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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Charles Hammer and Carl Ericsson: Grumpy Old Killers

     In January 2011, in Madison, South Dakota, Carl Ericsson, the supposed victim of a 53-year-old locker room prank, murdered one of his imagined high school tormentors. A decades old grudge had turned this life-long misfit and loser into a cold-blooded killer.

     Pretty much everyone's life is full of petty humiliations, slights, and insults. However, it seems that some people don't move on, and mellow-out with age. These codgers, instead of sitting around McDonald's drinking coffee and telling lies, sit in darkened rooms brooding about the past, and fantasizing about inflicting revenge on former spouses, girlfriends, neighbors, relatives, bosses, and fellow employees. As the population grows older, more and more of these ticking time-bombs might be walking among us. Grumpy old men could be turning into grumpy old killers

     In the South Dakota murder case involving the long-simmering resentment over something that happened decades ago in high school, Carl Ericsson, the killer, was an unhappy, unpopular loser living on the fringes of society. The man he murdered in cold-blood, a popular high school football coach, was a winner and a pillar of the community.

     In Tompkinsville, Kentucky, a town of 2,600 in the south central part of the state near the Tennessee state line, an elderly misfit harboring a long-festering grudge, recently murdered a man who was his exact opposite. Herbert Proffitt, the winner, lived with his wife of 53 years in the small Kentucky town situated in the Appalachian foothills. His son served as mayor of Tompkinsville. After serving in the Army, Proffitt returned to his hometown where he was elected sheriff of Monroe County. He later became chief of the Tompkinsville Police Department, and before retiring in 2009, worked at the county courthouse as a bailiff. After enforcing the law for fifty years in this community, people liked and respected him.

     In the 1980s and 90s, Herbert Proffitt arrested Charles Hammer several times for relatively minor offenses. One of these arrests resulted in a short stretch in a Kentucky state prison. In 2002, Chief Profitt arrested Hammer for harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. A judge dismissed the disorderly conduct charge, and a jury acquitted the defendant of resisting arrest. Hammer was, however, convicted of harassment, and received a probated sentence. Charles Hammer, over the years, made no secret of the fact he felt persecuted by Proffitt, a man he resented and did not like.

     In 2012, Charles Hammer, divorced from his wife, was living on a small farm outside of town. He had two daughters, a school teacher, and an employee of a local bank. In the community, Hammer was considered to be an unfriendly man who kept to himself. Even people who knew him weren't sure what he did to support himself.

     Late in the afternoon of Tuesday, August 28, 2012, as 82-year-old Herbert Proffitt stood at the end of his driveway picking up his mail, Charles Hammer allegedly drove up and gunned the former cop down in what was the town's first drive-by shooting. Mr. Proffitt died that day at the local hospital.

     Not long after the murder, a Monroe County prosecutor charged 81-year-old Charles Hammer with first-degree murder. Revenge was the only motive that made sense in this homicide.

     On the day after her husband was shot to death outside his home, Bernice Proffitt fell ill. On September 2, five days after the murder, she died while being treated at the nearby hospital.

     At his arraignment on September 11, 2012, Charles Hammer pleaded not guilty to murdering Herbert Proffitt. The judge denied him bail.

     

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