#329 – Murder Trial Mystery With Criminal Defence Lawyer McCracken Poston Jr.

Thomas Green here with ethical marketing service on the episode. Today, we have mccracken Poston, Junior mccracken. Welcome. Thank you, Thomas. It’s an honor to be here. It is very much my pleasure. Would you like to take a moment and tell the audience a bit about yourself and what you do? Thank you. I’m a, uh, I’m a criminal defense lawyer in, uh, Northwestern Georgia in the United States. If you’ve ever heard of the city, Chattanooga, Tennessee. We are directly south of Chattanooga, Tennessee over the state line into the state of Georgia on a map. We would be in the northwest corner of Georgia. Ok. Um, well, thank you for the introduction. Uh, we, we’ve got a, a fascinating story to cover today. Um, and rather than me do an interpretation, would you like to open with a sort of a summary of, um, for someone who’s never heard it before, that summary of the story? Well, certainly, uh, I wrote a book, uh, it’s a True Crime, uh, nonfiction, true Story about a murder trial, uh, that I did as a defense lawyer 25 years ago.

Uh, it’s called The Zenith Man and that is my client and his wife uh in a, an amusement park photo booth. That’s one of the four photos that the machine snapped of them. Uh A little amusement park that still exists in my county in North Georgia called Lake Winn Paoa. But uh we all have fond memories of it, but uh I don’t think I ever had that kind of experience at Lake Win Paso. So I, I was impressed when I saw this but my client for all of my life, um he went to high school with my oldest sister. So we knew of him. And then in later years, he began, he became a television repairman and salesman and Zenith was a brand of television uh that he was the uh had the franchise for. And so, uh that is the kindest of names that he had because he really became quite odd over the years, became somewhat of a malcontent, a gadfly and very litigious.

When he met Virginia Hickey. He was a uh just coming out of the US Army. He was drafted, did his two years and was coming out and ready to start his business. Um They married in 1966 three weeks after and I know you know this name, Dolly Parton and her husband, Carl Dean stole away to Ringgold, Georgia from Nashville to get married against her manager’s wishes. Ringgold was the quickie marriage capital of the southeastern United States, probably because one our, our laws created a one stop shopping situation where the blood test and the licensure and the uh the uh service could be done uh in one trip. But in Northwest Georgia, we’re at the juncture of four states, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia. So for multiple states, this was the quickest easiest, fast marriage option.

So Dolly Parton and Carl Dean slipped down in 1966 and got married. Three weeks later, Alvin Ridley and Virginia Hickey went and got their license and were married soon thereafter. That was 1966 by 1969 country star George Jones and country stars, George Jones and Tammy Wynette slipped into Ringgold to get married. By that time, Virginia Hickey was missing. She disappeared. Her family was very active in trying to locate her. Her parents took out ads in the local newspaper, uh, parents seek married daughter and this came in the local Georgia newspaper. In addition, in addition to the Chattanooga Tennessee newspaper, so there was never really any resolution for them until 1970 when the young couple was evicted from their public housing apartment.

Well, Alvin being Alvin, he fought it and, and demanded a jury trial. And September 1519 70 uh the superior court judge Paul painter was so frustrated with the way Alvin was making a circus of his court that he stopped the trial and said Mr Ridley, send for your wife. Alvin’s father went and brought Virginia into the courtroom where her parents interestingly were sitting so I feel that her parents were probably behind the eviction. Um, they uh had gotten the housing authority and others to coordinate, flushing her out. And by the time Virginia came out of the superior court chambers, her parents seemed to accept she is where she wants to be and they left and she went back home with her husband who is now living with his parents by the way. So that’s, that’s, that’s the last place Virginia Ridley had ever been seen alive in public September 15th, 1970 in this grand old, uh, Catoosa County courthouse, large courtroom, October 4th, 1997.

Over 27 years later, Alvin Ridley drives right by an ambulance, uh, service with fire department, um, kind of left town but turned around and came back to a phone booth. It didn’t work. So he went to another one that was right next to the 911 emergency call center. And he called first a hospital in Chattanooga to come see about his wife who had stopped breathing. They told him he had to call the local authorities. Well, with al that was like calling his worst enemy. He had been suing all these local authorities and now he had to call them to tell them that his wife was not breathing. And of course, everyone in town a whole generation had passed and everybody’s reaction was what wife we thought you lived alone and the thing about a small town, especially in the American South is you, we pretty much know even who the homeless are.

We, we know them by name. We know their stories. Everybody knows everyone’s stories. And, um, so it was, uh, it was quite a shock. Um, as to me, everyone know, knew my story as well. Uh I had, uh, grown up in the area. I had served in the state legislature in the House of Representatives as a Democrat. Um And I ran for the United States Congress after my congressman switched parties and uh I was destroyed. I I was beaten, uh severely. Uh The politics were beaten out of me. It was so severely uh lopsided. So, um I actually saw Alvin Ridley the night of my defeat. Um That was 1996 A, a year before Virginia died, but he was standing in front of his dilapidated zenith shop, which he had shuttered in 1984 15 years before blaming everyone for his downfall.

