February 1986: Big Foot captured; merchants say that parking meters have to go


They called him "Big Foot." Assistant Jasper Police Chief Bobby Cain called him a "serial burglar."

He committed about 20 break-ins between November 1985 and late January 1986. His trademark was kicking in doors to get inside homes. The property taken included guns, televisions and VCRs and was valued at around $60,000.

On Feb. 4, 1986, local enforcement announced that they believed they had finally gotten their man. Mike Marlow, 27, of Jasper, had been arrested after allegedly kicking in the door of William Walker's residence in the Redmill community. (Most of the previous burglaries had occurred when no one was home.)

Walker's home had already been hit twice during the crime spree. He was asleep when the attempted break-in occurred, which caused the suspect to flee without taking anything.

Marlow, who was arrested an hour later by Carbon Hill Police, was initially charged with the one break-in, but he was immediately named as a prime suspect in the Big Foot investigation, which was being handled by three area law enforcement agencies. 

Following Marlow's arrest, investigators continued their efforts to arrest others who might have been involved in the spree and to recover some of the stolen property.

At that point, only a $1,200 copy machine taken from Lupton School, some guns and jewelry had been recovered. 

The names of the investigative team would become quite familiar in time — John Mark Tirey, J.C. Poe and Paul Kilgore.

The first week of February 1986 was a rainy time, as it has been this week. The wet weather caused big problems at Farmstead School when ceiling panels collapsed in a classroom, a hallway, the gym and two dressing rooms.

The school, which was less than 10 years old at the time, had a similar situation during Christmas break.

Walker County Schools Superintendent John Brown placed the blame on the roofing company. Two year before the problem at Farmstead, the same company (which was not a local business) had been forced to replace a roof at Bankhead Middle School that had begun to deteriorate. Farmstead's roof had been installed around the same time.

The board would sue if necessary, Brown said.

The week ended with Jasper merchants voting to remove parking meters in the downtown area. The meters had been covered since Christmas. 

Twenty four of 29 downtown merchants polled by Jasper police wanted free parking downtown.

Chuck Hockenberry of Bernard's Store for Men had led the charge to cover the meters during the Christmas shopping season and to lobby the City Council to experiment with free parking, an advantage which he believed was causing customers to choose Jasper Mall over downtown.

"It's a psychological thing. The people say, 'Great, I don't have to pay for parking,'" he said. 

Jasper Mayor Penn Woods said the $15,000 collected from the meters each year wouldn't be a big loss to the city if the merchants wanted free parking. The problem was determining how to prevent workers from taking up all of the places downtown, leaving none for the shoppers.

In late February, the council agreed to experiment with a two-hour free parking plan for 90 days.  

Finally, the nation was still reeling from the Challenger explosion, which had occurred on Jan. 28, 1986. On Feb. 1, a Martin High School student discovered a bouquet of balloons that had been released by schoolchildren in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in memory of the seven astronauts killed. 

Heath Shumate, a sophomore, was riding his dirt bike behind the school when he found the balloons in a tree near the baseball field. There were seven balloons and a note from an eighth grade history class at Neshoba Central High School. Shumate contacted the school to let students know that their memorial had been found.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.