It may be fairly said that George Putt had two strikes against him from the moment of his birth. His father was a petty criminal and drifter, frequently away from home and brutal to his children when in residence.
One of his numerous arrests, on June 4, 1946, involved a charge of cruelty to a minor; his victim, George - still shy of three months old - had been severely beaten with a leather strap. Putt's family moved repeatedly throughout the latter 1940s and the early 1950s.
In January 1947, George was dropped off with a family friend in Tupelo, Mississippi, where he remained, without word from his parents, for the next year. In 1954, when both his parents went to jail for forgery, Putt and his six siblings were sent to live with their grandparents in Richmond, Virginia.
Putt and an elder brother were arrested in November 1957, after shooting out a neighbor's windows with a stolen air rifle. Fed up, his grandparents sent George and four of his brothers to a rural orphan's school, where fundamentalist religion was enforced with frequent beatings. Putt handled discipline poorly.
With a brother, Clifford, he twice ran away from the school, and was rewarded with expulsion on his second failed attempt. Returned to the custody of his grandparents, George was packed off to the Richmond Home for Boys. Kicked in the forehead during a football game, Putt was knocked unconscious for "many minutes," and may have sustained permanent damage. In months to come, Putt began sleepwalking with his eyes open, suffering blackouts that alternated with violent seizures, throwing furniture and ripping towel racks from the walls, professing amnesia after the fact.
The summer after his injury, Richmond police arrested George for attacking two young girls, one of whom was stripped naked and forced to suck his penis. Arrested at his grandparents' home, he was delivered to juvenile authorities. Psychological tests revealed Putt's "morbid preoccupation with blood and gore," a fact that led authorities to consider placing George in a mental institution.
Terrified by the prospect, he fled from custody one night, clad only in his undershorts, teaming up with brother Clifford for several days before he was recaptured. Diagnosed as a "sociopathic personality," created by "almost unbelievable physical and emotional deprivation," Putt was ruled fit for trial on a sodomy charge. He escaped from custody again, on December 22, 1961; two weeks later, he abducted a 30-year-old Richmond woman at knifepoint, robbed her of $35, and raped her. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but George fled Virginia, hoping to locate his father somewhere in Mexico.
On January 13, 1962, he kidnapped a woman from Laredo, Texas, at gunpoint, forcing her to drive him out of town, escaping on foot when she deliberately crashed her car. Two days later, Putt climbed through the window of a Laredo apartment, abducting the female tenant by threatening to kill her children if she failed to cooperate. George was driving the woman out of town in her own car when he spotted a police van and crashed, fleeing on foot.
Captured the next day, as he emerged from a local theater, he spent thirteen months in the Webb County jail. Transferred to the Terrace School, in Laredo, on February 28, 1963, Putt escaped in October, was recaptured and sent to the more secure Hilltop School, where he passed his eighteenth birthday.
In June 1964, following exposure of his plan to kidnap the school's librarian and escape in her car, Putt was transferred to an "adjustment center." Diagnosed as possessing the "earmarks of a psychopath in his makeup," he was shipped on from there to the maximum-security juvenile lockup at Gatesville. A 1965 report termed him psychotic, but it made no difference in the end; Putt was routinely discharged from custody on his twenty-first birthday, in 1967.
Returning to Tupelo, where his grandparents now lived, George found work as a hospital orderly. A few days later, he was fired for stealing $100 from a nurse's handbag, but he escaped prosecution by repaying the money. From Tupelo, he moved back to his native New Orleans, and was there charged with stealing a checkbook from a room at the Roosevelt Hotel.
On May 5, 1967, he was picked up for pilfering $46 from the till of a local cafe, but the owner declined to prosecute when his money was recovered from Putt's stocking. In the fall of 1967, Putt married a Mississippi woman, insisting on six to eight bouts of intercourse every night, although he rarely climaxed. In public, he erupted into violent fits of jealousy whenever his wife spoke to another man, including co-workers, and by 1968 his violence was not confined to his marriage.
On October 16, 1968, police in Memphis, Tennessee, arrested Putt after he forced his way into a black woman's car and began beating her with his fists. Settling in Jackson, Mississippi, with his brother Clifford and their wives, Putt tried to rape his mother-in-law on three separate occasions in early 1969.
Police believe he committed his first murder in Jackson, shortly after the third rape attempt, when a socially-prominent bachelor was slain on April 27, 1969. Rumored to participate in homosexual affairs, the victim was stabbed fifteen times at his home, a short distance from the gas station where Putt was employed. George was never charged in the crime, but authorities remain convinced of his involvement.
