For many people in this rural farming community, Feb. 2, 1990, will always be remembered as the day Quitman County was rocked with a crime of unspeakable horror – the cold-blooded murder of a well-known farm family.
Carl “Bubba” Parker, 58, wife Bobbie Jo, 45, and their two children, 9-year-old Charlotte Jo and 12-year-old Gregory, left a church service in Clarksdale around 9 p.m. to return to their home on Mississippi 322.
That was the last time anyone saw them alive. They were murdered in an apparent burglary gone awry – the bone-chilling details straight out of a horror film.
After shooting each of them multiple times, raping the little girl and chopping the father’s finger off to steal his wedding ring, the killers set the home on fire and left the bodies to burn.
“It’s the worst thing I can remember happening,” said Bessie Sbravati, 78, a family friend who still lives down the street from the Parker property. “It was just horrible.”
Today, the state is scheduled to execute Robert Simon, 47, for the killings. His accomplice, Anthony Carr, 45, also is on death row.
The Parker murders eerily mirror the killings of a Kansas farm family in 1959 – a crime made famous by Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood.
In that case, two ex-cons broke into the Cutter family home in rural Holcomb and bound and fatally shot every one – father, mother and two children.
The killers – men with no direct ties to the Cutters before targeting them for robbery – were executed in 1965, but the case has lived on through movies, true-crime novels and television dramas.
Like the Cutter case, time hasn’t washed away feelings about the Parker murders.
Mention the Parker family anywhere between Marks and Clarksdale, and nearly everyone understands the reference.
Firefighters pulled Bubba, Gregory and Charlotte Parker from the burning home that night. All were tied up and wounded.
Bobby Jo Parker’s body ws found in the morning, burned beyond recognition. She had been shot in the chest.
According to authorities, the killers raped and sodomized 9-year-old Charlotte in front of her father. Bubba Parker almost severed his own wrists struggling to break free from an extension cord tied around his hands.
“I’ve just put it out of my mind over the years,” said Bubba Parker’s brother Mike. “Now it’s come up, and here you go again.”
Friends remember the Parkers as hard-working and kind.
“Bubba would help anyone who needed help – anyone,” Sbravati said.
The Parkers had been attending a revival at Riverside Baptist Church in Clarksdale every night the week they died.
“They were very faithful members,” said church music director Ray Simpson. “Anytime the church doors were open, they were here.”
Bobby Jo played the piano at Riverside.
“She was a good piano player,” Simpson said, looking at a wooden piano donated in the Parkers’ memory.
Charlotte Jo – a bespectacled elementary student dubbed Chasha (sha-sha) by her family – was often seen riding her bicycle around the farm. Gregory, who wore thick rimmed glasses, would play in the shop.
Mike Parker farmed with his older brother. “He worked from sun up to sun down,`he said. `He was the hardest working man I ever knew.`
He remembers the night of the murders “like it was yesterday“ – learning there was a fire, that his brother`s family had been killed and having to notify other family members.
“I`ve never seen it rain as hard as it did that night“, he said. “It rained all night and then the next day.“
The funeral, which Simpson sang at, was “everything multiplied by four“ – four hearses, four caskets, four times the pallbearers.“
“Saddest thing you`ve ever seen,`Simpson said.
Like many farmhouses in the area, the Parker property sits among the flat, brown fields like a lush, green oasis just off the highway.
But even 20 years after the murders, there`s no home nestled amid the giant oak trees.
A slight mound created from remnants of the red-brick farmhouse is overgrown with weeds. Charred rocks and bricks still can be seen.
The property is blanketed with poison ivy – a threat to any intruders who may try to disturb the site.
Mike Parker, 67, said he hasn`t been there in more than a year.
Many say what happened that February night changed the community.
“Before that, we didn`t lock our doors,“ Sbravati said. “Afterwards, we certainly did.“
Simon and Carr became boogymen of sorts for this sleepy community.
“Everybody out here was pretty cautious about going into the house after that,“ said Andrew Powell, 75, a neighbor of the Parkers.
After multiple trials – with defense costs charged to Quitman County because the killers could not afford their own attorneys, the crime also had a lasting impact on the area financially.
“They almost broke the county,“ Powell said.
It had to borrow $250,000 and raise taxes for three consecutive years to pay for the killers`defense – adding to the community`s pain.
“A lot of other things affected the economy at the time, too,“ Sbravati said. “There just aren`t that many businesses, and Quitman County is not a rich county, but that started a lot of it.“
Nearly all say they don`t understand why it`s taken 20 years for the executions handed down to be carried out.
“It makes you wonder about justice,“ Powell said.
Mike Parker said Simon`s execution, the first of two in the case, will provide the family some relief.
“We`ve always thought (Simon) was the instigator“, he said.
At least eight family members are scheduled to witness the execution.
“They`ve been waiting a long time,“ Simpson said. “It`s been long enough.“