Saturday, February 20, 2010

How the Flippos Lived & Died

J. N. Flippo Jr. was born in Hodges, Alabama, not far from the town in which he was murdered. He married his sweetheart Ruth and moved to Red Bay in the 1940s. The family raised three daughters who attended Red Bay Schools, while J. N. worked at a local bank, eventually becoming president.

Seeking to give back to his adopted hometown, J. N. ran for mayor and won the office easily, but decided to leave public service three years into his term. If anyone outside J. N.'s family knew why Flippo had become disenchanted with public office, they kept his secret as their own. Too young for retirement, J. N. opened an insurance office in the small town, and it prospered as had his other business endeavors. Except for the hour each morning J. N. visited with cronies at the local coffee shop, he was never far from the side of Ruth who helped with the insurance agency.

While all three of the Flippo's daughters had done well in school, those who knew the family called them shy. That combined with their relative affluence caused a few to term them snobbish, but those who knew them well said that was far from the truth. By 1981, the older two were married, and the youngest was away at college.

The weekend of Saturday July 11, 1981, one of the Flippos' cars was in the shop. Did someone think the couple was away for the night? A hidden grate behind the house appeared to be undisturbed, while someone had obviously loosened the more visible grate under the couple's bedroom, possibly indicating intimate knowledge of the home's floor plan.

A thundering blast rang through the town at 3:00 a.m. Responders were on the scene within minutes finding the 68 year-old J. N. Flippo, sleeping nearer the wall, already dead. Ruth, also 68, with splinters from the floorboard embedded in the calves of her legs was alive, but died twenty minutes later at Red Bay Hospital.

The entire town of Red Bay was in shock. As word spread that the blast was intentional, neighbors gathered to talk and grieve. Who would have killed the mayor and his family. Almost three decades later, the same town continues to ask the same question.

Tomorrow: The investigation