Putt and his wife moved back to Memphis in the summer of 1969, and George launched a one-man reign of terror shortly after their arrival.
On August 14, Roy and Bernalyn Dumas were found dead in their home, the woman spread-eagle on her bed, gagged, wrists and ankles bound to the bedposts. Both victims had been bludgeoned and strangled; Bernalyn Dumas had also been raped, her anus and vagina afterward mutilated with a pair of surgical scissors. Saliva samples taken at the scene revealed a blood type different from that of the victims. On August 25, Leila Jackson, an 80-year-old widow, was found strangled in her home, a nylon stocking tied around her neck, genitals mutilated with a butcher knife.
Four days later, Glenda Harden, 21, was abducted and murdered in Riverside Park, stabbed fourteen times as she lay helpless, with her hands bound behind her back. Discovery of her body on August 30 touched off a panic in Memphis, as police scrambled to identify the killer.
On September 9, an anonymous caller fingered George Putt as a suspect in the crimes, but detectives were still muddling through other leads two days later, when the slayer struck again. Mary Pickens was ambushed inside her apartment, returning from work, and stabbed nineteen times by a man who wielded his knife with desperate speed. Neighbors heard her screams and called police, providing officers with the description of a young man spotted running from the scene. The suspect led patrolmen and civilians on a wild, winding chase before two officers ran down George Putt, his clothing smeared with blood, and took him into custody. Before the day was out, he had confessed to all five homicides, and thereby sealed his fate.
Convicted of the Pickens murder on October 27, 1970, Putt was sentenced to die, his punishment altered to a term of 99 years when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972. A double conviction in the Dumas case, during April 1973, added 398 years to his term, making George a local record-holder, with accumulated prison time of 497 years. Unable to contain his mirth, Putt giggled as the judge pronounced his sentence.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia
of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans
killer Putt denied parole
August 22, 2005
A convicted serial killer who terrorized Memphis
during the summer of 1969 has been denied parole, officials said.
George Howard Putt, 59, killed five people over a 29-day
period in August and September of 1969 and was sentenced to 497 years.
His release date is in 2436, but he now has had three chances before the
Tennessee Probation and Parole Board, in part because of a ruling that
says parole hearings cannot be denied more than six years at a time.
The board reviewed his case on Aug. 11 at the Turney
Center Industrial Prison and Farm in Only and on Friday a fourth board
member's vote to deny parole made the decision final, said spokesman
Putt is eligible to seek parole again on Aug. 1,
George Howard "Buster"
At the time of this writing George
Howard Putt is still alive in stark contrast to the five strangers he
visited a horrific death upon during one hot and scary 28 day period in
1969. The victims were named Roy K. Dumas, Bernalyn Dumas, Leila
Jackson, Glenda Sue Harden, and Christine Pickens.
Glenda Sue Harden had graduated from
Kingsbury High School, the same school my brother and I attended. My
mother worked nights and returned home via public transportation. The
reality of it all was palpable in a city that had just lived through the
sanitation workers strike and the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
in our city the year before.
George Howard "Buster" Putt was born in New Orleans,
LA in the mid-1940s. His parents were drifters who brought Buster and
his siblings up amid abuse and neglect. The brothers were not allowed
to go to school because of the rambling nature of the parents.
Eventually Putt's parents went to prison for passing bad checks and the
seven children went to North Carolina to live with their grandparents.
Within a relatively short period of time the grandparents sent the whole
crew of children to an orphanage in Richmond, VA.
Putt later landed in the Richmond Home for Boys,
where it was noted that he had "a morbid preoccupation with blood and
gore". He was described as "seriously disturbed" in a report by one of
the school's counselors.
By the time Putt was 16 he was under arrest for his
second attempted rape. He had escaped after the first arrest and fled
Virginia. The second attempt occured when he forced a woman into his
car in Texas and subsequently wrecked the vehicle. Putt was then put in
a maximum security facility for juveniles in Texas. One psychiatrist
there described Putt as "a pyschopath capable of committing almost any
When Putt turned 21 he was released and immediately
left Texas. He drifted to Mississippi and later to Memphis where he
married his brother's pregnant ex-girlfriend who he had only know for a
few weeks. Mary Bulimore, the new Mrs. Putt, worked at Baptist Memorial
Hospital in Memphis. Mary had the baby and the couple named him George
Jr. For whatever reasons the couple soon ended up in Tupelo,
Mississippi where Putt worked at a gas station and Mary as a clerk in a
In May of 1969 Putt was arrested for burglary and
sentenced to six months at the county penal farm. Very soon he escaped
by simply driving a truck away. The couple headed for Memphis to escape
the Mississippi justice system.
