It was a surprise, when in pursuit of a hobby, Rome police detective Randy Gore found his great-aunt had been murdered on Halloween night — a case that he thinks has not yet been solved.
It was 1934. At 7:30 p.m. 38-year-old Valsie Mathis was found dead about 50 feet from her home just off Calhoun Road at the back of Oakland Cemetery.
She was found “in a ditch with her head chopped open with an instrument thought to be a hand axe,” according to a Jan. 10, 1935, article.
A man — said to be a “pal” of Mathis — and a woman were initially arrested. Several days later a third suspect was also arrested in connection with the murder and was later released on bond.
The man, police said, had taken out a $500 life insurance policy on Mathis two months before the murder, naming himself as beneficiary. Testimony also linked the man to the scene.
A woman who was also a suspect said the man threatened her after she went to Mathis’ house to “get a scant of whiskey.”
Read a 1934 newspaper report about the death of Valsie Mathis.
She said the man instructed her to tell police she never saw him leave Mathis’ home on the night of the murder.
Read another previous report from 1934.
According to her testimony, the man told her “to remember that I never came out of the house — and if you tell that I did, I belong to a gang who will kill you some night while you sleep.”
The three suspects were eventually released from custody after a coroner’s inquest and grand jury hearing. As far as Gore knows, the case was never solved.
The last article he could find that mentioned Mathis was from Feb. 22, 1937, and said Mathis’ “slayer has never been apprehended, the case being unsolved.”
It was through a hobby — family genealogy — that he discovered the murder two or three years ago.
Since making that discovery he tracked down other living relatives in the family to ask them if they knew about the murder. They were either ignorant of the case or unwilling to talk.
“That side of the family was always secretive and didn’t want to divulge any information,” Gore said. “There’s very few living relatives now.”
Looking for an answer, the detective checked old case archives and documents within the police department as well as court filings.
“I haven’t been able to find any case files or evidence,” Gore said. “I can’t find anything where it ever went to court. I’m not even sure what happened.”
Looking through reams of microfilm, the detective has gone through literally hundreds of newspapers to see if the case was ever taken to trial.
By 1938 there hadn’t been any additional news of arrests in the murder.
Now, more than 70 years later, and with scant evidence other than newspaper articles, there’s little chance of solving the crime and even less of a chance of bringing someone to justice.
“All the suspects are dead by now,” Gore said.
But the realization that someone in his family had been murdered struck the detective on a personal level.
“Very seldom do you deal with something personal — it’s somebody else you’re dealing with. Although there’s very little chance of solving it, it still drives that interest.”