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News Story
Updated: 11/02/2017 08:30:02AM

50 years later: Commemorating a tragedy

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ARCADIAN PHOTO BY CAROL MAHLER
Sharon Goodman looks at the seven graves of the Richardson children in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DESOTO COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Hickson Funeral Home made arrangements for the wake, funeral and burial of the seven Richardson children. Money donated by the community paid the expenses.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DESOTO COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Coach Richard Bowers said, "I was told by my principal and superintendent at the time, since they had made a decision to have the funeral (in the Smith-Brown Gymnasium), and I was in charge of the (gym), to do what I had to do to make it right."

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DESOTO COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Annie Mae Richardson and James Joseph Richardson as they enter the Smith-Brown Gym for the funeral of their seven children.

ARCADIAN PHOTO BY CAROL MAHLER
Brenda Johnson stands beside St. John's Missionary Baptist Church Fellowship Hall and Sunday School Classrooms, built on the site of the former Jim Barnes Hotel where the Richardson family lived in 1967.

ARCADIAN PHOTO BY CAROL MAHLER
Coach Richard Bowers and his wife, Martha Bowers, in front of the Smith-Brown Gym where the funeral was held in 1967 for the seven children of James and Annie Mae Richardson.

ARCADIAN FILE PHOTO BY SUSAN E. HOFFMAN
Dr. Sharon Goodman welcomed James Richardson back to Arcadia in 2013. She gave him a plaque representing the keys to the city.

ARCADIAN FILE PHOTO BY SUSAN E. HOFFMAN
James Richardson, right, talks with Charles Flowers, who co-authored an expose on Richardson's case for the Miami Herald. Richardson came back to visit Arcadia in 2013 after many years and was greeted warmly at a service at Mt. Zion AME Church. In 2015, Flowers' son Ty Flowers released a documentary film about the Richardson case.

By CAROL MAHLER

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Fifty years ago this week, the Grim Reaper harvested seven souls in Arcadia less than a week before Halloween. Seven children became violently ill after eating a lunch poisoned with parathion — whether by accident or plan remains unknown today.

Three returned to the Smith-Brown School, and were rushed to Arcadia General Hospital by Principal Louis Anderson and teachers. Martha Bowers, a library assistant at the time, said, “[We] decided we’d better go to the home to see if there were any more children” with the babysitter, Betsy Reese, who served the meal that the children’s mother had prepared.

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