He would type out and post missives on the inside of the glass, naming everybody who had caused his business to fail. He kind of had a Rube Goldberg uh machine of causation in his head to where he thought a minor fender bender car accident his father had in the company truck led to his father’s death of pancreatic cancer two years later. But Alvin and his mother flew into litigation and suing everybody and it was all frivolous. It was all ultimately dismissed but not before one of the counter claimants, the chief of police counterclaimed thought he had won a judgment and seized Alvin’s 1977 Chevrolet van, which was Alvin’s pride and joy. And this was the absolute summit of all of his fears and conspiracies.

Quote. They took my van. Well, Alvin said this for so many years. It inspired him to run for sheriff against the sheriff who had taken his van and I was already interested in politics. This was 1984. I was just four years away from running myself. I was a 24 year old young man, law student, but I remember wanting to go, it was during summer break and I wanted to go to this all candidate rally because crazy Alvin Ridley was running for sheriff and who knows what he’s gonna say and it should be all high entertainment. And I remember being quite impressed that he approached the stand when it was his time to talk with a little recorder. And I know young people won’t understand this and I don’t know how it’s done in the United Kingdom, but television used to sign off at night now it just goes 24 7. But it used to sign off at night and Alvin had recorded the sign off from the, uh, CBS affiliate out of Chattanooga, which had a familiar voice saying the station was signing off but led into the American national anthem.

And so here he’s walking up to a microphone with hundreds of his detractors and opponents helpers ready to jeer him and ridicule him and he turns on the national anthem causing everyone to stand and remove their caps and, and he just kind of reset the moment. And I was impressed with that. I thought this is a guy who I was just ready for the crowd to rip to shreds and he reset the moment now, then he then did go into his conspiracy theories and got a few chuckles and laughs and he ended up in the county of, uh, at that time. Oh, gosh, thousands of voters. He got 290 votes. And, um, what also was fascinating is the, the incumbent sheriff who Alvin really liked until he took his van. The inc, the incumbent sheriff had given Alvin a little, uh, honorary deputy thing.

It’s almost like something you’d give a child. But a lot of adults like to have it because if they got caught speeding in another jurisdiction in Georgia, they could flash that. Hey, I’m an officer. I’m an honorary deputy in Catoosa County. That was the extent of it. Alvin used it to run against Sheriff JD Stewart, citing his eight years of law enforcement experience and it was just having that card in his wallet. So, so that’s what Alvin Ridley was about. And suddenly he has a dead woman in his house. Uh, I was defeated, not only from the congressional race, but I’d gone through a divorce. I had, uh, had a presidential appointment kind of dangled out for me to want. And it seemed like the minute I told the US senator who was, uh, suggesting it, that I would do it, uh, he immediately began to get pushback from people who did not want me to be a, a federal prosecutor in a sense, which was with the position.

So it was kind of a third failure on my part. And the Monday, after Virginia died on Saturday, her family now saying to the press that she had been locked in his basement for 30 years, um, he began to pop up. He began to meet me at the same intersection of, of street and sidewalk every day for three days. And I finally spoke to him. It was just awkward not speaking to him. He didn’t seem to be wanting to start it, but he would make eye contact and then he would move on. I just said Mr Ridley, I’m sorry, sorry about your loss. And that just became it just the cork came out and it just began to flow from him this grief and conspiracy and the theory that the sheriff’s office and all of his detractors had worried her to death just like they had worried his father to death and his mother to death.

And now he was alone. And of course, the criminal defense lawyer in me said when he mentioned that the police kept asking him questions about his wife. I said, you know, you have a right not to say anything. So it’s probably best to just say nothing. I didn’t realize at the time that he had already met with him twice and that he would go on to meet with them again after I gave him that advice. Um It took them eight months to charge Alvin, um, by prior arrangement, uh, he understood that if he got arrested and I learned about it, I would come to him at the jail and that’s what happened in, uh, late June of 1998. And, um, the minute I learned about it and I had just gotten remarried and, um, to a local young woman who also had the local prejudices and fears about Alvin Ridley.

I’m from a smaller town north of Ringo called Graceville. And my sister had gone to Ringo to high school because that’s where the high school was. And I remembered Alvin and be as being odd that people bullied him a lot and that he was just a kind of a guy that was easy pickings for the other boys mainly. Um Alvin brags that at one school dance, 22 girls danced with him. Well, after talking to a few women in town of his age, they felt sorry for him. He was a guy that got picked on. He came to dances without a date. And he, he either worked up the nerve to ask one or one very sweet girl, just decided to give him a dance and they were cut in by 21 other girls that and that at, at that time, he was, at the time of the trial, he was 56 and he would get emotional when he would tell me about this, that he had 22 dance, uh, dances and 22 different dates.

Of course, to him, they were dates and then later in tellings girlfriends. But, uh, I couldn’t quite figure out what made Alvin tick. But I figured out very quickly that he seemed to be kneecapping my defense strategy at every turn. He would not want to meet with me yet. He would call me in the middle of the night screaming that I hadn’t knocked his case out, which is the way he phrased it and I was baffled. I didn’t know what to do. Uh, I realized that perhaps I have gotten in over my head. I did not have a lot of law experience because I’ve been messing around in Georgia politics for a decade and public service. And, um, just kind of piddling with the law practice is a part time thing. But, uh, I learned that from Alvin’s talks that for every ounce of suspicion that he had for local government, he also had a counterweight of pounds of hope from the federal government.

