The 1949 murder of Emma Johnekin was initially ruled Voluntary Manslaughter against Marion Wesley Stembridge in Baldwin County Superior Court; however, the ruling was overturned to Involuntary through an exceedingly shady appeal to the State of Georgia citing The Writ of Habeas Corpus. The ruling to Involuntary kept Stembridge from behind bars and fleecing the needy just as Milledgevillle payday loan businesses still do. However, somewhere between 1949 and 1953, Stembridge loaned an employee of Frank Bone $50. By the time the man noticed and asked for Bone’s help, Stembridge had collected $550 from the man. Bone hired Eva Sloan to research the transaction. Due to Sloan’s work, Stembridge was ordered to repay the overcharge of $500.
On GA 441, along what’s now the busy business strip of Milledgeville, I can count five payday loan/ title loan places in a half-mile stretch. If I tried harder, I could count more. At them, you can get an advance on hours you’ve not worked or sign over the title of a car you don’t own–perhaps you can sign over the family house. Among the loan stores, the scattering of pawn shops will take your family jewels at, roughly, a 300% annual percentage rate. After the loan place of your choice, you can eat at Sonic, Waffle House, or Zaxby’s after you cash the disbursement check.
I once heard compound interest called the eighth wonder of the world, yet double loans are more amazing. Reverse mortgage is a new way of putting it. After all, reverse mortgage resonates more appealing in television commercials to those getting by on Social Security checks. Just after Martin Luther King Boulevard and Columbia Street, I saw a new payday loan store had opened the other day. Flagging the cars driving by, a man dressed as The Statue of Liberty held a sign and danced, offering $50 in cash, “right now.” Before these places thrived, the likes of Marion Wesley Stembridges abounded and served America as America grew, offering the American Dream for a signature and a soul.
It was because of such a loan that Emma lost her life. Somehow, the sentencing for Stembridge’s Voluntary Manslaughter (Emma Johnekin) case was delivered to the wrong county’s courthouse, bringing into play the ancient law of The Writ of Habeas Corpus. It seems that, in the other county, Stembridge was already there the afternoon his sentence was to accidentally arrive. Stembridge lunched with that county’s judge and other officials that day in that county; it just so happened. After a mock arrest and his attorney in tow, Stembridge drove back to Baldwin County a free man, but more on that later.
By 1953, Marion Wesley Stembridge finds himself facing two legal suits that he cannot buy his way out of although he’d tried. Stembridge faced a conviction for Federal Income Tax evasion and bribery when Stembridge offered two Federal agents $10,000 each to look the other way when the agents came to Milledgeville to investigate him. Then, Stembridge’s wife filed the divorce papers 16 March 1953. By early May, two days before Stembridge ends the life of Pete Bivins, Marion Ennis and his own, Stembridge, most likely, read this front page of The Union-Recoder:
Next to his name, Stembridge likely noticed the County Commissioners had rescheduled to meet on the 2nd of May (Saturday) rather than the following Tuesday. Stembridge knew where his targets would be on the morning of 2 May 1953. Although Stembridge may have known Eva Sloan would be downtown at the law offices, he didn’t kill her. Marion Ennis, Pete Bivins and Marion Stembridge, however, will not live to see a day past Saturday.
In the late morning of 2 May 1953, Eva Sloan was upstairs above the campus theater building at the law office of Marion Ennis. Sloan and Ennis were running late to the commissioners meeting. They’d known each other for years. Eva had been Marion Ennis’s secretary then he’d encouraged her to become an attorney. She was the city’s first female attorney, and in 1953 Georgia, a female attorney was a threat to plenty.
Well mother had taken the bar exam the year before, and she was Marion’s [Ennis’s law partner]. She had been his secretary for years, and he had talked her into taking the bar exam, and she passed it, and she was his law partner. And so she had been a county commissioner; she had been all kinds of things. She even ran for mayor one time. She got mad at the mayor, so she ran against him and did real well–made her point anyhow. But she was just part of that courthouse crowd. (Brown)
The “courthouse crowd” is who Stembridge was after.
A plaque in the Baldwin County Courthouses’ lawyers lounge states that Sloan was ‘regarded as an able and zealous advocate who represented her clients fearlessly and fervently.’
At the beginning of her career, she won a case against an attorney who insisted that the reason she won was because of her nice legs, according to Brown.
The next time she had to try a case against the same attorney, she asked Judge George Carpenter for special permission to wear a pants suit, uncustomary attire for women during the 1950s.
She ended up winning the case, pants and all. (Luton, Jessica)
By May 2, 1953, Eva Sloan had been an attorney for only a year. Antoinette (Tony) Sloan, Eva’s daughter, was eleven years old, anticipating attending her friend’s 11th birthday party later that Saturday, but Tony missed the birthday party. Rather than balloons and birthday cake, Tony Sloan is left with the memory from the evening of 2 May 1953 of her mother looking through the windows of their North Columbia Street home into the rainy darkness, repeating the words: “God is angry.”
Eva Sloan wasn’t lamenting just the death of her law partner. The Sloan family and the Ennis family were close friends. Tony, Eva’s and Robert Sloan’s youngest daughter, was named after Marion Ennis’s wife. That evening, Eva Sloan had watched one of her best friends, law partner and mentor die.
Through late April and early May of 1953, the rains and storms had been relentless in Middle Georgia. Tony Sloan Brown recalls the evening of the murders as particularly unsettling and violent. Mostly, she recalls her mother repeating the words “God is angry” over and over.
A series of tragedies has rocked the Middle Georgia region for the past several days. Visitations of the elements have been as severe as oldest inhabitants of this area can remember.
Then on top of the severe phenomenon of nature came the murders and apparent suicide at Milledgeville, snuffing out the worthy lives of two of that City’s most outstanding citizens on the eve of the Sesqui-Centennial week in which both Stephen Bivins and Marion Ennis were scheduled to take part. It is most unfortunate that the wild Stembridge was not placed in jail many months ago. (Georgia Journal 4)
A tornado operates without logic. Amid total destruction, the things left untouched by a vortex can be the most beautiful and saddest, like Milledgeville. Bluebirds, for example, faithfully return over and over to trees where their nests had been although the trees are only twisted stumps; the nests and babies blown away. There’s a cruelty and discipline in nature that often leaves me in awe. Fifteen days ago, high winds in rotation uprooted hundreds of one-hundred year old, plus, pines in Albany, GA, and I watched bluebird after bluebird return to where my friend and his son had placed bluebird houses. Blake, my friend, mentioned the bluebirds only in passing as he looked at the pine tops piercing his family’s roof, contemplating the house’s strong beams that kept them all alive the night of 2 January 2017.
As Blake retold how his wife and two young children evacuated the house as pines fell and the concussion shattered windows as they attempted to escape the house, I also watched the bluebirds return to the broken pines, fly away, and return.
Brown, Tony Sloan. Personal interview. 6 November 2016.
Luton, Jessica. “City’s First Female Known for Courtroom Skills.” The Union-Recorder, 3 October 2008.
Program-Milledgvile Baldwin County Sesqui Centennial May 2-9. Sesqui-Centenial Steering Committee. Milledgeville, GA. 2-9 May 1953.
“Week of Tragedy Rocks Middle Georgia Areas: Warner Robins and Other Tornadoes, Milledgeville Murders and Suicide, Major Flood on Ocmulgee and Tributaries are All Packed into Four-Day Period But Present Calamities Set Few Records.” The Georgia Journal. 5 May 1953, pp. 1,4.