Greenville, South Carolina has earned its ghosts. They’ve come from all haunts. Lawmen have killed other lawmen. Contract killers have rid their criminal syndicates of their rats. Eyewitnesses have disappeared into the ether. Ghost Bridge hunts those ghosts and reveals some startling stories that happened right around the time someone murdered Rufus and Frank Looper. For more details on the episode, visit the show notes section below. If you want to dig into one of the more shocking stories from Ghost Bridge, keep reading below.
Three men sat a few miles away at the R&R Tavern on Buncombe Rd. drinking beer. When they’d had enough, they piled into a yellow 1974 Dodge Charger and pulled out into the fog and cold rain.
The car belonged to Raymond “Country” Small, but Raymond “Bugs” Hassie was behind the wheel. He drove down roads left abandoned and dark by the late hour, piloting the Charger toward the San Souci community on the northwest edge of Greenville.
“Where are we going?” Small asked from the passenger seat.
“Going to make a little piece of money,” Hassie said.
Bugs Hassie was a small-time thief who had spent the best part of his career getting caught and paying for it. Local cops knew him as a small player in what a lot of law enforcement officials were calling the Dixie Mafia. It was a loose-knit group of criminals making a name for themselves as accomplished thieves and bank robbers. The group also had a few contract killers in its ranks.
Small wanted to know just how they were going to make some money that late at night after drinking beers at R&R. Hassie said he had a friend who was having some problems with a guy, and they were going to put a scare into him.
Hassie guided them through the night, down Cedar Lane Road, onto Highway 253, and then up a dark road.
“Get your guns ready,” Hassie said as he turned onto Hunt Street. “I’ll show you which house we are going to hit.”
A small yellow house sat behind a fence, and Hassie did a slow drive-by so they could see their target. He circled the block and pulled back onto Hunt Street.
“When I stop the car,” Hassie said from behind the wheel, “everybody shoot.”
Hassie put his foot on the brakes and the Charger stopped with the little yellow house outside the passenger side window. Hassie leaned across Small’s lap, put a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun out the window, and fired.
From the back seat, Frank Walker—the man who would eventually tell this story to a multi-agency investigation team—leaned out and fired his .380 into the back window of a car in the driveway.
With beer on their breaths and hands on their guns, they shot up the house just 1.3 miles from the Looper murder scene.
Walker remained in the back seat as Hassie jammed his foot on the accelerator. Within seconds they had disappeared from Hunt Street onto the much busier White Horse Road.
COP GONE CROOKED
Anyone who had seen them would’ve noticed how Walker stood out. Country Small and Bugs Hassie were white men, country boys with southern accents and big mouths. Walker was a strong-jawed black man just shy of turning 27 years old.
What might have been harder to see was just how different Walker was than the two hoods in the front seat. Just a couple of months earlier, Walker had worn a Greenville County Sheriff’s Office badge.
Born in May of 1948, Walker had grown up in Greenville and made it all the way through high school. He was smart, and by the time he had reached his early 20s, he was already getting his name in the paper as a proper lawman. His first big time bust saw him take down a liquor house where he confiscated 29 pints of wine and nearly 400 beers. He’d eventually graduate to drug busts and get his name in the paper over and over again.
That ended in late 1974 when Walker resigned (or, was asked to resign, depending on who you ask) from the Sheriff’s Office. Now he lived in a rickety 40-year-old 1,674 square foot rental just around the corner from Greenville’s most popular television station. On this night, just weeks removed from serving and protecting, he was a gunner in a drive-by, and he didn’t have any clue why.
From his spot in the Charger’s back seat, Walker asked Hassie why they had shot up that man’s house. Hassie was vague, telling Walker that the man in that house had been talking to the IRS about Hassie’s friend. The shooting had been a warning. Hassie doubled back toward town, pulled onto Stall Street, and dropped Walker off. He was only a couple of miles from the Sheriff’s Office, but he now sat farther away from a lawful life than he ever had.
THE BEST ALIGNMENT MAN IN GREENVILLE
A week passed before Walker saw the men again. Small had called Walker around the corner to Jordan’s Self Service where they sat with Hassie in a beat up Oldsmobile 442 with its right side crushed in. At noon, Walker saw a maroon late model Pontiac Grand Ville with a white top pull in the parking lot.
Hassie climbed out of the 442 and got in the front seat of the Pontiac. A few minutes passed as Walker watched the men talk. That’s when Hassie returned.
“We have some working money,” Hassie said.
He fanned out the cash, a hundred dollar bill and two fifties, as they pulled out of the parking lot. Hassie then revealed that the man behind the wheel of the Pontiac was a popular alignment shop owner named Ballard George.
What Walker didn’t know at the time and may never have known was that George’s brother Furman lived in that little yellow house on Hunt St. A week before, Walker and Hassie had been firing rounds at Furman’s house. Now, Hassie said the plan had changed. Hassie told Walker and Small that Ballard wanted his brother dead.
