Murder in Muscadine Season: A forgotten tale of love and betrayal in Greenville County, (Part 1)

Indian Summer

Wild Muscadine Vine

The euphemism used to describe those not-quite-Fall days that slink in unannounced after a cool snap, as a reminder that sultry Southern summers linger well into October.

Those days when a frost-licked morning melts into a day so balmy you’d swear it was still the middle of June. And though the unofficial season brings disappointment to those who pine for cooler days, for the muscadines that grow, unfettered, in pockets all over the South, well, Indian Summer is just about perfect.

It was on one of these fickle kind of days in September of 1965 when Mr. and Mrs. Ed Nix decided to brave the Carolina noonday sun and eighty degree temperature to pluck some of the sweet grapes while they were at the peak of ripeness. What they hadn’t planned on, however, was stumbling upon a sight so horrific, so unspeakable, it would change their lives forever.

As the couple inched their way through the brambles in search of the tangled vines that wove themselves around any immobile thing in the Carolina countryside, they were, perhaps, not as mindful of what lie beneath their feet as what was growing above their heads.

The best muscadines, as any Southerner worth his salt knows, grow high up in the tree branches, where they feed off the sunshine to grow larger and sweeter than their low-dwelling counterparts.

But somewhere among the trailing vines and underbrush, they stumbled, quite literally, upon a man’s corpse, bloodied and already settling into the rigored state of the deceased.

Deputy John P. Martin

The man whose body lay in the overgrown area was Special Deputy John P. Martin of the Greenville County Sheriff’s Department.

Martin, 45, a decorated member of the US Army Air Corps who had been stationed in Italy during World War 2, was a native son of Greenville, and father to two grown children. Beloved around the Greenville and Marietta areas that he served, he was affectionately known as “Big John”, owing to his massive build. He stood 6’4” and weighed approximately 275 lbs.

Whoever put John Martin in that desolate, wooded area, was strong.

And, based on the remote location, determined to keep the dead man’s secrets and their own, as long as possible.

When she woke on the morning of September 26, around 7 a.m., Eva Mae Martin knew something was wrong. Her husband, John, had not come home from the night shift at the Sheriff’s Office. She raced to the phone and called, her panic only intensifying when she was told they, too, were trying to locate him.

Soon, John’s brother, Bill, and other community members joined in the hunt for “Big John.” It was Bill who would discover his brother’s patrol car, abandoned, along the side of the quaintly named Pumpkintown Road. Not much later, the Nix’s would make their gruesome discovery just a few miles inside Pickens County, on Hendrix Bridge Road.

The Coroner would later determine Deputy Martin had been shot six times, each shot going clean through his body. There was so much damage to his body that initial reports had incorrectly indicated he had been beaten or stabbed.

The Florence Moring News Sept. 13, 1965

Who did this? And why? The questions vibrated throughout the Upstate as the news spread. What possible motive could anyone have had to strike down this servant of the people in such a brutal fashion?

The story of this murder would wind its way into the community like a muscadine vine trailing sinuously around an unsuspecting sapling.

It would be a scandal so big and so sensational that the little burg of Greenville, SC would earn a spot in the New York Times.

About the Author: Shauna is an Upstate SC native and graduate of Converse College and ETSU. With a passion for both history and writing (and an advanced degree in Appalachian Studies that her parents SWORE she would never use,) she is excited to be able to share stories of the colorful people and places of the South. In her spare time, she enjoys archery, Rollerblading, and spending time aggravating her two teenagers with her endless stories.

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