In 1791, George Washington paid a visit to Charlotte to attend a picnic dinner on the Square. Unimpressed with the Queen City, the president later referred to Charlotte in his diary as a "trifling place." This insult, made by the Father of Our Country, has haunted the city ever since.
George had no idea what was to come. Charlotte may have been a trifling place in the 18th century, before the advent of shopping malls and big buildings. But had Washington stuck around another couple hundred years or so, he would have found that Charlotte is a veritable hotbed of sin, scandal and infamy.
OK, so "hotbed" is an exaggeration; a "somewhat warm cot" may be closer to the truth, but hey, Charlotte's had its share of the dark, grizzly, seamy side of life. At one time or another, we've been home to renegade bisexual TV evangelists and their weeping wives, murderous motorcycle gangs, serial-killing fast food workers, fascist censors, debauched sports team owners, and homicidal football players. We've seen it all and then some.
Step aboard as we take you on CL's fabulous Charlotte Area Tour of Infamy. You'll have a front row look at the Queen City's history of murder and mayhem, sex and stock cars, preachers and . . . some other alliteration. So grab a seat, buckle up and join us for a ride on Charlotte's wild side. But be warned: what you're about to see may not be suitable for children, fundamentalists or the Chamber of Commerce.
Shot From A Cannon: We start 25 miles up Interstate 85 in Kannapolis, where Pillowtex mills, formerly known as Cannon Mills, once made towels and sheets. This now-vacant monument to NAFTA was victim of the largest layoff in US textile history. More than 4,800 Pillowtex workers in North Carolina (and more than 7,650 employees nationwide) were fired when the company declared bankruptcy in 2003. Among them were many people without high school diplomas who had believed the mills would always take care of them. Many workers never found jobs that paid as well. Others have never found jobs at all.
That's Racin': At Lowe's Motor Speedway in nearby Concord, three people died and several more spectators were injured in May 1999 when a wheel and parts from a wreck flew into the grandstand during a race. For a while, authorities suspected the incident motivated someone to detonate bombs at a few Lowe's stores. It turned out the bomber was just pissed off because the company had fired him.
Angels In Derita: Welcome to the Derita neighborhood in northwest Charlotte. Specifically, 2500 Allen Street. Looks pretty quiet, doesn't it? Well, it was anything but quiet on the night of July 4, 1970. That's when five Outlaw motorcycle gang members had body parts blown all over the house in the infamous "July 4 Massacre." Four of the shooting victims were male gang members; the other was 17-year-old Bridgett Suzanne Benfield, a woman who rode with the gang. Members of the rival Hells Angels motorcycle gang were suspected, but no charges were ever filed.
Have Hate, Will Bomb: Head down Tryon St., turn onto West 10th Street, where the law offices of attorney and civil rights activist Julius Chambers were once located. It was here in February 1971 that Chambers' office was burned to the ground. Though no one was charged, police suspected the firestarter didn't like Chambers' involvement in the landmark Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case, which challenged the racial makeup of local schools. Chambers went on to influence more landmark legislation and served as chancellor of North Carolina Central University.
Fast Food Killer: We now travel to the Lake Apartments on Albemarle Road, where the strangled bodies of Brandi Henderson and Betti Jean Baucom were found within days of each other in March 1994. Local investigators soon linked the two murders to several other unsolved crimes from the previous two years. On March 10, police arrested a 28-year-old fast-food employee, Henry Louis Wallace, who was charged with killing Henderson, Baucom, six other Charlotte women and one Barnwell, SC, woman. Wallace was convicted in January 1997 of nine counts of murder and was sentenced to death. The serial killer married prison nurse Rebecca Torrijas on June 5, 1998, in a small room next to the death chamber in Raleigh.
Vice Squad Out of Control: Head to 4808 Central Avenue, former site of the 4808 Club, a now-defunct music venue. On September 18, 1990, three men were arrested here following a performance by theatrical metal band GWAR. The band's lead singer David Brockie, aka Odorus Urungus, was booked on obscenity charges -- including depictions of "anal intercourse, masturbation and excretory functions" -- after he spewed the audience with liquid from a giant rubber penis-shaped fish (or was that a fish-shaped penis? We forget). Club owner Mike Plumides was busted on similar charges, and Kirk Fischer of the band Sewer Puppet was charged with inciting a riot. Police said they were tipped off to the controversial band by a "Music Menu" item in CL. After his hearing, Brockie stated he was glad Judge Dick Boner (real name) "didn't give me a stiff sentence."
Wealth, Murder and Gossip: Cruise over to Wendover Road, an interesting street that separates wealth on one side and poverty on the other. On the wealthy side is 3853 Churchill Road, where Dr. Edward Friedland found the body of his wife, Kim Thomas, a women's rights activist, on July 27, 1990. She was on the dining room floor with her throat slashed and wrists in handcuffs; their one-year-old son was found crying in a nearby crib. Friedland was an immediate suspect and charged with the murder four years later, but the charges were eventually dropped. He claimed police botched the case, and later won a wrongful death civil suit against a former handyman named Marion Gales. Gales was never charged with a crime. Friedland sued the police, but the suit was dismissed.