20 year old Herbert Hoover Gentry was the first deaf person in Alabama to be tried on a capital offense with an interpreter in the courtroom. Gentry was accused of killing his wife and her best friend after their bodies were discovered in a cesspool
Herbert Hoover Gentry was born in east central Alabama near Talladega in 1929. One of four siblings, Gentry was partially deaf and his younger brother Frank was deaf.
The stigma, prejudice, and communication barriers Herbert and his brother faced still exist today. For Frank Gentry, it led to institutionalization in Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa. Herbert feared he would be sent to Bryce as well.
Bryce opened in 1861 and was known as the Alabama Insane Asylum when Frank was admitted in the mid 1930s. According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, modern medical studies have found deaf people suffer from mental health issues at about twice the rate of the general population. Communication barriers and stigma can leave a deaf person feeling completely shut off from the hearing world which can contribute to depression, substance abuse or in some cases, violent behavior. In the 1930s, just being born deaf could mean you would be diagnosed as ‘insane’.
Herbert struggled but found some hope when his mother sent him to the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind in Talladega. Herbert’s teachers described him as a hard working young boy who was eager to learn and well liked. He was partially deaf and teachers helped him further develop his speech. Herbert was able to develop language skills and spoke in a low voice.
Within a few years of Herbert’s admittance to the school, his brother Frank was released from Bryce. His mother, Nellie, sent Frank to the state School for Deaf and Blind where she hoped Frank would thrive like his brother.
The hope for their future was shattered when their father died. Nellie Gentry married again but her second husband was a violent man who refused to work.
This, coupled with his mother’s refusal to understand the challenges he and his brother faced as hearing impaired children, seemed to change everything for Herbert Gentry.
Records from the Alabama School for the Deaf and Blind show Gentry could be defiant and seemed to have behavioral issues which point to Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD as it’s commonly known is especially common in deaf children who can display more behavior problems than hearing children depending on their development and environment.
In Herbert and Frank’s case, they had hearing parents who did not make an effort to communicate with them. Naturally, that can cause frustration and make it appear as though a child is acting out. But sometimes deaf children are frustrated that they can’t communicate with someone and feel further shut out by the hearing world. This can cause disappointment, anger and a feeling of isolation that can have a lifelong impact on development and relationships.
As Frank’s mother struggled with her second husband’s lack of willingness to help provide for the family, Herbert Gentry was forced to leave school at 16. He worked full time in a cotton mill to provide for his mother and siblings.
Herbert told his teachers he planned to go back to school but that never happened. He moved on from his job at the cotton mill and started working at the local foundry helping produce metal castings.
The president of a company where Gentry had worked, Mr. R. A. Donaldson said Herbert Gentry was one the best workers he had ever had. He described him as competent and loyal and said he worked complicated heavy machines with great skill. He also said he was a likeable guy. Which was what Flonie Adams thought when she met Herbert in 1947.
His aunt had visited friends in Rome, Georgia and when she came home to Talladega she showed Herbert pictures of Flonie thinking the two might be a match.
Weeks later, Herbert took the train to Rome to meet her and it was love at first sight for them both. Within a week, Herbert returned to Rome and he and Flonie eloped, much to the shock and outrage of her parents.
Flonie packed up her clothes and headed back to Talladega where she and Herbert settled into their new life together, staying in the home of Herbert’s aunt until they rented their own home
Their blissful life as newlyweds was short lived. The couple constantly fought over money. Flonnie wanted the dream of a house and car and fine things but at 19 Herbert wasn’t earning much as a foundry worker.
About 16 months into their marriage, Herbert came home from work early from what would usually be his overnight shift at the foundry. He found Flonie kissing another man and she immediately fled and ran to a neighbor’s house
Herbert followed and tried to convince Flonie to come home but when she refused he threatened to kill her. The neighbor called police who encouraged the couple to find a place to stay for the night until they work things out the next morning.
The next day Flonie took a train back to her family in Georgia. While back at home she spent time with her friend…Louise Deal. The two had met when they were in school and had been best friends for over a decade.
Two weeks after their explosive argument, Flonie agreed to see Herbert if he came to Rome. He visited several times over the next month but Flonie told him she wasn’t coming back to Alabama. Herbert promised things would change and he would find a way to buy her all the things she wanted and take care of her.
Eventually, he convinced her to head back to Talladega but when she returned to Alabama, her friend Louise came along. This caused tension with Herbert accusing his wife of showing off in front of her friend when the couple argued.
