Did the government kill Andrew Wordes? 

The tortured life and sudden death of Roswell's Chicken Man

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FLOWN THE COOP: Wordes (pictured right) once kept dozens of birds in the backyard of his Roswell home. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • FLOWN THE COOP: Wordes (pictured right) once kept dozens of birds in the backyard of his Roswell home.

Born and raised in Florida, Wordes moved to Roswell in the '90s for a fresh start. In Tampa, he'd started his own auto wholesaling business under the tutelage of his friend John Spence, but the enterprise failed. Wordes had lost money, but he was eventually able to buy a home on a 22-year mortgage, continue fixing up and selling cars he bought for cheap, start a pest control business, and raise chickens. Talk to anyone who knew Wordes during the past several years and they'll describe him as intelligent, kind, often frustratingly stubborn, and endlessly dedicated to his animals. He taught local schoolchildren about chickens and started a group for fellow backyard chicken owners. On that group's site he wrote, "What's not to like about owning chickens? They have great personalities, are easy to care for, they don't pee on the carpet, and it's a blast to watch them with half a watermelon (chicken cocaine). Who needs Comedy Central when you have chicken TV?" He lovingly raised other animals as well.

In November 2009, one of Wordes' favorite pigs broke her leg in the thick mud the flood had created. He brought her to a veterinarian in Athens, and when it became clear she was a lost cause, the vet contacted Wordes and told him to hurry if he wanted to say his good-byes. Hurry he did. On his way to Athens on November 28, Wordes was pulled over in Barrow County while traveling 91 mph. His license was seized and suspended.

About the same time, Roswell's city council amended its poultry ordinance, endangering Wordes' ability to keep chickens (at least as many as he'd become accustomed to keeping). He was also fighting citations from code enforcement for having too many cars parked on his property and for moving soil on his land — the engineering department said illegally — to mitigate further flooding inside his home. "During these investigations," a Roswell police officer wrote in his report, "it was learned that Wordes' drivers license was suspended." Wordes attended a December 14 city council meeting to argue the code violations. As he drove off, he was pulled over by Roswell police and was arrested for driving with a suspended license.

If Wordes was being targeted by the City of Roswell, if he was being forced out of his home, and was eventually driven to suicide, the obvious question is, "Why?" Why would a city spend so much of its time, effort, and resources to terrorize one guy? "It turned into a personal thing for the city, I think," Wordes' friend Jessica says. "Because Andrew wouldn't stop and wouldn't back down and every time he came out against them, he made them look bad. And rightfully so. He exposed them." CL attempted to contact Mayor Jere Wood as well as the director of Code Enforcement, but didn't hear back. A city spokesperson insisted to the AJC that the entire city was "saddened" by Wordes' death.

The new chicken ordinance that was passed in late December of 2009 limits to six the number of chickens that can be kept on a piece of property the size of Wordes'. Again Wordes fought, and again he won. Judge Hilliard ruled that Wordes and his chickens would be "grandfathered in." Hilliard did, however, sentence Wordes to community service for the vehicles on his property and for illegally grading his land.

click to enlarge THE END: Windows burst and masonry cracked when Wordes blew up his home on March 26. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • THE END: Windows burst and masonry cracked when Wordes blew up his home on March 26.

Friend Lee Fleck sees the situation much like Jessica does. "Roswell's legal department was publicly humiliated locally, statewide, and even nationally [by Andrew]," he says. "These arrogant individuals took offense to being put in their places by the 'Chicken Man,' and so vengeance was in order."

Meanwhile, a more conspiratorial theory gained traction: that Roswell wanted Wordes off his property so it could eventually turn the land into green space. His property is slated to become parkland in Roswell's 2030 plan, along with other properties along the creek that runs behind Wordes' home. Planning Director Brad Townsend has said that there are no immediate plans or funds to move forward with that part of the project. Says Fleck, "There's a lot of talk about the 2030 plan, greenspace — that's the right-wingers and Tea Partiers getting carried away."

Even if that particular motivation seems farfetched, Fleck remains very convinced his friend was targeted.

For a year and a half after he was arrested and briefly jailed for driving with a suspended license, Wordes' problems continued. Just a few days after the arrest, he reported to police that he'd found a note on his door that read, "You and the chickens are dead." (He was unable to produce the note for police, saying he'd crumpled it up and tossed it into the creek.) He received frequent visits from code enforcement about the cars and the chickens. He was issued multiple traffic tickets for offenses, including driving with a broken brake light, with an expired tag, and without insurance.

In December 2010, Wordes decided enough was enough when he discovered that Roswell Code Enforcement Director Vicki Barclay had contacted his mortgage holder, an elderly woman named Dora Hardeman, and, according to Wordes, urged her to evict him. Wordes filed an official complaint against Barclay, claiming she'd illegally contacted Hardeman, violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Mayor Wood — who'd long been Wordes' ally — called for an internal investigation. Barclay admitted that she had contacted Hardeman, but only to ask if Hardeman planned to evict Wordes — she'd heard from neighbors that Wordes was going to be evicted soon and, if that were the case, the city wouldn't move forward with a civil suit against him for maintaining a "nuisance property." (Six months later, in May 2011, the city filed a civil suit against Wordes.) Barclay was cleared of any wrongdoing, even though city protocol at the time said mortgage holders should only be contacted once the city has been notified — officially, presumably — that a home is in foreclosure or is about to be foreclosed. Wordes was behind on his payments but didn't believe that lived up to the city's standards for contacting a mortgage holder. Hardeman eventually sold Wordes' mortgage to an unknown party, an investment company based out of Ohio listed as the custodian, which foreclosed on Wordes' home in January 2012.

To this day, Fleck maintains that immediately after his friend lodged the complaint against Barclay, Roswell police placed Wordes under surveillance, staking out his home and the businesses he visited. Fleck says the surveillance stopped only when he complained to Mayor Wood.

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