Paul Macleod’s memorabilia-stuffed Elvis shrine was the pride of Holly Springs, Mississippi, for 25 years — until this July, when MacLeod shot a man to death over $10, then died of a heart attack immediately afterward. What will become of MacLeod’s dubious treasures, and two families ruined by hero worship at its most obsessive, is a drama worthy of a king.
The sun had just risen on July 17, 2014, in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Eugene Anderson pulled his pickup over, paused at the stop sign in front of Paul MacLeod’s house. He could tell something wasn’t quite right. The longtime funeral director was headed to what some locals call “Little Baghdad” — the gas station run by Yemeni immigrants who serve a killer sausage and egg biscuit. The best in town.
The Town & Country Garden Club never awarded Paul MacLeod Yard of the Month. Everyone usually only paid attention to the self-anointed “universe’s and galaxy’s and planet’s and world’s ultimate No. 1 Elvis fan” and his eyesore of a 24-hour museum, named Graceland Too, when he did something really big — like switching the house’s exterior from Pepto-Bismol pink to blue with sparkly plastic blue Christmas trees. Most recently, Paul had half-assed a beige-ish orange paint job, white primer still covering large sections of the house and the concrete block walls surrounding it.
That morning, on the front porch behind the two large concrete lions with chain collars, Paul, 71 years old and pot-bellied, was slumped over in a rocking chair with a TCB sticker on it — Elvis’ motto. His face was a pale blue, and his earlobes and fingers were purple. His mouth was agape, and his false teeth rested a few inches from the chair.
It so happened that a funeral director found him like this. Eugene Anderson went to the police and voiced his concern, but Paul had already been dead for a few hours. Eugene’s son, the county coroner James Richard Anderson, arrived quickly. It was the second time in less than 36 hours that the acting coroner removed a dead body from the house. Two days earlier Paul had killed a man there — his troubled handyman, 28-year-old David Dwight Taylor, who had helped with the shoddy paint job. It wasn’t the first time Paul wielded a gun in Graceland Too, but it would be the last.
David Taylor’s murder and Paul MacLeod’s death were big news in Mississippi, and, briefly, around the country (though multiple sources misspelled the latter’s last name). Had Paul not died so suddenly, the fact that he shot an unarmed black man in the heart from point-blank range might have put Holly Springs on the map for an entirely different reason; instead, a hasty investigation gave way to honoring the town’s favorite, or at least most talked about, son.
On Jan. 31, Paul’s all-consuming life’s work — his Elvis Presley memorabilia collection at Graceland Too — will be up for auction, where it could be worth millions of dollars, as he insisted again and again to anyone who would listen. Or it might just be junk. That the story of Paul MacLeod and his strange home would end in such chaos wouldn’t surprise the thousands who knocked on his door for a rowdy late-night tour, or the few who tried to live with him.
“You’ve heard of suicide by cop? This is suicide by crazy fucking Elvis guy,” said Wallace Lester, a local musician who knew both men. “It’s a tragic story because these are two people who needed help and there was nowhere for them to get help.”
Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home in Memphis, is an American pop culture mecca — 600,000 tourists visit every year. Graceland Too is another matter entirely. A hoarder’s paradise for Presley ephemera, Graceland Too drew some Elvis fans, but mostly college students and gawkers — 100,000 of them over the years if you want to believe Paul— to Holly Springs, my hometown of about 8,000 residents.
I first visited Graceland Too in 1991, two years after it opened, with the other kids in my Methodist youth group. (My family is Southern Baptist, but I defected to the Methodist youth group because the leader focused on sports and coordinated an annual ski trip.) According to Paul he never forgot my name or face over the years. I barely remember this initial visit, maybe because for the true Graceland Too experience, you showed up at night, preferably after a few beers. Since the town didn’t have a movie theater and as teenagers we’d ride around on back roads drinking beer, visiting Graceland Too constituted the local nightlife.
Paul was unreachable unless you stopped by Graceland Too. He had no telephone. Ring the bell on the front door, pay a fee (in the final years $5), and Paul, usually wearing black jeans and a rumpled Hawaiian shirt, would rise and let you in. As with the real Graceland, visitors were never allowed upstairs. He also never let anyone use the bathroom and did not have running water, which was a problem when your primary clientele was drunk college students.