Evenutally, Flonie and her friend Louise moved out of the Gentry house and into Mrs. Cox’s boarding house. The house had the typical rules of conduct you’d expect in the 1940s. Women weren’t’ allowed to have men in their room. Herbert Gentry visited once when the women were staying there. He was met at the front door by Mrs. Cox and explained he had food and cigarettes he wanted to leave for his wife. He told Mrs. Cox, his wife, was staying at the boarding house because she couldn’t treat him right.
Mrs. Cox grew frustrated when she realized how complicated the situation was between this couple and even more frustrated when Flonie and Louise refused to follow the house rules. Mrs. Cox found different men in the room several times and eventually the women were informed that they needed to find a new place to stay due to their violation of the “Cox code”.
19 year old Flonie and 23 year old Louise Deal headed back to stay in the Gentry home on February 4th, 1949. Herbert welcomed Flonie home but told her she needed to figure out when that girl Louise was going back to Georgia.
The following day, Flonie and Louise suggested they head out for some fun. It was Saturday and Flonie told Herbert she wanted to go to a popular Pell City tourist camp and rent a cabin for the night. She invited their neighbor Frank Adair to come along.
Frank Adair was Gentry’s neighbor and landlord. The 47 year old contractor was known as a bit of a ladies man, much to the frustration of his faithful wife.
Around 5pm, the foursome arrived at the camp and rented two cabins. Herbert and Louise were seen in the camp store and when they returned to their cabins, Herbert was heard beating on the door of the Gentry’s cabin. Louise started yelling and banging on the door as well.
This went on for about fifteen minutes before Frank Adair opened the door. Herbert Gentry walked inside and found his wife and accused her of sleeping with Adair. They argued and minutes later the camp operator demanded the foursome leave everyone in peace and vacate the property.
When they left the camp they headed back to Talladega and went to a local cafe for steaks and drinks. Flonie Adams and Louise Deal were last seen alive when they walked out of the cafe with Herbert Gentry and Frank Adair around 10pm that Saturday night. By Monday, Flonie’s family feared something horrible had happened to her.
Hear the rest of the story of the “Cesspool Murders” in this week’s episode…
Bodies of Mrs. Eugene Gentry and Mrs. Louise Deal Recovered. The Birmingham News. February 10, 1949.
Crime Comic Books Blamed in Killing. The Decatur Daily News. February 11, 1949.
I Killed the Woman I Love. The Birmingham News. February 11, 1949.
Sanity Test for Cesspool Slayer Set. Anniston Star. March 2, 1949.
Doctors See Grounds to Doubt Sanity. Talladega Daily Home. March 4,1949.
Gentry Sane, Must Stand Trial. Talladega Daily Home. July 5 1949.
Gentry Will Take Witness Stand. Talladega Daily Home. September 39, 1949.
Rooming Housekeeper Says She Asked Women to Get Out. Talladega Daily Home. October 3, 1949
Spectators Ask ‘Is Gentry Saint or Sly Devil’. The Birmingham News. October 5, 1949.
Cesspool Slayers Says Confession Forced, Other Man Killed Pair. Anniston Star. October 5, 1949.
Gentry Stands Firm Despite Grueling Quiz. The Birmingham News. October 7, 1949.
Contractor Admits Joining Gentrys for Cabin Party. The Anniston Star. October 10, 1949.
Builder’s Wife Goes on Stand in Gentry Case. Anniston Star. October 11, 1949.
Fate of Gentry to Rest With Jury By Nightfall. The Birmingham News. October 12, 1949.
Blood Cries Out for Justice, Cesspool Slaying Lawyer Says. Anniston Star. October 12, 1949.
Gentry Begins 3 Year Term In Girls Death. Anniston Star. October 13, 1949.
Cultural and Linguistic Barriers to Mental Health Service Access: The Deaf Consumer’s Perspective. Annie G. Steinberg, Vicki Joy Sullivan, and Ruth C. Loew. American Journal of Psychiatry 1998 155:7, 982-984
Signs of ODD. Raising Deaf Kids.
Sense of Loss by Purple Planet Music https://www.purple-planet.com/ Licensed under Creative Commons.
Virtutes Instrumenti, Drone in D, Ossuary 1 A Beginning and Atlantean Twilight by Kevin MacLeod. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. Source: http://incompetech.com/.
There’s Probably No Time, I Need To Start Writing Things Down and I Am A Man Who Will Fight for Your Honor by Chris Zabriske. Licensed under Creative Commons.