This is the fourth installment in a series of articles on the history and current state of Atlanta’s Hollywood Cemetery.
In 1904 the notorious Georgia outlaw Taylor Delk was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. He had died in prison of heart failure while serving a life sentence. The Atlanta Constitution speculated, in the article reporting on his burial, that he was on the verge of parole for good behavior at the time of his death. His conviction was for the the 1896 murder of Sheriff W.O. Gwynn of Pike County. His son Tom Delk had been hanged in 1897 for the shooting. Taylor Delk had also been sentenced to death by hanging, but later appeals reduced the sentence to life imprisonment.
Taylor Delk was a cattle trader and butcher. In late 19th century Atlanta, Peters Street served as a stockyard and cattle trading district, and Delk and his sons were well known there. Delk developed a reputation as a shrewd trader, but had a number of brushes with the law, including suspicion of cattle rustling, and at some point moved to Pike County.
His son Tom Delk ran a burglary gang in the Bellwood area of Atlanta, just west of downtown. In 1892, after the burglary of the residence of Judge E.B. Rosser, the gang was arrested. Tom Delk was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary and mines in Dade County. He escaped after a year.
In 1896 a warrant was issued for the arrest of Taylor Delk and a man named Tom Langford on suspicion of armed robbery. When a Pike County sheriff’s posse arrived at the house to arrest Delk, his fugitive son Tom Delk and the elder Delk’s partner Tom Langford were also in the house. Accounts vary on what happened next, but a gunfight broke out between the fugitives and the posse, and sheriff W.O. Gwynn (spelled Guinn and Gwyn in some news articles) was dead, and another member of the posse wounded.
The Delks and Langford escaped the house, and a highly publicized hunt spanning several months followed.
Three Atlanta detectives captured Taylor Delk in a swamp near Senoia, in the first week of May in 1896. His son Tom fired a few shots and ran into the swamp to escape capture.
The younger Delk and Langford were later caught. There was a great deal of speculation in the press that the Delks and Langford might be taken from the jails and lynched. But Tom Delk was convicted and hanged, with a great deal of public attention. Langford was acquitted. After months of trial and appeals, part of it under a death sentence, the elder Delk was finally retried and sentenced to life imprisonment. At one point during the proceedings he attempted to escape from prison.
After serving nearly five years of his sentence, Delk died of a heart attack at 62 years of age at a prison camp in Lowndes County. Unlike the years from 1896 to 1897 when the Delk family was often in the news, the funeral was private and quiet, attended only by a few friends and family of the Delks.