Thursday Reads: What Happened to Lennon Lacy?

lennon-lacy crime scene

Good Morning

As I was browsing the news this morning, I came across an article in the Daily Beast about an incident I have often wondered about–the death of teenager Lennon Lacy on August 28th of last year in the small town of Bladenville, North Carolina. On the morning of August 29, Lacy was found hanging from a swing set by a woman who called 911 to report “a suicide,” and asked if she should try to cut the person down. The dispatcher told her to go ahead. That was the beginning of either an unforgivably botched investigation or a police cover-up. (The photo above is of the swing set from which Lacy’s body was found hanging.)

The story broke in the midst of the Ferguson protests over the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson, just one the suspicious deaths of young black men reported in the wake of the publicity about Brown’s death and the protests that followed. I’m ashamed to admit that I never searched for more information on the story until today.

Here’s the story that got me started; frankly the headline is a gross understatement. I’m just going to excerpt some of the problems with the “investigation” and then give you some more background on the case.

Cops Didn’t Collect Evidence on Hanging of Black Teen Lennon Lacy, by Justin Glawe

Coroner Hubert Kinlaw told Dr. Christena Roberts, a pathologist hired by the North Carolina NAACP to conduct her own investigation, that he was prevented from taking photos of the crime scene by police—and that cops even threatened to take away his camera.

Furthermore, Kinlaw told Roberts as part of her investigation that police at the scene “didn’t want an autopsy performed,” and that Kinlaw took it upon himself to order one with the local district attorney. (Kinlaw has turned down repeated requests for comment.)

However, an officer from the State Bureau of Investigation said in a report that no photographs were taken at the scene because the sole crime scene technician was at “another homicide.” (No other homicides could be found in news reports for that 24-hour period.) So the authorities don’t even agree why photographs weren’t taken.

The teenager’s hands weren’t bagged when his body reached the medical examiner, which is  commonly done to preserve DNA evidence for retrieval by investigators.

The shoes that Lacy’s family members says weren’t his never made it to the autopsy table….

Radisch notes in her report the two belts delivered with Lacy’s body must have had been cut, because they didn’t seem long enough for Lacy to hang himself.

Radisch would only be left to speculate because the authorities didn’t measure the swing set where Lacy was found.

Well, someone could probably have gone to the crime scene and done that after the fact, but I guess no one bothered. Please read the rest of the article at the link. Glawe explains in detail why it would have been nearly impossible for Lacy to hang himself from the place where his body was found.

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy

Fortunately, the FBI is investigating Lacy’s death, but the fact that police just called it a suicide and didn’t collect any evidence will severely hamper their efforts.

On December 19, 2014, The Washington Post reported on why the FBI had been been called in.

— Teresa Edwards was driving to Bo’s Food Store when she spotted the teenager walking along the dirt road. It was getting dark. He was alone. She recognized him as Lennon Lacy, one of her son’s best friends. She stopped to ask him if he needed a ride.

“No, ma’am,” she recalls him saying, “I’m just thinking.”

Lacy had plenty on his mind that night in August, and many would soon puzzle over what those thoughts might have been. The next morning, Lacy, who was black, was found hanging by two belts from a wooden swing set in a predominantly white trailer park. State authorities called it a suicide. His family, and many others here, wondered whether Lacy’s death was something else: a lynching.

It looked to them as if his body was on display. He didn’t leave a note. And Lacy had been dating an older white woman for months. He was found wearing unlaced white sneakers that his family said were not his, one of several unsettled issues. Last week, in a scene echoing the civil rights era in the South, the FBI was called in and the NAACP held a protest march over Lacy’s death….

People who knew Lacy don’t think he committed suicide. Others are unsure what to believe. But many here say the possibility that Lacy, a popular high school senior who moved easily between black and white social circles, was the victim of a racially motivated killing demands more investigation.

“We know suicide is possible,” said the Rev. Gregory Taylor, a black preacher in a town where there are two churches named First Baptist, their memberships split along racial lines. “It’s just hard to accept that a black youth would hang himself given the history of ‘strange fruit.’ The facts don’t add up.”

It was Thursday, Aug. 28, when Edwards, who is white, saw Lacy on the dirt road. She also doesn’t believe the teen killed himself.

Lennon Lacy's grave after it was desecrated.

Lennon Lacy’s grave after it was desecrated.

