AJC Deja News: Paul John Knowles terrorized Georgia during murder spree (1974)

November 1974: Serial killer Paul John Knowles, aka 'The Casanova Killer,' was captured in suburban Henry County, Ga., when he attempted to crash through a police roadblock near Stockbridge. Local citizens captured Knowles and called authorities. BILLY DOWNS / AJC FILE

Combined ShapeCaption
November 1974: Serial killer Paul John Knowles, aka 'The Casanova Killer,' was captured in suburban Henry County, Ga., when he attempted to crash through a police roadblock near Stockbridge. Local citizens captured Knowles and called authorities. BILLY DOWNS / AJC FILE

A review of the news that made The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s front pages through the decades.

Today’s AJC Deja News comes to you from the Thursday, Dec. 19, 1974, edition of The Atlanta Constitution.

Earlier this month, Wayne Williams came up for parole. He was denied.

Now 61, Williams' next chance at being paroled comes in 2027. Since his conviction in 1982 of the murders of Jimmy Ray Payne and Nathaniel Cater, he's been serving two life sentences. Williams is suspected of killing more than 20 black children in metro Atlanta from 1979 to 1981 — the Atlanta Child Murders — but was never charged in any of their deaths.

In the early ‘70s, another suspected mass killer caught Atlanta’s attention. But he never made it to trial. And nobody is sure exactly how many people he may have killed.

Paul John Knowles, charged with murdering four people in Georgia, two in Florida and one in Ohio, met a violent end when he was shot and killed Dec. 18, 1974, near Lithia Springs in what police called an escape attempt.

Combined ShapeCaption
Dec. 19, 1974 -- The Constitution front page detailed the escape attempt and subsequent killing of Paul John Knowles, ending his murderous spree through Georgia. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Dec. 19, 1974 -- The Constitution front page detailed the escape attempt and subsequent killing of Paul John Knowles, ending his murderous spree through Georgia. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Combined ShapeCaption
Dec. 19, 1974 -- The Constitution front page detailed the escape attempt and subsequent killing of Paul John Knowles, ending his murderous spree through Georgia. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

MORE DEJA NEWS>> Check out what we’ve covered before (and again)

The Constitution’s Dec. 19 front page story by Keeler McCartney and Jeff Nesmith stated “Knowles, 28, was in a car with Douglas County Sheriff Earl Lee and Georgia Bureau of Investigation Agent Ronnie Angel when he was shot, trying to snatch Lee’s revolver, authorities said.” Angel said Knowles picked the lock on his handcuffs with a paperclip, getting off a single shot before he was killed.

“GBI spokesmen said Knowles was being taken from the Douglas County Jail... to Henry County, where he had told authorities he hid the gun he used to murder [two victims],” McCartney and Nesmith reported. During the altercation, the car careened off Interstate 20 east near the Lee Road exit. The incident left the officers shaken, with Sheriff Lee telling the AJC “It was a real bad scene.”

But Knowles’ Miami-based lawyer wasn’t buying Georgia law enforcement’s story.

“I can’t believe he attempted to escape,” Sheldon Yavitz said. “Where would he go with chains on?”

Combined ShapeCaption
December 1974: While being driven along I-20 back to Henry County, Knowles reportedly grabbed Douglas County Sheriff Earl Lee's handgun, after which GBI Agent Ronnie Angel shot and killed Knowles. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

December 1974: While being driven along I-20 back to Henry County, Knowles reportedly grabbed Douglas County Sheriff Earl Lee's handgun, after which GBI Agent Ronnie Angel shot and killed Knowles. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Combined ShapeCaption
December 1974: While being driven along I-20 back to Henry County, Knowles reportedly grabbed Douglas County Sheriff Earl Lee's handgun, after which GBI Agent Ronnie Angel shot and killed Knowles. AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Credit: AJC PRINT ARCHIVES

Several of Knowles’ suspected victims here either had ties to or lived in a swath of Middle Georgia cities and counties from Macon to Milledgeville. The end of Knowles’ violent trail, however, came closer to metro Atlanta, in then-rural Henry County.

“He was arrested near Stockbridge Nov. 17 after allegedly killing Florida State Trooper Charles Campbell and Wilmington, Del., businessman James Meyer near Perry,” McCartney and Nesmith wrote. “He has also been charged with the murders of Carswell Carr of Milledgeville and Carr’s teenage daughter, Mandy, on Nov. 6.”

Kathy Pierce, 24, of Musella in Crawford County was another of his suspected victims, as were hitchhikers Edward Hilliard and Debbie Griffin killed near Milledgeville in early November 1974. Griffin’s body has never been found.

LEARN MORE>> Who are Georgia’s most notorious serial killers?

MORE PHOTOS>> Faces of Georgia’s Death Row

Combined ShapeCaption
November 1974: Knowles claimed to have killed 35 people across the country, mostly in the Southeast, but only 20 murders have so far been corroborated. Eight people were killed in Georgia by Knowles during a 1974 spree from July-November. BILLY DOWNS / AJC

Credit: BILLY DOWNS / AJC

November 1974: Knowles claimed to have killed 35 people across the country, mostly in the Southeast, but only 20 murders have so far been corroborated. Eight people were killed in Georgia by Knowles during a 1974 spree from July-November. BILLY DOWNS / AJC

Credit: BILLY DOWNS / AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
November 1974: Knowles claimed to have killed 35 people across the country, mostly in the Southeast, but only 20 murders have so far been corroborated. Eight people were killed in Georgia by Knowles during a 1974 spree from July-November. BILLY DOWNS / AJC

Credit: BILLY DOWNS / AJC

Credit: BILLY DOWNS / AJC

Another front page piece from the Dec. 19 Constitution detailed the existence of Knowles' tape-recorded diary, in which his attorneys said he described 16 murders. In 2011, Georgia authorities used a transcript from the tapes to assist in identifying the remains of a Texas girl, Ima Jean Sanders, missing since August 1974.

“It was hard to know what happened, but it was good to know,” her mother, Betty Wisecup, told the AJC’s Bill Torpy. “I always had a feeling she’d eventually come home.”

Knowles claimed to have killed from 20 to 35 people over his seven-month spree, reportedly boasting that his crimes would “put Georgia on the map.” Instead, with the passage of time, Knowles has become comparatively less well-known than other American spree killers. But he still haunts those who remember his “criminal odyssey,” as one Constitution reporter termed it, through the state 45 years ago.

“I did what I had to do; I just did my job,” former GBI agent Angel, who got to know the killer through repeated jailhouse interrogations, told Torpy in 2011.

“I’d place him as the worst I’ve seen,” Angel said. “There’s bad and there’s mean, but I’d put him in the category of evil.”

ABOUT DEJA NEWS

In this series, we scour the AJC archives for the most interesting news from days gone by, show you the original front page and update the story.

If you have a story you'd like researched and featured in AJC Deja News, send an email with as much information as you know. Email: malbright@ajc.com. Use the subject line "AJC Deja News."

>> MORE AJC HISTORY HERE: AJCreprints.comPhoto reprintsContent archivesFlashback Photos