On February 19, 1999, Billy Jack Gaither went to The Tavern, a Sylacauga, Alabama nightclub, where he had been friends with the owner, Marion Hammond, for twenty years. Gaither was a regular there, if he wasn’t at the Tool Box in Birmingham forty miles away. Hammond remembered that he was nonchalant about his sexuality. ” If they walked over to Billy Jack and they say, ‘Are you gay?’ he’d say, ‘Yes, and I love it.’ You couldn’t hurt his feelings on it, so we wasn’t worried about it.”
Another regular, Steve Mullins, 25, also started to hang out at the Tavern. His presence wasn’t so benign. He sometimes showed up wearing racist t-shirts and harassing African-American customers. He was known locally as a wannabe tough-acting skinhead. “He tried to walk around like a bully, but he wasn’t,” Hammond said. “He was mostly talk.” His buddy, a construction worker named Charles Butler, Jr., was quieter.
Gaither had a reputation for getting along with pretty much everyone, so nobody’s eyebrows were raised when Gaither left The Tavern that night with Mullins and Butler. The three drove to a remote area where Mullins and Butler beat Gaither, stuffed him into the trunk, and went for supplies: kerosene, matches, an axe handle and old tires form Mullins’s home. They then drove to the banks of Peckerwood Creek in neighboring Coosa County. They poured kerosene on the tires and set them ablaze. Then they pulled Gaither out of the trunk of his car. He tried to stand up and they beat him with the ax handle, cut his throat, and threw him onto the pile of burning tires. They moved Gaither’s car to another dirt road and set it on fire. It was found the next day.
Continue reading Gay History – February 19, 1999: The Horrific Murder of Billy Jack Gaither And How It Changed A Small Alabama Town Forever