Chilling Tales: Mysterious and Tragic Life of Lois Fears
The Mysterious Life of Lois Fears, the most infamous madam you’ve never heard of.
By Marissa Howard, Programs and Membership Coordinator
This is the final post in our series “Chilling Tales of DeKalb County”. To start at the beginning, click here.
The following story includes details of murder.
On Thursday, August 14, 1953, two women were found slain in the bedroom of a nice shingled house at 1014 Blackmon Drive in North Decatur: Mrs. Evelyn Bennett, 33, and the owner of the home, Mrs. Lois Fears, 43.
The body of Evelyn Bennett was found nude on the floor of the back bedroom, shot through the back as if trying to flee. Lois Fears was on her back beside Bennett’s body, relaxed. She had been shot four times in the chest. Crime laboratories reported that two pistols were used, a .38 caliber and .25 caliber. Empty .38-caliber shells were found in the mattress and empty .25-caliber shells were found next to Lois’s body. According to police, this could indicate that a man and a woman were involved, pointing out that a man would have chosen the heavier gun, while most women prefer a lighter weapon such as the .25 caliber. In fact, for a while, this was the leading theory. No evidence of a struggle was found, leading toward the suspect being someone they knew and trusted. Police discovered the television blaring a musical program and a small electric fan blowing, hot from days of extended use. An electric iron was on by the ironing board, along with clothes ready to be pressed. In the kitchen, they found plated fried chicken, covered in wax paper. In the living room was the novel, The Forty-Second Parallel, lying open on the table along with a postcard addressed to Evelyn from Jacksonville, Florida. Neighbors were interviewed and reported varied activities around the home and “agonizing screams” coming from the home around 2:00 am, on Tuesday, Aug 12th. Another resident reported seeing two or more persons “scuffling” in the house and hearing gunshots. For up to four days, mail accumulated in the mailbox, milk soured on the porch and the bodies of Lois and Evelyn remained in the house.
From The Atlanta Journal, August 14, 1953 via Newspapers.com.
The two women were an unlikely duo. Bennett, born Evelyn Wilburn, was orphaned at an early age. A family friend took in the young girl. Later, during WWII, Evelyn was married to Raymond Bennett of Atlanta, but the marriage lasted just over a year. During the war years, she served as a WAC (Women’s Army Corps). By 1951, she was working at a local drugstore.
From The Atlanta Journal, August 15, 1953 via Newspapers.com.
Her adoptive family described her as a “jolly, good hearted woman who loved life, and would believe anything anybody told her.” Initially, news reports described Evelyn’s record as spotless. But after police fingerprinted her body, they found an extensive police record stretching from 1939 to 1953. All charges were related to drunkenness or disorderly conduct. One arrest in 1943 showed her in her WAC uniform. According to her family, Evelyn was staying with Lois at her home for just a short time and they did not know much about Lois. DeKalb police were unable to explain the apparent close relationship between the two women.
Lois’s life was filled with even more mystery, intrigue, and crime. But where to start researching a woman with multiple aliases and an unknown maiden name?
From The Atlanta Journal, August 14, 1953 via Newspapers.com.
Well, you start at the end.
It was disclosed in the newspaper that Lois’s unnamed brothers from Alabama made arrangements with A. S. Turner and Sons funeral home for a burial. So I reached out to Cy Hume, Funeral Home Director at A. S. Turner and Sons in Decatur, explaining that I was trying to figure out details to a historic cold case murder mystery. After digging through the funeral home’s microfilm records, he called me back.
“What would you like to know?”
Microfilm funeral records of Lois Fears from A.S. Turner & Sons.
Records show information such as place of birth, parental names, and occupation. Other information included the type of funeral (not the deluxe funeral package) and who paid (her brothers). It lists R.D. Fears as the husband, despite their divorce and his remarriage. Cause of death listed as “Gunshot wound inflicted by person or persons unknown in the commission of the crime of murder.” A simple graveside burial at Mountain View Cemetery (today Melwood Cemetery) in Stone Mountain was conducted on August 15, 1953.
Microfilm record of Evelyn Bennett provided by A.S Turner and Sons. Evelyn’s funeral was on the same day as Lois’s, August 15, 1953. However her funeral cost more than twice as much, and was held at Trinity Chapel at A. S. Turner. She was buried at Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.
