Paul Macleod may very well have been the most famous Elvis memorabilia collector of all time. Paul was certainly the stuff of regional legend, a gun-toting, mile-a-minute talker with a questionable relationship to the truth. In his early seventies he was still an imposing man, with slicked back white hair and a gleam in his blue eyes that let you know he had long ago lost his mind, or at least wanted you to think he had. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, Paul offered tours of his home, Graceland Too, an 1853 antebellum home at the corner of Gholson Avenue and Randolph Street in Holly Springs, Mississippi. He didn’t have the vintage Elvis memorabilia necessary to be taken seriously by other collectors, whose circuit of conventions he shunned. The real draw of Graceland Too wasn’t the Elvis-themed rugs, mugs, calendars, curtains, videos, limousines, and trading cards that Paul had spent a significant portion of his life collecting. It was Paul Macleod himself.
Paul wore several dense rings on his large hands as he gave the $5 tours and left the impression that he was not above using them in a mix-up. His charm melted away at the edges of a subtle menace he exuded. If he caught a visitor staring off into space as he was talking, he’d often grab their shoulder forcefully or pound on it twice with a backhanded closed fist, saying “Yo, Yo!” until he was confident that he had regained their attention.
Each time I visited, Paul told us stories about his famed patrons. Muhammad Ali had been there, he said. So had Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton was always visiting Graceland Too. He had always been there just two weeks ago. Paul kept a seemingly comprehensive set of visitor pictures in the “guest room,” a hallway decked floor to ceiling with photos of visitors. In the pictures, people stood in front of the Elvis shrine in the “Shrine Room” or posed wearing a jacket Paul claimed Elvis once owned. He claimed he had a lot of things Elvis once owned. Rugs and guns especially.
Paul was not bashful about brandishing guns among the unsuspecting. He used the term “half nigra President” in the most neutral of ways. Paul liberally used the terms “nigger” to describe blacks and openly referred women’s cunts in front of them and their partners, a gun by his side most of the time. He was an interesting man.
On the morning of July 17, 2014, he was found dead, slumped in a rocking chair on the porch of Graceland Too, the door locked behind him. An air of mystery immediately surrounded his death. No foul play was detected. The local coroner, who suggested initially it might take up to six months to get autopsy results due to a backlog of bodies, claimed Paul died of natural causes. Some people came and took pictures of his dead body before officials were notified. A picture of his fresh corpse, taken early that Thursday morning, circulated through the town in the weeks to follow, peeked at on smartphones in bars and on street corners.
There would have been nothing too mysterious about all this had not it been for the fact that two nights prior, on the same premises, Paul McLeod had shot and killed a man named Dwight Taylor.
On July 15 of last year, sometime around eleven o’clock a night, Paul Bernard Macleod, aged 71 and Caucasian, and Dwight David Taylor, aged 28 and black, found themselves on opposite sides of Paul’s front door. Dwight had been seen on Paul’s porch earlier in the evening, agitated and chain-smoking, by a man who lived across the street, a local restaurant owner named Tyler Clancy.
A distraught Paul told local law enforcement that Dwight, whom he knew and who had been in his employ from time to time, tried to force his way into the “museum,” possibly over money he thought he was owed. A glass pane near the base of a door leading to the foyer had been kicked in, seemingly from the outside. An altercation ensued. Ostensibly fearing for his life, Paul shot Dwight in the right side of the chest, killing him. Less than twenty-four hours later the case was considered closed. The mayor and acting police chief, Kelvin Buck, a sharply dressed, smooth-talking African American politician and ex-member of the Mississippi House of Representatives, believed that Paul Macleod had acted in self-defense. That was the official line.
Some members of the community, even before the local police had made their announcement, were not satisfied that justice had been done. The afternoon following the shooting, when Paul had secluded himself inside Graceland Too, various people drove by the property and yelled accusations from their cars. Dwight’s mother Gloria told Channel 3 news that no one had been in touch with her from the police department about what had happened and why. “All we want is justice for our son,” she said.
Dwight was a diminutive man, much smaller than Paul, with an angular brown face, close-cropped hair, and an easy smile. He went by David with his closest intimates. Unable to maintain steady employment, he was known to approach people at their homes and ask for work doing anything that could possibly need doing. He was often seen painting Mr. Macleod’s home, which in recent years had been several different colors. Dwight was by all accounts a gifted singer; he both sang and played guitar for the fifty or so parishioners at the Tabernacle of Prayer.