Bladenboro has a long history of racism, and the Ku Klux Klan only stopped “parad[ing] through” the town in 1997. Moreover, Lacy’s body was found in an area that black children had long been warned to stay away from. Here’s a summary of some of that history from the Global Grind:

Here’s the truth — the statistic listed above marking the number of black bodies strung from trees in Bladenboro [“86 black people were lynched [in North Carolina] between 1882 and 1968”] is an image that is hard to let go.

And so is the racially charged climate of the rural town. In fact, Lacy’s neighbors, a white couple living in a trailer home right behind the Lacy family home, were instructed by police to remove a Confederate flag and a sign that read “Niggers keep out” from their front yard.

The Guardian asked the couple why they had put up the signs. Sykes said that it was his idea. “There were some kids who ganged up on our kid and I put some signs up.” Asked whether he now regretted doing so, he replied: “Yeah, I regret it now.”

Carla Hudson said she had begged her husband to take the signs down. “I told him he had to stop that. It wasn’t how I saw things – there’s not a racist bone in my body.”

In recent years, that tension hasn’t always been visible. According to The Guardian, Lacy “joined a multiracial youth group across town at the Galeed Baptist church where he went for weekly services and basketball ministry, and his friends were black and white, in almost equal measure.”

Though invisible in some facets of Lacy’s life, that tension is hard to ignore, especially considering how the teenager died.

Michelle Brimhall, Lennon Lacy's girlfriend

Michelle Brimhall, Lennon Lacy’s girlfriend

Back to the WaPo article:

Although the police claimed Lacy was “depressed” about the death of a great uncle, his family said he was exited about playing in the first football game of the season. He had already laid out his uniform in anticipation. The family also said that at least one of the belts used to hang Lacy wasn’t his. Most mysterious of all, his brand new Air Jordans were missing and when Lacy was found his feet were jammed into white sneakers that had no laces and were way too small for his feet.

Claudia Lacy identified her son. A state bureau of investigation agent interviewed her at the scene. She said that her son had just buried his great-uncle but that he didn’t seem depressed. The medical examiner performed an autopsy, failing to find any signs of a struggle or fight. Lacy’s death was ruled a suicide. No mention was made of the white sneakers — they didn’t arrive with Lacy’s body for the autopsy. It’s unclear what happened to the shoes, although the state bureau of investigation collected them, Kinlaw said.

To Claudia Lacy, the investigation felt rushed.

“Why were they so quick to call it that?” she asked now. “Was it because of my race? Was it because of my social status?”

The is much more information at the link.

Lacy’s white girlfriend, who was 31, left town shortly after his death. According the The Daily Mail, she believed he was killed because of their relationship and she didn’t feel safe staying in “Crackertown.”

Speaking exclusively to she said: ‘I believe Lennon was murdered. The police ruled his death as suicide but Lennon would never harm himself. He’s got too much love for life.’ …. speaking in the town where she has moved to get away from Bladenboro, Brimhall spoke of how they had planned a future together, despite the age gap, and how he had a life in front of him which showed he would not commit suicide.

Read much more at the Daily Mail link. Other media outlets have been unable to get in touch with the woman. Was she forced to leave town?

Lennon Lacy

Lennon Lacy

More quotes from Lacy’s family at MadameNoire:

[T]he family says suicide can’t be possible. Lacy didn’t have any issues that they know of when it comes to depression or mental illness over the years. And despite losing a great uncle he was close to right before his own death, Lacy’s mother says he grieved in the same way the rest of his family had, but carried on with his preparation for the football season.

“I know my son. The second I saw him I knew he couldn’t have done that to himself – it would have taken at least two men to do that to him.”

His brother, Pierre, agrees: “If my brother wanted to take his own life, I can’t understand why he would do it in such an exposed place. This feels more like he was put here as a public display – a taunting almost.”

Here’s the oft-quoted Guardian story. It’s excellent. Teenager’s mysterious death evokes painful imagery in North Carolina: ‘It’s in the DNA of America.’

I’ll end with a piece by Michael W. Waters at HuffingtonPost, The Life and Death of Lennon Lacy: Strange, Still.

The animus for Time Magazine’s “song of the 20th century” was a photograph of a Southern lynching. A Southern lynching would often draw an entire region of spectators together for a day of socializing. Small children were even present in the crowd, lifted high upon shoulder for an uninterrupted view of the day’s fatal proceedings. It was a strange, albeit frequent Southern spectacle, one that claimed many Black lives.

