Goat Castle

A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South

By Karen L. Cox

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 24 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3504-0
    Published: August 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3503-3
    Published: October 2017
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6143-8
    Published: August 2020
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4914-4
    Published: August 2017

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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 shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate “Goat Castle.” Pearls was killed by an Arkansas policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. However, as was all too typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded “justice,” and an innocent black woman named Emily Burns was ultimately sent to prison for the murder of Merrill. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also lived to profit from the notoriety of the murder by opening their derelict home to tourists.

Strange, fascinating, and sobering, Goat Castle tells the story of this local feud, killing, investigation, and trial, showing how a true crime tale of fallen southern grandeur and murder obscured an all too familiar story of racial injustice.

About the Author

Karen L. Cox is professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
For more information about Karen L. Cox, visit the Author Page.


"Provides a definitive look at the 1932 murder of Jennie Merrill."--Publishers Weekly

"This engrossing tale of murder, injustice, and racial inequality will interest lovers of regional history as well as true crime buffs."--Library Journal

“A riveting exploration of a true crime that illuminates the complicated relationship between race and the law in the post-Civil War South.”--Foreword Reviews

“A detailed, thoughtful exploration of race and crime in the Jim Crow South through a case that was nationally covered, capturing a country in the throes of the Great Depression."--ALA Booklist

"Strange, fascinating and sobering, Goat Castle tells the story of [a] local feud, killing, investigation and trial, showing how a true crime tale of fallen Southern grandeur and murder obscured an all too familiar story of racial injustice."--Deep South Magazine

“Never pedantic, this book is hard to put down.”--The Journal of American History

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