Uh, he just thought the federal government was going to be his salvation. So he was sitting with me in my office. We usually screamed at each other because he wanted to talk about the van. And I would say Alvin, I have to know about your wife. This is the biggest mystery woman I’ve ever heard of. And this is what the case is about. It’s not about your van. And he would argue, no, we don’t have to talk about that because I didn’t kill her. And then, but they did take my van. So that in his logic, that was what we needed to be working on. And, and I would, I, I found myself giving in to him, son. He would say you need to study this, this, this cases that they dismissed. Well, out of curiosity, I spent a few days in the courthouse pulling files including the eviction file, which I found a jury list and I knew one of the jurors. Now, this was a, this was a trial from 28 years before.

And I found the woman. I thought, I, I said, I know you won’t remember this, but you were a juror on an eviction trial. She said, I remember everything about it. It was a circus. She said, Mr Ridley just tore the place apart and then the judge stopped the trial and told him to get his wife. She came, her parents were there. She told me everything and So, um Evan and I would just, uh we would end up yelling at each other. And at one point I, I’m, I’m not making my points. He’s escalating with a louder voice and he starts in on the van and it just as an exclamation to myself, I just said, oh, Lord and Alvin went silent. I looked up at him and he thought I was praying and he assumed a very childlike prayer stance with his hands folded together and his eyes shut tight and I thought I can work with this.

And so I’ve continued the prayer talking about, oh Lord, please help out and understand that we’ve got to talk about Virginia. I’ve got to know everything about Virginia and I need to get in his house. Well, that was the, the, the line that Alvin would not cross letting me in his house. He would just always end with even after praying it, he would end with, I’ll think about it. And then nothing happened. At some point. I decide that I’m tired of the middle of the night calls, especially after I got remarried. And I told Alvin, I said, look, you and your wife loved your privacy. And he said yes. And I said, well, I have a wife now and she kind of likes her privacy. So I’ll, I’ll make this compromise with you. You don’t have to make an appointment because obviously making an appointment, let people know where he was going to be. And so I said you come by any time I’ll stop whoever I’ve talked to.

If my car is there, I will talk to you. No matter what, I’ll put people off, I’ll, I’ll delay them, I’ll interrupt my session with them. And, uh, that seemed to be working. So that got him into the office. So, um, what I’m just really low though because he’s not letting me in. I decided to get a phone installed, reinstalled in his house so that he could call me on my cell, which was Atlanta based, which would have been long distance. But if I’m paying the bill, so be it, that, that saves me, that allows us to communicate, saves me from the late night calls. And, uh, he knew he figured out that I was wanting to come with the installer with my camera. And I basically wanted to show that this house while it looks like a fortress with this giant gate, there’s a lot of keep out no trespassing signs. It really was not a fortress. And I wanted to photograph that. The minute Allan realized I was there, he decided to have the phone installed on the porch so we could not go inside.

So, uh, so in any event, we’re in my office, it’s August of 1998. He’s just days from being indicted, potentially a short few weeks, uh, from a September trial, potentially. And, uh, my secretary sticks her head in and said congressman deal called you from Washington. And I thought, wow, I wonder what my former opponent that just completely destroyed my dreams. What would he want for me? You know, maybe he wants to make up, maybe he wants to put me on a committee or hear my opinion on something. And then I thought, who am I kidding? You know, I, I, I’ve pissed off both parties in Georgia. I, you know, I’m, I’m totally disliked by the entire political spectrum. I was a bit of a reformer in my legislative days and uh passed uh legislation making lobbyists register and making them report what they gave to us as gifts.

So that did not make me popular among my colleagues. But uh but I was thinking, you know, I can at least impress Alvin that I’ve got a guy that uh congressman calling me and Alvin even said, aren’t you going to call the congressman back? And he seemed to be sitting up straighter. So I called the congresswoman back, thankfully had the phone to my ear. Finally got to the familiar voice of congressman, then congressman, Nathan Deal. And he said, I’m calling you to tell you to keep Alvin Ridley away from my congressional offices. He’s scaring the ladies there. And so I’m glad I, he didn’t hear it. I said I’ll pass it along, sir. Thank you for calling me. I did not want to break Alvin’s spirit because I knew by then that he thought the federal government was the knight in, on a white horse in shining armor that was going to come up and rescue him from all of this. Sorry to cut in.

But in, in your view, does, does he know the seriousness of what he’s facing or is he a bit, uh, naive to it? I, I think it, in hindsight, I think he did not. He’s very literal thinker and he’s thinking, well, I didn’t do it. So why should I waste time on that? But we are gonna be in a courtroom. So we might as well address the van, the loss of my business and everything else. And, and that was his logic. And so I took him outside and I said, Alvin, I decided that misery loves company. I said, Alvin, you know how that damn congressman, you know, my, he hates me so much that he said, because you’re my client. If you or I go to his office ever again, he’s gonna have us both arrested. And I said, Alvin, I can’t afford to be arrested. And he looked bewildered and I said, you know, because of the election, well, he looked even more bewildered because he knew that the guy had beaten the hell out of me.