Like his parents, Dwight was desperately poor; the local homeless shelter, a former twelve-room motel in the run-down northern end of town, turned him down for residence because of outsized demand for the few rooms available. But he and his parents were known to use the shelter’s food services from time to time. His parents lived in poverty on Valley Street in the impoverished northern end of town. Dwight had hoped to bring his father to the church to play music with him on Sunday, July 20, five days after he died.
Less than seventy-two hours after the shooting, Marshall County District Attorney Ben Creekmore confirmed that the investigation into the death of Dwight David Taylor was ongoing and that the results of the investigation were to be presented to a grand jury on October 1. That grand jury, which remains sealed, didn’t result in an indictment.
It isn’t common, one imagines, for unarmed young black men, regardless of how desperate they are, to break into the homes of heavily armed white men in a place long riven by the ghosts of human ownership and the hundred-year state-sponsored terror campaign that followed in its wake. What was Dwight Taylor really doing there that night?
The question haunted me personally. You see, I had been there as well, at Graceland Too, eight months before. I visited with several other guests of a nearby film festival near midnight on a Sunday the previous fall. Unease gripped me from the moment I stepped out of the van; the place resembled an outpost at the end of the world, the last refuge of a bygone southern gentry waiting out an apocalyptic siege. There were surely more perilous ways for a black man to spend a Sunday night in northern Mississippi, but I hadn’t gone looking for those. I had gone looking for Paul Macleod and his home, Graceland Too. My black mother would not approve.
I walked around the house, looking for a dark place to urinate before entering. This proved prescient; I would learn that the joint didn’t have a working toilet, its owner having taken to pissing in the backyard and defecating at the local library. While relieving myself I noticed a Confederate flag hanging from a post reinforced with rocks. It intermingled with several American and state-of-Mississippi ones. Like Chuck D, I knew Elvis was a hero (to some if not, as he asserted, most), but he had never meant shit to me, and here I was, a northern negro in the Deep South in a town I knew nothing about other than that it had been developed as a site for cotton plantations, pissing on and entering the home of a man who purportedly brandished guns frequently, some of which he believed had once belonged to Elvis Presley. I was 29 years old, just a year older than Dwight David Taylor.
I arrived in Holly Springs for a second time early on the afternoon of August 10, a few weeks after the shooting. The city of a little under eight thousand was a center for cotton production before the war; later it was home to thirteen Confederate generals, and then played uneasy host to General Grant’s command as the Union Army invaded. It’s home to one of the oldest historically black colleges, Rust, founded in 1866 to educate newly freed slaves. Today, the 70 percent black population lives integrated with whites on the more genteel southern side of town. Blacks hold the mayoralty and two Alderman seats in the city government. On the northern end of town, not far from Rust College, exists a level of poverty and disinvestment that has become forgotten America’s calling card, especially in communities of color.
That area was once home to the highway interchange that had been moved south with a rerouted Interstate 78. Cars feed off the three-lane highway there into a seemingly always busy Walmart. Houses that have stood since Jefferson Davis’s time line a street that leads from the highway into the town’s handsome square. I vaguely recognized it from a movie; Holly Springs is the setting of Robert Altman’s 1999 comedy Cookie’s Fortune. Like many of the other homes from that era in Holly Springs, Strawberry Plains, a mansion used in the Altman film, was spared by Sherman’s March. The town legend is that the mansions were too beautiful for the approaching Union army to burn down. Or that someone had a mistress.
You couldn’t miss it, Graceland Too, perched on a corner not far from the square, where East Gholson Avenue, mainly a collection of one-story ranches, dead ends into South Randolph Street. A seemingly unused green ticket booth, decked out with Christmas ornamentation when I arrived and with photos of Elvis plastered on its back wall, sat near the street just ahead of a gated driveway, both enforced with barbed wire. Nearby were two statues of lions, also wrapped loosely in barbed wire and adorned with neck bows that seemed to be made of police crime scene tape. They were perched in protection on either side of the low-slung portico. The front porch and surrounding area was adorned with hundreds of unopened cans of Coca-Cola, the beverage Paul claimed to drink twenty-four times a day, that had been left there by well-wishers in memoriam. The Confederate flag I had seen on the edge of the property months before had been removed.
