Saturday, 23 June 2012

Real Life Horror: The Bonnie And Clyde Of Georgia

Alvin Howard Neelley, Jr. and Judith Ann Adams Neelley are an American couple responsible for two torture murders. They each were convicted of the kidnappings and murders of Lisa Ann Millican and Janice Chatman.

Judith Ann Neelley would acquire a range of monikers, pseudonyms and nicknames over her life, referred to variously as Judith Adams (her maiden name), Lady of Sundown or Lady Goodyear, and the Bride of Frankenstein. She was born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1964. Her father, a construction worker and alcoholic, died in an accident when she was nine. Conditions at home deteriorated and Judith's mother was arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a teenage boy. Even without that charge, the woman was apparently solidly promiscuous, thinking nothing of having her male companions come to her in the family's trailer.

When she was fifteen, Judith met Alvin Neelley, twelve years older than her and described as larger than most football players. He was pudgy and overweight, but apparently had a face that people called "sweet." The impression he gave to Detective Kines when they finally met, was that he was a wimp—"a pathetic character if there ever was one." Yet it was always easy for Alvin to pick up girls. Born in Georgia, he was a car thief with a friendly demeanor who was more than happy to give Judith a way out of her situation at home. Their chemistry was instantaneous and neither could imagine life without the other, but Alvin was married.

He decided to get a divorce from a woman who was more than happy to see him go, and Alvin and Judith quickly eloped in Georgia in 1980. Judith moved easily with Alvin into his life of two-bit crimes. They were constantly on the move, robbing convenience stores and gas stations from Georgia to Texas to finance their transient lifestyle. As they came into the Riverbend Mall parking lot in Rome, Georgia, they finally made a mistake. In 1980, they robbed a woman at gunpoint. Soon they were caught trying to cash stolen checks and were arrested. Alvin, with outstanding warrants in several states, went to prison, sentenced to five years, and Judith ended up at Rome's Youth Development Center. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to twins. She was then transferred to another facility in Macon, Georgia. 

Judith wrote frequently to Alvin, telling him how much she detested the staff at the YDC and claming that they had sexually abused her. Whether she was just looking for attention is anyone's guess, although all of her allegations have been denied and police found no evidence to support them. Still, she managed to get Alvin feeling vengeful over these alleged incidents, and she herself burned with anger about them.

Judith was released toward the end of 1981 and having nowhere else to go, she moved in with Alvin's parents in Tennessee to await his release. Yet she returned to her old ways, robbing another convenience store, and was arrested again. Alvin's parents helped to care for the twins. Within six months, Alvin had been granted early release, so they grabbed their children and picked up where they had left off, except that Alvin now had a score to settle with the staff at the Rome YDC.

When they were ready, they would act. First, they needed money. They learned how to steal cheques from post offices and use the signatures to forge money orders, which became their primary means of supporting their transient lifestyle. To keep track of one another, they installed CB radios in their cars. Alvin became the "Nightrider" and Judith "Lady Sundown." they also gave themselves the nicknames Boney and Claude as a joke about their resemblance to the roving, bank-robbing outlaws Bonnie and Clyde. From a hotel, they attempted to lure a woman for an interesting sexual escapade, but she failed to show up. Nevertheless, they were clearly creating fantasies together at this stage that would fuel their more serious crimes. In September 1982, they found themselves in Rome, GA and decided to launch an all-out attack.

First they took shots at Kenneth Dooley's home and tossed the Molotov cocktail at Linda Adair's residence. Within days, Judith had grabbed Lisa Millican and kept her captive in two different hotel rooms in Georgia and Alabama for three days. (While Alvin initially denied being with them, witnesses saw him at both hotels.) Judith and Alvin had sex with Lisa in front of their children and kept her handcuffed to a bed, which forced her to sleep on the floor. Then at Alvin's direction Judith took Lisa to the remote canyon in Alabama that would become her grave and tried to inject her with drain cleaner products they had purchased for this purpose. However, Lisa did not die. Judith kept shoving the needle into her, six times over half an hour in the neck and back, but the deadly procedure did not work. In the end, she decided just to kill the girl quickly, so she used a .38 pistol to shoot her three times. One bullet went through Lisa's back and out her left breast, killing her.