Lois Mauldin was born in Cullman, Alabama, on June 27, 1911, to parents William and Ida Carter Mauldin. Her mother and oldest sister died in early 1912, leaving 7-month-old Lois with her father and older brothers. Sometime before 1920, she was sent to live with her maternal aunt, Mary C. Doyal, and became a farm hand in Paulding County, GA. By 1927, Lois and her aunt moved to Atlanta. Two years later, her aunt died and 16-year-old Lois Mauldin disappeared from any records. She never returned to Alabama.
Young Lois. Family photo collection of M. E. Garner.
Lois with maternal aunt Mary Catherine Doyal in Paulding County. Family photo collection of M. E. Garner.
Lois’s early life was filled in by the genealogical records and photographs supplied by Kit Burdick whom I reached out to on ancestry.com. She had done extensive research on the Mauldin family tree, but Lois was unintentionally left out. After reaching out to Kit, she was able to connect the dots with the above family photographs and family tree. She graciously let me share her photographs.
Lois, Madam of Atlanta
In 1927 while working as a phone operator, Lois was charged with blackmail and was sent to Milledgeville Women’s prison for a year. In 1930, Louise Freeman (alias) and a friend went on a “jaunt” in a stolen vehicle that ended in Texas, where they attempted to sell the car. For this she served a year and a day in federal prison in West Virginia. In 1932, Lois Freeman (alias) and a Bessie Jones, were indicted on charges of robbery, and assault, with the intent to murder. They held up a taxi driver with a pistol, robbing him of $25, and beat him up with the weapon after he said he had no more money. They were living at an Ellis Street address in downtown Atlanta at the time.
The Fenwick Hotel at 120-126 Ellis Street was a small hotel/apartment building available for long-term renters. It is unknown when Lois first moved in, but by 1935 a new tenant arrived … Rufus Delmar Fears.
R.D., as he was commonly called, had an extensive criminal record in Florida, which began in Miami in 1926 for breaking and entering. A 1933 arrest was for a safe-cracking incident at a Palm Beach, Florida, pharmacy with two female accomplices. After he racked up a long list of crimes in Miami from 1926-1934, he moved to the Fenwick Hotel in Atlanta.
In 1935, more than 50 cases of “fine“ whiskey were seized when police raided several rooms at the Fenwick Hotel. While deputies were busy raiding the rooms, liquor runners in the basement were loading the whiskey in cars and speeding away. In their haste, the men left five gallons of whiskey – and Lois – behind in the street. She claimed ownership of the liquor and was arrested. This time, her sentence was 12 months of probation. The male accomplices were never named or charged … but I have an inkling Rufus was involved.
Two months later, her room at the Fenwick was raided and 1,368 pints of whiskey were found. This was the second of two raids in two weeks to take place at the Fenwick. R. D was also charged, but with violating Florida probation.
They say crime brings people together? Atlanta’s Bonnie and Clyde married sometime in 1935-1936 and I found her listed as Lois Fears in the city directory. The couple bounced around between various hotels downtown, at one point actually managing an additional hotel on Harris Street (until the permit was revoked a year later). Again, in 1939 her liquor stash at the Fenwick Hotel was raided. She was involved in a liquor highway robbery incident, where police found the stamped and serial-numbered liquor in her hotel room. Among the liquor found were 242 cases of Kentucky bourbon valued at $4,000. She posted a bond of $1,000 ($20,000 today!) and was eventually convicted on gambling and prostitution charges. I don’t believe she served jail time.
Lois’s establishments on Ellis and Nassau Street were well-known to a “certain element” in Atlanta until World War II when police cleared out the area’s vice. The lore of Lois Fears was corroborated in the 1970s by former Atlanta Police Chief, Herbert Jenkins. According to Jenkins, Lois was considered one of the most famous madams in Atlanta in the 1930s. She ran her business professionally and there were seldom any complaints. She “knew the advantages of having a satisfied customer.”
In 1940, Lois and R.D., forced out of Atlanta, appeared in the census in Conley, GA, in Clayton County of all places. Even more interesting is that they were living with a 3-year-old daughter, listed as Nell Fears, and “cousin,” June Pickett.
