FOR THIRTY YEARS OR MORE, a black man people called Wavin Willie wandered the roads of Crockett County, Alabama, flapping an old burlap sack up and down, over his head. In the biting winds of January or under the roasting August sun he walked and flapped, sometimes mumbling, sometimes shouting, often silent but with an intense watchfulness. No one knew why, other than he was crazy.
He seemed to have a thing about children, and keeping them out of Hell's Back Forty, a cursed parcel of swamp and briar that was, legend has it, the haunt of a boogeyman named Rufus--a black man with a sack who snatched up children who wander away from their neglectful parents. A lot of people said Wavin Willie suffered from an identity disorder in which he thought he was Rufus. Others said he really was Rufus, and instructed their children never to go near him. But most knew he was from a respectable and prosperous family in Crockett. In his youth he had been a brilliant student with a promising future, and then schizophrenia put him on a different path.
Only once did Wavin Willie snatch a child. A little girl named Lizzie Crockett. They were found in an old, abandoned church on a seldom used dirt road. The Crocketts at first demanded Willie be prosecuted for kidnapping. But Lizzie would have none of it. They were friends, she said. He was protecting her from Rufus, she said. And so Wavin Willie was left free to continue his sack-flapping, prayer muttering, wandering ways.
No one ever found out what went on between them that day when she was six. But ever after, Lizzie and Willie seemed to share some mysterious bond, perhaps a secret, and not even her closest family and friends knew what it was.
One day when Lizzie was home with a two-year-old child of her own, a neighbor of hers noticed Wavin Willie out on the road nearby, acting unusually agitated. The woman ran a daycare in her home and became afraid for her children. She called 911. Chief Deputy Jake "the Snake" Boone, who had once arrested Willie King for a murder he did not commit, answered the call.
And then, what started with a viral video of police brutality became within a few short days a massacre known as the Rufus Rebellion.