I’m guessing that Paul bought most of his wardrobe at Walmart, where he went almost daily, flashing a big wad of cash — always a big bill on the outside, but otherwise mostly singles — and filling his cart with Coca-Cola. (He claimed to consume a case a day and sued Coca-Cola over a contaminated soda, settling for a shed full of more Coca-Cola). He’d also stock up on video cassettes to record any mention of Elvis on television and drop off film at the photo lab; an entire room at Graceland Too was covered floor to ceiling in the pictures he took of visitors, and poster boards handled the overflow when the walls were full.
Jabbering his way through rapid-fire quasi-historical factoids and frequently clearing his throat, oblivious to the flap of his loose dentures, Paul ushered guests through Elvis curtains and shiny silver Christmas garland into the first room on the tour, “Can’t Help Falling in Love” playing in the background. Elvis posters, towels, and photos covered the walls and every inch of the ceiling. An inflatable jukebox and guitars sat on the floor. “You ready? You ready?” Paul would say.
To hear him tell it, Graceland Too hosted millions of dollars worth of artifacts, all in mint condition. I relived Paul’s bravado when I pulled up some of the many oddball videos tourists posted after their visits. “You see those yellow gum wrappers above your head? They are worth $5,000.” He added: “If I lied to you for half a second while you’re in this house, kill me. Cut my head off. Burn my family to death.” He was frequently on the verge of even greater wealth. “You know anyone who’s looking for a business deal? I’ll get you richer than Bill Gates and Sam Walton,” Paul said. I believed Graceland Too was full of priceless artifacts. A lot of people in town did.
According to Paul, famous people overwhelmed him with their interest: Caroline Kennedy, Muhammad Ali, J.Lo, George W. Bush. Bill Clinton tried to buy a record from him for $250,000 (he wouldn’t sell). Ted Turner came and tried to pay him $500,000 to do a documentary. The Rolling Stones dropped by en route to hill country master bluesman Junior Kimbrough’s juke joint. Likeliest of these claims is that Glenn Close, Chris O’Donnell, and Lyle Lovett visited when Robert Altman’s 1999 Cookie’s Fortune was filmed in Holly Springs.
Paul loved to show off a drawer of bras and panties he claimed sorority girls stripped off and gave him, so moved were they by his tribute to Elvis. He’d tell college boys to deliver him pedophiles so he could whip them and tell women he wanted to whisk them off to New Orleans and marry them — but warned he would never pay child support. He’d brag colorfully about his sexual stamina. I was slightly uncomfortable hearing some of his spiel as a high school girl.
At the end of tours, Paul would grab a neon green and pink ice cream cone microphone and sing and imitate Elvis’ pelvis shake. According to Paul, a lady once peed herself watching him sing. “We had to go get Lysol,” Paul said.
If nothing else, Graceland Too brought some much-needed tourism to town. Even by Mississippi standards, Holly Springs is poor: Thirty-three percent of the town’s residents live below the poverty line, with per capita income hovering at around $10,000.
During the Civil War, the town was used as a federal arsenal, and General Ulysses S. Grant took up residence in two mansions to plan the siege of Vicksburg. Faulkner liked to drink in Holly Springs — where didn’t he? — and based his fictional world of Yoknapatawpha on a diary he found at a friend’s plantation. During the Freedom Summer of 1964, Holly Springs teemed with visiting civil rights workers, or, as some remember them, those dirty hippie agitators. Women dress in hoop skirts and men wear Confederate uniforms at the annual pilgrimage of antebellum homes, but turnout decreases every year. Seventy-nine percent of the town is black; 19% is white.
What the town has is a lot of churches — 48, to be exact, many of them self-segregating. Evangelicals dominate. People who didn’t go to church were social pariahs of sorts. You might as well have been a Yankee.
Plenty of Christians tried to get Paul to go to church. An aggressive Baptist recruiter my father calls a chronic Christian beelined to Paul every time she saw him at Walmart. Paul always declined.
“Jesus has his missionaries,” Paul frequently declared. “God is taken care of. I’m Elvis’ missionary.”
Paul Bernard MacLeod was born in Detroit in 1942. His father, a retired Marine who worked as a security guard, and mother, 25 years younger than her husband, moved Paul and his four sisters from project to project in the Detroit area. “We were happy but very poor,” his sister Betty remembered. Paul’s mother was a devout Pentecostal, and the children attended church at least three times a week.
