Sunday, October 10, 2010



There was blood, and the mistress of Glenburnie was nowhere to be found, that hot August night in 1932 - but there was no corpse. Bloodhounds were brought in to assist police and a large search party of prominent Natchez citizens. Finally, early in the morning, the bullet-ridden body of Jane SUGET MERRILL, Miss Jennie to locals, was found in a thicket about 100 yards from the house.

Miss Jennie was the town recluse and eccentric. Born in 1864 to a wealthy and prominent Natchez family, Miss Jennie spent her early years as a popular socialite in Natchez, New York, and France. In 1904, using a portion of the one-quarter-million-dollar estate left to her, by her father, Miss Jennie purchased the old estate of Glenburnie, and from then on became more and more of a recluse. She refused to update her house, never installing electricity. She did buy an old Model T, but while she could be seen puttering around town in the old car, she would not enter or shop in the local stores. Instead, she would tap the horn, and a saleslady would come out to the car.

Miss Jennie was 68 years old at the time of her murder. She had never married, and only allowed one person to enter Glenburnie during the 28 years she lived there. That one person was her cousin, the equally eccentric Duncan C. MINOR, who visited Miss Jennie every evening. It was thought that Duncan was the mysterious caller who notified police of the blood, and disappearance of Miss Jennie, that fateful August night. It was also rumored that Miss Jennie and Duncan had been in love, perhaps lovers, for years. But no one knows, and the secret was buried with them.

Duncan was not much of a suspect, but Miss Jennie's neighbors were. Richard "Dick" DANA and his companion, friend, and caregiver, the spinster Octavia DOCKERY, were immediate suspects. Dick Dana, once a popular figure in Natchez, had suffered declining mental health, over the years, and depended upon Octavia to care for him. Octavia was herself, something of an eccentric. Neither had any source of income, so Octavia began raising farm animals on the grounds of their old house, Glenwood, which had been inherited by Dick, from his parents. Chickens, geese, and goats roamed about the yard, sometimes finding their way to the porch of the old structure that was badly in need of repair. And so it was that Glenburnie became known as The Goat Castle.

Sometimes the goats ventured next door, to the flower beds belonging to Miss Jennie. At one point, Miss Jennie purchased a rifle and a handgun, and it is thought she shot and killed several goats as they enjoyed lunch. Duncan tried to help. He made plans to purchase The Goat Castle, by paying the back taxes, so he could evict Octavia and Dick. However, Octavia had Dick declared insane, and as such, Dick could not be forced to leave his home. The couple remained, the goats remained, and the house continued to deteriorate, inside and out.

Another suspect was John GEIGER, a tenant who lived in a shack, on the Dana property, called the Skumk's Nest, . His overcoat was found in The Goat Castle, supposedly left as collateral for back rent. However, when fingerprints belonging to both Octavia and Dick were found at Miss Jennie's home, the poverty-ridden couple was arrested.

Miss Jennie had left a will. Her entire estate, consisting of $250,000 in cash, Glenburnie, and two large plantations in Louisiana, was left to Duncan. Only one notation was made, in the will: "I am sure he [Duncan?] will carry out my wishes."

Octavia and Dick both loudly proclaimed their innocence. They reported hearing loud noises coming from the Glenburnie residence, on the night of the murder. Police were not convinced, and so Octavia and Dick were arrested, and taken to jail.

For the first time in years, outsiders entered The Goat Castle. Visitors were aghast at the filth and squalor. The once-beautiful mansion had become home to the hordes of chickens, ducks, geese, and goats that had been allowed to roam at will, making themselves comfortable among the magnificent furnishings. A leather-bound set of books, and several manuscripts, once belonging to the likes of Robert E. LEE and Jefferson DAVIS, had been chewed to pieces. Wallpaper had come loose, and was left to hang from the walls. Bedding and upholstered furniture had become moldy. Neither Octavia nor Dick slept in the fine four-poster beds, preferring filthy mats that had been placed on the floor in their respective bedrooms. The police thought sure they had the murderers.

Then, a twist to the story. Several miles away, in Arkansas, a man named George PEARLS had been shot and killed by Pine Bluff police. Pearls had brandished a .32 caliber gun, the same type of gun that had been used to murder Miss Jennie. Natchez townspeople began to wonder, and their questions soon turned to sympathy for Octavia and Dick. A jury could not be formed, and with the help of Ed RATCLIFF, a prominent Natchez attorney, Octavia and Dick were released from jail.

Finally there was a confession. Emily BURNS, a Natchez resident who owned a rooming house, admitted that she and George Pearls had visited Miss Jennie in an attempt to obtain a loan. Miss Jennie, angry over the intrusion, had drawn her pistol. It was then than Pearls shot her. Other evidence collaborated the story, and Emily was convicted and sent to prison.

Emily Burns spent less than eight years, in prison, obtaining a pardon by Gov. Paul B. JOHNSON, Sr., in 1940.

Duncan Minor accepted his inheritance, bought a new car, and traveled. At his death, money remaining from the inheritance was left to Miss Jennie's family, presumably in accordance with her wishes.

And what about Octavia and Dick? Their lives took a definite turn for the better. For a fee of .25, visitors could tour the grounds; for another .25, visitors could actually enter The Goat Castle. Dick, who once held a promising musical career, took a bath, shaved, and entertained guests by playing a borrowed piano.

Dick Dana died in 1948, a few months before Octivia's death in April, 1949. The Goat Castle was left to out-of-town cousins who auctioned off most of the furnishings. The house was abandoned, and finally torn down in 1955.

Glenburnie, the home of Miss Jennie, was eventually restored and updated.


The Goat Castle Murders by Sim C. Callon and Carolyn Vance Smith, Plantation Publishing Company, Natchez, Mississippi, 1985

Natchez on the Mississippi by Harnett T. Kane, Bonanza Books, New York


  1. Love this! Grew up scared to death to meet up with the "goat man" back by the "punch bowl!"

  2. Great writing takes the reader on a journey along with the author... And this is great writing indeed...