So I said, look, Alvin do this. If you will just co-operate and please help me represent you when this is all over, I’ll take you and show you where he lives. And, and that satisfied him. It was no, it was not me telling Alvin you can’t do something. I was just saying, wait and help me and I’ll show you where he lives. You can go right up and not deal with the ladies at the congressional office that satisfied him and he, and he drove away, not feeling um dismissed. So we, we rocked along, we knew this much that and because I got her childhood medical records, Virginia had severe epilepsy since childhood. Obviously, she had not been to a doctor in 27 years and, and that looked badly on Alvin as well. And so, um I would ask him and he said she refused to go out.

And I would say, well, what about a doctor? And he says, well, she did go to the doctor for years and then she refused to even do that. He said, but I kept getting the medicine for her. And then one day God told her to stop taking the medicine. And I thought, well, that sounds all too convenient that God told her to do that, but I just took it for what it was. And uh but the state of Georgia was making its murder claim based entirely on the presence of what’s called partial hemorrhages, which are tiny, little ruptured blood vessels around her eyes and her mouth and in other places on her body where uh skin is very soft and, and delicate and uh there was nothing wrong with her neck other than some damage the coroner had done, uh, stabbing, uh, needles in for a blood draw. And, um, yeah, but the state of Georgia had received the body with this persistent rumor that this woman has been locked in a basement for 30 years.

I wanted to ask you about this cos it’s, it’s about how, um, public sentiment influences a trial. So, do you think this is all based on rumor? And um let’s say public will? Oh, I think so much of it was because I, we used to have this famous lawyer or in, near us in, in my same circuit. His name was Bobby Lee Cook. Um He was very famous. Uh There was a TV show called Matlock that was created based on Bobby Lee Cook and he was a very generous older lawyer. I had known him for many, many years from when, before I was a lawyer and I went to his office which was a beautiful, you know, beautiful office. And I said, you know, do you have any pathology books? I don’t have any in Ringgold, Georgia, but he welcomed me to his beautiful library and he pulled three books off the shelves. Sure enough, here’s information about partic hemorrhages.

And sure enough, there’s warnings, don’t assume manual asphyxiation. When you see partic hemorrhages, you know, they can happen from a hard coughing fit or from a seizure. So it seemed to be clear, but the state of Georgia was still locked in on this. What I needed was an epilepsy death to compare it to AAA uh confirmed epilepsy or seizure death to, to compare it to and lo and behold. And it’s so tragic. It’s so tragic that I feel guilty even bringing it up. But uh the US had a, an incredible Olympic track star back in the nineties uh Florence Griffith Joyner. She went by the nickname Flojo. She had a incredible style. She had these very uh long painted fingernails and she was fast as the wind.

And of course, her people did not, did not want to accept her greatness, always dogged her with performance enhancing drug allegations. And, and so, um she died, she died suddenly at home in the bed and everybody thought what a tragedy, but they didn’t really say how she died or why she died. And then in October, when I had just got a continuance from the case because I had nothing. I had no defense and I had gotten a continuance of the case for 12 weeks and I was ready to celebrate, threw myself a birthday party and uh I was cleaning up after the party and the CNN uh television news was on and it talked about the autopsy being released of Flojo or Florence Griffith Joyner.

Flojo was her popular nickname and it said she died of a seizure disorder. And I thought what this is this is very tragic timing, but I’ve got to see that autopsy. And so by Monday I was talking with, uh, the doctor who’d autopsied her in Orange County California. And sure enough, she had petechial hemorrhages in the same areas that Virginia Ridley had. As a matter of fact, she had more of them and, and, uh, you know, I, I, I surmised in my layman’s opinion that if Virginia Ridley had been murdered, then Flojo had been brutally murdered by the, the markings in the same places but at different uh intensities. Mm So um I had that autopsy promised to come my way. Uh And I, I was very excited because I found an epilepsy expert and this is 1998 Internet Thomas, you know, I, I, you can’t cut and paste URL S, you have to write down the URL S and make sure the backslash and the forward slashes and everything and the periods and everything is just right.

Well, I had it written down and I still found it in my case file. Uh the URL for these um medical uh journal abstracts. And there was like a, a death mechanism called sudden death and epilepsy. Somewhat rare because of, you know, modern medications, uh you know, can, can keep people alive who have epilepsy. It’d be like I’m diabetic if I just decided not to take my insulin, you know, something’s gonna get me at some point. So, um Doctor Braxton Bryant Waker was this guy’s name and I knew we had to have it. And I talked with him over the phone. He was very dry. I told him about the partic hemorrhages. He said that’s quite normal and seizures. I talked to him about the death. He said that sounds like a sudden death and epilepsy, death. And I told him, well, her husband’s being charged with murder.

