The Bagby brothers: Bandits of the Chattahoochee

Chattahoochee at Highway 78 bridge

[Editor’s note: This is an evergreen article I frequently resurrect and rework as our readership increases, because the Bagby brothers were a fascinating throwback to Depression-era roving bandits, and they operated on the Chattahoochee River near the crossing at South Cobb Drive.]

There is a cluster of Bagby family graves in Riverview Memorial Park cemetery in Cobb County. The cemetery is on South Cobb Drive on the edge of the Chattahoochee River, adjacent to the much older Hooper- McWilliams Cemetery.

The Bagby family plot
Bagby family plot (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

The family patriarch, Hunter Bagby, is buried there, along with his wife, sons, and daughters.

But the most locally famous member of the family was William Grady Bagby, known by Cobb and Fulton County residents during the time he operated as “Roosterman.” Bagby was given that name by local police, for his habit of “roosting” in trees to avoid capture.

Roosterman Bagby was born in Rome, Georgia in 1916 to Hunter Berry Bagby and Jennie M. Bagby. At some point before 1940 their large family moved to Chattahoochee, Georgia, a mill town that was located on Bolton Road. Roosterman’s father Hunter and his then 16-year-old brother Vertice worked at Whittier Mill, directly across the Chattahoochee River from Cobb County.

Mill life was rough, and being a child of the Great Depression made it even rougher, and Roosterman turned to a life of crime.

He and his younger brother Hubert specialized in burglaries, and both of them became famous among law enforcement for eluding capture.

Roosterman often camped on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, which made escape to either side of the river easy, depending on which police or sheriff’s department chased him in those more jurisdiction-sensitive days. Chases would often end where another jurisdiction began.

Chattahoochee River at the mouth of Nickajack Creek
Chattahoochee River near mouth of Nickajack Creek (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

His exploits were often reported in Atlanta newspapers, including the following chronicle of arrests and escapes.

By 1940 Roosterman Bagby was already having frequent scrapes with the law.  He was convicted and sent to prison for “gaming” in 1941, released, and by 1942 he was back in prison for attempted larceny. Other prison stints over three decades included convictions for burglary, prison escape, abandonment, and possession of moonshine whiskey.

In 1957 Roosterman and his brother Hubert were back in the news again.  In July of that year the older brother escaped from prison in Chatham county, and a few weeks later Hubert lept from a police car in Riverside, then a separate town, now part of the City of Atlanta, and disappeared again.

Hubert Bagby phoned the police a few days later, and said  he was tired of being a criminal, but “couldn’t stand the idea of being cooped up in prison.”

Roosterman was caught again in September, when he decided to catch a taxi at a cabstand in Riverside.  Nearby police recognized him, and he was recaptured.

The younger brother Hubert took to the river again, eluding police until March of 1958.  He was caught at his mother’s home on Bankhead Highway (now Veterans Memorial Highway) in Mableton near Nickajack Creek.  He was curled up under his mother’s bed sleeping.

Both the brothers served more time in prison after their recaptures.

After Roosterman was released from prison, he moved in with his brother Vertice.

In 1968, William Grady “Roosterman” Bagby was killed by his brother Vertice in a fistfight in Vertice’s front yard.

During an argument fists began flying and Roosterman fell and hit a tree.  Vertice called an ambulance, but the older brother was dead by the time they arrived.

In the article about his death, an Atlanta Constitution reporter wrote, “The athletic Bagby could swing through the trees with the agility of a Tarzan. During many brushes with police, he took to the trees or the river in order to escape bloodhounds.”

The article quotes an unnamed old-time policeman, who said, “You let him get two feet away from you in the woods, and you might as well have been looking for a ghost.  He’d just naturally vanish into thin air.”

Hubert Bagby died in Carrollton, Georgia, in 2014. His headstone is carved with a beagle and an Atlanta Braves logo.

Both brothers are buried near each other and the rest of their family at Riverview Memorial Park on South Cobb Drive, within walking distance of the river that played such a big part in their life.