It took him 52 years to live it, five years to write it and 35 minutes to share it with the Rome Exchange Club on Friday at The Palladium at the Coosa Valley Fairgrounds.
Former Chattooga County Sheriff Gary McConnell got a bit choked up more than once highlighting his life in law enforcement as told in his 380-page book published earlier this year “It’s All About the People.”
“This is not about me,” said the 74-year-old who began his life as a sheriff at the age of 22 after his sheriff father died suddenly of a heart attack at the Chattooga Sheriff’s Office in 1967. “It’s about the men and women, both the good ones and the bad ones. We’re all living in this world together.”
McConnell, who currently works as a senior Homeland Security and Emergency Management consultant, served as sheriff of Chattooga County for 22 years before one last murder case involving an 80-year-old woman he knew personally drove him to leave that life to serve as the director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and eventually as the director of security during the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996.
He was involved in a total of 13 capital murder cases during his law enforcement career.
His first year as a deputy working under his father in 1965, they busted 105 illegal liquor stills in 52 weeks, he said.
“Bootleggers were an amazing group of people,” he said with a grin. “I always looked at it as a big Easter egg hunt. They’d hide it, I’d find it. Some of them were pretty good folks — it’s just the way they made their living. But some of them were not.”
He told the story of a bootlegger who knew he was terrified of rattlesnakes.
“He’d go out and kick rattlesnakes and tie ’em up across the trail on the way to the moonshine still,” said the father of a daughter who works as an attorney. “Not a good idea. He lost that fight.”
Although McConnell admitted many memories make him laugh, there are the serious cases that still get to him to this day.
He had to stop to gather himself while talking about the brutal murders committed by Alvin Neelley and his wife Judith Ann Neelley. They were charged with killing 23-year-old Rome resident Janice Kay Chapman and then 13-year-old Rome girl Lisa Ann Millican.
Millican had been kidnapped from a Rome mall, assaulted, then shot in the back before being pushed off a cliff in the Little River Canyon in Alabama.
“That was probably one of the most heart-wrenching murder cases I’ve ever worked on,” McConnell said as his voice cracked. “I have a tendency to say I’m opposed to the electric chair, but let me tell you why they ought to use a couch, instead. You’d get three at a time.”