by Tim Gilmore, 8/11/2017
cont’d from What Ever Happened to Beverly June? Part 3
Now comes the crux of Donald Coleman’s story. One day, while riding around with the group of detectives from Jacksonville and Miami, Emmett Spencer directed them to the Ann Platt Apartments, which Lee Cody, 87 years old, a former detective who worked with Coleman, describes as “just a couple of little clapboard-covered beach cottages on 2nd Street.” Spencer said he’d kidnapped Beverly and brought her here to meet his “good buddy.” Spencer said he didn’t kill Beverly, but was there when his friend did.
From Armstrong’s Folio Weekly story:
“Your buddy? asked Coleman. “Are you talking about McCormick?”
“Yeah,” replied Spencer.
“What are you trying to tell me? That Clarence McCormick killed Beverly? Is that what you are saying?” Coleman asked.
“Yes,” Spencer said.
Clarence McCormick was the son-in-law of Beverly’s parents’ neighbors, the man who’d apparently stalked her when she still lived in her childhood home and, Beverly had told a friend, tried to break into the apartment she and Jim rented on Market Street when her husband was away at work.
He was the son of B.B. McCormick, a construction magnate based at Jacksonville Beach who was close friends with J.C. Patrick. Clarence was frequently in trouble with the law. Armstrong writes that on the several occasions Clarence McCormick was arrested in Jacksonville, “B.B. McCormick made sure his son was always immediately released.”
According to Coleman, Spencer told the investigators he’d brought Beverly to McCormick, who’d beat her to death with a tire iron. Coleman said the Ann Platt’s landlady found a bloody mattress in an empty apartment next to the one Spencer and Hampton had rented. Why she didn’t report it, nobody explained.
When the men left the Ann Platt, they returned to the place beside Silver’s Bar where Spencer said he’d buried Beverly. They were sure that an excavation would yield her remains. Just as they drove up, however, J.C. Patrick parked across the street. He sat in his car and watched them watch him. He’d followed them often in recent days.
Spencer had told the investigators that Patrick had beaten him unconscious in the Miami jail and swore that one day he’d kill him. From a pay phone, Jacksonville Police Captain Wingate left a message with the sheriff’s secretary that the case was near solving. Soon the sheriff arrived. So did several other officers and friends of Coleman’s. News had quickly circulated about a possible showdown, and Wingate took Sheriff Carson to task.
“I would appreciate it,” the police captain told the sheriff, “if you could get Patrick off my back!”
Carson didn’t appreciate Wingate’s instructions, especially in front of the crowd of blue gathered at the site. The relationship between police captain, a city position, and sheriff, a county position, was already competitive, even toxic, and Carson clearly had not appreciated Wingate’s taking up Beverly Cochran’s case when he himself had already met with Spencer and denounced him as a “pathological liar.”
“Get that son of a bitch back to Raiford!” Carson shouted, his patience exhausted. “I’m not having a convict loose in my county.”
Wingate and the other investigators were, in fact, outside the city limits of the time, and since Carson had jurisdiction here, he had no problem reminding the men whose county this was.
Insubordination and the Deep State
“Wingate hated Carson’s guts,” Lee Cody tells me from his home in Long Beach, Mississippi. “Wingate wasn’t no deputy sheriff. He was city captain.”
Cody says Carson did whatever Patrick wanted him to do, that “Patrick had Carson by the gonads.”
Carson ordered the investigation closed and blackballed Coleman, who believed the sheriff also removed the Cochran file from Coleman’s locker. Eventually Cody and Coleman were fired for “insubordination” when they challenged J.C. Patrick for hiding files pertaining to the murder of Johnnie Mae Chappell, a black woman murdered by a group of white racists in 1964.
In their later years, Cody and Coleman spoke often of obstruction of justice, favoritism, and corruption in Sheriff Carson’s office. Cody is the only one still alive.
“It gets me all riled up,” he says. “This kind of corruption goes all the way up. It’s the governors and the attorney generals of all the states and the FBI, all those fuckers. It’s called the Deep State. It’s the very thing that’s trying to take down President Trump.”
“I’m happy to talk to you,” says Carolyn Meeks, “but I don’t have any answers.” She’s never spoken publicly about what happened.
Since Carolyn has no memory of her mother, she refers to her as Beverly, and Gerry Cochran, whom her father married when Carolyn was five years old, became “a wonderful mother” to her.
Carolyn has few memories of being a small child. Memory makes strange selections even in the most normal conditions. “I remember Kindergarten,” she says. “I remember climbing the fig tree in my grandmother’s back yard.”
She lived with her maternal grandparents from the time Beverly disappeared until her father remarried in December of 1963. Never did family members sit down with her and explain that her mother had disappeared. She just always seems to have known it.
From as far back as she can remember, with that way small children often unconsciously learn to protect their parents, Carolyn avoided asking her dad about her mom because of the pain the subject would cause him. She says he was “the type of person who didn’t want to talk about unhappy things.”
Though she was always close to her grandparents, Beverly’s parents, they didn’t discuss it with her either.
