Was the destruction of a controversial Jasper business on April 3, 1974, arson or an act of God? Daily Mountain Eagle staff were keeping an open mind as the April 4 issue, which featured extension …
Was the destruction of a controversial Jasper business on April 3, 1974, arson or an act of God? Daily Mountain Eagle staff were keeping an open mind as the April 4 issue, which featured extension coverage of the tornado that struck Jasper, went to print.
The Eagle published a photo of the charred remains of the Brother's Head at the bottom of the page under the heading "Act of God?" The business had burned one day after Circuit Judge Al Blanton had allowed it to reopen.
"Various threats had reportedly been made against the business by persons who opposed its sale of merchandise generally conceded to be drug equipment, and though fires broke out in Jasper's west section during the storm, the Brother's Head was the only business on the north side that was damaged. Local authorities view the fire with suspicion and investigation of the matter is pending," the caption read.
I traced the start of this story back to the March 25, 1974, edition.
"Jasper's first and possibly last 'head shop' was padlocked by city police Friday night following a court order from Circuit Judge Alton M. Blanton," Eagle staff writer Skip Tucker wrote.
District Attorney Gerald Colvin had been granted a temporary injunction to close the shop for 10 days on the belief that it was a public nuisance and that drug paraphernalia and pornographic materials were sold there.
The Brother's Head, located in English Village, had been a pain in the side of law enforcement since it opened in the fall of 1973, according to the article.
Shop owner Wayne Moore had reportedly been allowed to rent the building to operate a game room and gift shop, but Colvin believed that it was a hangout for drug users. The court order described its customers as "boisterous, unkempt, and apparently exhibiting the influence of some liquor or drugs" and they sometimes created a public nuisance with their "staggering and use of indecent and vulgar language."
Colvin's office warned that unless it was closed the shop would "lead to the corruption of morals of young people of Walker County."
These weren't just idle threats. According to the article, arrests for drug possession had been made near the business.
On March 20, the Eagle reported that a Jasper father had stormed into the shop with a gun and threatened several people that he said had lured his 16-year-old daughter away from home two nights before.
A witness said Herbert Pickrell had sworn out warrants for the arrest of John Mark Timmons, 19, and Jerry Leslie Bryant, 17, the day before he brought a .25 pistol into the shop and told several people he would "blow their heads off."
Moore called the police, who took Timmons, Bryant and an unnamed 16-year-old girl into custody. Pickrell was not arrested, and it was unclear if he had even been searched to see if he had a weapon.
The police did search the teens and their vehicle and found marijuana on the two boys.
A hearing was held on April 1 in Blanton's courtroom to determine the business's fate.
The Eagle reported that "the southern pews were filled with those who had customed the shop and the northern pews with those who apparently opposed the business. On one side were the parents and preachers, those over 30. On the other rested mostly teenagers — long hair and many mustaches."
The defense argued that no drugs or contraband were taken from the shop the night that it closed and that most of the controversial merchandise such as small pipes, drug literature and men's magazines could be purchased in other Jasper stores.
The shop did sell a book on the manufacture of LSD, but the defense pointed out that an even more explicit one could be borrowed from the local library.
On April 3, the Eagle reported that the shop had reopened. Sheriff Bunny Cottrell, who had been on the job less than a month, removed the padlocks.
Colvin and Moore reached a settlement that prevented the shop from selling or displaying "books, photographs and items referring to nudity, sexual intercourse or drugs." The list of forbidden merchandise also included "concert kits," or small packages believed to contain marijuana paraphernalia, "orgy butter" and patches or posters portraying sexual acts.
Moore also agreed to employ an off-duty cop at the shop during peak business hours on Friday and Saturday night.
In his first public comments on the matter, Moore said he would have cooperated earlier if he had been asked to rethink his merchandise.
"If they had come to me and asked me to take out the magazines and posters and if they had tried to cooperate we could've worked something out. But instead they come up there and padlock the place," Moore said.
If the cause of the fire was ever determined, I found no mention of it around that time in the Eagle.
Next week, we'll finally get to the event most people remember from April 1974 — the tornado.
I'll probably share one or two stories from the immediate aftermath, but the topic I'm most interested in is rebuilding, a discussion that began early and was reported on often in the weeks following the storm.
Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.