|I was born and raised in Kosciusko, Mississippi, the seat of Attala County. My great-grandfather established the Kosciusko
Star-Herald, a weekly newspaper covering the events of Attala County, and for three generations my family owned and
published it. Although printer’s ink flowed through my veins instead of blood, my heart was not in journalism. Rather, I longed
for the stars. I went to Miss. State University and graduated with BS and MS degrees in aerospace engineering. Fortune
smiled on me, and I eventually achieved my boyhood dream of working for NASA. I was employed as an engineer at the
Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, for over 32 years—primarily working on the Space Shuttle. Currently I work at a
Colorado engineering company designing a commercial space ship that will be the Space Shuttle replacement.
Thirty-five years ago, having moved to Houston, I boarded a commercial airliner bound for a short visit to my family in
Mississippi. Fate intervened again and placed a beautiful, single woman my age in the seat next to me. One thing led to
another, and less than a year later, we were married. Still married, Teresa and I are the proud parents of three grown sons.
We now enjoy spoiling two terrific grandsons.
So how did an aerospace engineer happen to write a book about an event that occurred in Mississippi before he was born?
The answer is simple: a scrapbook.
In 1950, a trio of moonshine-drunk white men barged into the shack of a family of black sharecroppers in Attala County.
Within minutes, three people lay dead. The state of Mississippi mounted a huge posse and chased the killers, finally capturing
them after three days. My father, then working for his father-in-law as a photographer for the Star-Herald, was present at the
capture with camera in hand. One of his pictures of the action was awarded “Best Photo of 1950” by the National Press
Photographer’s Association. Because of her husband’s award, my mother made a scrapbook about the event. As the murders
ballooned into a major national story, she added associated newspaper clippings to the many pictures (over 50) my father
took of the crime scene, killers’ captures, and trials.
I occasionally gazed over the scrapbook’s collection of photographs as a little boy, but I had no thought of reading the
accompanying newspaper articles. The rough outline of the story told by my parents was good enough for me.
It wasn’t until decades later, after I had inherited the scrapbook, that I finally read the yellowed newspaper articles. This action
was a result of our middle son, then a college sophomore, stating that his Christmas gift wish was to have a poster made of
his grandfather’s award-winning photograph to hang it in his apartment. A great idea, I thought, so I made posters of that
photo and one other from the scrapbook for him and his brothers. So that I might provide my family with more interesting
details behind the photos, I decided to finally read the scrapbook’s newspaper clippings.
I laid the large scrapbook out on a table and turned to its first page. A headline from the January 29, 1950 St. Louis Post-
Dispatch blared “Murder in Mississippi” in bold print. I began to read, and time melted away as a story of violence, fear, race,
love, revenge, politics, and courtroom drama captured me.
Given my journalistic roots, I have always enjoyed writing. I had even hoped to someday write a book, but I needed a subject.
When I finally closed my mother’s scrapbook cover, I knew my subject. The story of these 1950 Attala County murders
deserved more than to be secreted within the pages of an old scrapbook—it deserved to be told, and ownership of the
scrapbook made me the one to tell it. Thus, One Night of Madness becomes my first book. I don’t plan on it being my last.
|Who Is Stokes McMillan?