In 1952, the community of Live Oak, Fla. was rocked by the killing of a white doctor and elected official at the hands of a married Black woman. The mysterious case of Ruby McCollum and the shooting of Dr C. Leroy Adams continues to baffle people to this day.
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McCollum and her husband, Sam, lived in the Northern Florida town and were considered wealthy. Although it was reported that the couple made their fortune on the back of Mr. McCollum’s gambling, the couple were considered “good pay,” meaning they paid what they owed on time.
One of the several angles of the case was that Dr. Adams, a state senator-elect, and Mr. McCollum worked together via a side business. There were other stories suggesting that Mr. McCollum was having an affair and had found a way to cheat the gambling system.
On August 3, 1952, Mrs. McCollum walked into Dr. Adams’ office and shot him three times. It was reported that she drove to the office with her two young children and shot Dr. Adams four times with a revolver after he refused to leave her alone.
Mrs. McCollum alleged that Dr. Adams had made her his sex slave for several years and forced her to have his daughter, Loretta. She was also reportedly pregnant with Dr. Adams’ baby during the shooting.
During Mrs. McCollum’s first trial, she testified that her husband was part of an “illegal gambling operation” perhaps related to the BolitaBolita game. A witness during the trial shared that they saw Dr. Adams receive large sums of cash at various times. Although it was believed that Adams’ death may have been part of a dispute over an unpaid medical bill the two argued over before the shooting, that has never been proven to be the motive.
Because of the racial climate of the Deep South, McCollum was jailed some 50 miles away from Live Oak. Her husband died the next day of a heart attack while in the town of Zuber where he’d taken the children.
Famed reporter and writer Zora Neale Hurston covered the case for The Pittsburgh Courier. Hurston noted that the case’s focus on the unpaid bill seemed curious at best and a bit of a distraction from Mrs. McCollum’s testimony. Mrs. McCollum’s attorney urged his client to not reveal any more explosive details and during the second trial, she was declared unfit to stand.
After serving two years in jail, Mrs. McCollum spent over two decades in a mental institution. Her attorney from the first trial secured her release in 1974, and she lived out the rest of her days in a rest home. She saw her children again, though two of her four children preceded her in death. Though several authors and filmmakers have written about her trail, McCollum herself remembered little in later years. She died in 1992.
The McCollum case is the subject of a new documentary You Belong To Me: Sex Race and Murder in the South from Dr. Tammy Evans. The documentary examines the case and the so-called “paramour rights” that white men in the South used to control Black women as lovers and sex slaves.
PHOTO: Public Domain
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