Almost immediately upon us parking across the street and staring out at the house for a bit, a van pulled up behind us and parked. In it were Amy Hoyt, a volunteer for the film festival who had first brought me there, and Amy Nicholson, the auburn-haired documentarian from New York who had previously been there with me as well. She was back to film the proceedings of the ensuing week; Paul’s funeral was scheduled for the following Tuesday morning. A day of events at the home and a nearby community center, all culminating in a midnight vigil and screening outside the house, were also scheduled.
We were given access to the premises that Sunday by Philip Knecht, a local lawyer who was managing Paul’s estate. A stout man in his early thirties, he was dressed as if to parody the image of a genteel country lawyer from yesteryear; his white, balding pate glistened in the heat.
We walked around for a bit, taking photos, listening to Knecht recite various aspects of Paul’s legend, digging through Paul’s belongings. In a closet we found a pink shotgun and several others weapons; the police had only taken the weapon Paul used to kill Dwight, and his ammunition. Out behind the house, Paul kept a makeshift electric chair he claimed was from Jailhouse Rock, as well as a couple of limousines, including a pink one he claimed had belonged to Presley but which he had actually acquired from a local used-car dealer. I encountered a large and active hornets nest. A wheelbarrow filled with basketballs, painted black and wrapped in barbed wire, sat not far from it. Near the stretch pink limousine, I found storage bin after storage bin of empty spray cans in half a dozen different colors. It hadn’t always been pink.
Paul slept on a rectangular storage box in the “shrine room” of his museum, above which hung a portrait of his idol. A bank of six or so TVs stretched along the far wall. On these televisions Paul, who owned the largest collection of TV Guides I will surely ever come across, recorded any mention of Elvis Presley on network television he could find for many years, just a few feet away from where he slept. Paul claimed to have over three hundred thousand photos of Presley, along with every conceivable type of memorabilia one could imagine, on display in the first floor and backyard of his home. Like at Elvis’s home Graceland, the upstairs was off-limits; Paul had erected a chain link fence around the stairwell.
In the “portrait room” Amy Hoyt discovered letters from Paul’s mother Helen, who shared a birthday with Elvis Presley. She had sent them from Paul’s ancestral home in Michigan and later from a retirement center in Arizona over twenty years before. In the correspondences, some of which were written in a script that is nearly impossible to read, she often asked about him and his son Elvis Aaron. Were they okay? In another letter to her son she suggested, quite oddly, that she was as beautiful and alluring as a clearly much younger woman in an attached photograph.
Was it okay for us to be here, rummaging through a dead man’s belongings, through a space that had recently seen so much tragedy and dread? “My position has always been, as the attorney for the estate and the attorney for the house, and the person with the keys, I want as many people in here as possible recording, filming, getting his name out, because I am first and foremost Paul’s attorney,” Knecht said to us. He had issued a press release three weeks previous stating that “Graceland Too, in partnership with the City of Holly Springs, was excited to announce a Memorial and Celebration of the Life of Paul Macleod on Tuesday, August 12, 2014, during Elvis Presley week.” It went on to state that tours of the premise led by “family, friends and lifetime Graceland Too members” would be given that day for five dollars each, even to other lifetime members accustomed to paying nothing, in order to raise money for Paul’s “funeral and burial expenses, as well as the expenses and costs of his estate.” No mention was made of whether or not “expenses and costs of his estate” included fees to Knecht.
But yet this was still, in many ways, a crime scene. Philip Knecht, despite having a law practice that was only a few blocks away from Graceland Too, first talked to Paul at length the day after he shot Dwight. They spoke at the behest of the local pharmacist and town Alderman at Large Tim Liddy, who implored Paul to get legal representation. Paul was mainly interested in giving Liddy and Knecht yet another tour of his Elvis museum even as Knecht suggested he could be charged with murder. “In a way, I got the last tour Paul ever gave of Graceland Too,” Knecht reflected in his nearby office later that day.
Philip knew Dwight as well, better than he knew Paul. “He would come by and offer to wash my truck. I usually didn’t let him,” said Knecht. “I’d let him do a little something and give him some money. Most of the time I would go to the store and buy him food. A lot of people did that around town. They were basically drifters, he and his wife Cindi.” Knecht, who has a gallows sense of humor and a nervous laugh, had known Cindi longer than he had Dwight. He was friendly with her for the most part but was upset about rumors he claimed she had been spreading. “She’s been saying some things to other people that were racially insensitive, trying to make it a race issue.”