“What’s in it for us?” Small asked.
“A piece of money,” Hassie replied. He told the men in the car they would get $1,000 apiece for killing Furman George.
Walker was incredulous. To him, $1,000 didn’t seem like nearly enough money for killing a man. He would later tell police that he told Hassie the price didn’t seem right. Hassie told them they could get more if they worked it right. Walker wanted to know when it was supposed to happen.
“As soon as Ballard gets the guns together, he’ll let us know,” Hassie told him.
Walker spent the rest of the day at his house, and Hassie came around that night to see if Walker was up for the job. The former deputy remained unsure.
“It didn’t sound too good to me,” he said later.
“Well, if you don’t want to do it, I won’t have any hard feelings,” Hassie told him. “I will do the job myself.”
Hassie left, but by the next day, Walker had convinced himself he’d ride over to meet George. They drove to George’s alignment shop where Hassie introduced Walker as “one of his good people.”
Hassie and George walked away to talk business, and that’s when Walker got the first indication things were going sideways. Country Small confided to Walker that Hassie seemed scared, and Small thought Hassie was going to take George’s money and not do the job.
The scenario—if it happened the way Frank Walker told it—would have been unthinkable to the people who knew Ballard George later in his life. George would be described over time as “the best alignment man in Greenville.” His alignment shop was one of the most visited in Greenville. He drove stock cars at the local speedway before taking on an ownership role and letting his son drive. He loved NASCAR, and when he wasn’t watching racing, he was playing bluegrass music on his five-string banjo. At some point, he was ordained, and when he finally died, his obituary listed him as Rev. Ballard George. On this day in February 1975, however, the business of George garage was lining up murder.
Several more days passed, and Hassie was nowhere to be found. The would-be hit man had told everyone he had to be in Alabama to go to court. That’s when, according to Walker, Country Small pulled him aside and told him Hassie was a problem. The negotiations on the Furman George hit had fallen through, and now Ballard George wanted to know how much it would cost to make Hassie go away. Small told George he and Walker would do it for $1,000 total.
As all this was happening, Walker was dealing with legal problems of his own. He got picked up for pretending to still be a cop, having told two people he was a juvenile officer with the Sheriff’s Office. He bonded out for $1,000, and before long he was agreeing to be a paid hit man.
Walker said Ballard George pressed a Western-style .22 blue steel pistol in his hand and said, “When you get the job done I will have your money ready. If you need me for anything, just give me a call.”
Months later, as Walker retold this story, he didn’t cast any further light on Ballard George’s motivation. He didn’t suggest that it was in any way strange that he’d hired Hassie to put a scare in Furman George and then decided to have Hassie killed for little more than being slow at his job. Regardless of whether it added up for Walker or the former deputy wasn’t telling the whole story, somebody was about to die, and it wasn’t Furman George.
BUGS HASSIE’S LAST RIDE
It was a Monday night when Walker and Small found Hassie at his trailer with a woman, her son, her brother and his wife. Walker and Small asked Hassie where he’d been, and Hassie repeated his claim about going to Alabama for court, saying the hearing had been postponed.
After half an hour of chat, Walker asked Hassie if he wanted to ride with them over to the Food Stamp office so Walker could sign some papers. The three took off, stopping at Dairy Queen for milkshakes and tea before spending an hour at the Food Stamp office. That’s when Hassie perked up and said he had another job for them, and they could pull it that night.
Hassie told them Ballard George had tipped him off that a nurse, his ex-girlfriend, who lived off White Horse Road, kept a boxful of cash at her house. Hassie was determined to get it, and he wanted help from Walker and Small. They drove by the house, saw a car, and decided to hit the house later that night. Hassie had no idea what was coming.
When night fell, Small picked Walker up, and they went back to Hassie’s trailer. They pulled together some clothes to do the job. Hassie handed Small his double-barreled shotgun and pulled out a 9mm for himself. Not finished, Hassie grabbed a 30/06 rifle he said was George’s and put it in the back of his yellow Plymouth Roadrunner. They packed more shoes and extra clothes in the back to use later, and then took off in Hassie’s beat-up 442.
On the way to the nurse’s house, Small told Hassie to pull over so he could take a leak. Walker got out, too. It had rained earlier in the day, and a stiff breeze made it feel like the temperature was dropping below freezing.
As Hassie stood by the car, Small walked around to where Walker stood.
“It’s about time for us to get it,” he said.
Together, they made a plan.
Back in the car, Hassie drove, Small rode shotgun, and Walker sat in the middle of the backseat. It didn’t take them long to make it to the nurse’s house, but when they got there, it was clear there were people inside. Small wondered aloud what they were supposed to do now.
“We go in and throw down on everybody in the house and make them show us where the money is,” Hassie said.
Walker spoke up from the backseat. “Why not wait until no one is home and go in and look for it without hurting anybody?”