Paul sometimes claimed to have first seen Elvis perform with Charlie Feathers and the movie cowboy Lash LaRue in 1954 while visiting his relatives in Mississippi; Betty remembers the first concert being at the state fair in Detroit. In another version Paul first saw Elvis on TV. Regardless of when Paul first heard the King, he was hooked for life. Teenage Paul wore a leather jacket, combed his hair like Elvis, and saved for Elvis singles he would play again and again.
After dropping out of high school, Paul worked on the General Motors assembly line as a chipper, grinding wood for use in the exterior and interior panels of Cadillacs. He married his first wife Liz when he was 21 and she was 18. A year later she gave birth to their first daughter, Brenda, who was followed two years later by another, Shari.
Liz, though, didn’t love Elvis, or Paul’s fits of rage. Finally Liz couldn’t take it anymore and left with the girls in the middle of the night. “We left with our pajamas on our back,” Shari recalled. Paul’s sister Betty also remembers another breaking point: Liz “got tired of hearing about Elvis.” She filed for divorce in 1971.
Paul tried, for a bit, to visit the girls. He’d drive over every two weeks in a Cadillac limo. “He always had limos,” Shari said. “I don’t think he knew what to do with us other than to take us to the zoo,” Brenda said. One day he dropped by unannounced and attempted to kidnap Shari. Visits ended, and the divorce was soon final. Paul moved to Mississippi to be closer to Graceland, about a 40-mile drive, never sending child support, which really would have been more of a symbolic gesture anyway. “He quit working during the divorce, so he only owed $5 to $10 a month,” Brenda explained.
Brenda and Shari didn’t see or hear from their father until over a decade after he left. On a Friday night in 1983 at around 11 p.m., Paul called and invited Shari and Brenda to spend Christmas in Mississippi; Shari, 14, accepted and flew to Memphis.
Paul met her at the gate. “Something about him just seemed off,” Shari recalled. After Shari retrieved her suitcase at baggage claim, she refused to let Paul carry it, already calculating how she could get back home. They drove an hour to Paul’s house on the Mississippi back roads, deep in farm country and outside the city limits. The first night, Paul sat in a chair in the hallway outside Shari’s bedroom and watched her sleep the entire night. The next night, she locked the door and stuck a chair under the doorknob.
Paul’s new wife, Serita Kay, a brunette with a beautiful face whom he met when she was 17 and married in 1979, was clearly the breadwinner, doling out cash for Paul before she left for her job at Coleman’s, a barbecue restaurant. Though Shari protested — she didn’t like Elvis — Paul insisted on taking her to Graceland and Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.
At the end of the visit, Shari had one condition for continuing their relationship. She wanted Paul to mail Brenda a birthday card in a few weeks. The card never arrived, but Paul called eventually. According to Shari, she uttered her last words to her father during that phone call: “I’ll see you in court, or I’ll see you in hell.”
David Dwight Taylor was born on Dec. 30, 1985, the youngest of eight children living out in a shack with no heat, electricity, or running water, deep in the acreage of an old plantation in the north part of the county. When David was 8 or 9, a social worker put the children into foster homes because of the poor living conditions.
When the Taylors qualified for a slot in a housing project in Holly Springs, they reclaimed their children and reunited the family. David Sr. is a self-taught guitarist and played with a band called Tough Street. He nurtured his son’s musical talent, taking him to jam sessions all over the county to play the blues. They met Junior Kimbrough once when he came into town, and David Sr. played a set with the famed bluesman.
When David hit puberty, he started to get in trouble: He had a temper, stole things, and harassed women, and got his family evicted from one project. He spent a few years in juvenile detention, and he went to a mental health treatment center where he was diagnosed as bipolar. His doctor put him on medication, but he took it infrequently, claiming he didn’t like how it made him feel.
Frances Underwood taught David and his five sisters social studies in high school, before he dropped out. “He had a good, quick mind, but not much help at home,” she said. “He had as many devils working on him as angels.” Being placed in foster homes now and again certainly didn’t help. She observed the start of several manic episodes: “He’d talk rapidly, couldn’t be still, and would twitch and pace.”
