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The Crimes of Marion Stembridge

Marion Stembridge was a terrible man. He was known to be an eccentric and mentally unstable. At one point, his own mother admitted him into Central State Hospital. He finally gained some respect when he opened his grocery store (located where Coastie’s Bakery is now located). But his store was only a front for what he did to make his real money. He was a known loan shark and wouldn’t think twice about using force to get his money back. Clients of his feared him because he always carried three guns on him.

 

In 1949, a man named Johnny Cooper purchased a car from Stembridge, which of course turned out to be a lemon. Johnny decided to leave the car parked outside of Stembridge’s store with a note attached reading “You can have this pile of steel in exchange for my note.” Stembridge was 61 years old at the time, but his age didn’t stifle his violent tendencies. He grabbed his .38 revolver and called on one of his employees, Sam Terry, to accompany him to Cooper’s residence. Upon their arrival, the two men savagely beat Cooper with brass knuckles. Two women ran out of the house to calm the situation, but Stembridge shot them, critically injuring both. The wounds ultimately caused one of the women, Emma Johnekin, to lose her life. Stembridge and Terry were both indicted for her murder.

 

On July 22, 1949, Stembridge was sentenced to 1-3 years in prison. He blamed his lawyer Marion Ennis and Judge George Carpenter for his arrest and started appeals immediately, claiming he shouldn’t have to serve time for the crime. He was allowed to go free on bond pending a new trial.  Three years and two appeals later, Stembridge was acquitted on a writ of habeas corpus. Stembridge nor Terry served any time for what they had done.

 

Stembridge thought he was out of the water, but he was wrong. Marion Ennis, now the District Attorney for Baldwin County, didn’t like that Stembridge got away with his crimes with no consequences, so he decided to reopen the case. Ennis got help from another lawyer, Stephen T. Bivins, to bring justice to Stembridge. While the case was coming back to haunt him, other forces were working against him as well.

 

One day around the same time all of this was happening, two tax agents showed up at his home. Stembridge hadn’t paid any federal income tax in over 10 years. He tried to bribe the men with $100,000, but he was already in too deep. On April 28th, 1953, he was convicted of bribery and ordered to appear in court. Rumors spread that one of the attorneys, Bivins, had been the one to turn him in. This drove Stembridge completely over the edge.

 

On May 2, 1953, the city was celebrating its 150th anniversary. It was a great time for the citizens, with decorations everywhere and celebrations all over town. No one could have guessed what was to happen next. That morning, clad in a big coat with a pistol tucked in the pocket, Marion Stembridge went to the office of Marion Ennis above the Campus Theatre. He didn’t even speak a word before he pulled the pistol from his coat and fired three shots into Ennis’ chest and shoulder. Ennis died right there in his office. Next, he made his way to Stephen Bivins’ office and fired one shot to his chest, killing him as well. After murdering Bivins, Marion Stembridge put the barrel of the pistol he had used into his own mouth and pulled the trigger.

 

A GCSU student who once occupied Stembridge’s old bedroom claims that he was awakened by the sounds of heavy footsteps walking down the hall a couple times a week. They would stop in front of the door of the bedroom, the next sound being the jangling of keys, and then the sound of one turning in the lock. Then the door would slowly creak open, and the footsteps would continue into the bedroom, stopping just short of the student’s bed. Stembridge’s presence was said to be felt in his home until it burned down in February 2019.  It was once located at the corner of Montgomery and North Columbia Street.

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