1940 Census record showing R. D. and Lois Fears, June Pickett, and child. The line is difficult to read.
From 1940 Census record, via Ancestery.com.
Mrs. June Pickett (with aliases of Catherine Pickett, Kay West, and Kay Walsh) was also involved in crimes and robberies from South Carolina to Miami, Florida with her husband/ex-husband Marvin Brummel Pickett. The FBI described June as “ … one of the toughest women we ever looked at.” In 1937, June and Marvin were arrested for their part in a tri-state fur coat theft crime ring. Marvin was convicted and sent to prison, but by 1940 June was living with the Fears in Conley. I believe the 3-year-old girl on the census (Nell Fears) was actually June’s biological child. The only clue to this is that during the Pickett’s divorce, June requested custody of a child.
While living in Conley, R.D. accidentally shot himself after attempting to remove a gun’s magazine; it discharged, and struck him in the hand and stomach … not suspicious at all.
But the most fascinating fact of 1940 was how Lois pushed her luck at the State Motor Vehicle unit where she waited in line to receive the special car tag with a #7. Getting the lucky numbers of 1, 7, or 11 was so desirable that this special event was published in the newspaper along with the names of those who wanted the favorable numbers.
I can’t imagine 1940s Conley as a hotbed of nightlife and gambling, so the Fears head to R.D.’s old stomping ground of Miami Beach in 1942. They purchased the Midnite Bar, where Lois worked as the bartender, while also continuing to manage the Fenwick Hotel.
The Fears probably saw this for sale advertisement in 1942 for “Miami’s Oldest Bar and Package Store”.
From The Miami News, April 11, 1942 via Newspapers.com.
But after an incident at the Fenwick, she sold it less than a year later. Her hotel apartment was robbed, among the listed items taken were: two dressers, 10 bedspreads, two mattresses, two beds, a large rug, a garbage can, 32 towels, two rocking chairs, and a quantity of bedclothes. By 1944, Lois was arrested for larceny charges in Miami Beach, and only sentenced 30 days in jail – under the condition she “stay out of town.”
The Fears’ relationship dissolved and they filed for divorce in Miami in 1944.
This early story of Lois and R. D. is hard to believe, between the multiple businesses, stories, and locations. However, I’m reminded of my own Howard family lore of a female family member who in the 1950-60s owned a Daytona Beach Hotel, Cattle Ranch, Girl Scout Camp, and Fish Fry Restaurant on the Florida backwater, and lived on a houseboat in the Gulf of Mexico.
In the late 1940s, Lois, now a bartender and waitress, moved into an apartment on St. Charles Ave with another woman named Katherine Spain. In 1953, she purchased a house at 1014 Blackmon Drive in North Decatur. Something may have spooked her about the house because she listed it on the market mere months after buying it. Neighbors reported that “she didn’t like living alone” and was going to move to North Carolina. The “For Sale” sign was still out front when she and Evelyn were murdered.
Several Atlanta “underworld” figures and her “female acquaintances” were questioned. The “lady-sized” gun was the leading theory and the reason female acquaintances were questioned. Her former husband was not a suspect as he was killed in an airplane crash over the Everglades in 1948.
Katherine Spain, her former roommate was questioned, but released.
June Pickett was the next most obvious suspect and in 1953 to 1954, the Picketts were on the run.
Wanted poster image of June Carroll Pickett in her disguise of a black wig and a bold lip. She was often found with her accomplice – a miniature Doberman Pinscher wearing a sweater.
From the Miami News, January 1954, via Newspapers.com.
Marvin Pickett, her ex-husband, was finally nabbed on robbery charges and sent to a Florida prison in early 1953 for 19 years. He escaped prison in June 1953 during a softball game, only to immediately rob pharmacies in Florida and Georgia. June was also wanted for the robberies. Once the Pickets were captured they were questioned in connection with Lois’s murder. An FBI agent tracking the escaped Marvin Pickett placed him at the Fears’s home at the time of the slaying. They were questioned about the murders, but released for reasons unknown. Marvin Pickett was sent back to prison for his various robberies, where he remained until he died in 1976.
The story of Lois and Evelyn’s murder continued in the paper until 1955 when the news went silent about it. Despite my research, the crime has not been solved.