He claimed to have helped both Dwight and Cindi out with legal issues they’d had, pro bono. They were both sent to jail for six months in 2013, almost simultaneously, Dwight for grand larceny after he allegedly stole a grill and Cindi for reneging on back child support payments from a previous, apparently violent marriage. They both faced fines they ultimately couldn’t pay. “His family isn’t acknowledging this but a lot of people knew Dwight, a lot of people had interactions with him. In the last two weeks of his life, they weren’t very good interactions.” Knecht alleged that Cindi had filed charges against her husband, whom she had married only months before, claiming he had been abusive toward her. She left him and returned to her family in nearby Ashland. Dwight had told Knecht he was desperate, given that he could go to jail for a long stint with the potential new charges. A silver chain and an iPhone charger were stolen out of Knecht’s truck a few days later. The last time Knecht saw Dwight, he says that Dwight admitted to stealing them.
Paul had also previously filed charges against Dwight, who had apparently tried to break in before and, according to former Holly Springs tourism chief Susan Williams, had beaten Paul up and stolen his car. Allegedly this was becoming a pattern for Dwight; Tom Stewart, who owns a catering company and a restaurant named Southern Eatery on the square, told me a few days later Dwight, whom he “fed for a year and a half,” had tried to break into his home the night after Stewart had refused to deliver five meals to a local motel Dwight and some of his friends were holed up at. When I asked him what Dwight was like, Stewart, a heavyset white man in his forties, paused and looked around his restaurant. It was full of black patrons. He clearly did not want to offend anyone who may be listening. “He was not atypical of Holly Springs.” He paused again, taking another look around. “He may hit you up for money, he may say, you got some work?” I suggested Dwight was underemployed. “Severely. Severely undereducated, had some substance problems, fairly moody guy.”
Sitting across Knecht’s desk, I suggested that rumors had been circling that Paul owed Dwight money, and that that night Paul had called Dwight to come over to his house and get his back wages, only to kill him in cold blood when he arrived. “Paul didn’t own a phone, he couldn’t have called anyone,” Knecht said in rebuke to that assertion. He suggested Cindi and possibly Dwight’s parents, whom he had never met, were behind the rumors. “She has been saying some things to other people that are racially insensitive,” he repeated. He admitted that in Holly Springs, Mississippi, it would be easy to make this case a “racial issue,” claiming US Attorney Ben Beaverbrook was bringing the case to a grand jury for purely political reasons informed by the racial dynamics of the town. “I think it’s political, it’s the DA’s washing their hands of it, it’s political and racial.” he said.
Shannon McNally resides in an unassumingly gorgeous white frame antebellum house, finished in 1857, which sits high up on a hill overlooking a tucked-away corner of Van Dorn Street, about a half mile from the town square. “I can only afford this house because it’s in Holly Springs, Mississippi. I’m a musician. You can barter here, you can make things happen,” she explained shortly after we arrived. She was wearing a black dress, her dark tresses tied back, green eyes a bit sallow. She pulled her legs back beneath her on the porch swing she sat on mournfully as she spoke. Shannon and her husband had lived in New Orleans before being pushed out by Hurricane Katrina. Now they’d been joined by her parents, native New Yorkers both; her father is an ex–police detective from the Bronx who, along with Shannon’s mother, retired to the area when Shannon and her husband Wallace settled there.
“This was Wallace’s vision,” she said gently, in a voice that suggested a mild dissatisfaction with the arrangement. She had adapted the cadences and southern lilt of those around her and there was something mildly put upon about the way she spoke, with a finely wrought southern accent. I’m sure she’d done a lot of adapting; Shannon had been a busker in Paris before finding her way to a major label record deal with Capitol in the late ’90s, back when such a thing still meant something, before the music industry’s business model fell apart. Dwight’s wife Cindi had left, spooked by the possibility of our presence, but she would return, Shannon informed us. “No one’s actually talked to her yet. For multiple reasons. She’s a little skittish.”
We felt each other out for awhile. Here we were, three Yankees in what Shannon referred to as a “quintessential small southern town,” not quite sure what to make of each other. She talked at length about how difficult everything had been for Dwight and Cindi. They had been homeless off and on, struggling with substances. They could both be found on too many nights at the clubs in “the alley, a small lane just off the town square that was known as a haven for public boozing and dope for the town’s less well-off. Shannon took an active interest in helping the newlyweds. She had met the couple, as many in the community had, when they would knock on the door asking for work. Over time Shannon began to see them almost every day. “They went everywhere together. They were clearly very in love. I would generally give them whatever work I could actually afford. Everyone else around here took advantage of them.”