David’s adult criminal record started at age 19 when his mother Gloria called 911 because he had become violent with her. Three months later, a neighbor’s daughter called the police in the morning to report David and a woman for trespassing in her unoccupied home. A month after that, an ex-girlfriend’s mother called the police after David kicked in her front door and left a threatening note. The arrests continued to mount: He pushed, shoved, and slammed a handgun on his girlfriend Vernice Faulkner’s head as her 10-year-old daughter watched. He trespassed more. He drove recklessly and without a license. He missed court dates. He was picked up multiple times for having outstanding warrants.
When David wasn’t getting in trouble with the law, he roamed around town with his girlfriend, and later wife, Cindy Hoyle. They’d go door to door asking for work; if denied, they’d ask for food or money. Cindy would always be the spokesperson, and David would stay behind. Before they were married — Mrs. Underwood paid for their license — they couldn’t get into a local homeless shelter together, and neither would go without the other.
Mrs. Underwood retired from teaching and hired David occasionally to help with city beautification projects. She eventually purchased lawn care equipment for David and Cindy so they wouldn’t have to borrow hers every time they had a job. She also let them stay at her house after the couple’s last stint in jail because it was a cold winter and they had no other option. Another employer helped David navigate the bureaucracy to secure a replacement birth certificate: He had no identification, and couldn’t qualify for federal assistance without it.
Some who knew him called David extraordinarily kind. Sherry Childers, who had hired David and Cindy for yard work, recalled driving them after work to the tobacco store, where a drunk older man was begging in the parking lot. “David peeled off a dollar bill and gave it to the man. I thought, you know what? That’s a sweet thing that he did that, he didn’t have much money.”
“There was so much untapped potential in David,” Mrs. Underwood said. “He could have amounted to something. A youth full of potential was lost because of lack of a pill.”
As Paul MacLeod grew older, he couldn’t handle the house’s upkeep alone. He hired Cindy and David to help him paint Graceland Too.
Paul claimed to have gone to 120 concerts during Elvis’ lifetime. He did not meet Elvis, though every now and then he would tell a reporter Elvis was a friend. “Even when you shook his hand you knew there was something different between him and everyone else you’d meet,” Paul said to a reporter from Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger in 2007.
Paul’s second wife, Serita, was also an Elvis fan who wrote letters to the editors of out-of-state newspapers in an effort to connect with local Elvis fan clubs. Paul and Serita had a son, born in 1974, whom they named Elvis Aron MacLeod. Serita and Paul married when Elvis was 5.
The MacLeods built the collection through a network of other fans. “Other Elvis freaks like him get in touch trying to sell you stuff,” Serita said. She procured much of the collection, including a contract signed by Elvis and a cereal box record from the late 1950s, from a contact in Memphis.
Paul would frequently pick up Serita after she ended her midnight restaurant shift. They’d pack leftover barbecue and drinks in a cooler and drive an hour to Graceland and feed the guards. Little Elvis joined on these trips. The family would stay at Graceland until 6 in the morning, making friends.
When Elvis Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, Paul and little Elvis drove to Memphis and went to the hospital. That night, they would join thousands of mourning pilgrims outside Graceland, clutching carnations from Elvis’ mausoleum that they’d display for the next 40 years. After the funeral, Paul had local attorney Bill Schneller apply for a name change for his son Elvis: The King’s middle name on his headstone read “Aaron,” so only the correct spelling would do for Paul’s son. “My son was born Elvis Aron Presley, with one A for Aron,” MacLeod told a reporter. “I didn’t put the other A to his name until Vernon Presley put it on his son’s grave.”
Paul’s own compulsion soon turned into an all-encompassing lifestyle. When he addressed the University of Mississippi’s first Elvis conference in 1996, Paul claimed to have given up “everything” for Elvis: a ranch home with “$120,000 in customized furniture. A Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a boat, a camper, a swimming pool, all paid for. $30,000 worth of diamond rings and watches I got rid of, a gold Cadillac, a Cadillac limousine.”
In truth, Paul managed an even more spectacular feat: He got the women in his life to pay for his hobby. According to Serita and Brenda, he amassed his Elvis collection on no income of his own, relying first on Serita’s paycheck, then his mother’s Social Security and his deceased father’s pension.“He was kind of a user,” Brenda said. “He would take all of his mother’s money and demand money from his sisters.”
