This blog has moved to the movies based on true stories database
Thursday, June 21, 2012
- Baker, J. Manly, H.
- Newsweek, 10/8/1990, Vol. 116 Issue 15, p36, 3/4p,
A bizarre murder splits Tallahatchie County
Ralph Hand III, the paraplegic son of a wealthy Mississippi planter, steered his hand-operated sports car through Tallahatchie County in an 8-mph blur, with 30 deputies in hot pursuit. A few hours earlier, lawmen had found the blackened body of Olivia Browning Hand, 33, still burning in a cotton field. Someone had fired a bullet from a .22 rifle through her left eye, doused her body with diesel fuel and set her on fire. When Hand finally crashed his car | into a ditch, he started to sob. "Please kill me," he pleaded, according to police. "Women will make you do funny things."
The Gothic tale of self-destructive romance, money and murder has divided the legendary rural county. Once a local golden boy, Hand, 31 and the scion of a family of cotton planters, lost the use of his legs in a car wreck his freshman year in college. Olivia was the postmaster's daughter, an attractive, impulsive young woman who came back home to Glendora after her first marriage failed. On their wedding day in 1984, Olivia kept Hand waiting at the altar for 45 minutes. Things quickly went downhill from there.
Mutual obsession: In their 13 tempestuous months of marriage, acquaintances say, the Hands drank heavily and brawled constantly. Browning family and friends claim that Hand, who had developed a powerful upper torso to compensate for his paralyzed legs, beat his wife. Others insist that Olivia was the violent one. By some accounts, she would fling his walker aside, then cruelly force him to crawl to it. Plantation employees say Hand was frequently bruised from Olivia's thrashings. Pointing to a spot near a cotton field, one neighbor told NEWSWEEK last week, "I seen her beat him with his walker right there. I don't know nothing about nothing else, but I know that."
Even after their divorce, the Hands met secretly, driven, friends say, by mutual obsession. "They were truly in love," says mechanic Pat Didlake, a friend of the couple. "But they couldn't stand each other." Family members say Ralph's father disliked Olivia and tried to keep the star-crossed pair apart; during the last year before the killing, they reportedly camped out in the woods. Didlake says that two months before her death, a drunken Olivia told him, "Ralph is my man and nobody will take him from me ... They'll have to kill me."
Olivia's relatives claim the stories are a defense attempt to blame the crime on the dead woman. "What they are trying to do is put my sister on trial," says Rebecca Sandridge, Olivia's sister. She might not have to worry. Though Hand is pleading not guilty, the case against him appears formidable. After the arrest, police say they found a .22 shell casing in Hand's bloodstained clothing that matched the bullet lodged in Olivia's brain. They claim Hand also had her Gucci watch and gold earrings. Because of the apparent theft, prosecutors filed a charge of capital murder--a killing that occurs during another crime. If convicted, Hand could get what deputies say he begged them for: in Mississippi, the maximum penalty for capital murder is death by lethal injection.