The Press: Case of Ruby McCollum

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William Bradford Huie, 43, is a glib, self-promoting free-lance writer who likes nothing better than to be in hot water. He has attacked everything from college football to the U.S. Navy, and has been denounced as regularly and heatedly as he denounces. Last week in Live Oak, Fla., Alabama-born Bill Huie was once again in a cauldron of boiling water, and enjoying every spurt of steam. This time the heat was generated by the case of Ruby McCollum.

More than two years ago, Ruby McCollum, then 37, wealthy wife of a Negro gambler and one of the richest Negroes in the area, shot to death Dr. Clifford LeRoy Adams Jr., 44, of Live Oak. A white Florida state senator-elect. Adams was the most important politician in Suwannee County, and a man whom local bigwigs said "was gonna be governor, sure."

Guilty of Murder. At her trial, Ruby McCollum testified that "more than a doctor-patient relationship" existed between her and Dr. Adams. He was, in fact, said Ruby McCollum. the father of her fourth child, and she was pregnant with another child of his when she poured four bullets into him.

The all-white jury convicted her of murder. Sentence: death in the electric chair. She appealed, and three months ago the State Supreme Court ordered a new trial on the ground that the jury had inspected the murder scene without the judge and Ruby McCollum being present. But Ruby was pronounced insane and, instead of being retried, was sent to a state mental institution.

When Huie went to Live Oak to get a magazine story on the McCollum case, he quickly found one suspicious fact: the judge had never let a reporter talk to Ruby McCollum after her arrest. As he dug into it, Huie found the murder threaded deeply into local politics and community life, decided it would make a good book for him. But he found it hard to get material, since "a pitiful, unreasoning fear . . . came to so many faces, both white and colored, when I mentioned the case." In the current issue of the Negro monthly Ebony, Huie openly charged that Circuit Judge Hal W. Adams (no kin to the slain doctor) has "the racial attitudes of Reconstruction." Furthermore, said Huie, Adams had been an honorary pallbearer at the doctor's funeral.

Guilty of Contempt. Last month Judge Adams cited Huie for contempt for trying to "bring this court into disrepute."; Huie, said Adams, had told the court-appointed psychiatrist that the judge was biased and was mixed up with local gamblers himself. Fortnight ago, at his own trial, Huie denied the charge. "You shoveled out a mess of filth and stuff of scandalous nature against a man who was dead and couldn't defend himself," said Judge Adams. When Huie grinned in court, Judge Adams snapped: "Brother, this is no matter to laugh about." He found Huie guilty of contempt, fined him $750 plus an estimated $22 for court costs. When Huie refused to pay the fine, he was clapped into jail. Last week, after three days, he was out under $2,500 bond, and announced that he would take his case to the Florida Supreme Court.