August 8, 1921—a few minutes before midnight
Newspapering was a young man's game. At least that was what Comer Howell told himself. With a tall, lean physique, a chiseled jaw and perfectly slicked hair, he bore a remarkable resemblance to California's latest moving picture sensation, an Italian named Rudolph Valentino. But Comer was no Latin lover and certainly no play actor. With his chin high and a watch chain dangling from his vest pocket just so, Comer looked like what he was: one of the Northsiders, the proper Atlantans who lived in the large neoclassical, Tudor-Jacobean or colonial revival homes along the wooded northern hills of the South's fastest-growing city.
He opened the door and waited on the running board of his Type 59 Cadillac while his passengers plopped into their seats. Lloyd Wilhoit, the city editor at the Atlanta Constitution, got in first. Paul Warwick, a senior reporter, sat in the front. Conversation was light. They were too tired and the night was too hot for chitchat.
That all changed as they rolled through the 500 block of West Peachtree Street.
Wilhoit saw it first.
"Comer, stop the car! A man in the road!" he shouted.
Comer hit the brakes, and the car wobbled to a stop. A motionless body lay facedown near the curb. They climbed from the Cadillac slowly, haltingly. Comer couldn't look away from the blood. The figure appeared so unnatural, like a mime or an actor in makeup. When Comer finally moved, he slipped, only then realizing the blood had enveloped his feet. Comer leaped onto the sidewalk, his breath shallow. He sprinted to the nearest house, opened the screen and banged on the door.
"Please, help!" he yelled. "We need an ambulance! A man has been hit by a car!"
Then he heard a crash like one of the windows being blown out. What on earth? Running out front, Comer saw a young man, not much older than himself, dressed in bedclothes and leaning over the body. He glanced to his right and saw that rather than come to the door, the man had jumped out the front window, leaving the screen in a mangled heap near the curb.
This man fell to his knees in the sticky black pool. He wrapped his arms around the bleeding fellow, who struggled to whisper a few last words and then died in the lap of his friend.