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

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3503-3
    Published: October 2017
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-3504-0
    Published: August 2017

Hardcover Available October 2017, but pre-order your copy today!

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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.


“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

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

“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

“Karen Cox masterfully demonstrates through a close look at the murder of Jennie Merrill how the sentimental rewriting of Civil War–era history did far more than engulf southern white culture in a romantic haze of ancestor worship; it was used as justification for racial segregation, lynching, and a legal system that routinely denied people of color justice under the law. This story will enrage readers while bringing tears to their eyes.”--Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones

“In taut and riveting prose, historian Karen Cox has written a masterful and moving account of murder and racial injustice in the heart of the Deep South at the height of the Great Depression. Taking readers into the crumbling mansions of Natchez, Mississippi, where white southerners still clung to any vestige of the privileges they once enjoyed, Cox reopens a decades-old mystery, and, thanks to her herculean efforts to rescue what really happened, some ugly wrongs finally have been righted.”--Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Blood in the Water

“Riveting and beautifully written, this book richly enhances our understanding of southern culture, slavery, gender, and Jim Crow. By revisiting the Goat Castle murder, Cox places the history of black and white Natchez in context, emphasizing the social and economic variables that shaped people’s everyday lives while remaining especially attentive to the cultural milieu that framed their lived experiences.”--Talitha LeFlouria, author of Chained in Silence