The couple floundered around Memphis taking small
jobs, selling blood etc. They made no friends. George seemed "odd" to
most folks he met and never kept a job for long. Their last residence
was on Bethel in North Memphis. Around the time George lost a job for
stealing from the register the "Putt Murders" began.
The murder spree began in midtown Memphis at 1133
South Cooper, home of Roy and Bernalyn Dumas. Roy Dumas was disabled
from wounds suffered in World War 2 and his wife worked as a nurse at
Baptist Hospital. It was a hot day, August 14, 1969. George Putt,
still only 23 years old and only 2 years outside of the juvenile penal
system somehow gained entry to the Dumas home where he tied and gagged
both occupants. Putt brutally murdered both in such a horrible way that
it became difficult to determine cause of death. The police
commissioner called it, "the most atrocious and revolting crime he had
seen in years." Putt took Mrs. Dumas' purse on the way out the door.
Some rifling through the house was apparent, so robbery was listed as
the motive for the crime.
Police were holding back certain grusome details,
chief of which was that Bernalyn Dumas was apparently molested with a
pair of scissors. Mr. Dumas was not as badly mangled as his wife's.
The killer had left the scene of the crime with no witnesses and only a
partial fingerprint on a piece of silverware.
That night George Putt watched the television news
coverage with his wife.
Twelve days later Putt struck again. This time the
victim was 80 year old Leila Jackson who lived at 21 N. Somerville. Mrs.
Jackson was found by her grandson much the way Bernalyn Dumas had been
found. Both had a lamp shining directly down on their body, a stocking
wrapped around their neck and both were sexually molested with a sharp
object, this time a butcher knife.
The police knew immediately that this was the same
killer. Fear began to grip the city with a vengeance.
That evening, George Howard Putt showed his wife the
afternoon paper and said, "Remember that old lady I tried to rent the
room from over near the Terrace Hotel? That Mrs. Jackson? Remember her?
Somebody killed her just like that Dumas couple! There must be some
kind of really bad nut loose in this town."
Five days later, 21 year old Glenda Sue Harden was
robbed and abducted as she got into her car leaving work. The police
began a manhunt, but the search came to a bad end. Miss Harden was
found, hands bound by her own pantyhose laying in the grass of Riverside
Park. She had been stabbed 14 times in the back, chest, neck and head.
Now there were four people dead in two weeks. Each crime not only
wanton, but heinous. In each case the victim was robbed, but also
assaulted in a way that appeared almost inhuman.
The newspapers warned caution, but warnings were
hardly necessary. All over the city new locks were being installed.
One hundred and thirty-five detectives and vice squad officers were
assigned to the case as the largest manhunt in the city's history began.
Clues were nowhere to be found. A twenty thousand dollar reward drew no
takers. FBI assistance was sought for lab work.
On September 11, 1969 George Howard Putt commited his
last murder. He was less careful now. He was seen by a number of
people as he skulked about the apartment building at 41 N. Bellevue.
Christine Pickens, who was just turning 59 that day came home at a very
inopportune time. Putt had already failed in a ruse to get another
resident, Grace Oldham, to open her door and now he abducted Christine
as she entered her apartment.
Things did not go as smoothly this time. The victim
began to scream for help and yelled "Murder!". Emma Gross who lived
right above Christine ran to her aid. As she arrived Putt entered the
hallway covered in blood, holding a knife and a woman's purse. Putt
decided not to kill Emma, probably because the scene was getting hot.
He threw the purse and ran. Emman roused another neighbor, Wayne
Armstrong from sleep and Armstrong began to give chase in his underwear
while firing his pistol at Putt (Armstrong had left his glasses behind).
The chase went on through midtown as Armstrong screamed "He's a murderer!
The chase was joined by two more men, Ray Brenner and
Roger Meckley. The two had limited success chasing the younger Putt,
but the chase and Armstrong's continuous firing of his pistol had drawn
police protection. Putt had actually shaken his pursuers by the time
two officers spotted him, pants and forearms covered in blood. Police
officers Glenn Noblin and Phil Scruggs made the arrest on Linden Avenue.
Christine Pickens had died in the meantime from 20
Putt confessed to the murders within 48 hours. He
told police that the motive was robbery, but he was not going to leave
any witnesses that might send him back to prison. His victims were
picked randomly except for the fact that each appeared vulnerable.
