Man killed 1 in’81 shooting spree near Holman
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 1981, started as a typical late-autumn day in Lower Alabama. The morning temperature was lingering just above the 40-degree mark and was expected to climb only about 10-15 degrees as residents of Atmore and the surrounding area prepared for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
By the time the morning dew had begun to burn off, the day had turned into the most terrifying ever experienced by a dozen area residents and visitors. It also marked the last day one of the 12 would ever experience.
A Greenville man, Lewis Lamar Free — bolstered by alcohol and amphetamines and fueled by anger over his inability to locate and visit his son in a neighboring state — parked his truck beside Alabama 21, took out a high-powered rifle and began taking his anger and frustration out on passing motorists.
Before the shooting spree ended around 10:30 a.m., Free had shot into or at six different vehicles and injured two people, one fatally. The gunfire stopped after a protracted shootout between Free and Alabama Department of Corrections Investigator McArthur Davis left the suspect with a wound to his hip and an empty ammunition box.
A Baldwin County woman was killed by an angry bullet; a Texas woman was injured by another.
According to court documents, Holman Correctional Facility Warden J.D. White was the first to encounter Free, who had parked his truck on the side of the road near Wet Weather Creek Bridge, just south of Holman and about eight miles north of Atmore, on prison property. Figuring Free was a deer hunter, White pulled off the highway to confront him.
The shooting begins
Luckily for White, the man who would later open fire on any car that came within range, simply “moved on,” and the warden continued on his way. Less than 10 minutes later, White heard on his car radio that “there was shooting on the bridge.”
Sherman and Mergie Sanks, traveling southward, were the first to take fire from the suspect. When they drew to within 60 yards of Free’s truck, their vehicle was hit “right above the grill” and stalled out, but the couple coasted past the shooter and escaped in another person’s vehicle.
Only a minute or two later, John and Nellie Shook of Lubbock, Texas, were heading north on the state highway when, as John Shook reported, “there was an explosion in my ear.” A bullet tore through the back window of the couple’s vehicle, slicing through the top of Nellie Shook’s ear before exiting the vehicle through a front window.
The incident’s only fatality came next. Glenn A. Williams and his wife Ann were in the front seat of their vehicle, on their way back to Bay Minette. In the backseat were Glenn’s mother, Myrtle Williams, and three other family members — his niece, Teresa Blair, his sister, Bernice Harvill and his great-niece, Candida Harvill, who was seated in Bernice Harvill’s lap.
Free did not fire on the family until they drove past him. The bullet entered the right-rear window and struck Bernice Harvill in the head. She was later pronounced dead at the Holman infirmary.
Robert Earl Moye, driving an LP gas truck southward, saw several cars parked along the roadside. Someone tried to stop him, but he ignored the warning and drove on. As he neared the bridge, he saw an individual aiming his gun in another direction. Probably a deer hunter, he thought to himself.
Instead, Free whirled around and pointed the rifle directly at Moye, who ducked down in the seat. A shot was fired in his direction, but court records show no bullet holes were found. Moye, whose truck had struck the bridge when he ducked, drove to the top of the hill near the shooting site and began stopping traffic.
Sherry Gibbs Morris was southbound, alone, in her vehicle when she saw the suspect aim his rifle at her car. After she “got down in the floorboard,” she heard a shot. However, the investigation into the incident determined that, like Moye’s truck, no bullet struck her vehicle.
Gun battle, reinforcements
Davis was in his office at Fountain Correctional when he received a radio request for an ambulance and for assistance. He came upon two cars parked near the bridge and, unsure from which the shots had come, eased his car near the one abandoned earlier by the Sankses.
A shot rang out, a bullet hit Davis’s vehicle, and he lay down in the seat as a second shot was fired in his direction. Recognizing that he was “just in the right place to be shot,” the prison detective backed his car to a point directly behind Free, then got out and took a position at the rear of it.
Court documents show that over the next 10 minutes, the suspect and Davis swapped at least “five or six shots.” Free signaled that he was ready to surrender, but instead fired several more shots at the state lawman, each of which Davis returned.
Atmore police arrived on the scene about that time. APD officers approached Free’s pickup, yanked the doors open and found Free “lying face down on the floorboard” with the 30-30, lever-action rifle beneath him and a bullet wound in his buttocks. An empty ammo box, 19 spent shells and a bent bullet were also in the floor of the truck.
Free, who claimed he had drunk about a half case of beer (he had a blood-alcohol content of .15) and had taken several “speckled bird” amphetamine pills, at first told authorities he did not know how he got to Atmore. He also said he did not remember shooting at the cars.
But in another statement, he admitted that he had driven to Pascagoula, Miss., hoping to see his son, then 6 years old. He became frustrated when he couldn’t locate the mobile home in which his son and his former wife lived.
“I do remember shooting into the cars,” he said. “But I don’t know why I did it. Things haven’t went right for me. I was real mad cause I couldn’t see my son. I hate I killed anyone.”
Free was initially indicted on one count of murder and 10 counts of attempted murder. He was found guilty on all counts, but the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama reversed the conviction on the grounds that the prosecution failed to prove that Free was specifically intending to murder all the individuals listed in the indictment.
He was convicted a second time on the murder charge and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. He was also convicted on five counts of attempted murder, with a 20-year sentence (to be served concurrently with the life sentence) handed down on each count.
Free, now 67, was recently turned down for parole for the eighth time. Housed at Limestone Correctional Facility, he will next be eligible for parole consideration on October 1, 2026.
The story of the “Wet Weather Creek Sniper” was carried by newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, which published it on the front of the paper’s B section.