Backstage at the Fox Theater in Atlanta last week, a Journal photographer, Ed Pierce, was taking routine shots of the Metropolitan Opera touring company.
“We always keep pictures of everyone,” reporter Florence Miles explained to Pietro Cimara, the Met’s conductor. “One of you might get shot or shoot someone.”
“What ees thees ‘shoot?’ Cimara asked.
“Kill with a gun,” he was told.
Cimara laughed. “Oh, tenors never kill anyone–they’re the ones who get killed.”
He was prophetic. The following day, on Thursday, April 21, John Garris, a promising young tenor being groomed for stardom next year, was found dead in a rain-soaked alley off Marietta Street. A Negro named Love Thomas cut across the neglected bypath on his way to work at 7:45 a.m. and discovered the singer lying on his back, legs crossed and arms stretched out over the head. None of Garris’s valuables had been touched by the killer, and his gray, red, and blue checked sports jacket was found a short distance away. A steel-jacketed 9-millimeter murder bullet had made a hole in his chest.
Hints and Headlines There was little for the police to work on. Garris, a 35-year-old anti-Nazi refugee, had come to the United States in 1941. He had made his debut with the met in 1942, rising steadily in artistic stature. On the night of the murder he had attended a performance of “Elisir d’Amore,” checked out of his hotel, and shifted his bags to the special train leaving at 3:30 a.m. to carry the troupe to Memphis. Shortly after midnight he left the train, murmuring something about “playing cards with friends.” From that time, until his body was discovered, there was a complete gap.
The police could not explain how Garris had blundered into the most sinister section of Atlanta. There were rumors he had been seen with a “close male companion” during the evening and hints that the crime had a sexual motivation. A green Buick with a blood-stained rear seat, occupied by a young woman and a legless man, seen near Marietta Street early Thursday morning, proved to have no connection with the case. An ex-convict with a 9-millimeter Belgian pistol was picked up in South Carolina, but ballistics tests determined that this was not the murder gun.
With the police admitting their complete bafflement, The Atlanta Journal commented wryly: “One wit suggests that when Atlanta has been out of the nation’s headlines for a while… the Chamber of Commerce finds a body and places it where it will be found… We have not been greatly impressed with the work of our Sherlock Holmes department, but maybe we have been seeing too many ‘Thin Man’ movies.”