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.