Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South

Karen L. Cox

Karen L. Cox is a history professor and the founding director of the graduate public history program at UNC Charlotte.

In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery — known in the press as the “Wild Man” and the “Goat Woman,” enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor Jennie Merrill at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was killed. The crime drew national coverage when it was learned that the alleged murderers shared their decaying antebellum mansion with goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate “Goat Castle.”

Pearls was killed by a policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. But, typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded “justice,” and an innocent black woman was sent to prison for Merrill’s murder. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also profited from the notoriety of the murder by opening their derelict home to tourists.

Cox is an award-winning historian and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. She is the author of three books and numerous essays and articles on the subject of southern history and culture. Her books include Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, which won the 2004 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize from the Southern Association for Women Historians for the Best Book in Southern Women’s History, Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture, and, most recently, Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South.

A successful public intellectual, she has written op-eds for the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, TIME, Publishers Weekly, and the Huffington Post. Her expertise on southern history and culture has led to numerous interviews with newspapers from around the world and radio appearances on the BBC, Canadian Public Radio, NPR, Detroit Today, and Charlotte Talks. She’s also appeared on C-SPAN, Israeli Television, and NC Bookwatch.