Wild Life

True-crime book challenges decades-old assumptions

Author Terry Neal is laden with local secrets. Photo by John Dausman.

In July 1966, a brutal murder in Henderson County would ooze to the surface of consciousness like rainwater saturating drywall. Terry Neal summarizes the gruesome crime thusly: “Three people were murdered in a small town in the mountains of Western North Carolina. But there was much, much, much more to the story than anyone would’ve realized.” 

Neal’s book, The True Story of the 1966 Hendersonville Triple Murders (Volume 1: The Confessions 1966 – 1968), aims to unveil the story of a heinous killing while dispelling long-held theories. 

On Friday, July 22, 1966, three bodies were found near Lake Summit. The scene was ghastly. Vernon Shipman, Charles Glass, and Louise Davis Shumate, arranged in a semicircle, had been pummeled to death — all suffered head wounds, while Glass and Shumate also looked to be stabbed. 

Hysteria ensued. Everyone went to see the bodies. “It was the first time people didn’t feel safe. It was risky to be yourself around here,” says Neal.

An Indiana native, Neal caught wind of the slayings when he moved to Henderson County in 2010. Inspired by a second reading of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, he began digging. “I like the idea of challenging assumptions. I like to explain how people come to believe something without any basis in the truth,” says Neal.

According to Neal, “The official narrative focused on sensationalism. It disturbed me that the focus was on the sexual orientation of the two men. But these murder victims were ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives, working, socializing and such. The facts were ignored. For instance, the SBI drawing of the man seen in the car with the victims was white. Yet police and newspapers seemed obsessed with pointing the finger at the African-American man, Edward Thompson. And then everyone seemed satisfied it was solved when psychics came to town. I have a logical mind. And while people are not logical, the patterns that emerged didn’t jive with the facts. This bothered me tremendously.”

Neal says pinning the crime on Edward Thompson, Jr. — already notorious for a statewide crime spree — became a convenient outlet.

Neal says there was significant evidence that warranted another look at the case. “I received the legal files of Robert Redden who defended a man who confessed. His name was Joe Henry Parham. I found unusual involvement in the case by a Miami investigator named Edward Stanton and his involvement did not seem necessary. Nor did the involvement of the Buncombe County Sheriff, who gave Stanton a copy of his files to take back to Miami. I interviewed dozens of people who revealed information that contradicted the official narrative. Officials records indicated Louise Shumate had never lived at the Ravenscroft Apartments. There were other records that indicated Louise Shumate quit working in 1959 and witnesses that said she was very ill in 1966. The book details what I uncovered and future volumes will reveal more.”

Neal speculates that the murders left the community feeling exposed because the crime revealed deep-seated attitudes that some residents tried to paint over. 

“I was happy to discover the two male victims, Charles Glass and Vernon Shipman, were well liked and enjoyed life despite the perverted twists that others tried to put on their lives,” says Neal. “Sure, they had idiosyncrasies, but they didn’t seem the bit phased by the straight-laced expectations of the community.” 

Even today, some 40 years later, few subscribe to conclusions Neal has distilled from six years of research. “True crime is unbelievable,” he says. “When I tell people about what really occurred, they think it’s impossible.”

And yet 290 pages, not including newspaper clippings, police reports, and photographs, invites readers to suspend their disbelief. 

The True Story of the 1966 Hendersonville Triple Murders can be purchased on Amazon. Neal expects to release a second volume sometime in 2020.

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