The Murder of Abby Vandiver

Lori Johnston
10 min readJul 8, 2020

Dunwoody, Georgia in 1987 was the very essence of a bedroom community. Roughly twenty miles as the crow flies from downtown Atlanta, it seemed a world away from the violence, crime and traffic that had clogged up the state’s capital city, earning it the dubious title in the early 80s as The Murder Capital of the U.S.

Upscale subdivisions with names like Brooke Ridge, Hidden Branches, Redfield, Wynterhall, Village Mill and Dunwoody Station skirted the homey Dunwoody Village, where you would pop into the local Hallmark store or Versatile Video to rent a game or VHS movie. You played tennis at Dunwoody Country Club, you shopped, to shop or be seen (usually wearing your tennis outfit ) at Perimeter Mall and your kids went to Vanderlyn or Austin Elementary and then Dunwoody High.

Friday nights were devoted to Dunwoody’s football games, weekends were devoted to one of the handful of churches in the area, shopping and possibly driving into the city to watch the Braves (America’s Team) play baseball at the old Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Journeying into the city, be it for work or sport, was the closest residents of Dunwoody got to the grittier, less insulated, aspects of life. At least until July 18, 1987.

Dunwoody had been established in the early 1830s, named for Major Charles Dunwody. (The misspelling occurred due to an extra “o” being added to a bank note.) The area’s first church, the Ebenezer Primitive Baptist Church, dates back to 1829 and still stands, and is active, today. It’s also home to one of the area’s oldest cemeteries, where many of Dunwoody’s founding fathers were laid to rest.

Thanks to the Roswell Railroad running north along the Chattahoochee (the ‘Hooch to locals) and what is now Chamblee-Dunwoody Road in 1881, the town of Dunwoody became a crossroads of sorts. President Theodore Roosevelt made a campaign whistle stop in Dunwoody in 1905 on his way to Roswell. While the railroad shut down in 1921, the little community of Dunwoody flourished. It remained relatively rural until the 1960s, when suburban residential development was initiated.

The Spruill family, who owned a great deal of the land in Dunwoody, sold a large portion of it in 1971 in what would become Perimeter Mall. In the years following, Perimeter Center would sprout up around the Mall, complete with major office, commercial and residential developments, leading it to become one of the Metro Atlanta area’s largest job centers. Also in 1971, Dunwoody Village…

Lori Johnston

Writer, reader, margarita drinker. Currently looking for a “dare to be great” situation.