GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — One of Alabama’s strangest crime stories was set in motion 29 years ago in Scottsboro, where a Pentecostal preacher’s wife told police her husband tried to kill her, using the snakes he employed in his church services.
The story of Glenn Summerford, convicted on an attempted murder charge and serving a 99-year prison sentence, is the subject of “Alabama Snake,” a documentary directed by Theo Love that premieres next month on HBO and HBO Max.
A press release from WarnerMedia says the “details of the investigation and trial that followed has haunted Southern Appalachia for decades.” Whether it’s haunted the hills of North Alabama may be debatable, but the story has had staying power — inspired books and prior true crime treatments.
Summerford pastored the Church of Jesus With Signs Following in Scottsboro. On Oct. 4, 1991, his wife, Darlene Summerford, was bitten twice on the hand by a rattlesnake or snakes, after her husband forced her to stick her hand inside a cage of snakes. He accused her — falsely, she said — of running around on him with another preacher.
Summerford, then 47, was charged with attempted murder and convicted in February 1992.
“He took a pipe and hit the cages real hard so the snakes got real mad and then grabbed my by the hair and said he would push my face in there if I didn’t stick my hand in there,” she told jurors, according the Associated Press. “He said I had to die because he wanted to marry another woman.”
A witness for the defense told jurors Darlene Summerford told her “she got Glenn so drunk he passed out and went out to the shed to get a snake to put on him but it bit her instead.
That 23-year-old woman denied dating or having a social relationship with Glenn Summerford, but a prosecution witness said the woman had stayed at the preacher’s house several nights.
Jurors believed the pastor’s wife. Summerford is serving his 99-year sentence, and a 30-year sentence for second-degree escape after he slipped away from a work detail in Feburary 2003. He was found afterabout about 45 minutes of freedom.
He was denied parole in June, and has a minimum release date of Feb. 4, 2021.
Director Theo Love is responsible for “The Legend of Cocaine Island,” a “30 for 30″ short titled “the Bad Boy of Bowling” and other films.
According to the press release, the documentary about Summerford’s crime features local historian Dr. Thomas Burton, “who has spent his life studying the culture, beliefs and folklore of Pentecostal snake handlers.” The film, it said, ’paints a Southern Gothic portrait of Glenn Summerford and his tale of demon possession.”
Burton, professor emeritus of English at East Tennessee State University, has written a book: “The Serpent and the Spirit: Glenn Summerford’s Story.“Journalist Dennis Covington’s “Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia” is a study of the incident and of extremity of faith.
According to imdb.com, “Alabama Snake” premieres Dec. 9.