These days, George Mitchell, now in his mid-fifties, is a self-professed loan shark, living a life (more or less) within the law. But back in his youth he was something more—a man who compulsively trampled on the feet of hundreds of unsuspecting young women, earning him the attention of the media and the nickname of “Footstomper.”
Between 1968 and 1985, Mitchell was arrested more than 40 times for assaulting women with his feet, almost all of the attacks taking place in Atlanta or Nashville. As a result, he spent 18 years in and out of various prisons, always returning to the streets to stomp again, sometimes within minutes of being released.
In 1985, the attacks abruptly and mysteriously came to an end despite the fact that neither the legal system of Georgia nor Tennessee had been willing or able to provide Mitchell with treatment for his seemingly compulsive disorder. It turns out that Mitchell had re-located to Florida, where, with the help of a new circle of friends, he managed to conquer his habit once and for all.
Long before George Mitchell was labeled as the “Footstomper,” he was simply known as “Kill.” In the documentary film Injurious George—by Nashville television news anchorwoman Demetria Kalodimos—several of Mitchell’s childhood acquaintances recount how he earned that nickname by constantly shooting a stolen BB gun. Raised by a grandmother at the John Henry Haile housing project in North Nashville, he quit school early and mastered the art of shoplifting. As a teen-ager he moved on to stealing pocketbooks, and began employing a technique that hinted at his future compulsion. At some point, Mitchell discovered that slamming a brick or can of fruit down on a woman’s foot made for an effective purse snatching strategy.
By his late teens Mitchell made the transition to foot stomping, and word began circulating around Nashville that a tall, thin black man was crushing the feet of women all over town with his wooden-heeled black dress shoes. One of his early victims was Bonnie Myers, who lived near one of Mitchell’s favorite, uh, stomping grounds, a row of businesses bordering the campus of Vanderbilt University. “I was coming out of McClure’s department store in Hillsboro Village,” recalls Myers. “It was the summer of 1970. We met in the doorway and I stepped aside and then he stepped aside. When I moved to the other side he did the same thing. I was just going to say, ‘I’ll stay put and you go in,’ but when I looked up to speak to him he stomped on my foot and ran off.”
Unlike many other victims, Myers wasn’t seriously hurt. “I was wearing sandals, but there was a strip of leather that came up over the top of my foot. I think that saved me from being injured," she recalls. However, other women reported broken bones and severe bruises, not to mention torn stockings and mangled footwear.
At the time, Myers hadn’t yet heard of the footstomper. “My immediate perception was that he had done it deliberately,” she says. “I was totally puzzled, but he ran away before I had a chance to say anything.” It didn’t take long for Myers to learn more about her assailant. “I saw his picture in the newspaper the next day,” she remembers. “He had been arrested after stomping on someone else.”
Mitchell's level of fame and activity reached its peak in 1980; he may have even inspired the Dexter Fishpaw character (a foot stomping fetishist) in the 1981 John Waters movie, Polyester. In the early ’80s both of Nashville’s newspapers—The Tennessean and Nashville Banner—routinely contained stories recounting the Footstomper’s latest exploits. On May 25, 1980 The Tennessean reported that Mitchell stomped Grace Irvin at a Compton’s food market. The victim was in the checkout line when he, “mashed her foot, much like a cigarette, causing it to bleed. Then he walked away without apologizing,” said Irvin.
By and large, his attacks followed a consistent pattern. Mitchell would loiter near stores, step down as hard as he could on the arches of white women wearing sandals or high heels, and then run away without saying a word. He also stomped at post offices, the bus station, and numerous other public places. However, some women claimed that he apologized profusely after assailing them. Mitchell has also stated that his attacks weren’t limited to white females, but those incidents never became public because black women seemed reluctant to prosecute him.
Andrei Lee, currently the senior referee for Davidson County [Nashville] Juvenile Court, and a former assistant public defender who frequently represented Mitchell, confirms that many women didn’t want to prosecute. “They didn’t want him to go to jail, they wanted him to get help,” notes Lee.
On January 21, 1981 Mitchell pleaded guilty to four counts of assaulting women; his criminal court testimony illustrates his inability to control himself: “I’m not really no bad person, but it seems like something just takes over, an urge or something, and I can’t do nothing about it.” Concerning one of the attacks Mitchell said, “I was just walking through [Hillsboro Village] when the feeling started; ‘Step on this foot, step on that foot.’ I fought it off . . . but it kept nagging at me . . . so I went right back out there.”
Lee, who defended Mitchell on that day, says the courts could have done a lot more to help. “The system failed him because he had an illness and shouldn’t have been treated so harshly,” says Lee. “If he committed the offenses in today’s society the attitude toward diagnosis and treatment would be different. For instance, we now have a mental health docket, something that wasn’t even thought of then. That was during the time when society thought the best thing to do with people with mental illnesses was to lock them away. Every time he got arrested and convicted they wanted to give him the maximum.”
As a result, Mitchell spent almost all of his young adult life in jail. “I was afraid at some point that he was becoming institutionalized,” recalls Lee. “This was a way for him to provide for himself. When he stomped on someone’s foot at least he had a place to sleep for the next six months or a year.”
However, the events of May 9, 1981 seem to confirm that lack of behavioral control was the major issue. On that day, Mitchell, always a model prisoner, accompanied two [Nashville] Metro jail deputies, officer James McDermon and Sergeant Jerry Bell, on a routine errand. Upon arriving at the city’s Farmers Market, Mitchell immediately stomped on the feet of several women, incidents that resulted in the termination of both McDermon and Bell, and a lawsuit against the city and sheriff’s office. “I remember him saying he couldn’t help himself, and I believed that,” says Lee.
After nearly two decades of stomping it’s hard to believe that this story could have a happy ending. By 1985, Mitchell—who had become a national criminal celebrity—was so reviled around Nashville that he felt compelled to leave. Deciding to re-settle in Florida, he began earning a living by hustling pool. After crushing the feet of several women at a local pool hall, a group of patrons confronted him and somehow managed to help him curb his insatiable desires. Today, he counts those people as friends and says that he rarely gets those feelings anymore. However, at one point in Injurious George, Mitchell claims he now has a fallback option for when he gets the urge to stomp; he ventures to a local topless bar and pays to massage a woman’s feet.
Still, it's clear that Mitchell lost some of the best years of his life to this bizarre addiction. “I felt a sense of sadness while watching Injurious George,” says Myers. “I thought he looked much older than his 53 years.” Lee concurs, saying, “I’m glad he has stopped doing it and chose another way of life, but I just think of all the pain he went through being incarcerated, not to mention all the pain he caused other people. I think if he had been treated he would have conquered his issues a lot more quickly.”