Curbside Crime Mystery: 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix – Not Christine

On April 4th, 1976 the Foglemans of Liberty, NC were shot to death.   Do court records make good documentation of a car’s mileage?  Anyone who buys old cars has pondered whether the car’s docs definitively prove mileage.  You find a 40 year old car with 47k on the odometer and mostly good records except for that seven year period with none.  Did that owner put on 100k in seven years?  Could be.

This 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix, originally owned by Joel Dean Stephens also of Liberty, NC, has receipts for service and inspections through 33,521 miles. Nothing newer than 1978.  The car was purchased new in Asheboro, North Carolina.  The service and inspection records were all from Liberty, NC about 20 minutes away.   There’s a 1978 inspection sticker in the windshield.  NC used windshield stickers until 2008.  30 years without an inspection?  Still not indisputable proof of the car’s mileage.

I paid cash for it in 2015 from a guy named Jerry in Liberty, NC and it now resides in Raleigh.  Jerry’s a body man for NC DOT.  On weekdays he fixes cop cars and dump trucks.  On his own time he works on his own projects.  His man cave holds an immaculately restored split window Corvette.  He’s never even started it up.  He let me sit in it.  He also restores Stutz Blackhawks, Elvis got the first one off the production line.  I always thought they were fiberglass but they’re steel-bodied.  Jerry showed me how he carefully heated and cooled and shrank and hammered a warped roof on a fire-damaged Stutz.  He refused to use filler.  Didn’t need it.  I really admire a guy who can finish these huge projects and pay attention to every last detail.

On April 4th 1976 Carlene King heard the gunshots and recognized the defendant, knew him by name, lurking in the dark outside the crime scene.  Short, fat, and balding is hard to miss by the streetlights of a small town where everyone knows everyone.  But Carlene didn’t come forward immediately, she feared for her family who still lived in Liberty.   Joel Dean’s fingerprint was on one of the victim’s driver’s license.  He told the cops someone put it on there using a “fingerprint glove”.  On November 10th, 1976 Joel Dean Stephens confessed to NC SBI agents in Raleigh yet he wasn’t arrested until August 16,1978.

Carlene finally came forward in 1978, after Joel Dean won an award from the Jaycees and had his picture in the paper.   She felt it wasn’t right for the defendant to win an award in light of what he’d done.  JD got word of the new witness and skipped town.  He wasn’t picked up until August 16 by the police in Myrtle Beach, SC where he’d been holed up in various motels since June. There’s a receipt in the center console for the Atlantic Queen Motel, Myrtle Beach, SC, dated June 29th.

So court records make the case this is a 33k car, right?  Nope.  In that 1976 interview, SBI agents in Raleigh told JD and his lawyer they were going to ask him questions to calibrate their lie detector.  JD’s attorney was required to leave the room during the calibration.  JD confessed to the crime during his interview.  The cops never told JD they’d finished the calibration and begun the interrogation.  His lawyer hadn’t yet returned.  His conviction was thrown out in 1980 by the Supreme Court of North Carolina.  JD walked free after a few years in prison.   Dark lurking isn’t illegal, nor is it illegal that JD’s fingerprint was on that particular victim’s driver’s license.

JD’s grandparents bought him the new, loaded Pontiac for his sweet 16.  They’d been very generous to him over the years.  They lived in an average house on an average street in Liberty, NC, a few doors down from Jerry.  (Jerry moved there from New York more than a decade after the crime.)  The grandparents weren’t rich, outwardly at least.  JD’s grandma passed away and his grandfather remarried.  New grandma was not inclined to be so generous with JD.  They presumably had their own retirement to manage.  So on April 4, 1976 JD murdered them, DeLacy and Ethel Fogleman.  Maybe new grandma saw in JD what his family did not; that he was a turd.

It takes money to get a case to the state supreme court.  I assume JD’s mother’s inheritance paid his legal fees.  Maybe he couldn’t drive the car when he got out of prison due of a sense of guilt?  Maybe he wasn’t smart enough to replace a dead battery; fingerprint glove, really?

JD died in 2001 at the age of 45.  Obituary says he worked at McDonalds.  If you have no other redeeming qualities the best you can say about someone is that they worked at McDonald’s, no offense to the many great people who work at McDonald’s.  His mother died in 2005.  Jerry tried to buy the car for a few years and eventually the estate sold it to him.

The donor car for every new Blackhawk was Pontiac’s Grand Prix starting with the 1973 model.  Compare the dashboards and you’ll see the roots of the same car.  Jerry bought the barn find GP thinking he’d part it out but it was too nice.  He scraped off the piles of bird poop and gave it a shot of paint, by which I mean he removed all the trim, pulled the motor and detailed it and the engine compartment, cleaned and painted the underside, rubbed out the body, and snuffed out any squeaks and rattles.

The documentation supports 33k but does it prove so beyond a reasonable doubt?  Ultimately, the jury has to decide, preferably in person, preferably experienced with that brand and era.  I’ve owned a number of cars from the 60’s through the early 80’s and I have no doubt this car had 33k, now has 35k.  The condition of the interior for me is the biggest giveaway.  GM interiors barely held up to 100k.  This car is tight, the interior, the ride, it gets a lot of thumbs up.

What say you, members of the jury, 33 or 133?