Sacrifice, writes Elvis scholar Vernon Chadwick, is a frequent theme of die-hard Elvis fans. In basically every conversation, Paul invoked his ultimate sacrifice for his love of Elvis: giving up his wife Serita, who gave him an ultimatum in 1993. “I thought we had a perfect marriage,” Paul told a reporter in 1995. “She told me, ‘Paul, you’ve got a decision to make. And I said, ‘What’s that, Serita?’ She said, ‘It’s either me or the Elvis collection.’ And I said, “Bye.’ That’s the last time I saw her.”
Within a few years, neither Paul nor his son Elvis knew her whereabouts. “I actually loved her,” Paul said to another reporter, “but I couldn’t change what I was doing.” Paul sometimes bragged about giving his ex-wife a million dollars, sometimes 2 million.
Which isn’t true. Serita now lives in Arkansas, where she is happily remarried but dying of cancer and struggling to pay her medical bills. She’s suffered intense physical pain since her diagnosis three months ago and was reticent about reliving her time with Paul.
“It was a living hell,” Serita said. “I have scars all over me from knives and cigar burns.” She alleged he tortured her sexually and beat her so badly when she was eight and a half months pregnant that she lost a child. “I didn’t care if I lived or died.”
Paul was controlling, she said: She wasn’t allowed to smoke, go to church, or wear makeup. He picked out her clothing, dressing her in furs and diamonds when in the presence of other Elvis lovers. Serita began drinking too much.
“I told him one night, ‘You probably even think of that bastard when we are having sex,’” Serita said. “He really beat the hell out of me then.” Serita hit him with a plaque she grabbed off of the kitchen table, and bolted out of the house, escaping into the woods a block away. After two days in the woods, she left Paul and tried to bring 15-year-old Elvis with her.
Even to this day, she said, most people have no idea of the extent of Paul’s abuse. Before leaving Holly Springs, Serita was cornered by a woman at the Piggly Wiggly who wanted to know how she dare leave her son. “I said, ‘I didn’t leave my son, I left that son of a bitch I was married to,’” Serita recalled. The woman insisted that Paul was a good man, so Serita lifted her shirt up and forced the woman to see her scars. She eventually did leave town, telling me no one would believe her when she reported the abuse to authorities and that a judge ruled in Paul’s favor when he assaulted her at work.
All this damage Paul inflicted and the relationships he destroyed were ostensibly in the name of his devotion to Elvis, and yet his expertise on the King was hardly accepted. “He didn’t really know anything about Elvis,” Paul’s friend and fellow Elvis obsessive Marjorie Wilkinson said about Paul after his death. “But his son did.”
I was 10 years younger than Elvis Aaron Presley MacLeod, but I remember him as tall, studious, and shy. Everyone around town feigned alarm that Paul made him dress in bell-bottoms and style his jet-black hair gelled back in a pompadour. He was bullied mercilessly. “He used to get mad when he’d come in and wear those big collars,” remembered the coroner James Richard Anderson, a friend and longtime schoolmate. “It really got to be very painful to him when we got to the seventh grade. Everybody else was changing with the time, but he wasn’t allowed to.”
Mrs. Underwood remembers his request to go by the name Aaron. Paul pressured Elvis to drop out of high school to work full-time at the museum. Serita was opposed, but Paul eventually prevailed. A few days after a group of kids jumped Elvis on his way home from school, Mrs. Underwood saw Elvis at the county library and she asked when he’d be back in school. Elvis, with a puffy eye and a busted lip, shook his head and told her he wouldn’t be returning.
“He put that boy through hell,” Serita said. “He wanted him to quit school so he could be his slave. The boy wasn’t allowed to be a young man.”
Elvis publicly embraced his legacy for a few years, telling a reporter that he hoped to get married and one day have a son. “I’ll insist on a prenuptial agreement which will allow me to call my son Elvis Aaron Presley,” he said. He acknowledged that it wasn’t easy. “We put up with a lot. People show up here for the joke of it, or say, ‘Get a life,’” Elvis told a reporter. “All I say is, I enjoy what I do.”
No one was surprised when Elvis vanished, never to be seen in town again. He did not respond to my request to interview him.
Episcopalian priest Bruce McMillan, Paul’s neighbor, saw Paul a day later. Paul told Bruce that a group of New Yorkers came in the middle of the night in a limo, and that Elvis hit it off with them and left.
His half sisters, though, maintained that Elvis enjoyed giving the tours. “Because of those, he found his way out,” Shari said. “A girl pursued him, and I guess one day picked him up. It was just meant to be.”