Given the frequency of this horrid practice, and the abundance of lynching photographs in circulation, many that doubled as postcards, it is unclear why one particular photograph troubled, then inspired Abel Meeropol, a New York English teacher and poet. Yet, it did. Unable to free his mind of this troubling image over several days, Meeropol sought consolation through his pen. As ink dried upon its canvas, its residuum formed words that have haunted generations, words etched into our collective memory as lyric by the incomparable Billie Holiday:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

Now seventy-six years removed its initial recording, there is still cause to sing this sorrowful song.

On August 29, 2014, another Black body was added to the crowded annals of those swung by Southern breeze. In a cruel twist of irony, the body of seventeen year-old Lennon Lacy was not found swinging upon a Southern tree, but upon a Southern swing set – a fact only beginning the strangeness surrounding his death. Authorities in Bladenboro, North Carolina, abruptly ruled Lennon’s death a suicide, declaring that he was depressed, and closed the case in five days.

Still, many questions remain.

Yes, there are many questions that must be answered.

I recall that it took months before the murder of Trayvon Martin became high profile. It’s time the same thing happened with the Lennon Lacy story. This smells like a police cover up to me. The police in Bladenboro are known for stopping black teenagers who are walking at night. Could it be that an officer or officers stopped Lacy and accidentally killed him in a struggle–like what happened to Eric Garner–and then tried to make his death look like suicide?

What do you think?

As always, this is an open thread. Feel free to post links and discuss topics of your choice. But I hope you take a moment to think about and discuss what happened to Lennon Lacy.

31 Comments on “Thursday Reads: What Happened to Lennon Lacy?”

  1. bostonboomer says:

  2. Pat Johnson says:

    This is truly a disturbing story on so many levels.

    Small town with a history of racial violence. A male teen with little motive to take his own life. A police department indifferent to the circumstances. And a family who denies certain articles of clothing worn by the deceased.

    How did this young man manage to hang himself using two belts? How did he gain access to the pole from which he supposedly hung himself? There does not seem to be an active investigation forthcoming after the discovery of his body. As a result the conclusion is mystifying.

    It seems a little late to uncover the truth behind this act as the investigation was improperly conducted from the outset.

    Something is seriously wrong with this picture and I would suggest the DOJ take a closer look at the circumstances. Chances are somebody knows something surrounding this mystery.

    Makes no sense that a teen would commit suicide over the death of a great uncle no matter how close they were.

    • bostonboomer says:

      The DOJ is involved. The FBI is investigating. There’s definitely something very wrong here. I feel badly that I didn’t read up on this when it happened, but I was focused on Ferguson.

      • Fannie says:

        Did they do an autopsy? Where is that report, didn’t the family request one? BB you are the best when it comes digging up and asking questions about deaths that go unanswered. It’s a crying shame that the department who work of us, don’t do their part to bring out the truth. Of course, we have seen it before, Mississippi Burning.

        • bostonboomer says:

          There was an autopsy by the NC medical examiner and then it was reviewed by the woman from Florida who is quoted in the articles. You should really read the piece at the Institute for Southern Studies. It’s very helpful. Quoting:

          As part of an effort to find answers to some of the questions about the teen’s death, the N.C. NAACP retained the services of independent medical pathologist Dr. Christena Roberts of Hernando, Florida to review the final report of N.C. Medical Examiner Dr. Deborah Radisch, who ruled the death asphyxia by hanging based on autopsy findings and information given to her by investigators.

        • Fannie says:

          Thanks BB, I went back and read the whole of it. Here’s the report:

          Click to access naacp_pathologist_report_lacy.pdf

  3. bostonboomer says:

    According to The Institute for Southern Studies, this could be an example of a phenomenon the NAACP calls “‘quick call suicides’ — suspicious hanging deaths of black men, most of them in the South, that were immediately classified as suicides without extensive investigations despite evidence that foul play may have been involved.”

    From The Guardian:

    She noticed what she describes as scratches and abrasions on his face, and there was a knot on his forehead that hadn’t been there the day before. In a photograph taken of Lacy’s body lying in the casket, a lump is visible on his forehead above his right eye.

