J.E. McTeer, the late Beaufort County sheriff known for his practice of hoodoo, will be the subject of a new TV series produced by actor Will Smith's production company.
Overbrook Entertainment has agreed to co-produce "Coffin Point" with Alpine Labs, according to Baynard Woods, the author of the true crime book the series is based on: "Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witch Doctor Sheriff."
Attempts to reach Overbrook and Alpine Labs were unsuccessful Friday.
It's unknown which network or online service will claim the show or when it will air, said Woods, who has been helping Alpine Labs develop the pilot, sketch out other episodes and form character biographies for about a year.
"Coffin Point" will be set in 1926, when McTeer took office as the county's top lawman at 23.
He would go on to serve 37 years, but was known by many as the "Boy Sheriff."
McTeer's fascination with hoodoo is largely tied to his rivalry with famed local rootworker Dr. Buzzard, known for his expensive clothes, purple glasses and -- despite McTeer's best efforts -- knack for evading the law. The witch doctor once ripped up more than $1,000 worth of money orders when officials insisted he cash them under his real name, Stepheney Robinson, according to a 2011 NPR interview with Woods.
When word began to spread that Dr. Buzzard was after McTeer, the sheriff went down to the courthouse in Beaufort to send the rootworker a message, according to Woods.
It wasn't a perfect plan, Woods told NPR.
McTeer began to shoot the buzzards perched atop the building, accidentally sending the dead birds down into an open water tank and contaminating the city's water.
The sheriff also tried to prosecute Dr. Buzzard for medical malpractice, but when his key witness -- a reluctant prisoner at the jail -- tried to testify, he began to convulse and "beat himself as if he were covered in stinging ants," and eventually collapsed to the floor foaming at the mouth, according to McTeer's own book, "Fifty Years as a Lowcountry Witch Doctor."
The dispute only ended after Dr. Buzzard's son wrecked his car in the marsh and drowned.
"The popular imagination attributed that to Sheriff McTeer -- that McTeer beat Dr. Buzzzard," Woods told NPR. "So after that, everyone would give confessions and tear down their moonshine stills and just said, 'Don't do to me what you did to Dr. Buzzard.' "
McTeer, however, respected rootwork and continued practicing long after he lost his 1963 reelection bid to former S.C. Highway Patrolman L.W. Wallace.
The former lawman saw patients three hours each day, in a root room he ran out of the back of his real estate office, according to Woods.
In 2009, McTeer's son told The Island Packet that his father's practice of "white magic" not only helped him gain the trust of the county's Sea Island communities, but spread knowledge of hoodoo to the surrounding region.
"The (practice) was a very private thing," Ed McTeer, then 70, said. "He thought of himself more as a poor man's psychiatrist. People would come to our house from four states over to talk to him. You looked at the faith that some of the people around there had, and still have, in that stuff and he knew it wasn't something you (could) blow off."
The "Coffin Point" series will also explore the era's divide between the Gullah and white communities, Deadline reports.
"I think viewers will be rewarded with a glimpse into a little known, and incredibly rich culture that's truly at the root of so many modern day traditions," Overbrook executive producer James Lassiter told Deadline.
McTeer's interest in hoodoo helped alleviate some of the tension of segregation, but it wasn't the only thing that won him credibility with Beaufort County's black population.
The sheriff is credited with keeping the Klu Klux Klan out of the county, and he had a close working relationship with the local NAACP.
On one occasion, after a big storm flooded a largely-black portion of the county, McTeer spent three days on the water rescuing people, according to Woods.
"He's a character, and it's not a simple story and there's no clean judgment to be made," Woods told NPR.
A UNIQUE ERA
On Friday, Woods said he had always imagined his book on the small screen, with a large focus on McTeer's relationship with Dr. Buzzard. He was pleasantly surprised, however, that Overbrook was interested.
"What they do is look for good things for African American roles," Woods said. "I'm really excited they're trying to bring the Geechee world to television and bring it to life."
That same world became the setting of a novel by McTeer's grandson, James.
"Minnow," to be released May 1, tells the story of a boy who must search for the grave of a hoodoo man in the Sea Islands to buy a cure for his dying father.
James McTeer II, 30, said Friday he would be looking out for more news about "Coffin Point."
"It's never surprising to see interest in grandad's story, or to meet people who are inspired by his legend," he said.
"The era in which he lived, and the events of his life... there has never been and there never will be a time like that again, anywhere on the planet."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.
- Quintessentially Lowcountry: Sheriff J.E. McTeer, July 24, 2009