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Jim Williams and the murder that shook Savannah

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

The gunshot was deafening and even more so was the heavy thud of a human body on the hardwood floor. The smoke from the pistol gently danced into the air, and behind the silver barrel of the gun, lay the shattered face of Jim Williams, realizing he just shot his lover.

James Arthur Williams originally came to Savannah as an art dealer. He figured he could make fortune off of the infamous streets and homes of Savannah. In 1963, he bought an old inn home called the “Hampton Lillibridge house.” When restorations began, his crew immediately began reporting strange noises and awful sightings of ghosts and demons. It also didn’t help that one of the workers was killed after a wood beam from the ceiling fell on him. Throughout the construction, men have been dragged towards terrible falls by unknown forces, female screams were also a common sound in the house, and of course, the strange native American crypt found underneath the building didn’t help. Still, even after all these warnings, Jim moved into the home once it was fully restored.

During his residency, Jim Williams suffered every curse and night terror that the house had in store. From furniture moving places, doors closing in his face, and the countless whispers and voices that haunted him at night. Tired of his lack of sleep, Jim hired Albert Stewart, a local bishop to exorcise his home. Once the ritual was finished, Jim finally had a good night’s sleep...for about a week. The hauntings would continue to curse him until he finally moved out of the house in 1969 when he moved into the infamous Mercer House, where he became one of the most famous men in the history of Savannah.

The Mercer House was originally built in 1868 after eight years of construction. It was originally built for Hugh Mercer by John S. Norris, unfortunately, nobody from the Mercer family ever lived in the house, and the ownership would change hands several times through the decades. Unfortunately in 1969, an 11-year-old boy named Tommy Downs fell to his death while he was shooting pigeons with his friend from the roof of the building. That same year, Jim Williams bought the home, and for two years he restored it to its current beauty until finally moving in.

During the age of Jim Williams, the home saw fabulous parties and laughter through its corridors. Jim was a well-respected man in the city as he was one if not the top restorationist. During this time, Jim met a young 21-year-old man named Danny Hansford, a male gigolo who was hired by both female and male clients. Jim Williams happened to be one of those clients. Unfortunately, their relationship soured, and Jim attempted to hide Danny from his more rich and high-class guests. Eventually, it all came to a head on May 2nd, 1981, when Danny forced his way into Jim’s home with a gun. In Jim’s office, Danny destroyed an antique clock out of anger and threatened to kill Jim. Unfortunately, Jim pulled out a 9mm Luger and shot Danny first.

For years Jim Williams went on trial for the murder of Danny Hansford. Four times he was taken to trial, and four times he was acquitted, as he claimed it was in self-defense. Some say that the reason why Jim never lost his trials is that he made a deal with a local witch, and he never paid what he owed her. So, after his final trial in 1989, he thought he was free. 8 months later on January 14th, 1990, Jim died of pneumonia and heart failure at the age of 59. He passed suddenly on the exact spot where he shot and killed Danny Hansford nine years earlier, making him one of the most famous deaths in Savannah, and one of the inspirations for the book, “A garden of good and evil.” His name was given to the house, officially naming it “The Mercer-Williams house.”

Some say that if you were to pass the old home or walk through its halls, you could still hear the laughter and music of Jim Williams’ famous parties. Others claim to see a young child running around and laughing. Many have seen the specters through the windows. The ghosts of Jim Williams, Danny Hansford, and even Tommy Downs are said to still haunt the home, waiting for the house’s next victim to join them.

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