Georgia Cold Cases

The Georgia Cold Cases Project at Emory University investigates racially motivated civil rights-era murders that took place in the state from the end of World War II to the late 1960s. These are the cases that students have examined, are examining, or will examine in the future. If you have information about any of these cases, or would like to notify the project about a case we may not have listed, please contact us.

This is a map showing the location of all of the cases currently under investigation by the project. You can click on each one to learn more about each case.


Willie Joe Sanford

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Willie Joe Sanford’s decomposed body was pulled out of Limestone Creek in Hawkinsville, Pulaski County, on March 1, 1957, after it had been in the water for nearly a month, trussed to underwater growth. His head had been struck with a sharp instrument and his body had many stab wounds. He had been missing a month. “Certainly it did not take a brave man or men to accomplish this execution,” Circuit Judge John K. Whaley said in instructing a grand jury. “Only a frenzied mob could have accomplished it.” He later called in reporters to clarify that while he thought at least two people were involved, he was not calling it a lynching.  The prosecutor, J. Wade Johnson, told a reporter he believed two white people had been involved in the killing, but said he did not think it was racially motivated. “Had there been a racial issue, it would not have been concealed. They’d have riddled him with bullets in the middle of the road or strung him up to a tree and made no effort to hide it.” The Afro-American newspaper reported that the local grand jury investigation had been “futile.”