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Family picks up what's left after murder, arson

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Warned by the blinking emergency flashers on the parked truck, motorists slowed to look at the burned-out house, the scene of a murder, and the people quietly moving out.

A second truck was backed into the driveway of 614 Fayetteville Road, Friday afternoon. The yellow crime scene tape was still wrapped around the trees, but a section was torn down to allow family members to pick up the remaining belongings.

Two days after 68-year-old Geneva Strickland was murdered in her home, and it was burned down around her, the broken ends of the police tape lay in the grass with a few fallen leaves.

"She was murdered," said Jack William Ivey, Strickland's 51-year-old son. "She worked all her life and then, in the end, she was robbed and killed."

Jack Wade Ivey, Strickland's first husband, said the family was waiting to hear the autopsy results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. They had been told by police to pick up what hadn't been stolen, or destroyed by the fire, before the little that remained was ruined by vandals and weather.

At the GBI lab on Panthersville Road in Decatur, city and state detectives watched the 68-year-old's autopsy. They watched to see if she had been killed before the arsonist set the fire, or if the fire had killed her.

GBI Spokesman John Bankhead said they are not going to release the determined cause of death, or where the body was found, in order to help the investigation, but the medical examiners did determine she was murdered.

Bankhead said investigators know that Strickland came face-to-face with her killer, before she died.

The fire may have been set, he said, to cover up evidence of the crime. The fire damaged the body enough to make the autopsy "complicated," he said. There was immediately, obvious evidence, though, showing the fire had been deliberately set and showing the senior had been deliberately killed.

When city police were called to the fire, by county firefighters, they immediately decided the case was too big, for the department, and called the state agency, Chief Wayne Rowland said Thursday.The joint investigation, with city and state law enforcement officers, is continuing.

Cleaning up Friday afternoon, both of the Iveys said they were shaken, saddened and shocked. The younger Ivey said he hoped his mother was remembered for her friendliness, her kindness, and her generosity.

"When the garbage men came, she gave them sodas. When the yard men came, she had cookies for them. She did everything for everybody," he said.

The elder Ivey, who first met Strickland when she was 16, agreed. "She never met a stranger, really," he said.

"That," said Jack William Ivey, "is probably what killed her."

Strickland moved to Jonesboro, with her second husband -- Jack Strickland, now deceased -- the Iveys said. There, she continued working, sewing and lettering. Jack William Ivey said she sewed costumes for Dolly Parton, and performers at Dollywood. She put letters on Atlanta Braves hats, he said, and worked on Hank Aaron's uniforms, allowing her son to try them on before the legendary baseball player ever got the chance.

Jack William Ivey said he last talked to his mother the morning before she was killed. Strickland was recovering from cataract surgery and preparing for Halloween, he remembered. They talked about the candy she was going to give to children when they came to the house.

"She was just kindhearted, and a wonderful person," said Jack Wade Ivey. "It's a damn shame someone had to go kill her."