Phenix City goes to the dogs
(& transfers dogs to laboratories)
PHENIX CITY, Alabama––Frank Jerome “Red” Cobb, 70, killed by a pit bull on September 21, 2021, was at least the sixth pit bull-related fatality linked to Phenix City, Alabama, population 36,000, since 1988.
Only three of the deaths, including Cobb’s. actually occurred within the Phenix City limits. Yet the history of Phenix City suggests the appalling rate of pit bull fatalities with local connections, apparently the highest in the world per capita, is no mere coincidence.
But neither were any of the Phenix City pit bull fatalities the fault of the victims, none of whom were pit bull owners.
Video posted to Facebook
“A video posted to Facebook was taken of Cobb as he lay in the dirt, pleading for help,” reported Kenzie Beach of WRBL News 3 in Columbus, Georgia, just across the Chattahoochee River.
“Cobb’s family confirmed it is Cobb in the video,” Beach said. “News 3 obtained the footage but chose to not show it due to the graphic images.”
Attacked on a morning walk around his block, Cobb was transported first to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital in Columbus, and then to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he died that evening.
The large black pit bull believed to have fatally injured Cobb “was later found on U.S. Highway 431 South, dead after being struck by a vehicle,” Beach continued.
“A sweet guy, full of life”
“Family members say Frank Cobb was a sweet guy, who was full of life, who loved to talk to people,” Beach finished.
Cobb, according to the obituary posted by the Taylor Funeral Home in Phenix, “was born February 12, 1951 in Columbus to the late Charlie Cobb, Sr. and the late Louvada Hugley.
“He attended school in Columbus, after which he relocated to Portland, Oregon with the Job Corps, where he mastered a trade in culinary food preparation,” the obituary said. “He also was a cement finisher for Alexander Construction Company and a number of contractors in the Columbus area.”
Cop refused to charge Cobb in 2009 incident
Cobb for the most part appears to have stayed out of the trouble for which Phenix City has long been notorious. Even the one bit of trouble Cobb was in, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer archives indicate, made news only because 14-year Phenix City police officer Christina J. Presley refused to criminally charge and jail him, and was subsequently suspended for insubordination.
Suing the police department, Presley won a $150,000 settlement in which she agreed to resign from the force.
According to Ledger-Enquirer reporter Jim Mustian, Presley in August 2009 “was assigned lead investigator in a confusing case that included competing witness accounts of a drunken assault.
Tommy Newsome,” a white man apparently half the age of Cobb, a black man, “suffered a deep cut to his arm,” Mustian continued. Newsome “claimed that Frank Jerome Cobb attacked him with a box cutter. Cobb admitted stabbing him, but insisted that Newsome hit him over the head with a metal chair.”
The Homer Cobb era
Frank Cobb may have been very distantly related to Homer Cobb (1890-1950), mayor of Phenix City from 1944 until his death, but probably not voluntarily. More likely, a member of the slave-owning Cobb family took advantage of one of Frank Cobb’s ancestors.
Either way, being related to Homer Cobb was nothing to brag about.
Wrote Edwin Strickland and Gene Wortsman in their 1955 book Phenix City: The Wickedest City in America, “The history of Phenix City is swathed in turbulence. The section once known as Girard acquired the unofficial name ‘Sodom’ because it became a refuge for a lawless element.”
By Homer Cobb’s mayoral tenure, Strickland and Wortsman recounted, “The downtown area was an unending series of night clubs, honky tonks, clip joints, B-girl bars, whorehouses, and gambling casinos. Every highway leading into the city was lined with the institutions, and they were scattered throughout the residential districts.
“No attempt was made to conceal illegal activities. Lawmen, while denying payoffs, openly fraternized with gangs.
“Cruelty & brutality”
“A thread of cruelty and brutality which kept the citizens in a state of intimidation twined through the entire picture. Houses were burned or bombed, people were assaulted, gang warfare blazed on the streets. Individuals, once in the clutches of the law, could expect no mercy,” especially those who happened to be black.