And I’m asking you, would you please come and give your opinions? I’m not asking you to determine whether he’s guilty or innocent. Just please tell me your learned opinions about this and about the presence of partic hemorrhages in your patients. He said, oh, yeah, my living patients come to the office with these hemorrhages uh around their eyes and mouth. So I had had that nailed down Alvin for the first time, became engaged in the case when I was showing him how the internet worked. And I would look up, I’d say, you know, for example, we’re gonna try to find a forensic pathologist. Well, he carried this bunch of paper and pens in his pockets at all time and he would put on his glasses and pull out all this wad of paper and make me spell forensic pathologist every day that I ever said it. So I just quit saying it. But he fell in love with this one very interesting website from a guy in Georgia who proclaimed to be a forensic pathologist.

But his website had a little music, a little uh 16 bit animation. I didn’t know, you know, I thought, wow, he must be good. He’s on the internet. That was my very green view of the world at that time because the internet was new. And so to please Alvin, I promised to get this guy and I thought, well, we already know the theory of why she died. I’ve already built the, you know, the, the epilepsy doctor defense to explain everything. And I even got the state doctors, uh professors to give me the text that he learned from. So I could show him from his own school texts that you’re not supposed to jump to conclusions about partial hemorrhages. And so I was ready for uh the state doctor, but Alvin wanted this guy and oddly enough, he really wanted him in a, um, he was hyper interested in having this guy up.

Well, I’ll, I’ll save it for the reader, but it Alvin had a very bizarre non crime scene in mind that he wanted this doctor to examine. Um, but the other major thing that happened was, um, because I had Flo Jo’s autopsy and that was it. And now we were five weeks from trial and having a Thanksgiving feast. At first my, my new wife’s family’s house and then at my family’s house, they lived just a few miles apart. And, um, my parents said, um, we’ve made a, a turkey plate and we want you to take it to Mr Ridley. That is the last place I wanted to go on a day off. You know, I wanted to go rest nap, watch sports, but my parents told me to do it.

So instead of calling Alvin and just arguing with him about me coming there, I just went and I now realize looking back that Alvin is so transactional when I showed up with this wonderful smelling meal in this paper bag with the tinfoil over it, he came to the door. He saw me, I told him what I had. He said, wait a minute, he shuts the door. I hear him inside. He seems, sounds like he’s talking to people, but he turns the TV off and he comes back and he says, come on in and I went in to this not comfortable place to be, uh, just because of Alvin’s housekeeping, uh style or lack thereof. And, um, the room was illuminated at first by a small red light bulb looked like a, an adapter to an old Christmas tree light.

But then there was a string and a regular size light bulb that was just bare coming from the ceiling went on and I found I recognized Virginia’s deathbed from the coroner’s pictures. But what I thought was new that was not in any other pictures was an entire wall covered in writing. And it took me a minute because my, the shadow of my head kept getting in the way when. So I was trying to get to the side where I could read some of it. And it was the most mundane recordings of dinner menus, television casts, um, songs Bible verses, but all in the very same unique hand. And I said, and my heart jumped because I, I wanted to explain this mystery woman. And I said, Alvin, who wrote this, hoping it was Virginia and I apparently was too excited about it because he said, well, Virginia did.

And I said, well, why do you think she wrote all this? He said, I guess the Lord told her to, she wrote all the time. I said, you mean there’s more. And he leads me into this room that is just floor to ceiling cardboard boxes stuffed with her writings, her art, her uh spiral bound notebooks filled, front back covers five bibles that were filled in the margins. One of those bibles in her hand said September 1977. God has told me to stop taking my medicine also in the house medicine bottles like they never threw anything away. So there’s years of medicine bottles. And then starting in September 1977 there’s months of filled medicine bottles. So Alvin continued to give her the medicine. Even after God told her to stop taking the medicine. She wrote uh in, in the US.

We used to have this TV show called Unsolved Mysteries. Maybe it crossed the Atlantic. I don’t know but it was just, uh you know, interesting sometimes forensic, sometimes paranoia paranormal, uh you know, just mysteries that were unsolved. Virginia wrote and was pitching a script to unsolved mysteries about the taking of Alvin’s Band. She, there were legal glossaries in her hand where, which made me believe she was the inspiration behind all the litigation. She wrote Three Us Presidents. This is a woman who’s supposed to be locked in a basement. She wrote President Richard Nixon complaining about them getting evicted from their apartment. Alvin said you can’t have it. That’s all I’ve got left of her. So I had to immediately figure out a way for first thing I did is I grabbed his hands and I said, let’s pray about it. And I, you know, came up with this elaborate prayer about God, give us a sign right now if you do not want me to use it.

And I was hoping nothing would, nothing would creak or anything and nothing happened. And I said, there you go. Alvin, God wants you to use it. He was too wise. He said, uh let me think about it. Well, he’s transactional. 200 bucks, got me the stuff to copy. I had to go in the house for four days. Not a pleasant place. Lots of vermin. Two very strange cats that I really didn’t get to see very well. And uh but I had something to work with now and um I like, I said, I don’t wanna give the whole book away, but it was a roller coaster ride this trial. Now, Thomas of that was 25 years ago after the trial. Alvin and I did a bit of a American TV true crime show uh spree where people would come to us and they’d wanna tell the story about this woman.

