More than six decades after being falsely accused and hanged by two sheriff’s deputies, 86-year-old Holly Springs resident Lynn Council met with Sheriff Gerald Baker on Thursday, June 13 and received an apology along with a key to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office inscribed with his name.
The key was presented with a carousel inscribed with James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.”
The hanging took place in 1952, at the time Council was 19. Sixty-seven years later, Council still vividly remembers the story which he mostly kept to himself as he led a quiet life in Wake County until earlier this year.
Since coming forward, Council has attended various events honoring him and recognizing the injustice he faced. At this meeting he recounted his ordeal with slow but deliberate speech and gestures. A scar remains on the back of his neck from the hanging.
Council told Sheriff Baker that he was taken from his home with his mother and father and, arrested by then Apex Police Chief Sam Bagwell for allegedly robbing a store outside of Apex. Bagwell’s racial discrimination is well documented. Council was one of eight arrested.
“This office is no longer and never will be again an office where those type of things will happen,” said Sheriff Baker.
The crime took place outside of Bagwell’s jurisdiction, but Council was driven to Cary where he says he was beaten, and eventually hanged on a tree that stands near Kildaire Farm Road to try to force a confession. Council says at the time of the hanging “Jesus stepped in.”
“They took me out into the woods to kill me, but things didn’t happen that way,” said Council. “Jesus was there.”
It was later discovered that a store employee had stolen the money Council had been accused of taking. The deputies who hanged Council were never punished, but Sheriff Baker removed an image of the then sheriff which previously hung in the Wake County Sheriff’s Department office, and told Council that it was the least he could do.
“It’s never going to be enough,” said Sheriff Baker. “If there’s anything else that [Council] can think of to help signify what our purpose is, we’ll do it.” He later said to Council, “I promise you we will move forward doing things the right way.”
Council also previously met with current Apex Police Chief John Lettney who said he wanted to hear Council’s story directly from him. Lettney also removed Bagwell’s brick from the Apex Walk of Honor.
“It concerns me that these stories are out there about a man that wore the same badge I’m wearing now,” said Lettney. “He failed his oath to serve Apex citizens.”
The sheriff’s department’s attempts at atonement seemingly did give Council some peace. He thanked Sheriff Baker for the department’s apologies and for symbolically recognizing him as “officially and permanently” part of the office.