By Jay Reeves
SAMSON, Ala. — It was deathly still inside the brick home Lisa McLendon shared with her 28-year-old son, save for the flames that crackled as her body he set aflame lay on a smoldering couch under a heap of burning clothes.
Outside, Michael McLendon roared out of their shady driveway and headed toward town in a dark red Mitsubishi Eclipse. He had four guns, more than 200 rounds of ammunition and had composed hand-scribbled lists ticking off people and places he thought had it out for him.
Hell was on its way to McLendon's old hometown Tuesday. In less than an hour, he would shed enough blood across rural Alabama to become the state's most prolific killer. The peace of a warm, almost idyllic Southern afternoon was about to be shattered by the sound of gunfire.
Sandy Tanner looked toward her neighbor's small frame home near the corner of Pullum Street around 4 p.m. when she heard the first blast. It wasn't a firecracker, and something was wrong. The one-time truck driver headed toward the noise despite the danger, halfway between a walk and a run.
The shots kept coming, about 15 in all, then stopped. She was already dialing 911 when a second burst of about nine more rang out. Suddenly, there was the Eclipse, kicking up dust on the narrow residential street. The driver looked straight at her.
"It was almost like looking in the devil's eyes," she recalled.
The car pulled away, and Tanner could barely grasp the carnage left on her neighbor's porch. McLendon's uncle, 55-year-old James Alford White, was dead, face down in a spreading pool of blood. McLendon's grandmother, 74-year-old Virginia White, was dead in the doorway of her adjoining trailer.
Two cousins' corpses lay near White's body. A young mother from across the street, Andrea Myers, was slumped on a porch swing where she had been chatting only moments before. At her feet was her 18-month-old daughter, Corrine Gracy, silent.
"Please, please," Tanner pleaded frantically, touching the toddler's arm as if to will her to live. It was too late.
The piercing wail of a baby snapped Tanner back into reality. The woman's other child, 4-month-old Ella, was hurt and crying in the arms of another neighbor. In the distance, screaming sirens grew louder as they approached Pullum Street.
The Mitsubishi zoomed into the small town of Samson with its window rolled down, a gun sticking out. With his relatives dead, McLendon was set to turn the town where he grew up and played baseball into a random shooting gallery, for a reason no one but he understands.
He struggled to keep a job over the years, but everyone who knew him said he never seemed troubled. He'd fought with relatives over a family Bible recently, and his mother had been suspended from her job at a meat and egg plant. He'd been listing co-workers who he didn't like in a notebook at home, writing that one had made him clean the meat grinder or another had reported him for not wearing ear plugs. But none of it seemed to be a clue that he'd wind up terrorizing his town.
A bullet hit discount store worker James Irvin Starling as he was walking on Wise Street to his sister-in-law's house. With the 24-year-old father of two dying along the street, McLendon turned onto Main Street, the center of life in the 2,000-strong Bible Belt community.
Everybody in town goes to the Big Little Store, and Sonja Smith, 43, had stopped by for gas. She went inside briefly and came out, walking unknowingly into McLendon's path.
The Mitsubishi rolled slowly through the parking lot, the driver firing rat-a-tat blasts. Smith died in the hail of lead, halfway between the front door and the gas pumps, and another man was wounded.
McLendon kept going. He drove through the heart of downtown, spraying bullets this way and that. Slugs slammed into the window of a hardware store as he drove southeast toward the town of Geneva, about 12 miles away.
Bruce Malloy, the 51-year-old head of maintenance at Brooks Peanut Co., was in a vehicle on Alabama 52 when the Mitsubishi sped his way. Nearby, more ambulances and police cars were racing through town as authorities tried to figure out what was going on.
Malloy was dead. McLendon never even stopped.
News of what happened in Samson was spreading like a virus over the static of police radios and screaming 911 calls, and officers knew they had to stop the Mitsubishi. Geneva police came up with an idea: They'd try to use their vehicles to stop McLendon and end the rampage.
At 4:06 p.m. - 36 minutes after the fire was reported at McLendon's house - the law finally caught up with the Mitsubishi on Alabama 52 between Samson and Geneva, a town of about 5,000 people dotted with small manufacturing plants and surrounded by farmland and scrub forest.
Stunned onlookers heard a barrage of gunfire, screeching tires and revving engines right in front of the town's Wal-Mart store as McLendon blew through with his foot to the floor, one hand on the wheel and another on a gun.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
McLendon fired once at State Trooper Mike Gillis, then again and again. Glass whizzed through his patrol car, struck the vehicle with a thud seven times. Gillis kept speeding, his sights locked firmly on McLendon. A second officer was hurt by flying glass when bullets cut through his car, and Geneva Police Chief Frankie Lindsey took a bullet to the shoulder.
"It happened so quick," Lindsey said later. "It was the loudest burst of fire I've ever heard."
The sports car kept going to Maple Avenue, then on to Alabama 27. McLendon had driven the same way before to his former job at Reliable Products, which fabricates metal goods in a big steel building on the outskirts of town.
The car veered into the plant's parking lot. There was more shooting, this time between McLendon, a Geneva County sheriff's deputy and a state game officer who followed him to the plant where he had once worked. He walked inside one last time, and would never leave again.
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After 24 miles, with 10 people dead and more than 200 rounds fired, McLendon saved one last bullet for himself. Bang! Then it was quiet.