Everybody thought was locked away for 30 years, but turns out she loved her husband very much and was just agoraphobic and had epilepsy. But, and I wanted to write the story because it’s so intricate and there’s so many details, but I just could not explain Alvin. And so we were doing another podcast of three years ago, one that has not come out yet. And I think they were deferring to my book to hold off. But uh the podcaster was interviewing one of the jurors and this juror sent a message to me through him and she said that she had become a nurse since the trial. And she’s always wondered if Alvin was on the autism spectrum. Well, just the, just her telling me that through the third party, it was like a cold bucket of water being splashed in my face. It made me wake up to realize. But see, 25 years ago, nobody was talking about autism in adults.

The spectrum had just been maybe it was three or four years out. They were mainly focusing on Children and you know, getting them the proper services in, in the for their education. Uh There was even a group that was just hell bent on finding why this is happening. And in fact, we’ve, we’ve had people on the spectrum forever and some of our greatest contributors, greatest artists, greatest scientists have been neurodivergent, but it all began to explain Alvin to me. He was a very good TV repairman. He was laser focused on that when he did it. Nobody had any complaints about him in that part of his life. But at the same time when things started falling apart, meaning his father’s death from pancreatic cancer, his mother’s death a few years later and then his wife’s death, he began to lash out, uh continue to lash out because he had been lashing out in the all the civil litigation.

And he was like a, I realize he’s like a scared child and it and always has been now I continued and my subsequent secretaries continued to help Alvin when he needed help, just figuring out things. Um And I began to realize all of that was probably uh spectrum related. So with his permission, of course, I took him to Atlanta, uh he wanted me to sit in on part of it. The doctor said, I wanna make some statements and you tell me your reaction to these statements, she’s gotten under your skin. I haven’t seemed physically disturbed by the notion of someone getting under your skin. He was thinking it very literally, it made me realize back in the trial, which by the way, the plan was for Alvin not to testify, but Jesus appeared and told him to testify.

Got, I got overruled by Jesus. I’m one of the one lawyers who can say I got overruled by Jesus. And after a brief coaching because I had not planned on him testifying Alvin testified. And I just let him tell it all because that’s what I was worried about. Try and talk to him about his wife and he talking about a van. That’s what I wanted to avoid. But now the jury had heard so much about him. I just wanted to let him pe let, let them see his Rube Goldberg mechanism of causation from point A to point Z. And, uh just to know how he thinks, well, a couple of funny things happen, one is I realized that Alvin had had many lawyers over the years starting these civil lawsuits and then they would either quit or he would fire them. And so I realized that I’m about to get him to the end of a trial. And I was kind of proud of that. And I said, Mr Ridley, as a matter of fact, I’m the first lawyer that you’ve ever kept from the beginning of a matter to the end.

And in perfect comic timing, he said so far, in other words, I could get fired any minute. And the jurors were laughing and I thought, ok, this is a murder trial and the, he’s actually charming them and, but I would forget and I would get way ahead of myself and I wanted to finish strong. And I said, Alvin, tell the jurors what you lost here. And I was wanting him to say the love of my life, the only friend I had in the world. But Alvin very literally thought, oh, well, I guess the funeral bill, that’s what he was thinking of what his loss was in financial loss, a financial loss only. And so I just thought this guy is so literal. Why don’t, why don’t, why do I forget that? So now, you know, 23 years later, I’m shaking my head and thinking, oh, the second phrase that the doctor said was he wears his heart on his sleeve.

And Alvin jumped up and said, I know he’s got an artificial heart. Well, Alvin had seen my insulin pump. I became diabetic when I was in the Georgia legislature. That was another one of my kind of great losses that I was, uh grieving at the end of my congressional race loss that suddenly I had a health loss. And so I would always joke that I had my pancreas in my pocket. And I think Alvin thought I, oh, I know what that is. That means he’s got his heart on his sleeve, you know, on artificial heart. So it turned out Alvin is very much on the autistic spectrum which began immediately to explain everything. And as I wrote this book, some stuff started creeping in. I, I’ve, I’ve always heard that the best way to write a book is to write what they call a vomit draft, just throw up everything onto the screen and then you can edit it out later. And so I was truly doing that.

And while I was doing it, I was realizing there was a lot of crap from my childhood uh getting in and it turned out writing this book was like the best therapy ever because I was just purging myself of all of these things. I have a very loving family but a very severely alcoholic father. He was never mean, he was never abusive to any of us or my mother. And, but he was just sad and, and not there so, so much of our childhood and I began to realize that the worst attributes of myself were very possibly from that. And that is that I’m a bit of a micromanager that I want everything to go smoothly because as a child, you, you, you look inward when you wonder why your parent is, you know, abusing a substance.

You, you think, you know, what am I doing to make them want to drink and conk out, you know, before you know, I can have a, a decent uh conversation with them. So you just look inward and, and I think my worst traits, we’re running head on with Alvin’s neurodivergent mannerisms. His autistic traits were being used against him at trial. His flat vocal effect, the fact that his emotions did not seem to meet the moment. Oh, his wife just died and he’s just, you know, talking in a normal voice. Well, the thing with Alvin that I learned I would catch the, uh, he would, he would almost absorb emotions for a while. And then there would be a release and people with uh an autistic person in their family knows this very well. The meltdown and that Alvin would absorb all kinds of emotion.

