Bub introduces listeners to Carl Cashion “Bub” Skelton, a man who spent years working as a law enforcement officer and years working as a crook. Some of those years overlap. The episode also examines the history of Greenville, SC and its occasional unwillingness to reckon with its past. For more, read the show notes or continue reading below for a short essay from Murder, etc. host Brad Willis about his time spent reporting on the stories you hear in the podcast.
by brad willis
I’d been looking at this one picture of the Looper crime scene every day for two years. When I’d struggled to believe I’d ever tell the true story behind the Looper murders, I made the picture my computer desktop as a daily reminder that the story wasn’t going away. Every morning, before I’d dive into my day job, I’d see that sepia-toned picture of the Greenville cop standing outside the Looper garage.
It wasn’t until one day in September of 2018 that I looked at the picture and saw something I’d never bothered to notice. On the ground was a shadow. It looks like it might have been a shadow cast by a utility pole toward the end of the day.
It made a cross on the ground just feet away from where the Looper men were shot. What for a long time had just been another crime scene photo (one clean and bloodless and not disturbing for anyone who walked by my computer) now seemed a lot more poignant.
I thought of it again later when I heard about how compasses work…and in some cases don’t work exactly as you think.
Sailors have used the Southern Cross to find a rough approximation of Due South without a compass for as long as people have understood the stars. The constellation, also known as Crux, is a vital part of navigation at sea. Southerners have used a different Southern Cross to find a familiar estimate of their southern heritage.
Due South and True South are not exactly the same thing. Your average sailors and southerners don’t have to put a lot of thought into the difference. True South is something solar panel installers think about. They’re the people who go looking for the most sunshine, or, put another way, the brightest light.
Measuring True South requires more science and math knowledge than your average guy carries. Your average guy might carry a compass and feel secure he’s headed in the right direction, caring absolutely nothing about declination, deviation, and the difference between Magnetic South and True South.
In most cases, the minute differences are academic. Nevertheless, the point is this:
In Greenville, people believe in their version of the Looper murder truth just as sure as they believe in True North. They believe it just as much as they believe they understand True South. What they might not have been taught, however, is the inconvenient science of finding True South.
To do it…you have to allow for where you sit relative to the Earth’s axis. You have to know where you are in the world. You have to re-measure. You have to account for the unaccountable, like the earth’s magnetic core not giving a damn that you want to find your way home across a sea, so your compass be damned.
And so I thought again of that crime scene photo…one taken four decades ago as part of the initial investigation and meant to help people who wanted to know the truth about murders. And that shadow on the ground made me think of the Southern Cross and how it might lead you in the direction of home if you were wandering in the dark at night.
And it made me think about how, even with a compass, you may never know the exact path you must take, because to face True South, you must take into consideration where you are.
Bub introduces Murder, etc. listeners to Carl Cashion “Bub” Skelton, one of Greenville’s most notorious corrupt lawmen.
The episode begins with Larry Smith, a one-time resident of West Greenville and nephew of William “Hoppy” Hopkins, the one-time owner of an infamous illegal bar in Greenville known as Hoppy’s 77 Sunset Strip. Smith explains how he came to know Bub Skelton at that bar well before everyone knew how corrupt Skelton was.
From there, the episode reveals that Skelton was never 100% villain or 100% hero and for many years expertly straddled the line between right and wrong. Throughout the episode, the people of Greenville interpret their city using the same calculus, and they find the city’s history seems to mirror Skelton’s.