On May 12, 1960, as John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency, Chester Burge—slumlord, liquor runner, and the black sheep of the proud (and wealthy) Dunlap family of Macon, Georgia—lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. He listened to the radio as the news reported that his wife had just been murdered. Police soon ruled out robbery as a motive, and suspicion centered upon the Ku Klux Klan, which two weeks earlier had descended upon his house to protest his renting of homes in white neighborhoods to black families. Then, on June 1, Chester was charged with the murder, and when the trial finally began, the sweet Southern town of Macon witnessed a story of epic proportions—a tale of white-columned mansions, an insane asylum, real people as “Southern grotesque” as the characters of Flannery O'Connor, and a volatile mix of taboo interracial relationships and homosexuality.
This was a story as fantastical as a Greek tragedy, complete with a stunning conclusion. It is told in riveting detail in Richard Jay Hutto's A Peculiar Tribe of People.
Chester Burge was a walking streak of deception and sex. After weaseling his way to be the caretaker of the last Dunlap sister and forcing his way into her will, Burge and his family inherited a fortune as well as one of the family mansions. Then came his numerous assignations with men—including his black chauffeur—and, either single-handedly or with help from a lover, the murder of his wife.
The trial would spawn the first testimony in Georgia history of a black man disclosing that he had been a white man's sexual partner. Burge would be acquitted of murder, but convicted of sodomy. And yet, this Southern grotesque tale would take even more twists and turns before coming to an explosive conclusion.
Richard Jay Hutto is a noted author of several books on the Gilded Age, including Their Gilded Cage: The Jekyll Island Club Members. He is an attorney and a former chairman of the Georgia Council for the Arts.
“A southern grotesque that comes complete with stately mansions, murder most vile, forbidden sex, a pot-boiling trial and a denouement worthy of a Greek tragedy… But wait, there's more! After being acquitted of murder, but convicted of sodomy and somehow finding another wife (18 years his senior), Burge stumbled into an ending that even Sophocles wouldn't wish on his worst enemy.”—Bo Emerson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A stunning glimpse into a world lost to the pages of history. With characters so deceptive, it takes a sleuth to identify pure evil. Hutto's book is a race to the finish!”
“[A]n absorbing tale of greed, lust and assorted sordid outcomes that reads like the best fiction, yet is completely true... Every page in this terrific book reveals a new and interesting cast member. His rogues' gallery of characters, both male and female, should give a Hollywood talent agency's character actors fodder for award winning acting opportunities.... Hutto has produced a well-researched and absorbing book that never stoops to the cheap shot. Indeed, it is his classy writing and tone that keeps the story from meandering toward the tawdry side of the literary neighborhood, and guarantees that the reader will keep asking for more as pages are turned.” —Rome (GA) News Tribune