“I had no alternative but to kill her…”
Written by Robert A. Waters
Palm Beach Post staff writer Gary Blankenship summarized Nollie Lee Martin’s first murders. “On the night of June 8, 1972, fire raced up a stairway toward two apartments on the second floor of a High Point, North Carolina apartment building. The smoke killed Josephine Hogan, 48, and her two daughters, Linda, 10, and Karen, 14, the occupants of one of the apartments upstairs.”
Six other residents escaped the blaze. In addition, a husband and wife, Nollie Lee Martin and Brenda, suffered burns on their bodies. Both were hospitalized but soon released. While still in the hospital, Martin was charged with setting the fire. He confessed, telling investigators he was angry with his wife because she wished to leave him.
The killer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 18 to 30 years in prison. But four-and-a-half years after his incarceration, the state released Martin due to prison overcrowding.
The ex-con’s good luck continued. Jonathan Forbes, a second cousin who owned a service station in Delray Beach, Florida, offered Martin a job. The North Carolina parole board, happy to rid the state of a brutal killer, accepted Martin’s request to move to Florida for his new job. The board never contacted local law enforcement agencies and Martin did not have to report to any parole board.
The killer of three, now left to his own devices in a place where almost no one knew of his background, began planning new crimes.
In the summer of 1977, nineteen-year-old Patricia Greenfield had completed her first year at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and returned home to Boynton Beach, Florida for the summer. The attractive honor student landed a job working at a Delray Beach convenience store to save money for her next semester.
In Martin vs State, a 1982 appeals court outlined the case: “Patricia Greenfield was an employee of a Cumberland Farm Food Store on 2235 N. Seacrest Blvd in Delray Beach. On June 25, 1977 two men entered the store, robbed it, and abducted Ms. Greenfield. Her body was discovered a few days later on a garbage dump. Investigation led to the arrest of [Nollie Lee Martin] and Gary Forbes for the robbery and murder.” Patty, as she was called, was initially identified by the corduroy slacks and plaid shirt she wore. Lying outside for more than a week in the Florida heat, she was so badly decomposed the coroner was unable to determine the cause of death. Dental records ultimately proved that the deceased girl was Patty.
Working alone at 9:45 p.m., Patty was getting ready to close up when Martin and Forbes entered the store and carried two cases of beer to the counter. As she started to ring up the tab, Martin pulled a filet knife from his pocket and placed her in a chokehold. He took $91.00 from the till and forced her from the store. Three people, waiting outside a pizza restaurant across the street, heard Patty scream and watched as she was hustled into Forbes’ car and taken away. The witnesses called 911 to report the abduction.
Investigators from the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department descended on the store. Using helicopters and road patrols, they searched for a “white Ford sedan” witnesses reported the kidnappers used to escape. (The car was actually a Dodge Dart.) Hundreds of lawmen from surrounding jurisdictions flooded in to assist in the search, but came up empty.
Martin vs State describes Patricia Greenfield’s last moments. “Martin and Forbes drove [Greenfield] back to Martin’s apartment and blindfolded her along the way with Martin’s shirt. The sworn testimony and confessions indicate that each man committed forcible sexual battery on the victim at the apartment. The victim was transported away from the apartment, still blindfolded and under the assurances that she would be released at a remote area. After driving some distance in a rather aimless fashion, the automobile arrived at the vicinity of the Lantana Dump and the defendant, Nollie Lee Martin, walked the victim away from the view of Forbes. According to Forbes, the defendant Martin, stated that he attempted to strangle or suffocate the victim with the use of a short piece of rope but that she recovered her breath each time that he thought she had succumbed. He then stabbed her several times in the throat. The autopsy revealed that she died of these stab wounds and suggests at least an inference that there was some struggle before the death strokes were administered.”
After murdering Patricia Greenfield, Martin kidnapped another victim and raped her. Before he could kill her, however, she escaped and led investigators to her attacker. Martin was arrested and, due to the similarities in the crimes, became a suspect in the store kidnapping and murder. Under interrogation, he confessed. “I had no alternative but to kill,” he told detectives.
Convicted of First-Degree Murder, Martin was sentenced to death in Florida’s electric chair. Forbes, who had also confessed and showed remorse, received life without parole. Over more than fifteen years, three governors, two Democrat and one Republican, signed death warrants for Martin.
While on death row, Martin was a whiner. He first attempted to get his death warrant overturned by feigning insanity. (A federal judge made the unusual ruling that he had been faking symptoms of mental illness.) “I may not be insane right now,” he said, “but I was insane when I committed this horrible crime.” When his insanity defense failed, he claimed to be “retarded.” Even though his lawyers fought to the bitter end to save him, they failed.
On May 12, 1992, he was electrocuted at Raiford Prison.
Just before being strapped into Old Sparky, Martin made a final statement. “My suffering will be over in a few minutes,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right to keep someone locked up for 15 years then kill them.”
He also stated that he hoped to meet Patricia Greenfield in heaven.
I’m sure Nollie Lee Martin is the last person she would want to see.