Lincoln Memorial Cemetery: The final resting place of Miami’s black pioneers

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Miami is considered by many to be Florida’s most significant predominantly African-American cemetery. Its roots date back to 1914, when Dr. Kelsey Pharr, a mortician from Boston, began a funeral business catering to Miami’s black community. Beginning in 1923, Pharr began purchasing pieces of the property up until 1937, when over 20 acres of land was consolidated under his ownership and would be known as Lincoln Memorial, “The Finest Colored Cemetery in the South.”

Many of Miami’s notable black citizens are buried here such as Dana Dorsey, Miami’s first black millionaire; H.E.S. Reeves who started the Miami Times, the city’s first black newspaper which often rallied against segregation; Arthur and Polly Mays, activists for education  in the nearby town of Goulds; and Dr. William Sawyer, Miami’s first prominent black doctor and one of the founders of Christian Hospital. His daughter, Gwen Sawyer Cherry, was the first African-American woman in the state’s legislature and a founder of the National Association of Black Women Attorneys and is also buried here in Lincoln Memorial.

When Pharr passed away in 1964, ownership of the cemetery was passed on to his long-time friend, Ellen Johnson. For years, she did her best to maintain the beauty and integrity of the cemetery up until the late-1990s when she began suffering from Alzheimer’s. As her illness progressed, it became more difficult to maintain the property and so it slowly deteriorated. 

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery continued falling into disrepair until Johnson’s death in 2015, at which point the ownership of the property was passed over to her niece, Jessica Williams. Williams has made an effort to clean up the property by working alongside the Coral Gables Museum and hiring a caretaker to live on the property to chase off anyone trespassing. 

Sex, Satanists, and Slaughter: The Murders at Corpsewood Manor

Charles Scudder was a highly intelligent young man, interested in almost everything. Scudder studied drama, music and art, but ultimately he chose to pursue science as a career. He studied at the University of Wisconsin and Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine, where he obtained degrees in zoology, languages and chemistry and his PhD in pharmacology. 

Following his graduation, he became an associate professor of pharmacology at Loyola University of Chicago and the assistant director of the Institute for the Study of Mind, Drugs, and Behavior, where he performed government-funded experiments using psychoactive drugs. 

In 1959, he met Joseph Odom, twelve years younger than Scudder, who everyone knew as Joey. He served as cook and housekeeper to Dr. Scudder and his four sons, and lived with them in their aging mansion located on Adams Street on Chicago’s West Side. Dr. Scudder had filled the mansion with Renaissance-era antiques and baroque furniture he had obtained from the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theatre when they were liquidating furniture.

Dr. Charless Scudder, Joey Odom, and their dog, Beelzebub

By 1976, Dr. Scudder had grown tired of career and the helpless feeling of watching his neighborhood disintegrate into an “urban ghetto”. His sons had grown up and left home in pursuit of their own desires, and he was still reeling from the sudden loss of his son, Ahab. On his 50th birthday, he decided to resign from his position at the university, and to try living “off-the-grid”, purchasing 40 acres of land in a rural part of North Georgia. 

Scudder and Odom arrived at their property during an ice storm, with their two Mastiff dogs, Beelzebub and Arsinath, a small camper, and whatever they could fit into their Jeep. There, they were greeted by the corpse of a dead horse, so they named the trail that led to their manor Dead Horse Road. Similarly, the brick castle-like home they would eventually build there would become known as Corpsewood Manor, named after stark, bare trees with covered the property. For the next two years, they would clear the land and construct, by hand out of 45,000 bricks, what Scudder referred to as their “castle in the country”. 

The interior of their castle was decorated in gaycentric literature and paintings, human skulls, occult symbols and artifacts, including a stained-glass window adorned with the deity, Baphomet. It should be mentioned that Scudder and Odom were Satanists of the Anton LeVeyan tradition and official members of the Church of Satan. It meant that they didn’t actually believe in Satan or the Devil as a deity, but more of a symbol of self-resilience, individuality and independence. 

