Murder Mystery: The Case of the Barefoot Killer, Part 1
Officials inspect the crude weapon that was used in the Fuller murder
photographs from Arkansas Gazette archives at the University of Central Arkansas Torreyson Library
In December 1954, Ohio physician Sam Sheppard was on trial for the murder of his wife, Marilyn. The riveting case was front-page news across the country. But the murder of a young wife and mother in Brinkley, Ark., also grabbed headlines.
SUE FULLER, 25, WAS BLUDGEONED, NEARLY TO DEATH, in the modest home she shared with her husband, Milton, and their two young daughters. Milton Fuller, 31, told police he arose at 4:30 a.m., Dec. 12, and went to town for coffee and a newspaper. He returned home an hour later, read the paper and then fell asleep on the sofa. Sometime between 7 and 7:30 a.m., he was awakened by what he described as a “thud” and went to investigate. He discovered his wife lying on the floor in their blood-spattered bedroom.
She was still alive, just barely. She died two hours later.
Muddy prints of bare feet led from the back door to the Fullers’ bedroom. The print of one bare foot was found outside near a barbecue pit where the killer had procured the murder weapon, a 4-foot-long, five-pound piece of hickory wood, a reject from a millet mill.
Two young boys delivering the morning newspaper told police they had seen a large man in a dark overcoat leaving the Fullers’ yard, and the boys said at least one of the man’s feet was bare. He was walking north along the Cotton Belt railroad, and another witness said she saw a suspicious-looking man sitting on the railroad tracks at Zent, about 7 miles north of Brinkley. A posse with bloodhounds from Cummins Prison Farm turned up nothing.
An autopsy showed that Fuller had suffered a severe blow to the right side of her head, fracturing her skull from just above the right eye to directly behind the right ear. She had bruises on her shoulders and on one leg and a small laceration on her right shoulder.
A native of Eupora, Miss., Sue Hubbard had worked for a florist in Memphis before marrying Milton Fuller and moving to Brinkley in 1948. She became the bookkeeper for Fuller Motor Company, the Buick dealership where her husband was in business with his father. Milton Fuller’s parents and his grandmother lived in a house next door.
Fuller was well-liked by those who knew her, and the motive for her murder was thought to be robbery. Her purse, found in a backyard tree, had been rummaged through. She seldom carried more than $10. The theory was that she awoke to find a burglar in her bedroom; the thief panicked, struck the woman and left by the back door. Two other homeowners in Brinkley reported a break-in and an attempted burglary over the same weekend — one occurring only three or four blocks from the Fuller home and less than three hours before Sue Fuller was slain.
In the hours and days following the murder, the usual suspects were rounded up. They included a vagrant; an escaped mental patient; an ex-convict; and three men who once worked for the Fullers. Milton Fuller was also questioned. He had been married once before and met Sue a short time after his divorce. For a while they lived with his parents and grandmother, but then Sue left him to return to Memphis. After a brief separation, she and Milton re-united and moved into an apartment above the car dealership before building the six-room bungalow where she was killed.
The investigation stalled, and a reward of $1,100 was offered for any information leading to the arrest of the murderer. It was a tense time for the town of 4,100 people. Sheriff’s deputies assisted extra police assigned to patrol duty. Christmas shopping declined, but the sales of door locks skyrocketed. Residents hurried home before the sun went down, as all wondered where and when the killer might strike again.
Next Installment: An unexpected break in the case.