She suggested that the Taylors were often exploited, given cheap to nonexistent wages by people who would have them wash a car or clean a house. No one did this more than Paul Macleod. “Paul had him paint that entire house with spray cans and then wouldn’t pay him. Dig a ditch and give him fifteen bucks because you’re a junkie and I don’t want you to spend it on that. Man just worked eight hours or ten hours, whatever he did, who are you to say what he spends his money on?” Shannon said, “It’s a tough little town.”
Shannon didn’t always have work to give them and would offer food instead. During the winter, she’d give them socks, hats, and coats. Eventually Shannon tried to give them things to do that were enriching. She’d invite them to do yoga or some leisurely gardening. Dwight’s interest in music mingled with her own; Shannon knew that he sang at church. Eventually Shannon began to try to figure out how to get them into some housing, onto food stamps and Medicaid. A month before he died, Dwight had finally gotten a social security card and hoped he’d be able to get on disability. But they never seemed to be able to get through “the incredible labyrinth of endemic poverty,” as Shannon put it. Dwight frequently claimed he couldn’t get food stamps because he didn’t have an address and he couldn’t get an address because he couldn’t find enough work to afford one.
Cindi showed up a short time afterward. She’s a small woman, not much taller than 5’4”, and was dressed in a oversized pink T-shirt, shorts with a plaid design, and a ball cap that read “Chattanooga.” We greeted each other gingerly after she climbed up the porch steps. Shannon asked if she felt like talking. Mosquitoes were swarming, actively biting us all. “Let me go get something,” she said. Then she asked to go sit in the garage. “I’m from the dust,” she said after we had sat down to talk, referring to the homes she grew up in without floors in nearby Ashland, about forty-five miles south.
Cindi confirmed that she was still in touch with her family there and had been in Ashland when her husband had been killed. They were at least temporarily estranged, although she wouldn’t discuss the details. None of their problems dampened her feelings of loss. “I miss husband. Whatever he done, I miss him,” she said to us with an earnestness that belied much pain. “What brought me here was Dwight. That’s my best friend, my lover, my husband. Me and him had a connection that didn’t no one else have in Holly Springs.”
Cindi had come here to be with him in 2009, only a month after she had met him, after many late-night phone conversations. She thought she’d just come for the weekend, but she never went back. She referred to herself and Dwight as the “Bonnie and Clyde of Holly Springs” without irony. They’d coordinate their clothing in order to seem more like a unit. Her Christianity assures her that he’s now watching over her and that he has no worries. “Every day that we wake up, we got problems. Good, bad, problems,” she said, smiling, as if to reiterate that she was almost happy for him not to have to struggle so much anymore. “The average person wouldn’t want to live how we live for seven days. You’d want to kill yourself.”
Dwight and Cindi met Paul in 2011. He was having troubling digging a ditch on his property as they passed by on a hot day. They offered to help him. Cindi spoke about him with great affection. Her grief wasn’t limited to Dwight. “People never knew our struggle. That’s how we ended up meeting Paul. Paul has pictures of us on top of his roof all over his house. We took care of Paul when Paul got sick,” she said. Paul had fallen off a ladder and broken one of his legs shortly before they met him. It wouldn’t stop swelling and got to the point where he could scarcely get around. “Maybe God put us in that man’s life for a reason, me and Dwight. We stayed down in Senatobia Hospital a week with that man.”
Paul had wanted to shoot the doctors after they had discussed amputating his leg. Fortunately, he improved enough to keep it. “Me, Paul, and Dwight, we was like this,” squeezing her fists together.” He was a funny guy, but he was crazy too, but he was a good person, Paul,” Cindi claimed, trying futily to hold back tears. “I lost two people. We developed a friendship that nobody knew about, for real.”
They had painted the house blue, they had painted the house grey. “We painted that house from roof to bottom,” she remembered with fondness. “We just happened to come into his life when he wanted it moody blue.” When Paul would be in pain and hardly able to give the tours, they would help him out. They provided security when an especially rowdy group would visit late at night. He often would pay them only in Coca-Cola and Budweiser. For a time, they didn’t mind. “He was cheap, but he would help us,” she said.
