Ask McGehee: Magnolia Manor

 In June 1931, the homeowner, local defense attorney Foster Kirksey Hale Jr., was gunned down by his former mistress in his St. Michael Street office. “Two Slugs Are Fatal to Lawyer” screamed across the front page of the Mobile Register on June 17, 1931.

Unlike the city’s more prominent lawyers, who had their offices in the new First National Bank Annex or the Merchants Bank Building, Hale operated at 66 1/2 St. Michael St. above an auto repair shop. His customers paid cash.

What he lacked in prestigious clientele, he made up for with talent in investing. As a result, Hale was able to purchase his handsome antebellum home at 1624 Spring Hill Avenue in 1920. That year’s U.S. census reveals that Hale, age 42, lived with his French-born wife, Catherine, and the couple’s cook.

A decade earlier, according to historian Jay Higginbotham, Hale became enamored of a 13-year-old girl, Willie Mae Hancock. He assured Hancock that as soon as she turned 16, he would divorce his wife. But that date came and went, and Hale never left his wife.

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Hancock found another man to marry, and then another. But she kept coming back to Hale. As the stock market boomed in the 1920s, he provided her a house, a car and an allowance.

Hale’s substantial fortune essentially vanished with the stock market collapse in 1929. Hancock was forced to move to Atmore to live with her mother. In time, she became fully convinced that her lover had simply dumped her for a newer model. She went down to Mobile one day in June and found Hale alone in his office.

Words were exchanged, and then both lunged for Hancock’s .38-caliber revolver. The gun fired twice, and a neighbor called the police. Before taking his last breath, Hale told a reporter and a policeman, “She shot me for nothing.”

Hancock’s quick response was different: “He wrecked my life and got what he deserved.”

Hale’s funeral was quietly held in his parents’ home on Park Terrace. He was buried in Spring Hill Cemetery.
The next year, Hancock stood trial “stylishly attired and just out of the hands of beauty specialists.” Women with bag lunches packed the courtroom as three medical experts testified that the defendant was mentally unbalanced. Although the prosecution sought the death penalty, the verdict was second-degree manslaughter.

The audience erupted with joy. Hancock would serve a year-long sentence before finding yet another husband. Hale’s widow, Catherine, last appeared in the 1933 city directory. Her address was given as 1624 Spring Hill Ave. That year, the First National Bank foreclosed on the property. Her whereabouts after that are unknown.

For decades following, the house was home to Dr. Toxey and Maurine Haas. Then it was restored and used for office space. It has most recently been converted into a popular wedding venue under the moniker “Magnolia Manor.”

Tom McGehee

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