John B. McLemore is a central character in the new podcast S-Town. (Some spell his name as Macklemore, but he’s McLemore according to CNET.) In fact, it was because of him that S-Town is happening at all. He was angry about a murder that went unsolved in the “shi*-town,” and emailed Brian Reed to complain about it and ask him to send a reporter out to cover the story. John lives in Bibb County and first contacted Reed about an abusive police officer and the rumor of a murder happening in the small town that was later covered up. (Note: To read more about McLemore’s online posts under his pseudonym, see our story here.)
Here’s more about John.
Note: This article has spoilers through the Chapter 3. Don’t read on unless you want to be spoiled about a central point of the story.
1. He’s a Clockmaker, the Town’s ‘Local Humane Society,’ and Previously Studied Chemistry
The idea for S-Town came after a man named John asked a reporter to investigate a wealthy family’s son after he bragged about getting away with murder. According to Telegraph, John is a clockmaker in Alabama, which accounts for all of the clock motifs featured in the promotional art. He refers to himself as the “local humane society” because he takes care of all the strays that are abandoned in the region.
But McLemore also liked to help people in his region too. In a forum where he was discussing prepping in 2014, he talked about helping a young man who grew up abused:
I am currently befriending a 21 year old boy with 3 kids by 3 different girls. … I am trying to help him get out of the court system, and point him in the direction of independence….something he has never known. … This young fella entered the court system at 14 as a result of attempting to escape his homelife. Hopefully, I can instil [sic] a bit of useful knowledge into this boy about the future. … As you can see, I have a lot on my plate without taking on a wife. I usually hire out about 16K worth of work a year around here just to put food in young mens pockets. That is more than twice what I actually choose to live on.”
According to Tuscaloosa News, McLemore grew up in Woodstock, graduating from Cahawba Christian Academy in 1983 and studied chemistry for a couple years at Birmingham-Southern College.
Reed later said in the podcast that John was 47 and unmarried and hinted that he was gay, however John said he was more bisexual or a “celibate” or “semi-practicing” homosexual.
2. John Stayed in His Town Despite Hating It, Helping His Disabled Mom
John talks about hating his small town, but he’s never left it. He lives with his mom, Mary Grace, who has Alzheimer’s and takes care of her, which is likely the reason he never left the town despite despising it. (Brian Reed later clarified that John’s mom had dementia, but not Alzheimer’s.) Reed told Tuscaloosa News about John:
That (the town) informed who he was so much and it mattered to him so much that he never left, and he was so tortured about that. I think a lot of people have that experience and it’s an important experience to document.”
John seems to be privy to many town secrets. He invited Brian Reed to investigate what he thought was a murder, saying that he learned about it when a the son of a wealthy man was bragging about getting away with the killing.
Residents of Woodstock, Alabama said he was very intelligent and was remodeling his house, AL.com reported. But his house, they said, was ancient and had no air conditioning. John kept to himself mostly, but enjoyed having long phone calls with friends.
They also mentioned he had digestive issues so he rarely ate out, which John also mentioned in episode 1.
Larry West told AL.com about John:
He loved gossip, which he loved to spread around like mayonnaise. You usually didn’t see him unless it was at the hardware store, where he was gathering stories. He loved to make fun of church signs. He was all the time talking about ‘Jeebus,’ which was his way of saying Jesus. He equally abused the right and the left, but he was what you might call a left-wing wingnut.”
3. He Built a Maze on His Property and Was an Atheist
John keeps busy in the “stately home” that he lives in. He built an intricate maze in the town’s garden. He paid a handyman named Tyler to help keep things running around the home, but they were much closer than that. Tyler thought of John as a father figure.
John planted the only hedge maze in the state, he said, in the middle of a forest on his property. The intricate maze has 64 possible solutions, but right now it’s only hip-high so you can still see over it, McLemore said.
Reed said when he saw the garden, he was “in awe.”
John was also an avid atheist and his favorite Bible verse was about a woman lusting after her lovers, Reed shared on the podcast.
He was proud of the property he owned, and also proud that he wasn’t married, as he wrote about in an online discussion forum:
Have a house and 140 acres paid for free and clear in my own name, Have money (and gold) Unbanked, food on the table, A well, a Creek, A spring, Orchards, Vegetables, Dogs that love me, Birds that serenade me, Peace and Quiet, and I even keep an old sock right by the bed for those moments of intimacy.
