Teddy Jackson was just 8-years-old when he witnessed a man shoot another man to death. The motive: an argument over a dime. It left such an impression on him that he knew right away that a lifestyle of crime wasn't for him. Mr. Jackson, instead, knew right then and there that he wanted to be one of the good guys - a cop - someday.
His dream was fulfilled just a few months after graduating from Thomson High School in 1979.
And now nearly three decades later, Mr. Jackson's law enforcement career is coming to an end with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI). A big party is planned in his honor on Saturday, Feb. 2 at Belle Meade Country Club.
"I can remember being so scared when a man pulled out a gun and fired it at a man that was standing about 10 feet away from me at the time," said Agent Jackson during a recent interview with The McDuffie Mirror. "I've never forgotten that and probably never will. It was scary."
The shooting, which happened at an old grocery store known to sell illegal alcoholic beverages, including moonshine, brought out former McDuffie County Sheriff William Swan and Investigator Logan Marshall.
"The police never came out there to Sand Hill Road unless it was something bad - a shooting or a stabbing," said Mr. Jackson. "When I saw Sheriff Swan and Investigator Marshall, I looked up to them and thought right then and there that I wanted to be a cop someday."
Despite many of his family members being involved in bootlegging operations, Mr. Jackson managed to steer clean of such illegal activities as he grew older.
Growing up in the Happy Valley area of McDuffie County, just a stone's throw from neighboring Warren County, Mr. Jackson frequented the little store on many occasions - walking some two miles down Sand Hill Road when it still was dirt. Many of his relatives lived in the area, including Gold Harris, who was uncle to famous musician Blind Willie McTell.
The old store and the house on that property still stand today. So does the house where Blind Willie got sick and had to be taken to a hospital in Milledgeville, where he later died.
On weekends, there were as many as 150-200 people who gathered at the old store for partying, said Mr. Jackson.
"It was one hopping place around there when weekends rolled around," he said.
Just before graduating from high school, Mr. Jackson got the opportunity to see an autopsy performed - his first - while visiting Crawford Funeral Home in Thomson. No longer in operation, the funeral home was owned by John Crawford.
"I guess you could say that I ended up in the right place at the right time," said Mr. Jackson, referencing the autopsy being performed there by Dr. G. Byron Dawson from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Crime Lab. "I remember him showing us this man's lungs and how black they were from the man's years of smoking filter-less Camel cigarettes. I never picked up the habit of smoking after seeing that man's lungs."
He later became close friends with the late John Love, a former officer with the Thomson Police Department, and Frank Casey, now a retired deputy with the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department.
One of five children born to Ollie and Annie Jackson, Mr. Jackson used to pick peas and cotton in the summer months to make money so that he could buy school clothes.
"We didn't have an easy life like a lot of kids do today," he said. "My Daddy was a farmer and a bootlegger and later got a job at National Homes. My Daddy and Mama always taught us that we had to survive and that in order to live, we had to work for what we got."
It was a lesson he never forgot.
Sometimes, he'd pick as much as 300 lbs. of peas a day as a little boy. He earned $7 for such hard work. With the money, his parents would take him and his siblings down to the old Uniroyal plant in Thomson to buy school clothes and shoes.
During high school days, Mr. Jackson, now 47, was as much interested in pursuing a law enforcement career as he ever was. A chance-meeting with a first cousin of his, Wallace Shields, who was a GBI agent, and a ride with him on an armed robbery call back in 1980 actually sealed his decision.
It wasn't long before Mr. Jackson was receiving training with the GBI on how to work as an undercover agent - learning how to buy drugs and make cases against those involved in such illegal activities. Quickly, he caught on - having learned his role well - and established a reputation as one of the best undercover agents with the GBI for three years.
His life was threatened numerous times. "I never worried about those threats," said Mr. Jackson. "I just continued to do my job."
In 1981, he recalled taking an undercover assignment that led to the arrest and conviction of one of the biggest marijuana dealers at the time in South Georgia - Arthur James Murrell, of Tifton.
"This guy was heavily involved in dealing marijuana," said Mr. Jackson. "Nobody could catch this guy. He was real good at what he did."
It was one of the most dangerous undercover tasks he ever performed. The dope dealer was known to have as many as 30 assorted weapons at his disposal. The more Agent Jackson became involved in that case, the more he wanted to meet this man one on one.
"I was just a young man so you can imagine how terrified I was to be working on a case like that one," said Agent Jackson. He later made three undercover buys from the man that led to his arrest and subsequent conviction. "That's where the rush for me would come in," he added.
Working undercover required him to live a life of a fictitious person.
In the year and a half probe, a total of 47 persons were arrested.
During his 28 years with the GBI, he's only lost seven cases that have ever gone to trial. "I'm pretty proud of my arrest-conviction record," said Agent Jackson.
After undercover work, he worked for two years in Metro Atlanta before attending special agent training in 1985. He then assumed an assignment in Statesboro as a field agent before being transferred to the Savannah Regional Drug Office in January 1988 -working an area that covered 47 counties in the state. In January 1989, he was assigned to the Region 7 GBI office in Thomson, where he has been ever since.
"It was time to come back home to be with my parents, whose health was declining and to be closer to the rest of my family and friends," said Agent Jackson, who is divorced and has two grown children.
During his years with the GBI, Agent Jackson said he has tried to perform his job to the best of his ability at all times and to have "heart and compassion" towards people. "What I've done has not been about Teddy Jackson. It's been about enforcing the laws of this state and doing what's right."