Nancy Little Gallagher is dead. She died a horrible death sometime this past week, most likely between Tuesday and Thursday.
On Thursday afternoon her body was discovered at the Walton County transfer station. That is the landfill. That is the garbage dump. She had been transported to the dump, apparently compacted in a garbage truck. Her body was discovered mid-afternoon on Thursday. Nancy Little Gallagher—homeless, mentally ill, jailed last month for two weeks on misdemeanor charges because she couldn’t afford a $33 cash bond—has been disposed of: literally disposed of. She was 54 years old.
I wrote about Gallagher in the July 14 issue of Flagpole. If you will, go back and read that story. The picture with this present story shows Gallagher smiling at the camera while standing outside the Family Dollar on Hawthorne Avenue on Saturday afternoon, July 10. It was the last time I spoke with her. It had been two weeks since I bonded her out of jail. She told me she was OK, sleeping in Bishop Park, spending that Saturday walking up and back along Hawthorne. It was 90 degrees. I reminded her she had a court date on July 23, and that it was important that she be present at her arraignment. I gave her a few dollars, and we hugged. I watched her walk into the store to spend her newly acquired cash. It was the last time I talked with Nancy Little Gallagher.
After the July 10 encounter, I spent some time searching for her in the days leading up to her scheduled July 23 court appearance. I couldn’t find her. Last week, I talked with her public defender, Ryan Ignatius, and with Chief Assistant Solicitor Will Fleenor to warn them that the odds weren’t good if we expected Gallagher to show up for her arraignment. The solicitor sympathized and indicated he would not seek a bench warrant for her arrest if she was a no-show. Her lawyer encouraged me to “just have Ms. Gallagher call me” when I next saw her on the street.
On last Friday morning, July 23, Nancy Gallagher’s name appeared on the State Court’s docket, and I was present in the courtroom to offer what support I could should she miraculously appear for her arraignment. Her case was called, and Fleenor told Judge Ethelyn Simpson that he did not want Gallagher arrested, and that he’d asked the police to keep an eye out for her to make sure she was safe. Simpson did not issue a bench warrant and graciously rescheduled her arraignment for Aug. 6.
A short while later, while I was sitting in the courtroom gallery observing other State Court cases, Fleenor motioned for me to come to the prosecutor’s table. There, he quietly indicated he wanted to speak with me and Simpson. We approached the bench.
“I don’t know any other way to say this,” Fleenor began, “but Nancy Gallagher is dead. I just talked with someone in Walton County, and they found her body at a transfer station in Monroe.”
Simpson gasped. I think I groaned, “Oh no!” Simpson looked as though she would cry. All three of us stood stunned. The judge thanked me for my advocacy on Gallagher’s behalf. Fleenor told me how sorry he was to have to be the bearer of such awful news.
Numb and distraught, I returned to my seat in the courtroom gallery and attempted to take notes as other defendants’ hearings continued. Thankfully, court watcher Jean Dixen was observing on Friday, and she provided me with a gentle listening ear and some impromptu grief counseling.
A few minutes later, Fleenor asked me to step out to the fifth floor lobby. “This gets worse,” he warned me. “Nancy Gallagher’s body had been in a garbage truck, compacted,” he said. “The GBI is now investigating. They found an ATM receipt on her person which helped to identify her. The receipt was dated July 16.” Fleenor told me that every garbage truck that enters the landfill has to “report its route,” so it might be possible to find out when and where Nancy Gallagher’s body was tossed into the trash truck. Fleenor again told me how sorry he was to have to share with me such tragic news.
As you can imagine, I’ve had a difficult couple of days. Since learning of Nancy Gallagher’s unexpected death, I’ve initiated telephone calls to the Monroe police department and to the area field office of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to let them know of my “connection” to Gallagher over the last month. I hope that the GBI investigation will be thorough. My fear is that because Gallagher had no standing in our community, her death will be of little or no importance to officialdom. I also reached out to the Walton County Coroner’s office, in an attempt to make sure that should Nancy Gallagher’s body go unclaimed after the GBI investigation is closed, she can be given a proper, dignified burial. She should not be neglected and spurned as she was during so much of her life.
John Cole Vodicka is a volunteer with the Athens Area Courtwatch Project.
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