Today marks 30 years since a New Brockton man was called a suspect in the murder of an Atlanta, Ga. attorney and a federal judge.
“I’ve been keeping up with this date for 30 years,” Robert Wayne O’Ferrell said, shaking his head as he reflects on the visit from Federal Bureau of Investigation agents Jan. 22, 1990. “They used me as a decoy. To this day I believe that.”
Now age 76, O’Ferrell still remembers his shock when he arrived at his place of business that morning three decades ago only to be met by FBI agents who said they wanted to talk to him about the Dec. 16, 1989 death of United States 11th Circuit Court Judge Judge Robert Vance.
At issue was a homemade bomb in a package delivered to the Mountain Brook home of Vance in 1989—one year earlier. The bomb killed United States 11th Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance and severely injured his wife. A similar bomb killed a Georgia civil rights attorney at his Savannah law office the same month.
Typewritten print on letters connected to the fatal mail bomb were traced to a typewriter that authorities believed was owned by O’Ferrell.
A few days later, Atlanta, Ga., attorney Robert Robertson was killed the same way.
“I never knew either one,” O’Ferrell said as he sat at the New Brockton Senior Citizen Center reflecting on the events that changed his life forever. “I never knew none of them so it was a shock, especially when the FBI called on me accusing me of doing it.”
In the course of the investigation Walter Leroy Moody, a Georgia man, was convicted in federal court on 71 charges in 1997 and on April 19, 2018 executed for the murders.
“They finger printed me; they took pictures of me,” he said. “Listen I never even thought about killing anybody, never have and never will.”
O’Ferrell said he has experienced an array of emotions after his world turned upside down. “I was mad when I realized what they wanted. I was confused because they didn’t have enough sense to quit,” he said. “You know at one time I asked them to apologize.”
More than 100 FBI agents arrived in Enterprise over the course of the next several weeks using the city hall office of then Enterprise Police Chief Tim Byrd.
“The connection to it all was a typewriter,” O’Ferrell said. “The FBI claimed they went to the 11th Circuit Court to see who had a complaint with the government as a possible suspect.”
O’Ferrell told The Southeast Sun in a Jan. 23, 1990 interview that he had a federal court case against a life insurance company and that he had appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court. “All I told them was that I felt like the government had done me wrong.”
The search included a 15-acre lake outside his house. There the agents found a toy grenade. “And you ain’t going to believe this but they put it in a container and flew it to Washington,” O’Ferrell said laughing. “I have laughed about this. A toy grenade.”
O’Ferrell said that the law enforcers searched his Alberta Street warehouse, a former office on Main Street and his New Brockton home looking for a particular typewriter. “They seemed to think that one of our typewriters was used to address letters and the bomb package,” O’Ferrell said. “I am innocent and I cooperated in every way that I knew how.”
Although the typewriter believed to have been used in the bombing letters was the center of the investigation no typewriter was ever found and O’Ferrell was never charged with any crime.
Meanwhile, media vans from major news networks and local stations lined Main Street in Enterprise and were camped outside of O’Ferrell’s home. “The FBI had told me not to talk to the news people so I didn’t talk to them,” O’Ferrell remembered. “But they were the nicest people you ever seen in your life.
“(FBI agents) carried me to city hall, fingerprinted me, but of all the trouble that they put me through, not one time did they arrest me. Not one time. They never charged me with anything,” O’Ferrell said. “I told them that when it was over I was going to expect an apology—and ain’t never had no apology yet.”
His “Surplus, Salvage and Thrift Store” thrift store business was good until the FBI came to town, O’Ferrell said, adding that even after the investigation was over, customers told him that they were being questioned by the FBI.
Closing up his Enterprise business, O’Ferrell stored merchandise in a doublewide trailer next to his home because “nobody in Enterprise would rent to me.”
O’Ferrell ultimately rented a block building on U.S. Highway 167 up above Pea River. He operated a thrift store there until health issues forced him to close.
O’Ferrell has written many letters to government officials over the years, first asking for an apology from the federal law officers and later for financial restitution. He has received neither. He is most disappointed in not receiving a response from U.S. Rep. Martha Roby but he has a letter from President Donald Trump framed.
Although Moody was executed O’Ferrell is leery of the whether he actually did it. “They said he did it,” Moody said. “But, remember, they also said I did it.”
Today O’Ferrell lives in a mobile home near the New Brockton Senior Citizen Center that he says he visits often. Most of the time he watches television at home. He has had 14 strokes, open heart surgery, three bypasses and foot and knee surgeries.
“It’s better to laugh than to cry. In all this God has been so good to me,” O’Ferrell said. “Would I still accept an apology for what they done? Sure, I would.”