Notes From Jackson Street: A surreal 50th birthday


By JOHN A. WINTERS, Publisher

I wrote this 10 years ago. It is one of the few unsolved murders in Newnan. I just celebrated my 60th birthday, this still haunts me.


On my 50th birthday, I attended a memorial service for a teenager I have never met.

He was 17. I didn’t even know his name until about 10 days ago.

That might give you pause; one could say that is not how one envisions celebrating such a milestone as a 50th birthday. It’s a big number. There are certain rules to follow on hitting the big 5-0 – gatherings of friends and family, gifts of adult diapers and wheelchairs.

I attended the funeral for two reasons. One, to show respect to a young man who is now taking up a large part of my life. Second, to go back to the office afterward and write about that service. It was my own small way of trying to contribute something to a tragedy one can only call senseless.

There is a photo of Blake Tyler Chappell, wearing all black with a bit of color – a blue and pink striped tie. He has his arm around his girlfriend. They are off to a dance at one of our high schools. It is Oct. 15.

Early on the morning of Oct. 16, he left a friend’s house and went by his girlfriend’s. He stayed there a while and headed back toward the first friend’s house. He never arrived. His mother filed a missing person report later that day.

On Dec. 19, police found a body in a creek running through one of the more upscale subdivisions in our town. The creek runs alongside the driving range at the golf club there. The body was clad in only underpants and an undershirt. It had been in the water for some time, the body had obvious signs of decay. An autopsy a few days later determined the victim died from a gunshot.

That autopsy also identified the victim as Blake. Those dates are correct – he was missing for more than two months. Exactly where he was killed and when are still unknown.

And I have covered this story since the body was found. And every day I learn a little bit more about Blake and what happened, or at least what we think happened. But there are still no firm answers.

Birthdays, especially those big ones with zeros at the end, always seem to bring about a time of reflection. We review the past – the successes; yet also the failures. I’ve had plenty of both.

I think too often we dwell on those failures. In a way that’s alright, but only if we learn from those failures. Simply dwelling on a failure and not learning from it defeats the purpose. We need to remember the past if only to learn how to do whatever better the next time. The past is done. It cannot be changed.

During Blake’s memorial service, the minister had the incredibly difficult task of trying to make sense of it all. You really can’t, but he did it as well as anyone could under the circumstances.

At one point he asked the question – that in light of everything that happened, is God still in control?

“I can assure you He is,” the minister said.

And I think that’s what I took away more than anything. God is still in control. We may not think He is, but that doesn’t change the fact that God is God. And, to be blunt, I think often times we don’t want God in control; we want to run our own path. That doesn’t change anything. God is still God. He is still in control.

The question is will we let Him be?

It was a surreal day. I remember the Little Black Dress looking at me as I headed off to work. And I sort of joked about this being a birthday I would never forget – going to cover a funeral on my 50th.

And she gave me a kiss and a big hug and a bigger smile. And that pretty well prepped me for the upcoming day.

It was a surreal day, but despite what you’ve read, it was not morbid.

Family called from across the country; more friends than I knew I had posted Happy Birthday wishes on that social media giant I can’t stand.

AARP was kind enough to send me a membership card. It’s cheaper if you go with the five-year plan in case you were wondering. And yes, I too wonder how in the heck they found me.

And The Dress and the SONS of Thunder joined me at one of those Japanese steak houses where they cook in front of you. And you spend the entire night trying to convince the SONS that the grill really is hot and please don’t touch it and …

And we had a great chef, who would throw pieces of cooked egg up in the air and let the SONS try to catch them in their mouths. And they thought that was really cool and why don’t we do that at home and …

Once home, the clan had a few presents for me. One was a paella pan. An authentic one. That’s something I’ve always wanted to learn to make. So I have a new goal.

There is a scene in one of the Indiana Jones movies, the one about them trying to find the Holy Grail. For some reason it has flashed throughout my mind all day – including at the memorial service for Blake.

It’s the scene where Indiana Jones has to pick the right cup. If he doesn’t, well, let’s just say it’s one scene the middle SON absolutely refuses to watch. It involves flesh-eating. The old crusader, who has guarded the Grail for centuries, looks at Indiana and says, “choose wisely.”

This is my life. This is your life. It is what you make it. Remember what is really important – family, friends, God.

Choose wisely.


There are more stories about Blake and the investigation at Simply search for his name.

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