Hassie was impatient and asked Small what he wanted to do. It was his last mistake.
Small said he’d hit the house but that he needed to go to the bathroom again. Hassie wondered what in the hell was wrong with him, and Small lied, saying his kidneys were acting up.
Small pointed off at a dark road just a bit away from the house. “Why don’t you pull down this side road here?”
Hassie steered the car into the darkness.
“Is this good enough?” he asked.
Small and Walker again walked toward the back of the car. Small whispered, “Now this is it when we get back in the car.”
Billy Wilkins was the chief prosecutor in 1975. More than four decades later, he still thinks of Country Small as a nightmare.
“He was probably one of the most dangerous persons I’ve ever met in my life,” Wilkins said. “He was a killer. These others would kill, but he was a killer.”
When they got back in the car, Small and Walker went to work. Small reached into the floorboard for a sawed-off shotgun. He pulled it up, jammed it in Hassie’s ribs, and pulled the trigger. Walker leaned up from the back seat, put the .22 against Hassie’s head, and shot.
Hassie tried to reach for his own pistol, but it was too late. Small called him a “son of a bitch” and grabbed for Hassie’s bleeding body. Walker scrambled over the seat, over Hassie’s body, and into the driver’s seat where he turned off the lights.
The plan they’d constructed had reached its end. They hadn’t thought about what to do next. Now, they were sitting in the car of a man they’d just murdered, and they had no plan for what to do with the body.
“We should take him somewhere where no one will find him for a while,” Walker said. He suggested Paris Mountain, a small wooded area on the northwest side of Greenville and home to a state park established during the Great Depression. Though the park was a popular destination, there were many remote areas all over the mountain.
Walker drove with Hassie’s body in the passenger seat. Small sat in the back. Walker pointed the car up Altamont Road, turned off onto a road called Audubon, and steered into the darkness.
Within a few hundred feet, Small and Walker decided they had found a place that was as good as any. They pulled Hassie’s body out of the car and dropped it down a steep embankment.
Walker drove over the top of the mountain and down the back side, abandoning Hassie’s bloody vehicle on a dirt road, and setting out on foot to find a phone. As they walked through the night, Walker tossed his .22 over a bridge into a creek, annoyed that Small had left the shotgun in the car.
They found a phone at a Zippy Mart on White Horse Road. Small waited in the bushes while Walker called Ballard George. Before long, George pulled up in his maroon Grand Ville.
“The job is done,” Small said.
George drove them to his garage, asking about whether they had gotten rid of the evidence. In the garage, Walker and Small stripped, handing their bloody clothes to George and watching as he dropped them in a burn barrel, poured kerosene on them, and torched them.
It was almost midnight by the time Small drove Walker home. The only thing left to do was get their money, but when Walker walked over to George’s garage the next morning, there was a problem. Small had already split town and taken some of Walker’s pay with him.
“Your boy hooked up this morning,” George said. “I gave him $600 and he said he would square up with you later with the other hundred, that he needed the money to go to Florida to see his brother.”
So, there Walker stood with $400 in twenty-dollar bills, his payment for a night’s work as a hit man. To make matters worse, George called the next morning and said he needed Walker to send $150 via Western Union to Country Small on account of the fact Small had been stopped by the Highway Patrol. George didn’t explain why he couldn’t send the money himself, but he promised Walker he would pay him back for the favor. Weeks passed, and Walker hadn’t been repaid, despite George promising to get him a car to drive as repayment.
Walker never saw Raymond “Country” Small outside of prison again.
That was the story as Walker would tell it to police many months later. While a lot of it would jibe with the facts as Greenville knew them, the stories that circulated in the intervening months and years made a lot of people wonder: just exactly why did Raymond Hassie have to die that night?
Host Brad Willis visits Greenville County’s oldest bridge, one that historian John Boyanoski explains is considered haunted. The ghost hunt continues as Adele and Julia McAuley remember the warning shots someone fired at their relatives’ homes.
Ghost Bridge introduces four new characters: Raymond “Bugs” Hassie, Raymond “Country” Small, Frank Walker, and Ballard George. It’s a bloody and hardboiled story that leads Willis and Andy Ethridge to Greenville’s Paris Mountain, a beautiful and strange place on the edge of town that doesn’t advertise how much bloodshed has happened there.
Willis and Ethridge then head to the crime scene in West Greenville where they look for four eyewitnesses who seemed to–at least legally–disappear before trial.
Ghost Bridge then introduces retired FBI agent Tom Donohue, a man who was the resident agent in Greenville at the time of the murders, and who found himself completely unwelcome at the crime scene when he went to offer help.
Correction: In Ghost Bridge, Billy Wilkins mistakenly said Ballard George towed the bloody car back to his garage. In fact, Walker and Small left the vehicle behind Furman University where it was later found by an officer with the Furman Public Safety Department. Small had left his shotgun inside the vehicle.