“It was so painful for them,” she says, “and not ever knowing what happened only made it worse. They never had anything but speculation.”
Carolyn says there’s no way she’d talk to me now if her grandparents and her father were still alive.
Despite the lack of discussion, she somehow knows of two different stories that tended to eclipse any other possibilities.
The first was a case of mistaken identity. “It was a drug deal gone bad,” she says. “I don’t know where this drug dealer came from, but he was gonna get back at this guy who screwed him over and take the man’s wife. He got the wrong house.”
The other story concerned the construction company contracted in the new subdivision. “She was young and attractive, the whole area was under construction, and the son of this wealthy businessman, McCormick was his name, he was quite the troublemaker. So this McCormick kidnapped her, raped her for three days, and then beat her to death.”
Though Carolyn’s family never knew the truth, she believes Sheriff Dale Carson did. “I don’t know what he knew, but he took it with him to his grave.”
She pauses. Her voice has remained calm and steady throughout our conversation, even in describing the heinous specificity of the darker theory. What she says next surprises me.
“Here’s something my mother and father never knew. When I turned 18, I went to see Sheriff Carson.”
She takes her time, thinking about what she’s about to say. “There was this other man some of the detectives thought was involved. Emmett Spencer. He was in prison in Raiford. I told the sheriff I wanted to go down to Raiford myself and talk to this man.”
Carson “didn’t exactly” blow her off, told her he’d see what he could do. While she was waiting, she heard Spencer was transferred from Florida to Iowa. Spencer had been behind bars in Florida for almost 20 years, but when she started to ask questions again, he was moved 1300 miles away.
“I don’t know that there was a connection,” Carolyn says, “but I had a gut feeling this happened because they did not want these questions brought back up.”
Carolyn says her family never knew if Clarence McCormick killed Beverly, but they always believed “he was involved.”
There’s irony to Carolyn’s having had a happy and nurturing childhood. “My family was very normal, very loving. I just had three sets of grandparents.”
She’s always felt “very paranoid” about people she loves “going missing.” It’s a terrible phrase, “going missing,” but it makes a horrible sense. It’s as though she could picture them walking down the street without their really being there at all. Instead of their presence, she’d feel their absence.
“If I had one wish,” she says, “I wish I could know what really happened. The unknown is worse than what you know, but I’ve had to learn to live my whole life with never knowing.”
On January 13, 1965, The Minneapolis Star reported that the Justice Department had ordered two men who’d been jailed in Wyoming and Oklahoma to be returned to Minneapolis to stand trial for bank robbery.
“Clarence McCormick, 38, Jacksonville, Fla” was in jail in Casper Wyoming, while “William Sager, 23, Brighton, Colo” was in jail in Guymon, Oklahoma. On April 2, 1965, the Associated Press reported that McCormick, “Jacob Sager,” and McCormick’s wife Norma had been sentenced in Minneapolis for robbing Park National Bank of $55,000 the preceding November.
On January 20th, The Minneapolis Star had reported the trio had been living on a Montana ranch and “posing as wealthy Florida residents.” They’d left behind $18,000 when they fled Montana.
Much later, in 1980, a robbery accomplice shot Clarence McCormick and killed him in a Columbus, Georgia motel.
The bridge that connects Beach Boulevard across the Intracoastal Waterway is now called the B.B. McCormick Bridge.
In 1969, J.C. Patrick Jr. heard his father beating his mother at three in the morning and grabbed a hunting rifle. On December 19th, The Florida Times-Union reported, “He pulled the trigger when his father turned around to face him.” The former chief investigator for the Duval County Sheriff’s Office had been killed by his own son.
The story concluded, “Mrs. Patrick gave similar testimony and said the elder Patrick, a veteran law enforcement officer, had been a heavy drinker for years and had threatened and abused her and her son on many occasions.”
In 1996, Emmett Spencer died of an aneurysm in an Iowa penitentiary. The reason given for his transfer was to allow him to be near his sister. Of all the murders he claimed to have dreamt or committed, or of which he was accused, he was only ever convicted of murdering John Keen, whose murder he never admitted.
Dale Carson was sheriff of Duval County for 28 years, from 1958 to 1986. The only other sheriff who came close to such a tenure was Sheriff Rex Sweat from 1932 to ’57. Carson died of “illness” in 2000.
Ethel Jarrell, Beverly’s mother, died on February 25, 2015, at the age of 96, having lived for 55 years with no closure in her daughter’s case.
Beverly’s husband James died three months before this writing. When Beverly disappeared in February 1960, he’d been working as a salesman for the janitorial supplies company All-Brite Sales for a little more than a year. He retired as vice president of All-Brite in 2002. He’d been married to Gerry Cochran, who survived him, for 53 years.
Today, the Mayport flyover ramp soars across the expanded intersection of Mayport Road and Atlantic Boulevard where Silver’s Bar used to be.
Coleman and Cody believed Emmett Spencer buried Beverly behind Silver’s Bar. “They might’a just paved right over her,” Cody says. “She might still be down there.”
Beverly June Cochran is still listed as missing. If she’s still alive, she’s 76 years old.