A troubled man
Marion Stembridge is one of Milledgeville’s most notorious characters. Even decades after his death, whispers of his crimes still circulate around town. Some even say that Marion himself can still be seen and heard. His story is one of murder, intrigue, and pain. If you want to know more about the man and the things he did all those years ago, keep reading. Be careful though. He is one spirit you definitely don’t want to bother.
From the beginning, Marion Stembridge was a troubled man. He had a history of eccentric behavior and mental instability. So much so that his mother admitted him to Central State Hospital. Despite this, Stembridge gained respect as a grocer (his downtown store is now Coasties Bakery) but gained his money in a different way. He accumulated almost a million dollars from being a loan shark and taking the hard-earned money of others for his own. He targeted the poorer citizens of Milledgeville so that they were left with almost nothing. For years, Stembridge conducted his business in this way, jacking up the interest rates he imposed on the poor so that his own pockets would grow. His clients were terrified of Stembridge because he carried three guns on him at all times to intimidate and threaten them. In 1949, one resident by the name of Johnny Cooper decided that he had had enough.
Johnny Cooper parked a black sedan that he had impulsively purchased months prior outside of Stembridge’s store with a message that read, “You can have this pile of steel in exchange for my note”. Stembridge was furious at Cooper and the 61-year-old man grabbed his .38 caliber revolver and marched towards Cooper’s residence. Stembridge brought along one of his employees, Sam Terry, and the two beat Cooper with their brass knuckles. Two women rushed out of the house in an attempt to calm the men down. Instead, Stembridge shot the two women, critically injuring both. One of the women died and Stembridge and Terry were indicted for murder. On July 22, 1949, Marion Stembridge was sentenced to 1-3 years in prison for his actions. He blamed the attorney, Marion Ennis, and Judge George Carpenter for his arrest. Stembridge appealed stating that he shouldn't have to serve any time for what he did. He was allowed to go free on bond, pending another trial. Stembridge hired two attorneys, Frank Evans and Jimmy Watts, to help him win his case. After three years and two appeals, one to Georgia courts and one to the Supreme Court, Stembridge was acquitted on a writ of habeas corpus. Neither Marion nor Sam Terry served time for the crime. Our story doesn’t end there though…
Marion wasn’t quite free yet. Marion Ennis, Baldwin Country’s district attorney, decided to reopen the case against Stembridge, as he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that Marion had escaped without consequences. Ennis enlisted the help of another Milledgeville attorney, Stephen T. Bivins, to help bring justice to Stembridge. At around the same time, two tax agents showed up at Stembridge’s door. Stembridge hadn’t paid any federal income tax in over a decade. Marion tried to bribe the men with $100,000 but money couldn’t fix this. On Monday, April 28th, 1953, Marion Stembridge was convicted of bribery and was ordered to appear in court. Rumors began to circulate that Bivins had turned Stembridge in and had even uncovered evidence of perjury from his previous trial. What none of them knew was that time was running out for all 3 men…
On May 2, 1953, Milledgeville was celebrating its 150th anniversary as a city. Decorations were everywhere and citizens were celebrating all over town. Well, all citizens except Stembridge. That morning, Stembridge went to the office of Marion Ennis above the Campus Theatre. Without a word, Stembridge drew his revolver and fired 3 shots into Ennis’ chest and shoulder. The man died there and left behind a wife and 2 children. Stembridge then went to the office of Stephen T. Bivins and shot him once in the chest. Marion Stembridge then put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and fired. All 3 men died that day.
It’s been decades since all of this occurred but many still claimed to feel his presence in the boarding house he used to reside in. The house burned down in February 2019. We will just have to see where Marion Stembridge’s spirit wanders next. He never gave up then and he wouldn’t give up now.
The final resting place for Marion Stembridge can be found in Memory Hill Cemetery in the east side, section B, lot 22.
In 1988 Peter Dexter took liberties with actual events for his award-winning work of fiction, “Paris Trout,” but the man behind the account was most definitely Marion Stembridge. In 1991 the novel was adapted into a film of the same name.
If you cannot make it to Milledgeville, listen to the tale of Marion Stembridge from Morbid: A True Crime Podcast. (Warning this content is for Mature Audiences Only.)
The image of the "ghost" is an interpretation of the character depicted.