“While Phenix City was recognized as a pesthole,” Strickland and Wortsman wrote, “few citizens besides ranking bosses had any idea of how broad were its effects, how threatening to the rest of Alabama. This became apparent only after Albert Patterson, Democratic nominee for attorney general as ‘Man Against Crime,’ was gunned down by assassins’ bullets on June 18, 1954.”
Alabama governor Gordon Persons, soon to leave office due to term limits, sent the National Guard to Phenix City, who “filled the jails with gamblers and crooks.”
The Strickland and Wortsman account inspired the critically acclaimed 1955 film The Phenix City Story.
Historian Margaret Ann Barnes affirmed most of the Strickland and Wortsman reportage in The Tragedy and the Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama––but the triumph, self-proclaimed by the city officials who followed the National Guard occupation, appears to have been more a triumph of appearances than of substance.
Serial killer with a pit bull
The continuing reputation of Phenix City for pick-up bars appears to have attracted serial killer Curtis Ivey Grantham, then 36, and drifter Thomas Poole, then 46, to the community in the middle 1980s. Grantham set up a landscaping business, hiring Poole to help him.
Poole by June 1987 had drifted on to Key West, Florida, where he worked for about a year in the produce department of a local supermarket, until in June 1988 he boasted in a bar of having participated in a murder.
Someone believed Poole and called the Key West police.
Narrated Katha Sheehan for the Key West Citizen Reporter, “[Rose] Marie Medley, 25, was a local girl in Phenix City. She was a wife and the mother of a 12-year-old, but lately she had been separated from her husband and was getting a divorce. She was out for the evening with a girl friend at Porky’s,” a now defunct Phenix City bar, but left with Grantham and Poole.
Though Medley was last seen with Grantham and Poole, the Phenix City police did not question either of them after she was reported missing.
“Pit bull brutalized the woman”
Poole, wrote Sheehan, “described how he, Grantham, and Grantham’s pit bull brutalized the woman before slashing her throat and burying her in the woods.”
Poole testified that both men raped Medley before Grantham “sliced her throat” with a knife, inflicting a wound that could as easily have been inflicted by the pit bull.
Grantham told Poole, Poole said, that “He had done this before.”
Knowing that Grantham might retaliate for Poole’s testimony, Poole had reason to allege that Grantham and not the pit bull caused the fatal wound, to ensure that Grantham ended up in a maximum security prison, far from himself.
Convicted of killing Medley and another woman, Geraldine Burhaff, and also confessing to having stabbed Dawn Ball, 32, to death in front of her 18-month-old son, Grantham “is serving two life sentences in the Bullock Correctional Facility, a prison in Union Springs, Alabama,” updated Lindsey Connell of WTVM in March 2011.
Repeatedly denied parole, Grantham appears to still be there.
Poole, convicted of raping Medley, in an apparent plea bargain, “is serving a 40-year sentence in a penitentiary outside Huntsville, Alabama,” 235 miles north of the Bullock Correctional Facility, reported Ryan Dezember of the Gulf Shores Press-Register in November 2009.
Poole also appears to still be there.
Dezember wrote on the occasion of Poole’s son Thomas Poole IV being charged with murder for fatally stabbing fishing boat captain Michael Gene Holman in a brawl at sea. Poole IV pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on August 23, 2010.
Pit bulls proliferated in and around Phenix City, as throughout the rest of the U.S., during the next eighteen years, often kept to guard criminal activities, or in the naïve hope of some owners that they would deter criminals from victimizing them.
But there were no more fatalities associated with Phenix City and pit bulls until a Russell County sheriff’s deputy on November 8, 2006 discovered Phenix City resident Richard Adams, 47, no age or other information given, lying dead, reportedly with “extensive injuries to the head and neck areas,” at an auto repair shop on Highway 165, just outside of town.
The deputy shot a pit bull, said to have been eating Adams’ remains, dead at the scene.
Adams’ death drew little notice.
