Goat Castle/ A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox Book Review Goodreads
Books,  Non-Fiction,  Sarah,  True Crime

Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox Book Review

Goat Castle/ A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox Book Review Goodreads

Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox Book Review

The lowdown from Goodreads

Publication Date October 9, 2017

In 1932, the city of Natchez, Mississippi, reckoned with an unexpected influx of journalists and tourists as the lurid story of a local murder was splashed across headlines nationwide. Two eccentrics, Richard Dana and Octavia Dockery–known in the press as the “Wild Man” and the “Goat Woman”–enlisted an African American man named George Pearls to rob their reclusive neighbor, Jennie Merrill, at her estate. During the attempted robbery, Merrill was shot and killed. The crime drew national coverage when it came to light that Dana and Dockery, the alleged murderers, shared their huge, decaying antebellum mansion with their goats and other livestock, which prompted journalists to call the estate “Goat Castle.” Pearls was killed by an Arkansas policeman in an unrelated incident before he could face trial. 

However, as was all too typical in the Jim Crow South, the white community demanded “justice,” and an innocent black woman named Emily Burns was ultimately sent to prison for the murder of Merrill. Dana and Dockery not only avoided punishment but also lived to profit from the notoriety of the murder.

In telling this strange, fascinating story, Karen Cox highlights the larger ideas that made the tale so irresistible to the popular press and provides a unique lens through which to view the transformation of the plantation South into the fallen, Gothic South.

Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox Book Review

As soon as I read the description for this book, I knew I had to read it. It sounded like Grey Gardens meets Mississippi with a true crime twist & I’m all about it.

Mistress of Goat Castle & The Wild Man

Let me tell you, this Octavia Dockery aka “Mistress of Goat Castle” is a piece of work. She moved into this old antebellum house & let goats roam inside & outside the property. Insane, right?  Her companion, Dick Dana, inherited the estate. What was once a grand vision of “The Old South” turned to shambles with these two at the helm. See, Dick Dana was declared a lunatic could be found among the goats (or hanging in a tree) wearing only a burlap sack.

Murder in Natchez

Octavia’s goats wreaked havoc on her well to do neighbor, Jennie. One night, Octavia, along with Dick & an African American man named George planned to rob Jennie. Things went terribly wrong & Jennie was murdered. From here, things get wild.

Emily Burns, an African American woman was present during the robbery but is innocent. She is ultimately sent to jail while Octavia & Dick profit off the murder. Almost instantly, The Goat Castle becomes a tourist destination. The vile conditions of the home are featured in magazine & newspapers for all to see. Rather than hiding, Octavia relishes in it. For a price, tourists can see Dick Dana play his piano at Goat Castle. That’s insane, brilliant & so disturbing.

Race, Plantations & Law In The South

I wish I could place Goat Castle in today’s society. No doubt, Octavia would have a 5 season run on TLC network & merchandise sales in the millions. While the spectacle of Goat Castle drew me to this story, the root of this tale is injustice & the notion of “good old boys” in the South.

While Octavia & Dick were charged with murder, they did not go to trial. I don’t want to ruin the entire story, but seeing how Octavia plays the legal system is masterful at best. Remeber now, Octavia & Dick are hosting swarms of cars at their crumbling abode while Emily, an innocent woman sits in jail. Natchez has a rich history of settlers, trade & beautiful Antebellum homes. The murder of Jennie Merrill & the mayhem that ensued is now part of Natchez’s history. You’ve got to read it, to believe it.


I am Really Into This book. Goat Castle satisfies my true crime curiosity with loads of wonderful history about Natchez, Mississippi.

If you’re Really Into true crime, check out I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. 

Special thanks to Karen L. Cox University of North Carolina Press & NetGalley for providing our copy in exchange for an honest & fair review.

Let’s connect with books!  We have all of our reviews on Goodreads!

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Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South by Karen L. Cox Book Review Author Bio Karen L Cox
Karen L Cox

Karen L. Cox is an award-winning historian who has written op-eds for the New York TimesThe Washington PostCNNTIME magazine, Publishers Weekly, and the Huffington Post. Her expertise on the American South has led to interviews with the Los Angeles TimesNewsweekThe Daily BeastMicThe Atlantic, the Wall Street JournalSlate (France), the Atlanta-Journal Constitution,the Houston Chronicle, and the Charlotte Observer, as well as international newspapers in Germany, Denmark, Ireland, and Japan. She has also appeared on BBC NewshourBlack Politics Today, The Mike Smerconish Show (Sirius XM), C-SPANCanadian Public BroadcastingMinnesota Public RadioGeorgia Public Radio, and Charlotte Talks.

She frequently gives public talks to both community and academic audiences, and is an OAH Distinguished Lecturer.

Cox is the author of three books and numerous essays and articles on the subject of southern history and culture. Her first book, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture, won the 2004 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize from the Southern Association for Women Historians for the Best Book in Southern Women’s History. Her second book, published by UNC Press in 2011, is Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture. She is also the editor of Destination Dixie: Tourism and Southern History (University Press of Florida, 2012), which won the Allen G. Noble Book Award from the Pioneer America Society for the Best Edited Book on North American material culture. She authored the blog Pop South: Reflections on the South in Popular Culture where she wrote over 100 essays about representations of the region and its people in popular media.

Her most recent book, Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South, was released in October 2017.

Cox is originally from Huntington, West Virginia, and is professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

She is represented by Geri Thoma at Writer’s House, NYC.

Momma, wife, baker, reader & smart ass. I am Really Into doughnuts, inside jokes, trash TV, pizza, 48 Hours & George Michael.

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