This is a revised and expanded version of a story originally run in the Courier in May of 2016. At that time the Cobb County Courier was called River Edges, and covered both sides of the river. With the Chattahoochee RiverLands project now in full swing, we intend to to some coverage of both sides of the river again. Hollywood Cemetery is just south of Proctor Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee.
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.
The Morning News, a Savannah paper, had this account of the alleged crime.
“A few nights ago, Bob and Henry Connolly, two very old bachelor brothers who lived together near Warnerville, Meriwether county, were assaulted and beaten badly by two men who, no doubt, intended to rob the old men of some money they were supposed to have.
“The men were thwarted in their purpose by Clark Sullivan, who chanced to be passing the home and heard the old men crying for aid. The robbers escaped.
“A few days after, on strong suspicions, Taylor Delk was arrested and given a committal trial. He was placed under a $500 bond, which he was unable to make there and asked to be taken to Senoia, where he said he had friends.
“The officers in charge started with him to that place, but on the way, Delk made good his escape. The officers are eager to recapture him, as he is a bad character. Delk is known in Atlanta.
“He is the father of the Delk boys who committed so many robberies. One of the old men is badly hurt and there is but little hope of his recovery.”
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.
The shooting and escaped was statewide news. The Georgia Enterprise, based in Covington, gave this description.
“Sheriff Shot Down. Notorious Taylor Delk Fires the Fatal Bullet
“Taylor Delk, one of that famous gang of outlaws that made the Delk name notorious about Atlanta and throughout the state of Georgia a year ago, sent a bullet through the body of Sheriff Gwynn, of Pike county Thursday night. The bullet caused the sheriff’s death.
“Delk had been indicted by the Pike county jury for robbery and assault with intent to murder, and the sheriff armed with a warrant, went after him. Delk was in his home near Concord, surrounded by friends and associates equally as desperate as he.
“It appears, he anticipated the coming of the officers, and closing his doors, made them fast. When the sheriff, accompanied by a posse, reached the Delk home, everything appeared quiet.
“Sheriff Gwynn went upon the porch to knock at the door. But as he approached the door, he was fired upon from a window. A ball passed through his left breast, entering near the nipple, and he dropped upon the porch. In all, about fifty shots were fired from the house. Delk then made his escape.
“At the latest accounts, bloodhounds and posses were chasing the murderer through the thickets, forests, and swamps of Pike, but with little probability of catching him.”
The Georgia Enterprise was overly pessimistic, however.
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.