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Sad Story

Harris Neck, Georgia

February 25, 2022

I went to Aiken Prep with George. We were in the same grade although he was a border and I was a day student. Aiken Prep went from fourth through ninth grade and there were borders in each grade. At that age, I didn’t recognize that the borders were likely from affluent families in affluent places — Palm Beach, Savannah, Charleston, Middleburg. I do remember there were drugs.

George was a bit of a goofball but a friendly guy. This story about his death at 22 years old has always bothered me. It is a tragedy.

The New Yorker, February 2, 1981 P. 65

U.S. JOURNAL: SAVANNAH, GA., about the events surrounding the kidnapping and death of George Mercer IV. Mercer was the 22-year-old member of a distinguished Savannah family, the lineage of which goes back to colonial days. He disappeared on Jan. 29, 1980, and soon after that his parents received ransom notes and calls requesting $42,000. At one point the ransom was delivered, but never picked up. One FBI agent assigned to the case thought that it bore the imprint of Michael Harper, a bright young con artist and convicted felon, with whom Mercer had been acquainted. A photographer at the Georgia Gazette, Richard Somers, suspected that Mercer had been kidnapped, and he and the paper's publisher, Albert Scardino, were able to establish that fact. Soon after that, Scardino informed Mercer's father of his intention to run a story about the crime. Mercer called some of the Gazette's stockholders, who began to apply pressure on Scardino to withhold the story. When it appeared, many residents of the town, who felt it might have endangered Mercer's life, were outraged. Several important advertisers ended their contracts with the Gazette. The day the story ran, Feb. 11th, Harper was caught slipping out of town. He admitted nothing. Near the end of April, Mercer's body was found in a woods near town and Harper was charged with murder. At his trial he defended himself by telling of a scheme planned by himself, Mercer, and two others to extort $42,000 from the Mercer family with a staged kidnapping. The money was needed to pay for marijuana they had bought and intended to resell. Harper was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Writer suggests that Scardino offended many when he refused to withhold the story. He had defied Savannah's social lite, and by publicizing a possible connection between young Mercer and Harper, indicated an unpleasant link between that lite and the city's seamier underside.

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