Carlton Gary was born on September 24, 1950, in Columbus, Georgia. His father was a construction worker who wanted nothing to do with him and would not accept any financial responsibility for him. Gary met his biological father only once, when he was 12 years old. Gary's mother was extremely poor and, as a result, they frequently relocated. He was malnourished most of the time and was often left with his aunt or great-aunt, both maids for elderly, wealthy women.
In elementary school, Gary suffered serious head trauma when he was knocked unconscious in a playground accident. In his teens, he was a heavy drug user. Between the ages of 14 and 18, he was arrested numerous times for robbery, arson, and assault.
During that time, he also got married to a woman named Sheila, and had two children. In 1970, he moved to Albany, New York, where he had plans to become a singer, but he continued with his criminal activities.
In May 1970, soon after Carlton Gary moved to Albany, an elderly woman named Marion Brewer was robbed and attacked in her hotel room. Two months later, 85-year-old Nellie Farmer was robbed in her apartment and strangled to death.
After Gary attempted an assault on a third elderly woman, he was arrested and his fingerprints matched one left at the scene of the Farmer murder. Gary admitted having taken part in a robbery, but he claimed that an accomplice, John Lee Mitchell, was responsible for the actual murder.
Gary testified against Mitchell in court, and Mitchell was charged, despite no material evidence connecting him to the crime. Gary was charged only with robbery, a sentence he served in the Onondaga County Correctional Institution in Jamesville, New York.
He was paroled in 1975 and moved to Syracuse, New York. Here, two more elderly women were attacked, raped, and strangled in their homes; one died but the other survived. The attacks occurred within four days of each other. The two survivors were not able to identify Gary positively, as the crimes occurred in the dark; at least one victim was sure that her attacker was a mustachioed black male, and she was strangled with a scarf.
Gary was never charged for any of these crimes but was instead sent back to prison for parole violation and robbery after he was caught trying to sell coins stolen from the same apartment building as one of the surviving Syracuse victims. On August 22, 1977, Gary escaped from his low-security prison by sawing through the bars of his cell and made it back to Columbus, Georgia.
One month after his escape, on September 16, 1977, 60-year-old Ferne Jackson was raped, beaten, and strangled to death with a nylon stocking at her home in the Wynnton district of Columbus. Nine days later, 71-year-old Jean Dimenstein was killed similarly as were 89-year-old Florence Scheible on October 21 and 69-year-old Martha Thurmond on October 23. Five days later, Gary struck again, raping and killing 74-year-old Kathleen Woodruff. This time, there was no stocking left at the scene.
Four months later on February 12, 1978, Ruth Schwob was attacked, but she triggered a bedside alarm and her assailant fled. He went just two blocks down the road before breaking into another house and raping and strangling 78-year-old Mildred Borom. His final victim was 61-year-old Janet Cofer, murdered on April 20, 1978.
On December 1, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Gary's latest appeal, clearing the way for an execution date to be set. On December 4, a court set a December 16 execution date for Gary. On December 15, the state Board of Pardons and Paroles denied a request to stay his execution. On December 16, only hours before the execution, the Georgia Supreme Court halted the execution to hold a hearing and determine whether DNA tests should be conducted to determine Gary's guilt or innocence. On February 23, 2018, a new execution date was set for March 15, 2018.
On March 15, 2018, Carlton Gary was executed by lethal injection. He died at 10:33pm and declined to make a final statement.