A Peculiar Tribe of People
On May 12, 1960, as John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency, Chester Burge - slumlord, liquor runner, and the black sheep of the proud (and wealthy) Dunlap family of Macon, Georgia - lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery. He listened to the radio as the news reported that his wife had just been murdered. Police soon ruled out robbery as a motive, and suspicion centered upon the Ku Klux Klan, which two weeks earlier had descended upon his house to protest his renting of homes in white neighborhoods to black families. Then, on June 1, Chester was charged with the murder, and when the trial finally began, the sweet Southern town of Macon witnessed a story of epic proportions - a tale of white-columned mansions, an insane asylum, real people as “Southern grotesque” as the characters of Flannery O’Connor, and a volatile mix of taboo interracial relationships and homosexuality.
This was a story as fantastical as a Greek tragedy, and it is told in riveting detail in Richard Jay Hutto’s A Peculiar Tribe of People.
Chester Burge was a walking streak of deception and sex. After weaseling his way to be the caretaker of the last Dunlap sister and forcing his way into her will, Burge and his family inherited a fortune as well as one of the family mansions. Then came his numerous assignations with men - including his black chauffeur - and, either single-handedly or with help from a lover, the murder of his wife.
The trial would spawn the first testimony in Georgia history of a black man disclosing that he had been a white man’s sexual partner. Burge would be acquitted of murder, but convicted of sodomy. And yet, this Southern grotesque tale would take even more twists and turns before coming to an explosive conclusion.
“A Peculiar Tribe of People is the sort of true crime that has wings... I could not put down this account of murder and madness Southern grotesque style... This is one of those stories that, in many ways, truly is stranger than fiction. I simply could not put it down.”
—January magazine, naming A Peculiar Tribe one of the twelve best non-fiction books of 2010.
“Rick Hutto’s book—a fascinating tale of murder and deception—provides a sobering glimpse into the prejudices and corruption of pre–Civil Rights Georgia.”
—President Jimmy Carter
“A stunning glimpse into a world lost to the pages of history. With characters so deceptive, it takes a sleuth to identify pure evil. Hutto’s book is a race to the finish!”
“A rich, insightful narrative with people straight out of a Flannery O’Connor novel, Richard Jay Hutto’s A Peculiar Tribe of People is both compelling and brilliantly executed. A true-crime page-turner with as much grace, pizzazz and class as any Macon, Georgia, sunset.”
—M. William Phelps, award-winning author of fifteen books, including The Devil’s Rooming House
A "real-life Southern gothic tale" whose "story and its eccentric cast make this solid book worth the read."
—Publisher's Weekly, Sept 13, 2010
“This story, with its nexus of lust, race, and class set among the columned mansions of cotton-town segregation, oozes all that fertilizes Southern Gothicka...[Hutto] dishes up the squalor in a writing style that gleams with the polish accorded heirloom silver.”
—11th Hour Read full review...
"This book has it all… Hutto has done a magnificent job of assembling the facts of the case as well as the history of the participants. With him as the guide, the reader can study the complete story of the case that shocked the citizens of Macon in the 1960's and still reverberates all these years later."
—Macon Telegraph, October 10, 2010 Read full review...
"The rich may be different from you and me, but often it's the rich wannabes who are downright twisted... This wickedly entertaining Southern gothic mystery begins in 1960... (Hutto) wisely lets a crazy-quilt cast of eccentrics propel this real-life mystery."
—Atlanta Magazine, November, 2010
"...an absorbing tale of greed, lust and assorted sordid outcomes that reads like the best fiction, yet is completely true...Every page in this terrific book reveals a new and interesting cast member. His rogues' gallery of characters, both male and female, should give a Hollywood talent agency's character actors fodder for award winning acting opportunities...Hutto has produced a well-researched and absorbing book that never stoops to the cheap shot. Indeed, it is his classy writing and tone that keeps the story from meandering toward the tawdry side of the literary neighborhood, and guarantees that the reader will keep asking for more as pages are turned."
—Rome (GA) News Tribune, October 30, 2010
"A southern grotesque that comes complete with stately mansions, murder most vile, forbidden sex, a pot-boiling trial and a denouement worthy of a Greek tragedy…But wait, there's more! After being acquitted of murder, but convicted of sodomy and somehow finding another wife (18 years his senior), Burge stumbled into an ending that even Sophocles wouldn't wish on his worst enemy."
—Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 3, 2010
"Hutto's book is a remarkable chronicle of Deep South scumbaggery... presented with all the insanity and loopy legality one expects from a mid-20th-century court drama in the Deep South... Hutto does a fine job of unearthing this story despite overwhelming resistance and the chasm of time."
—Flagpole magazine, March 23, 2011