Years later when my parents died about 10 years apart, you know, Alvin would come and pay his respects and be normal and fine. And the next time he was with me, you know, I reminded him that my parents died and he would have a meltdown and I never understood why this was happening, but we just kind of became this pair that stuck together. Uh He came in rushing into my office one day that he had gotten caught up in a scam that he was paying money to. And I just took his phone by now. He had a cell phone, a flip phone. I took his phone across the street to the AT&T dealership and I said, change his number, they changed it. I handed it back to him and I said, don’t, they won’t bother you. Again, but whatever you’re calling, whatever places you’re calling that people are getting your numbers, uh, you just need to not do that anymore.

Turns out he was calling a conversation line or a date line to talk to people. Ok. And, and it’s full of fraud and full of, of, uh, what our FBI told me was probably Russian based, uh, scam artists and, uh, just, you know, taking his money and, and that of a lot of elderly people. So, um, I said, you know, Alvin, while we’re out, why don’t I get you lunch and have you had your flu shot yet? And no, no. So I just said at the end of lunch, you know, maybe we should be, maybe we should get together more often and have lunch. Well, that’s been about 10 years ago and we haven’t missed a week. Oh, Alvin, Alvin is very precise and this was before I knew it was autism. Uh, he’s very precise. If I say, you know, Thursday lunch, he’s got it down. He, he does not forget.

Uh, now we’re doing Monday and Thursday lunch and I could probably in the future because he’s now 82. I could see that, uh, expanding into even more. Uh, we got him a big ramp for his house because the crumbling steps that his father built back in the 19 forties. Uh, they were, they were a fall hazard back in 1998 when I was on them. And, um, so he has this elaborate ramp now that the Veterans administration built for him, they said it’s the biggest one they’ve done on a residence yet in the region. And it has this incline, the length of the house halfway, it has a rest stop and then it goes to a, a switch back and it has a rest stop and then there’s a third rest stop. So he has plenty of time to rest on the way. But it got extremely unusually cold here this winter. And we had some and, and I don’t know how to convert this to Celsius, but we had some really cold nights uh in the, in Fahrenheit.

It was in the teens. So I knew enough about Alvin’s house that uh now twice for two subsequent winters, uh I have put him in a hotel where he has 200 TV channels and uh he, he really enjoys it, but he misses his home and he ultimately doesn’t stay, even as long as I am inviting him to stay there to stay warm. So, uh I guess the book uh is as much about this unusual friendship that uh has happened. And um one other thing about Alvin’s, uh before I knew he was neurodivergent, but I did know he was very transactional. So I would do, I started thinking, what all can I do with, for him to get his Cooper operation? And so ultimately, I got his parents’ gravestones and his wife, a gravestone. His dad had been dead for over 15 years, 16 years and didn’t have a stone yet.

And I said, ok, we got to take care of this Alvin and if you’ll help me, I will get you this. Well, Alvin gets on board if he thinks he’s getting something out of it. So, uh, so we fill out the v date of birth date of death and then there’s this discretionary place that you can put whatever you want. And here’s some examples, loving father, helpful father, et cetera. So Alvin picks out examples for his father and his mother and his wife. And then I said, Alvin, you know, why don’t we go ahead and get you a stone. You’ve got the plot. And I said, he looked confused and I said, no, they’ll come and put your death date on it later, but it kind of secures your place next to Virginia. And I said, and on your discretionary part, I want you to go off script. You need to say something about yourself like an innocent man or wrong, wrongfully accused or something like that. I just wanted him to make a statement. Well, I didn’t see, I, I left, I paid for the stones and left and uh it was 20 years before I saw what he put on his stone.

It was the 20th anniversary of Virginia’s death. So I guess it was slightly less than 20 years and we, I, I decided it was fell on one of our lunch days. And so I said, Alvin, let’s get some flowers and let’s go pay our respects to your late wife and visit your parents’ grave too. And he, he visited it all the time. He said, and he told me about somebody putting flowers on his grave that just tickled him because he’s alive. And, uh, so we went there and I see what he put on his stone for the first time TV. Repairman, a better, very, very literal statement about it is factually correct, isn’t it? That is factually correct. And forever now enshrined on a tombstone. So, uh when I, when I got through my first draft of this book, it was 100 and 77,000 words. Well, my contract with Citadel was for 90,000 words.

And so I had to start hacking away. But my editor, uh Michael Hamilton, she liked some of the personal childhood stuff. And the reason why it was all coming forth was I was remembering what life was like during this trial and I had completely suppressed that we did an intervention on my father, my sisters and I intervened on our father and put him in a hospital while I was representing and advising Alvin Ridley and, and my father was working on his sobriety during that time. And I was shocked when Alvin tells me in the courtroom, your daddy’s here. And I was horrified because I thought I’ve got to concentrate on this trial. But if my dad is here drunk, that is going to be a complete, I’m, I’m gonna be so distracted. Well, my dad was stone cold sober and I realized Thomas that in my life at that time, I was 39 years old.

