Vidalia, Georgia is a stereotypical small southern town, situated between interstates 75 and 16, and halfway between Savannah and Macon. At one time, its fields harvested pecans and tobacco but the area became best known for its sweet onions. First produced in 1931, by 1940 the onions were so popular that they became a tourist item. So proud of its onions is the area that each spring Vidalia hosts a five-day long Onion Festival, drawing in many tourists.
Vidalia was also the birthplace to notables such as NFL players Mel Blount, Carl Simpson and Fred Stokes; golfer Paul Claxton; baseball player Wallace Moses; oilman and benefactor Algur H. Meadows; and NBC News correspondent Don Harris.
Some five minutes away, the tiny hamlet of Santa Claus (“The City That Loves Children”) sits, home to fewer than 200 residents but a place that tourists and locals alike will travel to in December in order to mail their Christmas cards and letters. In keeping with their seasonal name, Santa Claus boasts several themed street names, including Candy Cane Road, Rudolph Way, Dancer Street, Prancer Street and Sleigh Street.
By 1991 “The Sweet Onion City” of Vidalia hit its population peak at just over 11,000 residents. With the increased population came increased crime but violent crime, like murder, was a rarity.
July 3, 1991 was a Wednesday. Kirsten Davis, 21 years old and a recent graduate of Berry College, was traveling from Rome, Georgia to Vidalia to visit a friend. The drive would normally be about four hours, give or take, and Kirsten had exited Interstate 16 and was driving on Highway 297 around 1 a.m. She was roughly five miles outside of Vidalia when the shooting happened.
About thirty minutes later, Michael Tracy Wilkes and his wife Karen spotted Kirsten’s blue 1985 Subaru station…