When Judith was certain she was dead, she shoved her over the edge of the cliff and watched her fall to the canyon floor. Judith would later say that Alvin had masturbated as he looked down at the battered corpse, far below but police indicate that Judith's description of this incident to the police indicated that she had been alone. Alvin, too, denied ever being there, but he had also initially denied raping Lisa before he finally said that he had indeed had sex with her - but only once. It was difficult to know what the true story was. He had even tried claiming that Judith had masturbated him into ejaculation and then put the sperm into Lisa herself. Only when the police refused to buy that did he admit to sexual contact with the girl.

Five days later, Judith went cruising for another victim. She saw a woman at a pay phone that appeared to be alone, but Judith was unable to get her to go riding around. That woman would remember later for the police the strange feeling she had when Judith approached her. Fortunately for her, she had called her husband to come and get her. Otherwise, she would have needed a ride. Then one evening, Judith spotted 22-year-old Janice Chatman. She was with a man, but Judith thought that with Alvin's help, that was easily managed. They could get rid of the guy and take the girl with them. Judith pulled over and invited the couple to go with her. Then man hesitated but the woman seemed eager to do it. They finally agreed to come along with Judith. As the two got into the car, Judith called the Nightrider on the CB radio and let him know through their secretive codes that she was on her way.

They rendezvoused on the outskirts of town they put Janice and John into Alvin's car and the children into Judith's, and then drove around for a while. When they stopped, Judith forced Hancock into the woods and shot him. She simply wanted him out of the way. She and Alvin then took Janice, who was mentally retarded and unaware of what was happening, to a cheap motel nearby, raped her repeatedly, and then shot her. They drove her body to a wooded area near a creek and dumped her. This time they called no one to report the body.

It seemed to them that they had twice gotten away with murder and they were ready for another. But first they needed money, so they went into Murfreesboro to pass some of their forged money orders. They did not get very far. Someone recognized them from a police flyer and they were arrested. Each began to point the finger at the other, but Judith's eventual defence would stagger the police and enrage the town. Once she was out for herself, she cut all ties to Alvin. Apparently they both preferred a pirate's code: every man (or woman) for himself. And those who had surmised that Judith was quite bold for such a young woman were about to see how brazen she was.

When they'd been arrested back in 1980, each gave a conflicting version of events. Alvin said that the check cashing schemes had all been Judith's idea and he'd done nothing. Judith claimed that they had planned and pulled the robbery together, but two years later, her story became more vivid. Shortly after their arrest, Alvin lawyered up, effectively shutting down interrogation, but his attorney urged him to tell the police what he knew. He claimed that Judith had instigated the crimes and was responsible for eight murders and he had just gone along with her. She liked to have power over others, he said. He didn't know what else to do. He even said he was afraid that his wife might even kill him. To his interrogators, he insisted that she was dangerous.

Alvin apparently believed her tales about sexual abuse at the YDC and thought she had good reason to be angry, but he also gave the impression that he had not wanted to commit the rapes and murders. He thought there had been a prostitution ring at the YDC in which Judith had become a willing participant and believed that she had been raped by various court personnel as well. In other words, he was fairly ignorant and gullible, and she seemed to have known how to push his buttons. Alvin claimed that the weapons all belonged to Judith and that she had killed the two girls because of some rage that she carried around with her at all times and at first, Judith did accept the blame, exonerating him every step of the way.

In her own confession, she described her final moments with Lisa and Janice. She spoke of how the shots of Liquid Drano and Liquid Plumber had hurt Lisa, how she had begged for her life, and how her blood had gotten on Judith's jeans, necessitating that she be rid of them. She also took responsibility for the fire bombing and the shooting incident in Rome, but insisted that Dooley had raped her and that Adair had set it up. But the suspects would both change their minds and their stories several times. Alvin told the police how Judith had killed Janice Chatman and gave directions to where they could find the body. He even drew a map, implicating himself at least as an accomplice. It wasn't long before they recovered the decomposing corpse. She had been raped, shot to death, and dumped in a wilderness area.

