own hands.
One of them said, “Mr. Bud, you give us the word, and we’ll take the killers and nobody won’t never find them. It won’t be no problem.”
Bud thanked the men, asked them not to get involved, saying there had been enough killings. He simply could not go along with their wishes.
Later, as the trials languished, and the appeals halted the executions, local folks wished the men had carried out their plans.
Lamar Stephens, a Seminole County farmer, in Dead Man Coming, is quoted as saying, “I can’t think of anybody who’d hurt Ned and Aubrey and the boys. This had to be somebody that didn’t know them. Nobody around here hated them.”
Tax Collector E.C. Bridges said, “They were just hard workers, just close knit, just plain good folks.”
A.J. Gentry, a family friend and city councilman in Blakely, was frustrated with the law as the convictions went through delays, new trials, appeals, delays, delays and more delays.
Five years after the murders, on May 21, 1978, quoted in the Albany Herald, Gentry said “when this happens, it’s time for law-abiding citizens to take the law into their own hands. I’ll tell Walter Cronkite (CBS TV news anchor) what I just told you, and the liberals will look at it and say, I’m a crazy redneck.
“I’m not a crazy redneck. I love my country. I love my family. I love my friends. I work hard for my country and my family. You don’t see what has happened to this family since this happened. There is no rest. I’m not sure their executions are going to ease the minds of those families.
“The Alday family is the stuff America is made of. People like Carl Isaacs and his gang have never done one damn thing for America.
“Five years later, I’m as mad or madder than I was the night I went to Bud’s house and asked his blessing on us killing those murderers. I didn’t see anything wrong with it then, and I don’t see anything wrong with it now.”
The book Dead Man Coming had its critics. In Blood Echoes by Thomas Cook published in 1993, 10 years after Dead Man Coming, Cook said portions of the book sensationalized the murders, Cook said Dead Man Coming promoted the story of Carl Isaacs, rather than a story of the Alday family.
Cook quotes sister Nancy Alday, who said the family wanted just one book that “didn’t let him (Isaacs) blow himself up again at our expense. We wanted one book that Carl didn’t win, one book that remembered our daddy, our brothers, Uncle Aubrey and Mary.”
Cook writes “Carl manages to take on a weirdly heroic stature in Dead Man Coming. In part, a sympathetic and abused child, in part a horrendously cruel adult, but always Carl as Carl wanted others to see him, the criminal mastermind, brilliant, deadly and remorseless.”
Alday sisters Nancy and Patricia found Dead Man Coming cruel and unconscionable. A review of the book in the Atlanta Journal found it doubtful and overwritten. To the Aldays, the book was cruel, humiliating and unspeakably offensive.
In Cook’s book, Nancy Alday is quoted as saying, “why was this written? Why is our family being used like this? Can’t we ever just be left alone?”
Twice, Carl Isaacs attempted an escape from death row. In one attempt, Postell was charged with aiding and abetting Isaacs in his attempt, but charges were dropped when incriminating evidence against Postell issued by Isaacs, proved tainted.
Dead Man Coming and the other books and subsequent movies, were seen by the Aldays as an assault on their dignity, making them appear as lowly and typical Southern country hicks.
On May 6, 2003, Carl Isaacs ordered an evening meal of pork and macaroni, pinto beans, sautéed cabbage, carrot salad, a dinner roll, chocolate cake and fruit punch, a dinner that he then refused. Shortly after 8 p.m., it was dead man coming. He was given a lethal injection administered at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson, Georgia. He was 49.
Charles Postell, the author of Dead Man Coming, died at his home in Adel, Cook County, Ga., on Oct. 12, 2008. He was 62.
In Colquitt, Inez Miller, mother of Mary Alday, absorbed the grizzly details of her daughter’s murder. Consumed with grief, she refused her medications, lapsed into a diabetic coma, and died within a few hours. She was 62.
At the Spring Creek Baptist Church, on Mary Alday’s grave is the inscription: “Love can hope, where reason would despair.” She was 25.