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Harassment Brings Small-Town Publisher Interview, Movie Offers

January 15, 1987

McCORMICK, S.C. (AP) _ The threats and harassment that persuaded McCormick Messenger publisher Ken Fortenberry to leave town have also brought him national attention, including movie offers and interview requests from across the country.

During the 18 months Fortenberry and his family have lived here, there have been explosions set off near their home, threatening letters and phone calls and other retaliation for stories in his newspaper. The family finally decided to sell the paper and their 100-year-old home and move away.

This week, following a controversial election for a new sheriff for McCormick County, the Fortenberrys have been flooded with requests for interviews from television programs such as ″60 Minutes″ and the ″Today″ show, and from newspapers, magazines and broadcasters across the country.

″It’s been overwhelming,″ said Fortenberry’s wife, Anna. ″We’ve lived with it so long it doesn’t seem like a big deal.″

Two producers offered to make movies about the Fortenberrys’ experiences. The couple have not decided whether they’ll accept any movie offer, they said.

In an editorial announcing his decision to leave the county, Fortenberry wrote last November: ″I will no longer subject my precious wife and darling children to fear and public ridicule in the name of the public good. I have made a difficult choice and I have decided that my family comes first.″

He wrote that after the first of two explosions were set off near his home, apparently intended as harassment in retaliation for stories on former county Sheriff Jimmy Gable, who is serving a six-month sentence in federal prison for embezzling two U.S. Treasury checks.

In the primary election Tuesday to replace Gable, Democrats nominated a pardoned felon who has twice failed to complete the state’s basic training course for law enforcement officers. He defeated a coroner accused of trying to fix the primary. A primary win in this western South Carolina county of 7,800 virtually assures victory in the general election next month because there is no Republican opposition.

Mrs. Fortenberry said the family will move as soon as the newspaper and the house are sold, but they don’t know where yet.

In addition to the explosions, the Fortenberrys have received many unsigned threatening letters, and ″so many threats on the telephone you can’t count them,″ Mrs. Fortenberry said.

Their 16-year-old daughter, Leslie, was chased by other teen-agers in cars several mornings before school, and they’ve found nails in their driveway and eggs on the house and cars.

Four men face misdemeanor charges in connection with the explosions. Felony charges against the men were dismissed.

Fortenberry said he is ″deeply concerned and I feel for the good people of the county. They’re being lumped in with the red-neck stereotypic Southerner. We really have some very dear friends here.″

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