It all started when Roswell Code Enforcement told a local chicken owner that he could no longer house all of his chickens on his property. It ended in a standoff involving Fulton County Marshalls that escalated into a tragedy.
In this month’s Flashback, we will be covering the saga of Roswell’s beloved “Chicken Man,” Andrew Wordes. But first, let’s take a look at the time period.
The Time: While the events of that fateful March morning are still fresh on the minds of many Georgia residents, the culmination of the Chicken Man’s fate was just 10 years ago. Jere Wood was the mayor of Roswell, Nathan Deal was the governor of Georgia, and Barack Obama was wrapping up his first term as U.S. President. Gas prices hit $3.60 per gallon that year, and Hurricane Sandy made landfall.
Django and The Dark Knight Rises dominated the box office, and “Call Me Maybe” was at the top of the charts and on everyone’s lips. It was the year of Hurricane Sandy, Kony 2012, Gangnam Style, and 50 Shades of Gray.
The Backstory: The saga of the Chicken Man came to a tragic end on March 26, 2012, but context is needed to understand all of the events that led up to Wordes’ final act.
Andrew Wordes’ name first entered the news in February of 2009, when Roswell code enforcement officials informed him that he was no longer able to keep his flock of chickens on his one-acre property, due to an ordinance change.
Wordes’ enlisted former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes to help with his case, giving it much more momentum and legitimacy, and grabbing the attention of even those who weren’t previously interested in what was going on with a backyard chicken owner in Roswell.
In May of 2009, Roswell Judge Maurice Hilliard dismissed the case and ruled that the city’s ordinance was too vague.
The city responded by writing a new ordinance banning roosters entirely and placing limits on backyard poultry that were based on lot size. Wordes still kept more chickens than the ordinance allowed but argued that he was grandfathered in.
Wordes believed he was a target of neighbors and code enforcement after he was cited for junk vehicles on his property and illegal grading in his yard that he said was necessary to mitigate flood damages. He frequently sought the help of then-mayor Jere Wood, who according to media reports at the time was housing six of Wordes’ vehicles on his property at the time of Wordes’ death.
In the summer of 2011, about 30 of Wordes chickens mysteriously died. Wordes’ claimed they had been poisoned, but lab tests performed on the fowl were inconclusive. Wordes still had about 70 chickens remaining on his property.
Wordes was placed on probation for the illegal grading and served three months in jail for violating that probation.
The jail time in 2011 made it difficult for Wordes to stay current on his mortgage and his health rapidly deteriorated due to Crohn’s Disease. Local media at the time reported his home was broken into and several guns were stolen while he was incarcerated.
The Chicken Man’s Last Stand: Because he was unable to pay his mortgage, Wordes was told in February of 2012 that he was going to be evicted. One month later, on March 26, the tragedy unfolded.
Marshalls showed up that morning to serve Wordes with eviction papers and a standoff ensued. Just before 1 p.m., Wordes made contact with a television reporter who was on the scene and told him to tell the Marshalls to leave his property.
Shortly after that, Wordes’ home on Alpine Drive in Roswell exploded.
Then-fire chief Ricky Spencer said fire crews arrived three minutes later, but the house was already so involved in fire that they could not attempt to enter the home. The fire was fully extinguished 30 minutes later and Wordes’ body was found inside.
“We were concerned about him, but nothing in Andrew’s past suggested he would do this,” Wood told reporters at the time.
It was later revealed that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office refused to participate in the eviction and Ted Jackson, who was Sheriff at the time said the whole incident shouldn’t have happened and didn’t have to happen. The city of Roswell also declined to send police to support the Fulton County Marshall’s office.
Roswell’s police chief at the time, Dwayne Orrock told the press he warned the Marshalls that they would have a problem with Wordes defending his home and that there was a “less aggressive approach” that could be used.
Wordes was buried at Milton Fields cemetery and his funeral was well attended by friends, family, and members of the community that he touched.
Wordes was a pioneer in the backyard chicken movement that has grown in popularity throughout the state since his death.