Over the last few years, Paul’s tours got increasingly dark and he was in denial about his son. The first time it really hit me was after I’d been away at college. The morning after my previous night’s tour, I told my mom, who ran the local chamber of commerce and dealt with Paul regularly, that Elvis was shooting a documentary with CNN, according to Paul. She shook her head in disbelief. “He left years ago,” my mom replied. On subsequent tours, Paul gave new excuses: He’s in Memphis. He’s off purchasing a rare record. His answers blur together the same way my visits do: I went at least five times, but probably fewer than 10, including as a young teen, a high school senior, a freshman in college, and at the end of college with roommates.
He started showing off his gun collection more frequently after Elvis left. He wanted it to be known that he had protection, “hundreds of thousands of dollars of guns,” when people dropped in at all hours. This sounded less of an alarm for most of us than other behavior — in Holly Springs, plenty of people own gun collections numbering in the hundreds. He also primarily pulled his gun (or, sometimes, a baseball bat) on frat boys in the middle of the night — including a group from Mississippi State hosted by my older brother Russell.
Around this time, David and Cindy were among the few people Paul could turn to for help as his health worsened, even though he made a point of calling them crack addicts and warned visitors not to give them any money or cigarettes if they asked. When Paul fell off of a ladder and stepped on a nail, he refused to go to the hospital. The wound became infected, his leg badly swollen, and David and Cindy drove Paul 40 miles to the Senatobia hospital in his pink Cadillac.
“He was on his deathbed,” Brenda said. “If he hadn’t gotten dumped off at the hospital when he did, that infection would have killed him.”
Brenda called Elvis to tell him that Paul wasn’t doing well, and Elvis replied that he wanted nothing to do with his father.
Not long before before Paul died, he complained over his regular spaghetti and meatballs at Annie Moffitt’s restaurant that an intruder had been trying to break into his house for several weeks. The next week, Paul, eating at Annie’s, again complained to the sheriff about the intruder.
David was also voicing complaints about Paul around town, claiming Paul owed him money and had ripped him off after a job. “Paul didn’t pay them worth a damn,” remembered Mrs. Underwood. She recalled David complaining that after a day of hard work in the summer heat, Paul would give them $5 and a beer.
The latter was particularly unappreciated: According to Mrs. Underwood, David had quit drinking and didn’t want to encourage Cindy’s drinking either. That, Mrs. Underwood contends, was the cause of Cindy and David’s last fight: David smelled alcohol on her and “[s]he hit him first and he popped her on the mouth.” David was at a particularly low point last summer. Estranged from Cindy after she reported the assault to the police, he was terrified of returning to jail. Wallace Lester, who also tried to help David and Cindy, said one of the last times he saw him, David said he was losing his mind and was going to do something crazy. “He would come by and he would just be weeping,” Wallace said. “Some days I could help him out, and other days I couldn’t.”
The last night of David’s life, July 15, he stopped by blues musicians Shannon McNally and Wallace Lester’s home. He was clearly agitated, and Shannon did some breathing exercises on the porch to try to calm him. Shannon watched him walk away down the road.
He went by Mrs. Underwood’s house. She was on the phone with Medicaid — “you don’t hang up on them” — and yelled for him to wait, but the call took over an hour. “When he couldn’t get me, he went to Paul.”
Around 10:40 p.m., David sat down on Paul’s porch. Clifford Yon, a neighbor, saw him sitting in the white rocking chair smoking a cigarette. Paul got up from watching television and came to the door.
In Paul’s version to the police and his lawyer, he heard a loud knock, followed by another, each knock increasingly louder. Then David kicked in the glass door. When Paul opened the door, David put his leg in the doorway and wouldn’t move. Paul asked David to leave, and he refused. He told him to leave again. David wanted $10, and Paul told him he didn’t have it. Paul said at this point David forced his way inside, and Paul went into the other room for his .45 Colt. He shot David once, close range and right in the heart. He took two photos of the blood stains on his floor, and went outside, knocking on a few neighbors’ doors. When no one answered, he flagged down a man in a white Chevy pickup truck with tinted windows and told him to call the police. When the first police officer arrived, Paul was still on the street corner talking to the man.
Paul turned over his weapon — “don’t drop it,” he told the officer — and directed the officer to David’s body in the doorway of the house. The officer took David’s pulse; he was dead.