Later Putt recanted his confession, but he was tried
for the murder of Christine Pickens and sentenced to death. That
sentence was later commuted to 99 years prompting prosecutors to also
try him for the murder of the Dumases. In all Putt received a total of
497 years. Without the additional convictions Putt would have been
eligible for parole in 1999.
Putt is currently serving his sentence at the Turney
Center Industrial Prison in Only, Tennessee. He now advocates a
"Universal Law" philosophy and maintains that he murdered his victims "because
that is the way it's supposed to be".
Mary Putt learned the identity of Memphis' serial
killer just like everyone else... on the evening news.
'The past does hurt'
In 1973, George Howard Putt was sentenced to 497
years for a month-long killing spree in 1969 that took the lives of five
By Lawrence Buser
July 9, 2003
ONLY, Tenn. - When serial killer George Howard Putt
was sentenced to 497 years in prison in 1973, Michael Dumas thought he
would never again have to worry about the man who murdered his parents.
But on Tuesday Dumas was at the Turney Center
Industrial Prison here, 150 miles northeast of Memphis, urging the state
parole board not to release Putt, who was convicted of three brutal
killings and admitted to two others.
"When I found out about this hearing I was sort of
speechless," said Dumas, who was 21 when he discovered his parents'
bodies in 1969 in their apartment on South Cooper. "Few people know what
went on. I did because I saw it. The judge made his sentences
consecutive so I would not have to be here today.
"I'm trying to go forward, but it's hard to put
George Howard Putt out of my mind. The past does hurt."
Putt, now 57, waived his appearance at the parole
hearing and no one spoke on his behalf. After a 30-minute hearing the
two members of the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole who heard
from Dumas denied parole for Putt because of the seriousness of the
Concurring votes from two of the five other board
members would make the decision final.
Putt's next hearing will be in 30 years when he is
"There are some offenders the public expects should
never get out and Mr. Putt falls into that category," said parole board
chairman Charles Traughber, who was joined by board member Sheila Holt
Swearingen. "He was unmerciful on his victims."
Traughber explained that the parole hearing was
actually the second for Putt, who was denied parole in 1993. He was told
then he would be considered again in 10 years.
Traughber said the hearings were required because of
a state court ruling in 1992 that made defendants sentenced to more than
50 years under an old law eligible for parole after serving 30 years
regardless of their total sentence.
Putt's 29-day, one-man crime wave left the city
gripped in fear as five people were stabbed or strangled and in some
cases sexually mutilated.
The first victims were Roy Dumas, 58, a disabled
military veteran, and Bernalyn Dumas, 46, a nurse, who were found bound
and strangled on Aug. 14, 1969.
"I discovered the crime scene and death beds of my
parents when they failed to show up at a birthday party in honor of my
wife," Michael Dumas told the parole board in a letter earlier this year.
"The murders were a mystery with no motives or clues, and I, my wife and
unborn family lived in both grief and fear."
Eleven days later 80-year-old Leila Jackson was found
strangled in her home at 21 N. Somerville, where Putt had earlier asked
about renting a room.
Glenda Sue Harden, 21, a secretary, was abducted at
knifepoint in her car downtown and her body was found the next day on
Aug. 30 in a wooded area of Riverside Park. She was strangled and had
been stabbed 14 times.
The last victim was Christine Pickens, 59, who was
stabbed to death in her apartment at 41 N. Bellevue on Sept. 11.
Neighbors and police were alerted by her screams, however, and Putt was
captured after a footchase that ended near Madison and what is now
Midtown Interstate 240.
Putt confessed in detail to all the killings. He was
convicted and sentenced to death in 1970 for the Pickens murder, but the
sentence was commuted to 99 years when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the
death penalty unconstitutional.
Realizing parole would be possible, the state then in
1973 prosecuted Putt for the Dumas murders. He was convicted and
sentenced to 199 years in prison for each murder.
Judge William H. Williams ordered the sentences to be
served consecutively for a total of 497 years. Officially Putt's
sentence expires March 1, 2437.
Behind bars Putt has worked a variety of jobs,
including as an office technician, an athletic equipment custodian, an
industrial cleaner, a utility worker and most recently a quality control
technician in the prison's industries.
His custody level is listed as minimum restricted.
In the hearing Tuesday, Dumas, a mortgage analyst,
was accompanied by his grown son, a friend and two ministers from Christ
United Methodist Church.
"I'm not here to speak against George Howard Putt
because I've prayed for him for 30 years," said Dumas, who voice was
choked with emotion. "I certainly oppose parole for George Howard Putt,
though I have forgiven him and placed the forgiveness of his sins at the
cross of Jesus. I hope he seeks salvation."