Paul and Dwight had fallen out two years before. Cindi wasn’t forthcoming about what had compelled Dwight to go to Paul’s that night. I asked her if she thought Paul was capable of shooting someone. She said she never had a doubt he was. He would tell everyone who entered the home that he was carrying weapons. She said he was worse when he was drunk. Cindi suggested that Paul could go through a case of beer before twelve in the afternoon. Shannon, who was sitting with us while Wallace played with their child nearby, asked Cindi why she thought Paul had shot Dwight.
“Let me tell you somethin’, Paul opened the door for Dwight because he knows him,” she began, “For real. It was a reason that Dwight went there, that only I know, but I won’t say right now. I just want you to know about Dwight and Paul. My best friend and his associate. Paul would never have done that. No, Paul’s not the bad guy. And David’s not the bad guy either. Whatever happened God intended to happen. He never would have hurt him, no sir.” Her voice began to raise a few octaves as her hands trembled. “We stayed at this man’s house. Only a few people got to see the downstairs. We got to see what downstairs and the upstairs was like. We had it all. Literally.”
Cindi, increasingly emotional, assured us that no break-in had taken place, that the story the police were telling was surely inaccurate. Shannon suggested that maybe Paul didn’t recognize him and that’s what caused the shooting. Cindi shook her head. I asked if he’d simply gone to Paul’s house to talk. She didn’t respond to either question.
“It killed Paul. Reality set in that he killed his friend, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He had nicknames for both of us. He called me C. C. Rider,” she said, the tears finally escaping down her face. “There is more to this story than people will ever know.”
Paul Macleod wanted to be buried in a gold suit. It didn’t happen. He never got life insurance and died with a $17,000 lien on his home he had taken out just months prior, so his remains ended up in an urn, one decorated with the visage of Elvis Presley. It will be placed in a donated burial plot in Hillcrest Cemetery, not far from his home. A planned monument at Hillcrest will read “Here Lies the World’s Greatest Elvis Fan.”
Only about sixty turned up for his funeral on August 12, three weeks after his death, at Christ Episcopal Church. His two daughters were in attendance; his son Elvis Aaron Presley Macleod, who tended to the museum with his father for many years, was not. Brenda, the oldest of the children, had visited Paul once at the museum, neglecting to tell him she was his daughter until towards the end of the tour. After that first visit, her husband refused to come in with her; he’d wait in the car while she went and visited her father.
Reverend Bruce D. McMillan, who had been Paul’s preacher for many years, presided over the service. Annie Moffitt, Paul’s purple-haired black friend, sang show-stopping versions of “Amazing Grace” and “Walking Around Heaven” for the attendees, including more than a few people, young and old, in newly printed Graceland Too T-shirts. Mayor Buck was there too, dapper as he’d been described. The entire thing lasted less than an hour.
It was Elvis Presley week in nearby Memphis. Every August, in the run-up to the anniversary of Presley’s death on August 17, the town plays host to parades and conventions, to impersonator contests and singalongs. The goings-on in Holly Springs proved far more telling, however. A spectacle of simultaneous remembrance and denial was in store for all of us. It was in the air. Half a country away, that very same week, Ferguson, Missouri had become a police state because an unarmed black man had been struck down by an armed white one; here it was just an opportunity for commerce.
If paying off his outstanding debts meant luring some of those who had converged on Memphis to take a posthumous tour of his home or buy a Graceland Too shot glass, so be it. One can’t say the man wouldn’t have wanted it this way, wouldn’t have indulged in the crassness and opportunism that would inevitably come with his passing. T-shirts and plastic cups were sold at a tent outside Paul’s home, dilapidated male and female mannequins displaying the pastel blue and pink tee shirts while various “lifetime members” of the museum gave tours of the space.
I passed Cindi, wearing a black and gold Drew Brees #9 T-shirt, a few blocks from the house. She was distraught and claimed she’d been drinking. She had been walking around the neighborhood, working up the courage to go over to the Graceland while all those strangers were there, touring the place where her husband and her friend had died. Eventually she was given a tour by one of the “lifetime members.” She broke down about halfway through.