Tim Liddy, a local pharmacist and alderman, got a phone call at 1 a.m. to come pick up Paul at the police station. When Tim arrived, he asked Paul if he wanted to call a friend. “I already called a friend,” Tim recalled Paul saying. “I called you.” Tim drove him home and told him he needed an attorney. “You are a celebrity, and once this hits the media…” But Paul was more concerned with getting the glass on the front door replaced.
The next morning, Tim couldn’t get Paul to answer the door. Annie joined Tim, and Paul finally answered. “He was shaky,” Annie said. “He was all bent out of shape.” Tim offered him a room at his bed-and-breakfast on the square, but Paul refused. “I had to come back,” Paul told Annie. “I was afraid if I didn’t come back that I would never come back again.” Annie pressured Paul to go to the hospital, but Paul refused. Tim called local lawyer Phil Knecht, and Bruce McMillan also came over to check on Paul. “He was talking out of his head,” Bruce remembers. “He wasn’t even talking about the shooting. He was talking about how you can’t get in touch with him because he didn’t have a phone.” Cindy also came to Graceland Too at around 1 p.m., crying and wanting to see Paul. Annie and her sister disapproved of her being there and let her know it; Cindy quickly left.
As Phil questioned Paul on the porch, hecklers would shout at Paul from their car windows, “You’re going to prison!” Mississippi has a castle doctrine, a version of “stand your ground,” meaning that a homeowner — the king — can use deadly force if threatened in his castle. Midway through his questioning, Paul told Phil they had to stop the meeting. “We can’t do this anymore,” Paul said. “We’ve got to give you a tour, you’ve never been here before.” Phil laughs remembering his response: “Paul, I’d love to, but right now you could be facing a murder charge.”
Paul insisted, and gave Phil a tour, his last one. They spoke for an hour longer, and Phil left and prepared a press release. That night, he told reporters that Paul was “too shook up” over the shooting to give comment.
Annie went back to check on Paul at around 4:30 p.m. with her sister. They pressured him to go to the hospital, but he resisted. “I just need a little bit of rest,” Paul said. “I haven’t been to sleep.” That night he walked onto his porch, locking the door behind him. “I think he was going to get help,” Annie said. “And he sat there in that rocking chair and died.”
The coroner confirmed to me that they ran a full toxicology report — though failed to provide it — and held that Paul died of natural causes. After a grand jury hearing this fall, prosecutors decided to not pursue the case, clearing Paul legally. Phil told me it’s “very rare” that a dead person is tried.
I came home for Paul’s funeral and the public memorial service in August. The funeral, held at the Christ Episcopal Church a block away from Graceland Too, was private, but I figured I could go since I actually knew him. Not many other local folks felt the same way; aside from 10 or so locals, the ladies of the tourism office, a handful of fellow Elvis devotees, Paul’s daughters, and a documentary film crew, it was a small turnout.
The church bell rang at 11 a.m. to start the service. Unlike a typical Southern funeral, there were no flowers at the altar other than the everyday church arrangement. The organist played as people took their seats. I sat down in a pew in front of Bobby Mitchell, a retired guidance counselor. I asked Mr. Mitchell how well he knew Paul. He shook his head. “No, not big friends,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Like everyone else that would meet him on the street, he’d talk and ask how their grandkids are. He never forgot anybody.” He said he had offered one of his extra cemetery plots for Paul’s burial.
Annie, a beautiful singer with wide range, opened the service with a soulful version of “Amazing Grace.” She started to cry during her eulogy. “Some people might think that Paul MacLeod wasn’t a Christian, but when I went on the tours he talked about Jesus,” Annie said.
The Episcopal priest Bruce McMillan is my probably my all-time favorite religious orator: nonjudgmental, smart, and usually finished 10 minutes before the Baptists. “I want you to know there’s nothing wrong with being eccentric,” Bruce said. “Paul moved as easily through his life as anybody I know, not that he didn’t have his troubles. His last day or two were tragic to say the least.”
Bruce compared Paul to Don Quixote, a fellow “fanciful dreamer.” People were drawn to Graceland Too, Bruce told the audience, “because it shows a side of life, if not carefree, at least not so serious. Paul brought joy to everybody who stepped through those doors.”
The audience amen’ed.
“They came back, time and again.”
A second amen.
