Editor's note: This is third in a local history series originally published by Linda Wilson in 2015.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a couple of articles about the murder of June Nisbet of Cloverdale and the trials of Milt Lee and Paul Crane who were convicted of the crime. I figured I would hear from some local people about their memories of these events and I did. Most were from people I knew around Rising Fawn and Trenton, but I had one response that I never saw coming. This article is, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story.
The articles came out in the [Dade County] Sentinel right before the Dade County Historical Society’s field trip to see the remains of the Empire Ironworks. As we were hiking back from the No. 8 Bridge, some of us began to talk about the events. Like my friend Patsy Cannon, Wilma Holder Hulgan remembered us going home early from school at Rising Fawn because Paul Crane had escaped from prison and it was thought he would come to see his family in the south end of Dade County. Dion Bradford remembered the big posse that was out looking for the suspects right after the attack on Nisbet.
Rex Blevins came in the library one day while I was working in the local history room and said he had been going through papers belonging to his father, longtime Dade County Sheriff Allison Blevins, and he thought he remembered seeing something about Paul Crane. Sure enough, the next week he left me copies of some newspaper articles and also some court documents where his father had been ordered to transport Milt Lee and two other inmates from prison to Trenton for the trial of Paul Crane.
Blevins was not sheriff when Nisbet was murdered but had become sheriff by the time Crane’s trial came around five years later. Rex said that his father became sheriff after the previous sheriff, F.C. Graham, was killed in a car accident. More on that later.
One of the articles Rex brought in was one I had not seen and it recounted the story of Paul Crane turning himself in after an escape to North Carolina because “he was tired of running.” Of course, that was after a four-hour chase through the woods. One of his daughters was with him when he turned himself in.
Ted Rumley noticed that his grandfather, Charlie Williams, was a pallbearer at the funeral of June Nisbet, so he asked his mother, Bea Rumley, about it. In a phone call to my mother, Bea said that her father worked for the Nisbets and they knew them very well. She said they were always delighted when her parents brought her for a visit and they referred to her as “the baby.” Bea recalled that her family followed the ambulance to the hospital when Nisbet was transported there after the attack and that later they visited him. She said she asked him who did this to him and he just replied, “Crane.” She recounted that her family also received a visit from Milt Lee when he got out of prison.
Recently, I received another phone call from Howard Massey, whose aunt was married to Milt Lee. He was curious about Milt Lee’s escape when he was found in Buffalo, N.Y. He said that immediately after Lee’s trial, the whole family packed up and moved to Buffalo. He isn’t sure what the Buffalo connection was. He said once a year, the family would come by and visit his family on the way to visit Milt Lee in prison. We agreed that it sounded like someone who knew him in Buffalo must have turned him in.
The Unexpected Phone Call
I expected to hear from some locals, but one evening I received a call that was a real surprise. When I answered, a woman hesitantly asked me if I knew who wrote the article about Paul Crane and the murder of June Nisbet. I told her that I had written two articles about it. The woman, whose name is Kim, told me that she would like to get copies of the articles, and then said, “I am Paul Crane’s granddaughter.”
We talked over an hour, and after the first few minutes, I began to take notes because her story was one that I wanted to be sure I got right.
Paul Crane and his wife had two daughters, but in between those births, they had a son and he was put up for adoption. Kim really doesn’t know why they kept the girls, but not her father, but that is what happened. Kim’s father was adopted by a childless couple in the Chattanooga area. His father was a farmer and his mother was a teacher.
Kim's father was never interested in his biological family and knew nothing about them, but after his death about 25 years ago, Kim became curious and had his adoption records unsealed in 2002. It was then she learned that her father’s biological father was a man named Paul Crane.
She basically came to Dade County and started looking up names in the phone book and knocking on doors until she found Paul Crane’s family. Some of them had called and told her about my articles. Over the years, she has gotten to know the Crane family and has heard many stories about her grandfather. But she didn’t stop there. She began to research Paul Crane’s life and, really, I think she may have enough for a book.
Kim told me that from her research, she believed that Paul Crane escaped from prison a total of seven times. When he died in October 2001, he had been incarcerated longer than any other inmate in the state of Georgia. He had actually outlived her father. I asked her if all that time was from the Nisbet murder, as I knew that Milt Lee had been released years before. She said that it was from that and all the escapes. Each time he escaped, it added time to his sentence.
Remember that I mentioned Sheriff F.C. Graham, who was killed in a car wreck? Kim sent me an article about that. He was on his way to Chattanooga to meet a deputy from Floyd County and then travel to Ohio to pick up Paul Crane, who had been apprehended after one of his many escapes. Graham had an accident on his way to Chattanooga and died from his injuries.
Besides getting to know Crane’s relatives here in Dade County, Kim also attempted to contact his daughters (her biological aunts). They were mostly raised by Crane’s family after his wife divorced him. Both daughters moved out of state in their teens. One left school because people, including the principal, gave her a hard time about being Crane’s daughter.
Kim established a great relationship with one of her aunts before she passed away. Kim’s family traveled to Louisiana several times and spent many hours talking to her. Her aunt told her about seeing a picture on the wall in the post office of her father (he was briefly on the FBI’s Most Wanted List) and tearing it down so people wouldn’t see it. She hadkept it and gave it to Kim, who said her half-brother looks very much like Paul Crane.
Paul Crane has one sister still living and Kim has visited with her several times and often talks to her as well. Crane’s wife divorced him and remarried and had seven more children before dying from breast cancer in her late 30s. Kim has tracked down two of those children and interviewed them. One of them said his older brothers remembered his mother being contacted when Crane escaped and that once he came to their house and took their mother away at gunpoint.
Kim has visited with members of the Crane family here, researched her family history, checked out cemeteries and so on. She said she had looked at my family tree on Ancestry.com. Paul Crane’s grandmother was a Hawkins, and actually his great-grandfather was my great-grandfather’s older brother.
I sent Kim copies of my articles and she sent me some more information. We hope to meet in person at some point to share more about her fascinating story and delve into our shared genealogy.
Yes, as they say, “truth is stranger than fiction.”