Alabama man opposing Tennessee parole in 1982 slaying
GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — Almost 37 years later, it’s not easy for David Engle to talk about what happened to his former Southside High School classmate, Rodney Long.
More than two weeks after classmates learned Long was missing in early 1982, his body was found in Tennessee, close to the Kentucky state line. He’d been shot in the back and in the head. Officials announced his death over the school PA.
“That 70-year-old school — the walls sounded like they were moaning,” Engle said. “It’s in my thoughts still, and it’s been 37 years. I can’t shake it.”
Then came the outrage. “He’d been dumped out on the side of the road, in a ravine,” Engle said, all because he’d given someone a ride.
Engle is heading efforts now to collect signatures on a petition opposing parole for David Frey, the man convicted in Tennessee of killing Long, a standout football player. “Our mission is to see that David Frey never sees freedom on the other side of the fence,” Engle said.
Engle’s petition is titled “Til the Last Breath,” and that is how long he and many others believe Long’s murderer should be in prison.
“He shot my friend in the back, cold-blooded,” he said. “There’s no rehabilitation for that. He’ll kill again.”
Long went missing Feb. 12, 1982. He was supposed to call his mother, Barbara Mack of Rainbow City, that night, to tell her what time he’d be coming home from Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tennessee, for the weekend. He planned to bring friends.
When he didn’t make breakfast, classes or a team meeting that Friday, everyone who knew him knew something was wrong.
Authorities in Tennessee investigated, and members of the APSU football team took Long’s picture all over town, according to news reports at the time, asking if anyone had seen him or his car, a 1974 two-door dark brown Dodge Charger with a beige top.
About 20 people from Rainbow City and Southside went to Clarksville and searched, passing out photos at service stations, convenience stores and restaurants.
Tennessee law enforcement didn’t seem convinced of foul play until the license plate from Long’s car was found — in New Jersey, in the trunk of an abandoned car.
A New Jersey state trooper found an abandoned Cadillac Feb. 20, 1982, and did a routine check of its license plate. The plate was registered to a 1971 Chevrolet. The trooper contacted the owner. The owner said he’d traded the Chevrolet for a 1974 Dodge Charger — Long’s missing car.
Long’s car tag was found in the truck of the Cadillac.
Two men linked to that Cadillac, Frey and Steven Drake, faced outstanding burglary warrants in Clarksville that had been issued before Long was reported missing. New Jersey and Pennsylvania authorities had holds on the pair for burglary and forgery also.
Frey was picked up hitchhiking within a week, while authorities still sought Drake. Frey gave statements to police while in a New Jersey jail that led to the discovery of Long’s body.
From what authorities learned, they believe he was dead within an hour of giving a ride to the two men he encountered at a fast-food restaurant.
Drake would be arrested, too, and both men were convicted of first-degree murder and robbery. It was a capital charge, but at the time of the conviction, Tennessee had suspended the death penalty. Both men were sentenced to life in prison; Drake was later killed in prison.
Frey has been up for parole a number of times. Engle has regularly attended those hearings, along with others from the Rainbow City-Southside area, to support Mack, and to seek what justice is allowed for Long.
Frey is up for parole again, with a hearing scheduled for Jan. 10. Engle plans to attend, and this time he’ll be representing Mack before the board.
Mack said her health won’t allow her to make the trip in January. “We have got to fight this,” she said.
Engle said as years pass, it’s important to keep the parole board aware of the random, brutal crime that was perpetrated.
“I feel like we have to educate them. After 35 years they like to let them loose,” he said. “They like to free up that bed.”
Long accomplished a lot during his high school years: He received numerous local honors for football and was the first Southside player ever chosen for the state High School All-Star team. He was chosen King of the Prom during his senior year, and was named senior favorite.
U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill nominated Long to the U.S. Air Force Academy, but he chose to accept a scholarship to Austin Peay instead.
As a freshman with the Governors, he was named Rookie of the Week of the Ohio Valley Conference and was the team’s leading receiver in catches, yardage and touchdowns. Beyond all that, coaches and friends say he was mature, responsible and well-liked — someone who seemed to like everyone else, and who was easy to like.
“We’re a pretty tight community,” Engle said of the Rainbow City-Southside area. “What he (Frey) did to our school was devastating.
“He murdered all of us.”
Information from: The Gadsden Times, http://www.gadsdentimes.com