Bruce concluded: “He taught us to keep a smile on your face, a song in your heart — apparently a song by Elvis — and give the world something else to smile about.”
Over the course of the day, I heard a few Elvis scholars describing the house — and Paul — as “folk art.” That’s one way to put it, I guess, a needed justification to tell yourself that no, you really weren’t just going to his house to gawk at a man openly exhibiting mental illness. That you appreciated his “art” and weren’t there just to laugh at him and be assured of your own sanity.
That night, the public memorial was held at the recreation center. Elvis tunes blasted over the loudspeakers as about a hundred people took seats in chairs and bleachers. Several friends of Paul’s eulogized him.
The mayor, Kelvin Buck, had been scheduled to speak before weighing the political consequences. Yet on the mayor’s behalf, alderman Tim Liddy presented a proclamation: “The city of Holly Springs recognizes Mr. Paul MacLeod as the world’s No. 1 Elvis fan. … I, Kelvin O. Buck, Mayor of the city of Holly Springs, hereby proclaim that day, Aug. 12, 2014, as Paul MacLeod Day in the city of Holly Springs, Mississippi.” There was thunderous applause.
Then a hush went over the room as Tim shared his account of the night Paul killed David, the “last 36 hours of Paul’s life.”
After the service, Phil opened Graceland Too for a final tour, charging $5 toward the cost of Paul’s funeral. The police blocked off the street in front of and surrounding the house, and about 50 people held a candlelight vigil out front. A documentary about Paul was projected on a large screen in the middle of the street. News trucks and reporters from all over the state milled around with Paul’s daughters, who looked overwhelmed.
Brenda and Shari were openly suspicious about the motives of various folks helping organize the memorial events for the father they never knew. I said some were acting out of Southern hospitality: Sometimes people are nice just for the sake of being nice. Paul had amassed goodwill in the community over the years for creating a unique place and bringing attention to the town.
Shari hadn’t seen Paul since she visited at age 14; he hadn’t seen his eldest daughter Brenda since she was a young child. When Brenda showed up at Graceland Too in 2010, he told her that she looked like his daughter. She replied that she was, and he continued, unfazed and without missing a beat, with her two-and-a-half-hour tour. “In the long run, it turns out he did the best thing,” Brenda told me. “I don’t resent that he wasn’t a part of our life.”
I didn’t take the tour that night. Entering Graceland Too the day before, I was horrified. Never exactly a picture of order, the house oozed of moths, clutter, and filth. Paul didn’t sleep in a proper bed but a large Rubbermaid coffinlike container on top of carpet scraps from Graceland. I was told a slop jar sat nearby his bed right after he died, but someone had thankfully disposed of it. Though he had let the water get shut off, he still paid his DirecTV bill so he could keep track of any mentions made of Elvis on television. In one room: 40 trunks, maybe 50, all filled with notebooks documenting each mention.
A fellow Elvis fan and friend, Mike Butcher — he and his wife were married in Vegas by an Elvis impersonator — defended the odd and obsessive accounting project. “If someone was to write a big computer program to catalog all of this data, no one would have a problem with that,” Mike said.
I wondered aloud how Paul washed his clothing.
“I don’t think he did,” Phil answered.
Phil later told me that he saw Cindy the day of the memorial, and that she said she held no ill will toward Paul. I visited Cindy’s parents in Ashland, her employer’s residence in Holly Springs, and spots she frequented, such as Big-Star parking lot and the Blues Alley, and called her phone multiple times but did not reach her.
When I was in town for the memorial, I was advised not to go see David’s parents. Their grief was raw, and they were furious about the public celebration of the man who had killed their son.
I came back and visited them on Christmas Eve. From their three-bedroom apartment in one of the town’s older housing projects, David Sr. and Gloria were resigned that nothing they could do would bring back their son, and that they still don’t, and probably will never, know what happened that night. (The coroner told me alcohol and marijuana were detected in his system; I saw the state’s autopsy of David detecting cocaine.) “The police report was false,” David Sr. said, contesting Paul’s claim of forced entry. “They heard what that man said.”
“One thing about him, he would not break into anybody’s house,” said Gloria. “He’d knock on the door. If you don’t open your door, he’d leave.”
Gloria and David Sr. finally saw David’s body at the funeral home; he was was buried on a Saturday after a church service complete with the gospel music he loved.
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