Two bodies, two murders, two suspects. It seemed obvious what came next, but the DA in Tennessee was stuck with a strange impasse. The major crimes—murder, rape, and assault—had all been committed in different counties, indeed, in some cases in different states. And the evidence was weak against Alvin. They could get him for the Chatman murder but not Lisa Millican's. So he remained in Tennessee, pleading guilty to his part in the kidnap-murder of Janice Chatman in exchange for life in prison. Judith, however, faced first-degree murder charges in Alabama for the murder of Lisa Millican, and with her confession, they had a good case against her. She was extradited there for trial, with a possible death penalty hanging over her head. She and her court-appointed attorney, Robert French Jr. got ready.

Judge Randall Cole was to preside over the proceedings. Alabama had a three-count indictment against Judith: murder, abduction with the intent to harm, and abduction with the intent to terrorize. Judith's first legal manoeuvre was to attempt to be considered under the Youthful Offender Act. That way she could be tried as a juvenile offender rather than an adult, which "if convicted, would carry only a $1,000 fine and a three-year prison sentence." Her request was denied so her attorney then put Plan B into action: an insanity defence based on battered woman syndrome.

In the meantime, Judith gave birth to another child in January 1983. All three of her children had been born while she was under arrest for crimes. She also went through psychiatric examinations to attempt to support her insanity plea. Yet she was found to be oriented and cooperative, i.e., competent to stand trial. She showed no sign of being delusional or having hallucinations. She was intelligent and free of obvious organic impairment, and showed a good memory. While there was some sign of depression, there was no reason to believe she was out of touch with reality or had been unable to conform her actions to the requirements of the law.

The trial in the DeKalb County Courthouse at Fort Payne, Alabama, began two months later in March. French attempted to have her confession thrown out, but the judge ruled that it would remain as evidence. Nevertheless, he put all of his effort into proving that Alvin had controlled Judith and whatever she had done had not been her fault. She'd had no choice. Alvin beat her continually. French brought in Alvin's first wife to describe her years of alleged abuse at Alvin's hands, and she claimed to have many scars from those days. That set the stage for Judith to take the stand, she was grilled for three days in front of the jury.

She went into extravagant detail about being a victim and being deathly afraid of her husband, Alvin. She wanted to impress the jury that she could not help what she had done. If she hadn't, Alvin would have killed her. Everything from assault to murder had been done completely under his direction. She had more or less been a mindless accomplice, unable to think or act for herself. She had been subjected to vigorous abuse and constant demands for sex. She had photographs that allegedly documented it all, and said that Alvin had ordered her to kidnap girls for him to rape. She was, her attorney would say in his closing argument, like the bride of Frankenstein, an extension of Alvin, guided entirely by his will. He was a Svengali. Judith had actually begged him to let Lisa Millican go, but he had refused. Judith had given the girl injections in the hope that it would end her pain quickly. It had been an act of compassion.

John Hancock's testimony very nearly assisted her, because he had to admit that Alvin seemed to have been directing Judith right before she shot him, but DA Richard Igou managed to get him to say that she had clearly been acting on her own. Igou also kept Lisa, the victim, foremost in the jury's mind so they would not mistake who was on trial. Most of what Judith had said contradicted the letters she had written to Alvin, so Igou considered her entire performance on the stand an act. He was determined that this was a play that would end badly for her. He had no doubt that her rendition of shooting both women, without Alvin's direction, would present clear images for the jury.

During rebuttal, he called psychiatrist Alexander Salillas, who said that Judith had known the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense and that she had consciously decided to commit murder. French attempted to derail him by asking about a psychiatric syndrome called "coercive persuasion," and then tried to get him to admit that Judith had been subjected to it via isolation, brutality, and control. In other words, he hoped the psychiatrist would stipulate that Judith Neelley had been brainwashed. Salillas responded that Judith, and other battered women, still had choice. French attempted to undermine this with one example after another, but the psychiatrist remained firm and he was the final witness. Both sides closed
and the judge gave his instructions to the jury.

The jury received the case on March 21, 1983, quite late in the afternoon. No one expected them to be ready with a verdict by midmorning the next day, but they were. They found Judith Ann Neelley guilty of the kidnap and murder of Lisa Millican. Yet they recommended that she be sentenced to life in prison rather than death. However, the sentence was up to Judge Cole, and he had written two opinions. Ultimately, he decided that while Judith had been young, she was also brazen and cruel. He thought the crime had been heinous and atrocious beyond "that which is common to most capital cases," and sentenced her to death. Judith listened to this and began to cry. She was only eighteen years old.