Apart from the manor, they had built a small structure called the “Chicken Coop” where chickens were housed on the lowest level, and canned food and their porn collection were stored on the second floor. The upper floor was painted with some donated pink paint and was known as the “Pink Room” where the couple hosted guests, containing mattresses, more pornography material, whips, chains, and a logbook listing guests’ sexual preferences. 

Corpsewood Manor

Hunters would often come along to ask for permission to use the land, to partake in some of the couple’s homemade wine, or just out of curiosity. This is how they came into contact with Avery Brock and Tony West.

Brock accepted an invitation to the Chicken Coop to partake in some wine when Scutter ended up performing oral sex on him. Brock would revisit the house several times afterwards, inviting his friend Tony West on one occasion. While West did enjoy free wine and drugs, he was strongly objected to any homosexual activity, and would later convince Brock that he had been taken advantage of. Thinking Scudder and Odom were sitting on a huge fortune, Brock and West hatched a plan to rob the couple.

On the evening of December 12, 1982, Brock and West rode up to Corpsewood along with Joey Lavon Wells and Theresa Lynn Hudgins, two teens who were unaware of the plan and were just along for the ride. According to the teens’ later testimonies, the four of them went up into the Pink Room, drinking wine and huffing toot-a-loo, a mixture of varnish and paint thinner and other chemicals. 

At some point, Brock went down to the car to get more toot-a-loo. Instead, he retrieved a rifle he had brought along, walked into the main house, and shot Odom and their two dogs. Brock and West forced Scudder into the house, threatening and tormenting him in an attempt to find the money they believed to be in the house. 

After realizing that there was in fact no riches in the houses, they shot Scudder five times in the head, and fled in the couples’ Jeep along with whatever valuables they could find. 

The two initially planned on fleeing to Mexico, stopping at a Mississippi where West killed Kirby Phelps, and stole his car. Once arriving in Texas, the two parted ways where Brock returned to Georgia to surrender to authorities. West would later surrender to police as well after returning to his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

As the trial went underway, Scudder and Odom were labeled as “homosexual devil-worshipers”. Three vials of LSD were found in Scudder’s desk and defense attorneys attempted to prove that Brock and West were drugged via the wine, and were insane at the time of the murders, yet no trace of hallucinogenic drugs were found in the wine. 

Avery Brock was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to three consecutive life terms. He is currently serving his sentence in Georgia State Prison. Tony West was convicted of double homicide and sentenced to death by the electric chair. The death sentence was later repealed and he is currently serving his life sentence at the Augusta State Medical Prison.

Memorial Mound : From Dream to Disgrace

Clyde Booth used to dig graves as a teenager in Kentucky with his uncle. He witnessed firsthand the neglect that occurred at graveyards, from deteriorating caskets to unkempt grounds. This would lead him to find an alternate burial technique in later years. Since 1969, Booth studied ancient burial sites such as mounds and the catacombs of Rome. The fact that the mounds and catacombs still existed today amazed Booth. He wanted to create a burial site that integrated both these concepts.

In 1992, he opened Memorial Mound in Bessemer, Alabama. Built on 16-acres, the foundation rests eight feet below the ground. Instead of being buried in the ground as in conventional cemeteries, caskets were placed on metal racks in a vast, warehouse-like room, and stacked up to eight levels high. Grieving visitors couldn’t enter the room where the caskets were stored, but were allowed to lay flowers on the large earthen mound, place a bronze memorial on a marble wall inside the structure or even call up a biography of the deceased on a computer.

Another room in the building served as a show room for Booth’s casket business, Caskets & Memorial Wholesale Co., which sold caskets to the public at wholesale prices. They advertised the cost of a funeral and burial at Memorial Mound for as low as $2,285.

Most of the bodies buried here were referred to by other funeral homes. Booth claimed it was a conspiracy when they stopped referring his business, which eventually lead to its closure.

Booth died in 2009 at the age of 89 of a heart attack, leaving his estate in the hands of his guardian. It’s hard to determine how long the facility has been neglected for, but pictures of it began surfacing on various websites around November 2014. It wasn’t long before the building was ransacked, including a skull which had become missing from one of the bodies.

In January 2015, became aware of the facility, and reported it to the authorities. The remains of 1 infant and 7 adults were removed by the Bessemer Police Department, and the building secured.

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