A well-heeled documentary filmmaker who had been making a film about Paul and a scholar from nearby Oxford who had commissioned Paul to write about his Elvis fandom traded war stories and hawked their work nearby. Both of them spoke to visitors in the dusty museum and at a larger public memorial that was held at the town’s multi-purpose center that evening. After that memorial the crowd grew younger, with the college students that often made up Paul’s customer base showing up as the light died over the town. Alcohol flowed freely; later that night, a fistfight broke out between two women.
As this younger set took over the street near Paul’s, lining up to get one last look at his property before its uncertain future was sorted out, Elvis Presley songs blared from a PA set up in the middle of the street. Tyler Clancy, the owner of a BBQ joint and café in nearby Red Bank who lives across the street from Graceland Too, set up a stand in his front yard where he sold “The Paul Macleod”: a deep-fried version of the peanut butter and banana sandwich that was Elvis’s favorite. A screening was held just after midnight of various short films people had made about Paul over the years. And then the place thinned out. Paul Macleod had gotten a hero’s send-off, no questions asked.
“What I can’t get Cindi to tell me is, why did he shoot him? I don’t know,” Shannon McNally said to us a few days later. She was in between blues sets at a fancy wine bar in Oxford and was having a rough day. Her mother had discovered just that morning that her stomach cancer, previously thought to be in remission, was back. She also admitted that she was soon to get divorced. We shared some whiskeys.
Hill Country Blues was born here, on the guitars of Mississippi Fred McDowell, R. L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough. Gary, Burnside’s son, is working on an album with Shannon. He was her sole accompaniment that night; her husband, who normally served as her drummer, was nowhere to be found. They went without a rhythm section.
“David was bipolar. He had some kind of bleeding ulcer or stomach cancer, he had something going on in his gut, I don’t know what, but it was untreated and it was bad,” she continued. “He was suicidal. He was ready to die.” Cindi had gone home, leaving him for a couple of weeks because the stress level, exacerbated by their poverty, had gotten out of control. Shannon confirmed Knecht’s assertion that Cindi had filed domestic violence charges against him. Given his previous record, he was facing a longer prison stint than he had ever known. According to Shannon, Cindi immediately regretted doing that, knowing it would simply trigger his frequently unhinged emotions. “He really didn’t want to go back to jail.”
While Cindi was at her parents’, Shannon had fed him every day and eventually started putting him up. He stayed with her for the three days and nights before the shooting. “I’d spent like a hundred dollars just keeping him above water,” she recalled. Dwight felt indebted to her. He would do whatever he could to help Shannon around the house. Dwight had spent most of the day the shooting took place at her home. “He was in physical pain, but he was also in mental pain,” Shannon remembered. She tried to get him to seek medical help, but he rebuffed her.
When he came around that Tuesday night, ostensibly after being on Paul’s porch earlier in the evening, Shannon’s daughter and her daughter’s friend were at the house. Shannon could tell something was amiss. She thought to ask if he’d like to go inside and go to sleep, but couldn’t. Dwight was agitated. “There was a lot going on with him and his energy. I knew if I brought him in my house and anything went wrong,” she said, before trailing off.
She offered to get him a room at the Holly Inn, the $45-a-night motel on the increasingly destitute northern end of town. Shannon asked if Dwight wanted to go to the emergency room, but he seemed more concerned with the $40 he owed someone he had been staying with off and on. The person had held onto his belongings and wouldn’t give him his personal items back until he paid them. She gave him $20. “I just didn’t have that much cash on me,” she remembered. “We sat there for an hour and a half. He wasn’t hungry. He was in pain.” “I said David, I need one more day. I’ll get you squared away in the morning,” Shannon said.
The place was filling up behind us. Some folks nearby asked if she was going back on. Our time together was coming to a close. “I trust you Ms. Shannon,” she remembers him saying. He was worried about going back to jail, looking at five years because of the domestic violence charge if it went through. Given what thin ice he was on legally, “Anyone could send him back to jail for anything,” Shannon suggested. She knew she couldn’t help him fast enough. “I knew he was dying. I knew he was dying that night.”
When Shannon saw a text from Tim Liddy the next morning, she already knew. Shannon had warned Dwight away from suicide; she feared he might try to provoke a police officer or jump off a nearby bridge. She told him that if he wanted her to take him to the emergency room, to call. Before he left, Dwight said to her, “It’s going to be big, Ms. Shannon.” And then he was gone.
Soon after, Paul Macleod was gone too. In a way, both of them died of broken hearts.
If you like this article, please subscribe to n+1.