Not wanting a second death sentence in another state, she pleaded guilty to the kidnap-murder of Janice Chatman in Tennessee and received a life sentence. Then she got ten years for the shooting of John Hancock. It was her deal with Tennessee that spurred Alvin to finalize his own plea deal. He was afraid his wife might testify against him. It was the consensus of those who listened to the various witnesses that Judith was the brains behind the most serious of the couple's offences. It was she who had persuaded Alvin to participate with her in the brutal crimes, not the other way around. When they had lured Lisa Millican into their car and molested and killed her, it was Judith who injected her with liquid drain cleaner and who then shot her. She was also the person who shot John Hancock and left him for dead.

The question for a jury was whether she had done so because she herself was psychologically disturbed or whether she had been forcibly subordinated to Alvin in such a manner that she would do whatever he wanted, even when he was not around. They had decided that she was aware of what she was doing and had not been under anyone else's power. Judith settled into the appeals process as an inmate at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka. She became the youngest woman to have been sentenced to death row. In a 1983 prison interview, quoted by Frasier and Cook, she reportedly said, "I pray for strength. I don't ask God...for me not to be electrocuted. I just ask that if I'm going to be electrocuted, to give me strength to go through it."

Alvin had said that they were responsible for more murders, despite intensive investigations no evidence was ever found to link them to unsolved cases. Nevertheless, Judith Neelley appears to have had a thirst for violence and power. That she was young & slender gave her an advantage with those who would rather believe that the male was the instigator. She was just a girl, after all, and several groups began to fight on her behalf. Judith appealed to get a new trial, but in March 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal. Less then two years later, they let her death sentence stand. She converted to Christianity and developed a prodigious correspondence, writing, between 30 and 60 letters a week.

She apparently developed a relationship with another woman, who on May 21, 1994 was found dead in her home. She had shot herself, leaving photographs and a cassette recording of their fatal plan. Neelley was found in her cell, her wrists slashed with a disposable razor, but she survived. Then there was more news. Alabama Governor Fob James decided that Judith Neelley did not deserve to die for her crimes. Before he left office, he signed an order to commute her sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. This decision caused an outcry, he defended his decision.

He said that he had given it long consideration and went through many documents, including letters pleading with him to reconsider Judith's case. The jury, he noted, had given her life. It was the judge in her case that had ruled for the death sentence. James said that since the jury, who had seen all the evidence, had decided on leniency, and they had been chosen as Judith's peers, their recommendation was the proper one to follow.

James's act shocked former DA Richard Igou, who went on the record as saying, "He did this without speaking to the DA's office or asking our opinion. It is clear he did not want us to be involved in his decision." He found it ironic that James had come to his conclusion about the Neelley case on the same day on which they DA's office had requested that her execution date be set. Then after the sentence was commuted, with the expectation that it could be the final word, Alabama's attorney general ruled that the law allowed the governor to commute the sentence.

Neelley's attorney clamed that with time served she was eligible for parole immediately, but Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Gene Reese ruled in July 2002 that Neelley may not be considered for release until January 2014, fifteen years after her sentence was commuted. Even if she were paroled, she could be extradited to Georgia to face her life sentence there for the rape-murder of Janice Chatman.

Currently, she is the second-longest serving female death row inmate in the country, according to a newsletter from "Abolish," which publishes death penalty items from every state. Given the twist and turns in this case to date, it would not be surprising to hear from Ms. Neelley again.

Alvin Neelley was incarcerated at the Bostick State Prison from 1983 until his death in November 2005. Neelley, 52, reportedly died while undergoing surgery.

If you want to watch a documentary on Alvin Howard Neelley, Jr. and Judith Ann Adams Neelley then just click on the above photo.


  1. i was a guard at the prison where alvin was at..a fellow guard told me how he wasn't during surgery but the day after the hip-replacement surgery at about 8:30 am he was served a breakfast tray and as he scooted up in bed he let out a big grunt and he was dead..apparently of a heart attack.