Chester Burge, the prominent real estate mogul who was accused of strangling his wife, Mary Burge, over 50 years ago, will have his case discussed on the newest episode of A Crime To Remember on Investigation Discovery (ID). A Crime To Remember is a compelling crime television series that brings you old murder cases from the past. Most of the stories involved court cases that gained nationwide attention before the Internet age. In tonight’s A Crime To Remember episode, entitled ‘Comedy of Terrors,’ you’ll hear salacious details about the 1960 murder of Mary Burge, a 53-year old Georgia housewife, who was found dead in her bed. In addition to murder, this unsolved mystery drips with elements of racism, homosexuality, infidelity, and money. The case was retold in the book A Peculiar Tribe of People: Murder and Madness in the Heart of Georgia by Author Richard Jay Hutto, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A Crime To Remember will show how the murder of Mary Burge was splashed all across news headlines, as police tried to figure out who had murdered the wife and mother. When the police were called to the mansion on Nottingham Drive in Shirley Hills, an exclusive area of East Macon back in the 1960’s, they saw the body of a white woman in her fifties, lying in her bed unconscious. She was still wearing her lace nightgown. It appeared that the housewife had been strangled to death at around midnight.
A Crime To Remember will reenact how the maid and the chauffeur, both African American, found the body. At the time of the murder, Mary Burge’s husband, Chester Burge, was in the hospital recuperating from surgery. The maid told detectives that she arrived that morning and entered the residence, using her kitchen key. After entering the home, she made sure that the Burges’ 7-year old grandson was fed and clothed before going to school. After the boy went to school, the housekeeper headed up stairs to the second floor bedroom to awaken Ms. Burges. Instead, she found her dead in bed.
Suspects and Motives
Chester Burge learned of his wife’s murder on the radio that was sitting on the table beside his hospital bed. In shock, he was transported to his home by ambulance, according to the 1960 Charleston News and Courier. It appeared to be a robbery at first, indicated by Mary Burge’s finger, which was almost torn off in an attempt to remove her expensive ring.
But as police investigated the scene, it was apparent that robbery had not been a motive. Detectives mulled over the idea that it could have possibly been an angry client. And just two weeks before, members of the Ku Klux Klan had arrived at his mansion to protest the fact that Burgess had allowed a ‘Negro man’ to live in one of his properties that was located in a white neighborhood, according to The Telegraph.
Also, several people knew that Mary Burge was going to be at home that night while her husband was in the hospital. The chauffeur/butler, Louis Roosevelt Johnson, told detectives that he left the Burges’ home around 10 p.m. But Johnson made a likely suspect, since his background revealed that he had served time in prison for the second-degree murder of an ex girlfriend back in Michigan in the late 1940’s.
A Marriage of Inconvenience
Finally, police zeroed in on Chester Burgess as their prime suspect. In taking a close look at the former bootlegger turned realtor, they learned that the 30-year marriage to his wife was all a sham. Burgess was said to have had several male lovers, and he fought bitterly with his wife over the years. One old newspaper described him as a ‘mean,’ ‘sex-crazed’ man who treated his wife in a terrible manner, often traveling to see his male lover—when he wasn’t having sex with his ‘Negro’ butler. It appears that both the male lover and the butler were handsome men. It isn’t clear if Investigation Discovery’s A Crime To Remember will bring out the homosexual component to the case.
Needless to say, Mary Burge was left humiliated and had grown tired of Chester’s arrogant ways. The relationship had soured so much that it was rumored that Mary Burge wanted to seek a divorce, possibly giving Chester Burgess one big reason to want to kill her. And authorities say that is exactly what Burge did. According to their theory, he slipped out of the hospital that night and went home to kill his wife, before returning to his hospital bed. Burge vehemently denied having anything to do with her death. And at trial, several medical staff employees disagreed with the detectives theory, stating that Burge was still recuperating from surgery and was seen in his hospital bed at various times throughout the night.
In the end, a jury found Charles Arthur Burge not guilty in the death of his wife. But, he was later convicted of having an ‘immoral’ or ‘improper sexual relationship’ with Louis Roosevelt Johnson, who admitted that he was threatened with the loss of his job and the revocation of his parole if he didn’t agree to have sex with Charles Burge. The sodomy case was eventually thrown out. After his wife’s murder, Chester Burge married another woman and moved away from Macon. He died a few years later in an explosion at his home in Florida.
What happened to Louis Roosevelt Johnson?
According to Antics In Candyland, Richard Jay Hutto was unable to locate any information on Louis Roosevelt Johnson. He stated the following.
“The chauffeur completely disappeared after the trial.() There’s no record of him anywhere.”
It does seem that Louis Roosevelt Johnson vanished from public view in the years after the trial ended. During our research, we found a Louis R. Johnson with addresses listed in Macon, Atlanta, and Haddock. Public records show the man to be about 89 or 90 years old, if he is indeed still alive.
Tonight’s episode of A Crime To Remember–‘Comedy of Terrors’ is a must-see. Expect to hear from historians, journalists, and crime experts, as they give their commentary on the murder that happened so long ago. Be sure to tune in at 10/9 central on Investigation Discovery.
***Some of the words used in the article are direct quotes from vintage newspapers which reported on the case.
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