On Jan. 10, 1972, Forsyth County Sheriff's Deputy James William Cantrell and Reserve Deputy Larry Mulkey were abducted by assailants when responding to a burglary call. The assailants forced both deputies into the trunk of their 1969 Chevrolet Impala before firing into it, killing both men.
“Bill came up to the house on Jan. 9, and he was telling me about a red Mustang that he had stopped with a guy in it with a police officer’s uniform on and he didn’t think a lot about it, even though it was suspicious. He just let it go,” said Donald Pirkle, who served as Forsyth County sheriff at the time.
“He found out the next night that Canongate, which was a golf [course] had been broken into ... The night of Jan. 10, they jumped this Mustang and chased it, and of course, what happened happened – very unfortunate.”
To date, Cantrell and Mulkey are the only Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputies killed by others in the line of duty, and more than four decades after their murders, Mayor Troy Brumbalow and the city of Cumming have a one-of-a-kind way of preserving their memory: by recreating their 1969 Chevrolet Impala patrol car, which will eventually have a permanent home at a new Cumming Police Station at the Cumming City Center.
Brumbalow said he had heard from his dad that his grandfather, a former patrolman, drove the same car and it had long sat at Evans Wrecker Service after the tragic event.
He said long before he was mayor he had thought of restoring the car and now felt the time was right but said the damage to the original over the years was too great to be reasonably restored.
“We raised $20,000 to go and buy the car and replicate the original,” Brumbalow said. “The original had been sitting outside for 40-something years, and it had too-far deteriorated that it was going to cost probably $75,000 to fix that car. We were able to replicate it and take any of the good parts that were left on that car and put it on this car. Local businesses donated money and time, they all pitched in and restored the car.”
He called the car “a moving memorial” that used some parts of the original vehicle, such as the radio and stickers. Colors and even the dome light were replicated.
“We just tried to make it as authentic as possible back to the original car,” he said.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said though other deputies had died in the line of duty, Mulkey and Cantrell were the only ones murdered.
“It is a unique tribute, as you look around Forsyth County, there is not a memorial for law enforcement officers, and the fact is we’ve lost two officers in the history of Forsyth County to violence and we’ve lost four additional in the line of duty to other causes,” he said. “Having something that we can pay tribute and memorialize the service of these men have given, I think it’s a good tribute.”
Freeman said he would like to see more memorials around the county to honor those who gave their lives.
Pirkle said he thought the car was a fitting memorial for Cantrell and Mulkey.
“I am very thankful that Troy and whoever had anything to do with it did this for the family,” Pirkle said. “I think I speak for the family in saying we deeply appreciate it. Those guys being remembered, they deserve it, they really do.”
Now one of the largest and the most affluent counties in the state, Forsyth County had less than 17,000 residents reported in the 1970 census.
Pirkle said the killing of two officers shook the then-small town.
“People were really upset,” he recalled. “Bill Cantrell had a good name. He was a good officer, a very good officer, and people were really upset. They just had to accept it, like I did and everyone else did, but he’s missed and he will always be missed.”
Mulkey, a reserve deputy, was instrumental in catching the pair’s killers by writing down the license plate number, which led to their capture.
“Larry Mulkey, he was a little special deputy that came by,” Pirkle said. “He was interested in law enforcement, and he liked to ride with Bill. Of course, we had a shortage of manpower then, so we allowed that.”
Lewis Ledbetter, a city councilman, said he knew both of the slain officers and served on the jury of one of the five accused in the case.
“Anything you can do for them would be good because they were good people,” Ledbetter said.
The car is the second recent memorial to the fallen officers after Forsyth County renamed two streets in their memory in 2016.
Though the car’s final home – which will include a permanent memorial with information about Cantrell and Mulkey – at the city center hasn’t been built yet, the vehicle has already been on display to the public.
The first public appearance was the city’s monthly Fridays at the Fairground event on Friday, and it will make a larger public unveiling at the city’s upcoming Fourth of July parade, where it will be behind Brumbalow’s “Smokey and the Bandit” Trans Am.
“We’re going to debut at Fourth of July Parade, and Sheriff [Ron] Freeman has been gracious enough to drive it,” Brumbalow said. “So we think it’s going to be real special.”