1911: Oakhurst’s first mayor murdered in his front yard!

After the founding, the first election of municipal officers was held on Tuesday, January 3, 1911. The “progressive little suburb of Atlanta, held its election for mayor and councilmen”.

The people honored W.H. Johnston with the mayor’s chair. Mr. Johnston is the “father” of Oakhurst, having devoted his time and capital to the up-building of the town.

The counilmen elected with him were: B.P. Dickinson, C.L. Morgan, J.M. Farmer, J.L. Wallace and K. Dearing. Bonds worth $5,000 were issued to build a school house/city hall. [where was that?]

That summer, Decatur was already attempting to merge with Oakhurst. Then, scandal hits:

Saturday afternoon, September 23, 1911:
Mayor Johnston murdered!

Who better to tell the tale then the soon-to-be-Hearst-owned, Atlanta Georgian

Pearson W. Zuber was a grocer on College Ave and Mayor Johnston was at his home.

In a great many places in Oakhurst the road is torn up, so Zuber was forced to employ a boy with a push cart to deliver groceries. The boy, according to those who witnessed the affair, had left the cart standing on the sidewalk in front of Mayor Johnston’s home in Viola ave [now Madison]. Johnston, it is said, seeing this, walked up and deliberately kicked the cart, with its cargo of groceries, into the gutter. The delivery boy ran to the nearest telephone and notified Mr. Zuber of the mayor’s action.

Zuber hurried to the scene and demanded that Johnston pay for the ruined groceries. This the mayor, it is said, refused to do. A blow was struck. By whom it is not clear, but the consensus of opinion of witnesses indicates it was by Johnston. For a moment or so they battered each other, and then Johsnon was seen to pull away from the grocer and draw from his pocket a revolver. Five shots rang out as Johnston emptied his revolver at Zuber. Blood spurted from the two wounds Zuber had received, but, picking up a heavy scantling [basically, a two by four] that lay near by, he started for Johnston, who was retreating. With a blow he felled the mayor and then, standing over his prostrate form, beat out his brains.

Investigation made by the police and by Congressman William Schley Howard who knew personally both principals. The fatal fight can be laid directly to an outsider, a young man who stood near them when the argument started and egged them on to fight.

Johnston had been carried into his house where he died a few minutes later in the arms of his wife.

Meanwhile Zuber who had been fired at five times “two of the bullets taking effect, one in his left lung and one in his hand.”

He staggered towards his store and fell unconscious into his wife’s arms. He was placed on an electric streetcar and rushed to Grady as calling an ambulence was deemed too slow to save him.

Johnston is survived by a wife and two children. Zuber has a wife and four children.

Johnston’s funeral was held Monday afternoon, Sept 25, 1911 from Patterson’s chapel. Burial in Westview cemetery.

Oct 13, 1911:
Pearson W. Zuber, the grocer who killed Mayor Johnston, of Oakhurst, with a timber three weeks ago, was arrested Friday afternoon on a warrent charging murder and locked in the DeKalb county jail at Decatur.

Zuber was shot by Mayor Johnston and was sent to Grady hospital, where he was believed to be fatally wounded. He recovered and was released last Saturday. On Friday a warrent was taken out by the family of Johnston and Zuber arrested.

The legal firm of Arnaud & Donehoo, of Atlanta, has been retained as counsel by Zuber and will make an effort to secure his release on bond.

Oct 17, 1911:
P.W. Zuber was released without bond Monday afternoon, when the case him for killing Mayor W.H. Johnston of Oakhurst, was dismissed by Justices Shelverton, Camp and White of Decatur.

The state made a motion for a continuance of the commitment trial on the grounds that as important witness was kept away on account of illness. But Paul Donehoo, attorney for the defense insisted that the trial proceed, as eye witnesses to the fight were present to testify. The justices agreed that the trial should proceed and when the state refused to put up any witnesses, the case was dismissed.

However, a new warrant may be sworn out against Zuber when the state is ready to proceed with its case.

Several weeks ago Mayor Johnston was killed by Zuber in front of Johnston’s home in Oakhurst. A quarrel started over some trivial matter. Zuber was shot and Mayor Johnston was killed by a blow over the head with a timber in which there was stuck a large nail.

Oct 24, 1911:
Zuber rearrested by Sheriff Morris

Friday night Oct 27, 1911:
Zuber was shot at while undressing in his home in the back of his grocery store. The attempted-assassin fled in the darkness and ran up the railroad embankment, just across the road from the store. Zuber was out on $2,000 bond.

I haven’t been able to track down what eventually happened to Zuber. If anybody can help I’d be much abliged!

Atl. Georgian 4 Jan 1911

Atl. Georgian 24 Sep 1911

Atl. Georgian 13 Oct 1911

Atl. Georgian 17 Oct 1911

There’s an article stub on Wikipedia for Rep. Howard

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One Response to 1911: Oakhurst’s first mayor murdered in his front yard!

  1. newtreeguy says:

    When I originally posted this back in 2010, Decatur Metro picked it up and got this funny comment: “Oh! Is is why we still don’t have a decent grocery story in Decatur?” Hahaha

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