Miracle Parham & Cason Bryant
The long-rumored presence of dogfighting in the area––along with cockfighting––was confirmed on August 19, 2009, Ben Wright reported for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, when 29 pit bulls were impounded from a wooded area in Box Springs, Georgia, about ten miles east of Phenix City, on the far side of Columbus.
But that also drew only light local media attention, as did the October 5, 2010 death of Miracle Parham, 14, also known as Miracle De Shona Williams. Parham was hit by a car at her school bus stop in McDonough, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, while trying to escape an attacking pit bull.
Parham was granddaughter of Elijah and Eula Davis of Phenix City.
Forty days later, on November 16, 2010, a pack of as many as a dozen “mixed breed” dogs, many of them believed to be at least part pit bull, broke through a fence to kill five-year-old Cason Bryant in his family’s yard at a Phenix City postal address, about two miles west of the city limits and about one mile south of Ladonia, an unincorporated Phenix City suburb.
Katie Morrison, 20, of Smith City, just north of Phenix City, was next to die from a pit bull attack, on May 3, 2014, five days after she was mauled on April 28, 2014.
“She was going to dog sit, house sit for [Steve and Victoria Klemetti of Phenix City] while they were out of town. One of the dogs just basically went up and jumped on her,” Sherifff Jay Jones told Drew Taylor of the Opelika-Auburn News, adding that two other dogs joined in the attack.
Reported Taylor, “[Steve] Klemetti said the day of the attack, his wife Victoria, was with Morrison, who had looked after the dogs before. When Morrison knelt down to pick up a tennis ball they were playing with, the first thing the dogs went after was Morrison’s ponytail.
Said Steve Klemetti, “I think what happened is that she had a ponytail and she reached down to get something and one of the dogs said ‘Hey, this looks like my rope toy’ and jumped up,” in what Klemetti called a “freak incident,” of a sort that seems to occur often involving pit bulls, rarely with other dog breed types.
How did Phenix City respond?
Transfers of dogs and cats from the Russell County-Phenix City Animal Shelter to the Tuskegee University veterinary school came to light in September 2018, allegedly reported by shelter personnel as “adoptions” or transfers to “rescue.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals at about the same time caught the Companion Animal Alliance, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, comparably transferring “rescued” dogs and cats to Louisiana State University.
The disputed transactions illustrated a perverse effect of using “live release rate” as the primary benchmark for animal shelter performance.
Dogs and cats “adopted” or “transferred” for laboratory use may indeed be alive at the time, and may be counted as “live releases,” but are not necessarily alive for very much longer.
Police chief confirmed transfers
Said Phenix City Police Chief Ray Smith in a written statement, “I can verify that this private school, governed and licensed by the Alabama Veterinary Board, does from time to time pick up animals from our shelter. The animals they pick up are on the list to be euthanized.
“In an attempt to save as many as we can, we often provide dogs to several organizations, including the Russell County Humane Society and other shelter groups,” Smith continued. “We only allow legitimate shelter groups or approved veterinarians licensed by the Alabama Veterinary Board to pick up animals from our shelter.
“The Tuskegee Veterinary School is a legitimate veterinary organization,” Smith added “and must abide by the same ethical standards as any veterinary office.”
Smith did not disclose the numbers of dogs, believed to be fewer than 100, who were transferred.
A reminder that pit bull attacks are anything but “freak incidents” occurred in Phenix City on August 8, 2020, forty-three days before Frank Cobb’s death.
Nineteen-month-old Warren Fielding, son of Chelsee and Andrew Fielding, was out for a walk with his grandmother, recounted Keldreck Conwell of WRBL, “when he was attacked twice by what his parents claim is a pit bull mix, owned by a family member who was also staying at the residence.”
Explained Andrew Fielding, “My aunt lives on the property of my grandmother’s house, and her dog attacked my son. My aunt grabbed the dog, my mom wrapped herself around my son’s body, and she’s tore up pretty bad.”
According to a GoFundMe appeal posted by family friends, Warren Fielding, “due to skull fragments being lodged in his brain and extensive damage to the right side of his face, was airlifted from Piedmont’s pediatric trauma unit (in Columbus) to Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta.”