I can go where I want, when I want, and don’t have to crawl P-whipped to my old lady to find out if she is going to let them crawl out of their cage that afternoon or not. The Problems that I Don’t Have! …
Now just think: I could give all that up to enjoy of life of screeching, hootin ‘n hollerin’, squalling and caterwauling, bitchin’ and moanin’, gripin’ and complainin’, hell raisin’, divorce, and all of that.
Who could resist?
Probably, if I had an iron ball and chain, I wouldn’t be able to spend as much free time studying Peak Oil and similar subjects.”
Later, he continued to explain why he wasn’t interested in marriage:
I avoid it primarily because I am content. Just plain and simple content and happy. I just don’t see the rationale in entangling yourself into a legally binding contract with another person for the rest of your life, just to satisfy some archaic societal norm, no more than I want to be legally bound to an old car for the rest of my life.
Marriage, generally is an obsolete notion, bound in fundamentalist religion. I’m not even sure that humans are wired to mate for life, perhaps some are. Personally, I avoid those type relationships because I don’t Want them….much like I avoid other things in life that I don’t want (rap music, NASCAR, a truck that gets 6mpg) and instead migrate towards the things I do want (gardens, Lathe, Books)…”
To see more photos of the maze on John’s property, see the story below:
4. John’s Friends Said He Was Always Willing to Help, But He Was a Bit Eccentric and Was Building ‘Mansions’ with Toys
John hired Tyler to help out with projects around his property, but he also views Tyler as a son, friends said. Friends mentioned that John was always willing to offer money to help people out. In fact, one friend mentioned that their business wouldn’t still be around if it hadn’t been for John.
John owns a number of dogs and refers to his high school as “Auschwitz.” He owns a lot of land, but said most of his land came from his grandfather. He has red hair and is a prolific gardener, according to the podcast. John also made “good bank” restoring old clocks and may come from money, John’s friends told Reed. However, Reed said early on that he wasn’t sure if anything they said about John was real, including comments that he had $400,000 and antiques that are worth a significant amount of money.
In Episode 3, Reed learned that many of his friends believed that John did, indeed, have gold somewhere on his property. He was “unbanked” and didn’t keep his money in a traditional bank account.
Residents agreed that John was a bit eccentric, Tuscaloosa News reported. Allen Bearden, a clock repairmen nearby, told Tuscaloosa News:
John was a little strange… He didn’t conform to societal ways and he was a little rebellious, for that matter.”
John was worried about the future, emailing Bearden multiple times a week about global warming or the energy crisis. But John was also a genius, Bearden insisted. However, toward the end, John fell into bouts of nostalgia more and more frequently.
We would have an hour long conversation about toys he used to have. I had come to his house and he’d build a huge mansion in one of his rooms out of these blocks. He had all these toys in his room.”
5. Reed Learned in Episode 2 that John Killed Himself
After Reed spent extensive time with John, he later found out that John killed himself while he was away by drinking cyanide, Reed was told in the beginning of episode 2. He had no idea this was coming, although John had talked about wanting to kill himself on occasion. But before he died, he told friends that people should enjoy life and didn’t appear to be in a suicidal state of mind. However, Tyler Goodson had a different story.
Tyler said he and John spent a lot of time together before he died. They drank a lot and John texted him later that night before he died, begging Tyler to come back and telling him that he was going to kill himself. Tyler said he didn’t take it seriously because he always said that. His girlfriend said if he rushed over every time John threatened to kill himself, Tyler would go crazy.
Tyler said a pair of John’s glasses were twisted up on the porch, covered in blood. He found them when he came to John’s house after he died. Another friend of John’s, Faye, said he called her and said he was planning to commit suicide and she was not to call the police or he would shoot them. He also told her to euthanize his dogs. He drank the mixture while on the phone with her, she said.
When prayers were said at John’s funeral, it really bothered Reed because he knew how much John disliked religion.
According to John’s obituary, he was 49 when he died on June 22, 2015. Four friends left condolences on his online obituary. Andrew Warnberg wrote:
I am deeply saddened to have learned of John’s passing. Truly a musical genius with a true appreciation for music & horticulture. I’m grateful for our last visit back in May to get caught up and take…”
Stan wrote, in part:
John, I will always remember you as the eccentric genius you were. My fondest memories of you are from those late night phone conversations we would have.”