That was the first thing he had ever come to that first sober. And second that I wanted him to be there because he usually wasn’t. And so it was somewhat overwhelming when I was writing the book, I um discovered that the local newspaper in Chattanooga had thrown out all of its photo archives which really destroyed me. And then I realized, wait a minute, this trial happened immediately after that paper merged with another paper in Chattanooga. And I inquired about their old, older archives from 20 years ago. And they said, yeah, they’re at the Chattanooga, Hamilton County Public Library. So I went down and found 247 trial photos. It’s unusual at the time for a photographer to be allowed in a courtroom. But this court did allow a pool photographer to because there was a lot of interest in the case.

And in those photos, I was looking through a loop. There’s three photos of my father with Alvin and it was overwhelming. So of course, they made the book, they, of course, they made the book uh in the print edition. There’s uh it’s black and white in the uh ebook edition. All my pictures got in is color and um uh it was uh Alvin’s diagnosis finally formed the book in my head because now I could explain al in a, in a respectful way and, and the most pleased I am about the book is the reception by people who love someone on the spectrum with a neurodivergent person in their home because I didn’t know how they would accept it because I had to explain the difficulties and the battles and Alvin’s quirkiness and things that seem to me to make no sense stands that he would take.

And then of course, the meltdowns and the things like that. But we just did not know about adults with autism. But we do know today in America only and I would imagine it’s a similar population percentage elsewhere. There are 5.5 million undiagnosed neurodivergent people, adults. And you know, we’re catching it in school Children now we’re catching it and getting them services. But there’s generations still, still living that did not get that treatment. Alvin’s fourth grade teacher told me around the time of the trial that he cried every day of fourth grade that he was just so difficult uh a child to uh adapt and adjust. And so um I, I’m as a lawyer, I, I now have a young man who’s on the spectrum who it’s a processing issue.

And if a, a police officer comes at you with slang, which everybody uses slang in their language, you know, reach for the sky, you know, would be very confusing to a neurodivergent person, you know, hit the ground. That would be totally confusing. They would, and much like the things in my frustration, I would bark out at Alvin and he just would stare at me. It was a processing issue and I had a processing issue. I could not process Alvin and, and of course, it was a conflict with my neurodiversity, my, my, my neurodiversity, my micromanagement and his neurodiversity. And so I so understand it. Now, I feel a great bit of guilt about my ignorance with him. And I, I detailed that in the book and I si say that I felt guilty sometimes and I didn’t know why, but I felt guilty, for example, for in my frustration telling them, I wish he would go take a bath.

Alvin doesn’t like the feel of water on his skin. Hm. That’s part of his neuro divergence. And the minute I said it, I felt bad because, and interestingly enough a skunk got into my office the day after I challenged him on his odor sprayed all of the case files sprayed me and I show up to court for a couple of days smelling like a skunk. And Alvin got to complain about how I smelled. And so it made me realize we can’t always help our circumstances. Well, I wanted to say, um, is a, is a perseverance story from my view. So I was gonna say congratulations for your perseverance. Um, I wanted to highlight that because as you said, some other people may not have been as persistent as you were. Um, but for those people who, uh, would like to buy the book, which, um, I’m kind of on that list now, where do they go?

Well, on, on your Amazon is one place and I think possibly other booksellers um in your country uh could get it. I know it’s, it’s available in your country because I’ve got my first uh UK uh review uh from a reader from a verified Amazon reader. I don’t know where they got the book but they, they were in the UK and it’s listed on the Amazon reviews. So I was very excited, very flattered, made a big post about it on my social media. Um If anybody wants to hear more about Alvin, uh my Twitter uh name is at symbol real Zenith man, I say real because again, there are a lot of, there’s a, there’s a fictionalized story of our story out there that kind of upset me at first. But then I thought, you know what, she got me off my butt to write. You know, that was one of the motivators to finally get this story out there.

And there have been two fake books that have been taken down. But uh this is the one. And um um I, I’m, I’m just very uh flattered and Alvin loves it. He is signing many of these books at our signings. He told me again with Alvin with the rules and numbers. He will go to signings in 100 mile radius only. He will not ride a motorcycle or a propeller plane to any of them. Not that I was suggesting that he ride a motorcycle to them and he just has these rules of life and they’ve served him well. He turned 82. He hopes to get a couple of girlfriends. He says out of this, this book deal and uh but he’s charming everyone because he’s just, he’s in a much better place with his permission. I shared about his neuro divergence and he, the whole community has warmed up to him.

Now, you have a, a person in your country who has written the greatest book on being neurodivergent. His name is Pete Warby Wharmby. And he has a book called Untypical. The Minute I learned of Alvin’s autism and, and finished the book, I wanted to know more. And so I, I did some research and found Pete Warm’s book and it’s, it’s incredible from a person with autism’s perspective. So I would highly recommend that book as well. But um this Zenith Man on your Amazon and possibly other places and please review, I would ask your, your uh I get so excited that I’ll probably post it on my social media that the, we’ve had one from New Zealand now and one from the United Kingdom. So very excited about uh this story getting around the world. Well, you’ve been a great guest today. I’ve loved uh listening to your story, uh mccracken.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Thomas.