There are many versions of what happened that night to the beloved leader of the Highwaymen. What is definite is that his killer was Julius (aka J. L. or Jitterbug) Funderburk, a 31 year-old migrant fruit picker who was known to Alfred and his good friend and fellow Highwayman, Livingston Roberts. After those facts, the story is told
in many ways that often conflict, which is not unusual when describing events of
Alfred Hair was home painting that Sunday evening when Livingston “Castro” Roberts came by and suggested they go to Eddie’s to play pool and grab a beer. After the game, most people agree that an argument ensued over a woman named Beneva, who was once Funderburk’s girlfriend. Castro, who loved to tease his friends, is said to have playfully teased Funderburk, by insinuating that Alfred and Beneva were having an affair. As soon as Castro saw that Funderburk was taking the ribbing seriously, he stopped. In a rage, Funderburk went to his car and got a gun. Returning to the bar, he hit Castro with the pistol and knocked him off his barstool.
Meanwhile, Alfred was at the jukebox playing one of that summer’s most popular hits, “War” by Edwin Star. As the song blasted, “War! Huh! Good God Y’all! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Funderburk shot Alfred twice as he was trying to leave.
Someone drove Alfred to Fort Pierce Memorial Hospital in his treasured Lincoln Mark III, though it isn’t clear whom. Castro told his sister Gertrude Walker that he gave Alfred mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on the way to the emergency room. People who knew him well say that he would not have been calm or clear-headed enough to perform such an act. Castro also claimed that Alfred was still alive when they reached the hospital.
One version of the story is that the hospital staff did not respond quickly, and Alfred died waiting for help. Others disagree. Alfred was so well-known and loved in Fort Pierce, they say, that it is hard to imagine that anyone, white or black, would not have done everything they could to save him.
Alfred was pronounced dead at 11:40 p.m. Grief instantaneously streamed over family, friends and the entire Lincoln Park community. Everyone’s story of Hair’s death is that the hospital waiting room and parking lot were filled with people in shock.
Alfred’s wife Doretha says that he was dead when she got to the hospital. She lived only five minutes away and she knew before she walked in the door. She could feel it.
She was combing her daughter’s hair at home when the phone rang with the news of the shooting. She was no stranger to tragedy as she had watched her father kill her mother when she was 16. She jumped in her car, and drove herself to the hospital, turning one corner too fast. Doretha remembers, “But I knew he was gone. I knew when I was at that corner of 29th Street. And, everything was over at that moment.”
Livingston Roberts and others blamed themselves for Alfred’s death. Several felt they could have done something to save him. Doretha speculates that maybe they should have called for an ambulance; maybe Alfred shouldn’t have gone to the bar that night; and maybe he couldn’t have been saved after being shot twice.
Thousands came to Alfred’s funeral and the community began a long process of grieving. Roberts left town shortly afterward, thinking no one would forgive him for his part in
Julius Funderburk turned himself in to the police within hours of the shooting. He knew that if he didn’t, he’d be a dead man. He was convicted and served five years in prison for killing Alfred Hair. When Funderburk was released, A.E. “Beanie” Backus, the acclaimed landscape artist and Alfred’s mentor, quietly worked to keep him from returning to Fort Pierce. Backus grieved with the rest of Alfred’s friends and did what he could to protect Alfred’s family. Julius Funderburk died in 2012.