Return of the Family

Ed Harrill, living in Ohio with a wife and nine children, hadn't heard from his father in years until an interstate trucker brought him a newspaper article with a picture and an interview. Without hesitation the younger Harrill got in the car and drove to the coast to reconnect. By all accounts it was a tearful and joyous reunion.

Following the shocking news of the hermit's heart attack, Ed Harrill grew increasingly alarmed about the ever-expanding stories concerning the circumstances surrounding the death of his father.

"When Ed kept hearing in the early '70s things about the violent death, he went to the North Carolina Medical Examiner," Pickler said. "He said he had reason to believe his father died a violent death. He wanted justice done and there was no autopsy. He evidently made enough noise and put enough heat on them that they ultimately exhumed the body."

By that time the corpse had been in the ground seven years. It was basically a skeleton with not enough flesh to betray cuts or contusions or anything along the order of incriminating evidence. The body was reburied in its present location, under a heap of oyster shells, a cast-iron frying pan placed on top, and with a humble marker.

"The only thing left now is grandchildren," Pickler said. "All his sons are dead."

But the Hermit's ideas survived over the next few decades until a remarkable occasion commemorated what would have been his 100th birthday in 1993. By that time the myths of his martyrdom had taken on the shapes and dimensions of a biblical allegory and his legion of followers had multiplied somewhere along the order of loaves and fishes.

And they thronged to the shores to form a following and spread the word.

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