    • bostonboomer says:

      From the Southern Studies link, here’s what Lacy would have to have done to hang himself where he was found. He was only 5’8” tall. This is from the state coroner’s report.

      One end of the swing set has a climbing platform attached. The noose was reportedly tied to the supporting cross beam (appears to be a 2 x 6″) and then fed through a metal grommet that was screwed into the wood. This grommet was 22.5″ away from the platform. Lennon was 69″ tall. The height of the cross beam to the ground was 90″. In a photo provided his brother who is 6’4″ could not reach up and touch the beam. There were no swings on this swing set to act as a step to reach the beam. There was no item present at the scene that Lennon could have stood on, applied the noose and then kicked away. The only other way to reach the beam and grommet therefore had to be from the climbing platform. No measurements are available at this time for the noose … but it does not appear long enough to have been tied around the beam, fed through the grommet and still allow a large enough loop for him to be able to place over his head. The side structure of the platform is a rather small square that is further obstructed by the v-shaped vertical supports of the swing.

      • bostonboomer says:

        This is really strange:

        Roberts also noted that the person who called 911 said she was going to the cut the noose and get Lacy’s body down. The photographs from the scene showed that the belts were tied together with a single cut to each at the tie point. “The other free ends of the belts are completely intact and have no secondary cuts,” Roberts reported. “Only a very short piece of each belt extends past the tied area and could not have been tied around the cross beam. Note that when meeting with Dr. Radisch she stated that when she examined the belt she thought some portion must be missing because there was no secondary cut in either belt.”

        Roberts continued: “Lennon weighed 207 pounds and was reportedly completely suspended. It is very unlikely that a female could lift his body weight, support it for a prolonged period and untie the belt. Also, as she did not have anything to stand on she would have to be well over 6’6” to accomplish this from the ground. Note that funeral home personnel stated that it took 3 men to move Lennon while making preparations.

        Who really cut him down? How do we know he was even hanging from the swing set if this woman is the only witness?

        • janicen says:

          Yes, something else happened there and I think the shoes are a clue. I doubt that he died hanging from that swing set. Was he dragged behind a vehicle and ruined his shoes in the process? The knot on his head is telling as well. What a sickening end to a promising young life. I really hope the federal investigation leads to some arrests.

        • Fannie says:

          Too many unanswered questions, and nothing seems to add up. There are obviously some glaring mistakes by the police and investigators. I had never heard of SBI………state bureau of investigation. More needs to be come about from his girlfriend, she might know more and is afraid for her life.

    • Fannie says:

      No photographs, makes me wonder, in this age of cell phones.

  4. TheRealKim says:

    Thanks for writing about this. I had read some articles regarding it a while back. So disturbing, as well as heartbreaking and being a southerner from NC , really upsetting that something like this could still happen.

    • bostonboomer says:

      If you hear any news about it, please post it here. I think it’s likely this was another police killing. Otherwise why would they tell the coroner not to take pictures of the scene and then disappear the strange shoes? It makes no sense to me otherwise.

  5. ANonOMouse says:

    It’s seems obvious that this young man was murdered. It would have been impossible for him to have killed himself if the belts hanging from the swing were as described. He would, at the least, required a chair or small ladder to have accomplished suicide. I hope they catch the bastards who killed this young man

  6. Fannie says:

    Here’s what happens out there in the real world of cops: It’s all over this country, a virus that goes deep inside. (Sherriff employees are told to forge Bates training records) I think that virus is known as the “forge ripple effect”.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That is a horrendous story. Why on earth would there be “volunteer” policepeople? Shades of George Zimmerman. And 73 years old? Geeze the guy looks like Dick Cheney.

      • Fannie says:

        I mean to say…fucking 73 years old, when the police are required to retire 55 or near there.

  7. NW Luna says:

    I recall reading about this odd and disturbing story last year. Too many things wrong with this — everything points to lynching. How can people do this? It’s sickening. Glad the FBI is involved. Wish they were earlier.

  8. joanelle says:

    How awful. Clearly does not appear to be a suicide, more like premeditated murder, and the beasts that committed it should be condemned to die in the same manner.

  9. bostonboomer says:

    Oh my. Now that he has announced his retirement, Harry Reid is telling people what he really thinks.

    Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the GOP presidential field “losers” and compared Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to a “lump of coal” in a Wednesday interview.

