Friend of the devil

Somewhere in Carrollton, GA

Though I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness, I may have knocked on as many doors as the average JW.   Most of them were the doors of folks whose neighbors were mired in some kind of terrible tragedy, a story-type covered with gusto at my previous, crime-obsessed workplace.

It ain’t rocket science:  You get an address.  You find the neighborhood, typically at midday or so when many houses are empty.  You exit the vehicle, and begin the rounds.   I always look for shortcuts, of course.  Any human being in a driveway or wielding a garden tool gets my first friendly visit.  Otherwise, it’s cold-calling, telemarketing style, except with shoe leather.

The “talk to neighbors” drill is typically a tell-tale sign of weakness.   If  the story lacks on-camera commentary from folks with strong ties to the principal figures in a story — victims, family members, eyewitnesses — in other words, the folks who are frequently the most reluctant figures to make public comment — then we resort to chatting with neighbors.

This invites the kind of cliched commentary that viewers of TV news are too often familiar with:

“We spoke.  We said hi to each other.  Didn’t know each other very well.”

“He was a quiet guy.  Kept to himself.”

“We knew each other a little.  He loved his mother / children / spouse.”

“Never expected this in our neighborhood.”

“He had a great dog.”

So when I knocked on the door of a guy in Carrollton named E.J. Critten, I struck gold.  Critten lived next door to a woman charged with murdering college student Marcie Elliott.

They’d known each other only two months, but Critten spilled jaw-dropping tidbit after tidbit about his allegedly homicidal neighbor.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Farrah Strength, murder suspect and neighbor

Some of the headlines that emerged from three or four minutes on Critten’s porch:

– The murder suspect was obsessed with demons, and claimed to have “talked to” a demon as a child.

– She drove a hearse (before it stopped working, which subsequently stayed parked in the back yard).

– She’d “escaped” from a psychiatric institution (“crazy house,” as he put it).

– She’d casually informed him that she once killed somebody and would consider doing it again.

She was also covered with demon tattoos and loved loud heavy metal music.  Those details aren’t shocking, but they add seasoning to the rest of the story.

“Gotta tell you, sir.  I didn’t expect to hear all that,” I told Critten as I thanked him for the interview and exited his porch.  I’d also interviewed two other neighbors, who provided the more predictable “I’d seen her around, but didn’t really know her” kind of material.

They didn’t make the cut.

Once, I knocked on the door of the neighbor of a murder victim.  The suspect was already in custody.  I needed material.  The neighbor answered, and told me what he knew:  “Tell you the truth, that guy was an a–hole.  I’m sorry he got killed, but I won’t miss him.  He was a complete jackass.”

That, too, was eye-opening.  I decided not to use it.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
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About live apt fire

Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

4 thoughts on “Friend of the devil

  1. wagar

    Doug – What are the rules regarding a request by someone that they not be recorded and don’t appear on the news? Are you required to comply with their request, or is anyone caught in their yard fair game?

    1. live apt fire Post author

      Kinda depends on the circumstances. In this case, Mr. Critten saw our camera and consented to be interviewed. As long as the camera is on public property, my understanding is anybody is technically fair game, even in their own yard (though viewed through a window or door of the home would be murkier business, legally). If the subject is a newsmaker — Crawford Lewis, say — he’s fair game, no question. If the person in the yard is not a public person, and requests to stay off the TV, I’m pretty sure most of us would agree to the request.

  2. Jim

    Well, it looks like we know what she meant when she said she’d killed before……too bad that one was “self defense”

    1. Brinda

      The first one was not self defense. Both Farrah and her Mother Christine Strength confessed to the murder of Farrah’s father, Jerry Strength. Their confessions to the parts they played in his murder was recorded. Both the sheriff’s department and the Carroll County District Attourney’s office has a copy of the recordings.


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