“Macon knew it but Macon didn’t talk about it.” The “it” would be the sex life of Chester Burge, the scandalous, scheming central figure in Richard Jay Hutto’s intriguing new true crime tale “A Peculiar Tribe of People.”
The book opens with the May 12, 1960 discovery of the body of socialite Chester Burge’s wife Mary, found in her bed strangled and with a finger nearly ripped off. Chester meanwhile was at the local hospital recovering from a recent operation, but speculation soon centered on his role in the killing and weeks later he was officially charged with his wife’s murder.
It was the second charge however which blew the doors off middle Georgia’s high society: Chester was also indicted for committing sodomy with his black chauffeur.
Hutto goes on to describe in great detail the fascinatingly twisted life of Burge and those around him—often in too much detail. The book veers off onto so many branches of the family trees of Macon’s upper echelon that it becomes confusing keeping everyone straight.
The author also reverts to the first person, which wouldn’t be problematic if it was done consistently, but Hutto utilizes it so randomly that it becomes a distraction. Other asides and footnotes often seem to have no connection to the story.
But otherwise, Hutto effectively packs the book with ample amounts of Southern drama. Chester’s mother commits him to an insane asylum at 18 and later testifies against him at his murder trial. The Ku Klux Klan are mentioned in a possible connection to Mary Burge’s murder. Family members file lawsuits against each other like it’s tradition.
But the heart of the story is Chester Burge, and he’s no sympathetic closet case being framed for crimes due to his “deviant” lifestyle. He comes off as a famously conniving, hateful man. Worming his way into the will of a dying socialite, becoming a notorious slumlord, deviously seducing (or trying to seduce) every pretty young man in town—not the type of guy to take to your annual Halloween gala.
But “A Peculiar Tribe of People” isn’t about sympathy. It’s a true story about when race, sexuality, power, and murder collide to force a Georgia town to face What Isn’t Talked About—and to see who makes it out alive.