Hollis Riles

Background

On September 2, 1949, Hollis Riles, a 53-year-old landowner in Bainbridge in Decatur County, Georgia, was shot to death by a group of men trespassing on his land.

Riles owned a 200-acre farm in Georgia which included a private fishing pond. At one point Riles ordered a group of whites off his property.  According to Riles’ signed statement, on May 24, 1949, at about 2:30am, a group of 15-20 white men came to his home demanding that he come to the door. One of the men identified himself as Sherriff White. Riles refused to open the door. The men fired approximately 50-60 times into his home.  Riles reported this to the town sheriff, who in turn reported the incident to the FBI.  Riles was warned to leave his farm after this incident.  However, he insisted that he would “stay there on the property he inherited from his parents.”

In September 1949, Riles was fishing in his pond with Jess Gordon when some white neighbors came by in an automobile.  According to Gordon, when they went to the pond to fish Riles carried his gun “having feared for some months that his life was in danger.” Riles told the men the pond was posted and they must either get off or pay for the privilege of fishing. One of the men commented that he did not know he could not fish there, gave the fish to Gordon, and promised to leave at once. The men then quickly grabbed Riles, took him away and killed him. As one reporter wrote, “angered by the Negroe’s objection to their trespassing, the whites riddled his body with buckshot. The inquest showed that the farmer had been hit thirteen times.” Gordon observed as the two cars drove away that one of the license plates was covered.

Riles was, as he requested, buried in a pecan grove on his property.

Legal Status

A coroner’s jury conducted an inquest on September 9, 1949 and found that Riles’ death was “inflicted by unknown parties.”  In an FBI memorandum, Agent C. E. Franklin reported that four of the suspects who participated in the actual killing were: Jimmie T. Harrison, Howard Fewell, D.L. Birdsong, and Coy Miller. The FBI investigated but took no further action in the matter.

Decatur County Sheriff A. E. White also commenced an investigation into the killing.  However, on November 11, 1949, his house was bombed.