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Column: Murder of elderly couple shocked community
by Thornton Kennedy
Northside Neighbor Columnist
October 30, 2013 05:03 PM | 3645 views | 0 0 comments | 86 86 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
The mystery surrounding the murders of Susan and Martin DeFoor is as horrifying as anything in the theaters right now.

First a disclaimer: this is a Halloween story but it is true and graphic. I recommend strongly that you don’t let your children read this one. I write that because I know a few friends who let their children read these columns. This one is not for them.

Now to the unfortunate story of Susan and Martin DeFoor.

On the morning of July 26, 1879, Martin Walker noticed something was amiss at the home of his grandparents, which was just across the road from his home. Susan DeFoor was 81 years old and her husband Martin a sturdy 73. It appeared no one was up at 6:30 in the morning, which was unusual. Walking around the back of the two-story country house, Walker noticed a back door was open. Inside he found his axe, one that he had left near his wood pile at his home. It was in the fireplace, ashes covering the blade. In the front bedroom he found his grandparents laying side by side, nearly decapitated by blows from that very axe. There was no sign of struggle.

Susan and Martin DeFoor moved to the area around Bolton Road in 1853, taking over from James Montgomery the ferry across the Chattahoochee River. The DeFoor ferry name exists to this day. The couple were well liked and had no enemies as far as anyone knew. They lived in the same home Montgomery built, which would be on the west side of Chattahoochee Avenue north of Moores Mill Road today. Their children and grandchildren all lived nearby.

After their bodies were discovered, scouts were sent out in all directions and word was sent to Marietta to stop any unsavory travelers. Suspicion fell almost immediately on tramps, who frequently walked by the home on their way to the Cobb County city. Martin DeFoor had had trouble with these transients in the past.

There was a problem with that theory.

Whoever killed Susan and Martin DeFoor knew the elderly couple’s routine. It has been speculated that the murderer slipped into the house on the evening of July 25 when they went to milk the cow, which they did around the same time every day. When the DeFoors went to bed that night, unknown to them, their murderer was lying on the bed upstairs, waiting for the perfect time to strike. This was evidenced by mud found on a bedcover and a human imprint on one of the beds upstairs. Investigators also found human waste left in a small wood closet upstairs.

In a bureau in the bedroom, Susan DeFoor had a sack that contained $18 in silver. Even though the bureau was broken into, all that was taken were some promissory notes and a pair of boots belonging to Martin DeFoor. Those same boots were found about 400 feet from the house among some discarded watermelon rinds and corn husks. It seems the murderer had some kind of feast in the woods early in the morning before making his getaway.

In addition to the evidence inside the home, two sets of footprints were found near the wood pile from which the axe had been taken. One of the sets was from bare feet.

It is assumed a vagabond committed the heinous act to rob the couple. But how would a transient have known the elderly couple’s routine so well, and why would they need to murder an elderly couple when they could have easily overpowered them? And why would they have left that heavy sack of silver?

Several arrests were made but they all went nowhere. The crime remains unsolved and is one of the greatest mysteries in Buckhead history. It was even written up in the New York Times.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at

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