    Reid said he wasn’t worried that Hillary Clinton doesn’t have a significant challenger in the Democratic primary.

    “I am not a big fan of primaries,” he said. “I don’t think they help, especially when you’re someone as noted as Hillary.”

    Watch the video at The Hill.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    Mr. Wishy-washy strikes again!

    Jorge Ramos Corners Rubio: Would You Attend a Gay Wedding?

    Marco Rubio says he would if it were someone he cared for, just like he’d go to the wedding of someone who is getting married a second time even though he doesn’t agree with the choices.

    Then why doesn’t he just leave people he doesn’t know alone and let them live their lives in peace?

    This is a very confused man. I don’t think he’s very intelligent.

    • ANonOMouse says:

      Marco Rubio is the sort of guy who thinks he’s smart enough to figure out how to be on every side of an issue. There’s no way the LGBT community will support this guy or anyone in the GOP.

      • bostonboomer says:

        I don’t think that’s what he’s looking for. He just seems to have a tendency to suck up to whomever he’s talking to at the moment.

  11. I remember writing about this bake when it happened BB and then I dropped it. I’m so grateful that you wrote about this.

    Sent from my iPhone


  12. bostonboomer says:

    It so hard to keep up with all the Hillary scandals. She didn’t put money in the tip jar at Chipotles, she made a mistake about when her grandmother was born, and the National Review claims she parked her van in a handicapped spot.

    I doubt if she was driving the van, btw…..

  13. bostonboomer says:

    Media Matters says the group that is pushing the “religious freedom laws” is The Alliance Defending Freedom.

    The current push for expanded state “religious freedom” laws is thanks in large part to the work of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an extreme right-wing legal group that’s worked to criminalize gay sex across the globe.

    A $39 million non-profit Christian legal group, ADF bills itself as an organization that works for the “right of people to freely live out their faith.” The group has laid the groundwork for “religious freedom” laws across the country, using their legal work to peddle the myth that Christians are under attack by the “homosexual agenda.” But behind this religious freedom rhetoric, the group promotes an extreme anti-LGBT agenda, namely working internationally to criminalize gay sex.

    Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal organization that works with 2,400 allied attorneys nationally on a $39 million (as of 2013) annual budget. ADF was founded in 1994 by several of the country’s largest national evangelical Christian ministries to “press the case for religious liberty issues in the nation’s courts” and “fend-off growing efforts by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which seek to immobilize Christians.” Today, it has become the country’s best-funded and most powerful right-wing Christian group working against what the organization calls the “myth of the so-called ‘separation of church and state.'”

    As the “800-pound gorilla of the Christian right,” the group has become a fixture on Fox News in stories about “Christian persecution,” where the group is perhaps best known for defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve gay customers. But ADF’s agenda is far more extreme than defending discriminatory florists and bakers in court.

    That’s a new one on me, but I don’t watch Fox News.

    • NW Luna says:

      Can’t they stay in their own damn bedroom?!

    • ANonOMouse says:

      The ADF along with Liberty Council have briefs before SCOTUS challenging same-sex marriage. The Same Sex Marriage case will be heard by SCOTUS next week.

      And they are not alone in their gay hatred, there are many other right wing organizations that spend every waking hour and a lot of money trying to stop the LGBT community from parity in civil law. Part of their strategy in doing this is to frame us as challenging their religious liberty. Groups like, The American Family Association, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Concerned Women of America, Family Research Council, Family Research Institute, Liberty Counsel, National Organization for Marriage, along with bloggers like Barbwire, Breitbart (and that’s just naming a few) are working hard everyday to stop gay rights. To their mind stopping gay rights means being able to fire us, deny us housing, take our children, refuse to serve us in public accommodations, criminalizing gay sex, etc . Many of these people still support criminal penalties for LGBT people and some of them use the bible to support the penalty of death. As I said a few weeks ago, I could fill this blog up everyday with news stories detailing their efforts, but if I did you’d soon rid yourselves of me entirely. What makes these threats and intimidations even more ominous is that GOP is totally committed to pushing gays back into the closet and their candidates reflect that. This is why the LGBT community is fighting so hard to stop anti-gay laws on the State and local level like the RFRA. If we don’t fight we will be plowed under and will be returned to the margins where most of us have spent our entire lives. We are not fighting for our “special” interest, we are fighting for our lives.