Two years ago, the Little Five Points Halloween parade included a very amusing “Murder Kroger” float. Staffed by people carrying toy weapons and dressed as bloody murder victims, the float paid comic homage to a grocery store on Ponce de Leon Ave. whose nickname has been, for years, a dark civic punchline.
That punchline drove a story I produced on a slow Friday in November. I’d spotted a blog that said that the renovated “Murder Kroger” was scheduling a grand re-opening under a new name, the “Beltline Kroger.”
My story started with one line acknowledging a 1991 killing that begat the nickname. It used a music video by a local band that had done a song called “Murder Kroger,” adding evidence to the name’s presence in the culture. It was capped with an amusing moment while interviewing a longtime shopper, who both acknowledged the enduring nickname, while touting the store’s low prices and manager’s specials.
“Bargains to die for” I rejoined, and he chuckled in agreement.
A few days later, a woman contacted DeMarco Morgan, one of 11Alive’s news anchors. Without rancor, she quietly identified herself as the sister of the victim in the 1991 murder case. DeMarco passed the info to reporter Jeremy Campbell. Jeremy had actually produced a “Murder Kroger” story nearly a year earlier, which noted that the store had begun a renovation with an eye on upgrading its reputation.
Jeremy talked to the woman by phone. She sent him her sister’s funeral brochure. She also sent him a VHS cassette with TV coverage of the original case.
Jeremy hunted down a VHS machine and popped in the tape. He saw a fuzzy-headed youngster named Doug Richards doing a live shot outside the Kroger store one evening, tossing to a piece that showed police at the crime scene. It also had some sound with Danny Agan, the homicide detective who often spoke to news folk outside the old “homicide task force” building on Somerset Dr., just a couple blocks east of the Masquerade off North Ave.
25 year old Cynthia Prioleau was attacked as she tried to walk into the Kroger store to buy some groceries on April 1, 1991. Jeremy reported that the murder is still unsolved.
In the 1991 live shot, that youthful TV news goon had memorized a detailed narrative of the confrontation leading to Prioleau’s death. There was a lateral 90 degree walk that more-or-less showed the dark parking lot, revealing the lighted facade of the grocery store. There was an abundance of gestures, occasionally revealing a handful of cables that attached the reporter’s earpiece to the phone line delivering the broadcast audio and control room cues. There was ample sincerity and dark curly hair.
The story, in hindsight, was clearly told — conveying the horror of the crime without stepping into sensationalistic turf. Yet there was also a bit of mangled syntax, some misplaced words that mistakenly told the audience that the confrontation happened “as she was walking through the grocery store” after I’d already established that the crime took place in the parking lot. My train of thought has always been an unsteady, derailment-prone vehicle.
Needless to say, latter-day Doug had completely forgotten that he had covered this particular bit of violence 23 years earlier.
The VHS tape also had coverage from WSB and WXIA, their anchors narrating similar video. WAGA’s coverage, however, including two more packages — one dayside followup by Morse Diggs, and another nightside folo by yours truly. My second story included a silhouette interview with the victim’s grieving sister– the same woman who contacted DeMarco Morgan more than two decades later– and a parking lot standup where I’m holding a canister of pepper spray. So the evidence shows I covered the “murder Kroger” story on two consecutive days.
How could I forget?
In 1991, working nightside, crime was a staple of my work at WAGA. It seemed to be what the viewers wanted. My bossfolk wanted it. Our nightside assignment editor, Richard Hyde, was an ex-cop who reveled in catching police scanner tidbits and gleefully sending me out into the fray. Because he was good at it, it made me look good as a breaking news guy. I was a big fan of Hyde and embraced the role we played together. (Hyde was also an outstanding contact for disgruntled cops who wanted to sic the news media on APD’s management, run at that time by the colorful Chief Eldrin Bell.)
Hyde is still stirring the pot, getting judges fired for misconduct in his role with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. He also lent the investigative chops to the crew appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to investigate the APS cheating scandal. I’m still his biggest fan.
Point being: I covered a lot of crime. Lots of yellow tape. Lots of morgue hearses. Lots of soundbites with Sgt / Lt. Agan on Somerset Dr.
So that horrifying moment in the grocery store parking lot became part of the blur of random violence delivered to an audience both enthralled and numbed by the nightly parade of yellow tape, produced by a kid who believed he was giving the people what they wanted. And then forgot about it as quickly as possible.
My bud Jeremy Campbell has a TV news blog too! Start your 2015 by giving it a click here!