Murder at The Station

The Epting family has a history of recognizing opportunities to make money, and it was an opportunity in that tradition that led to one of Athens’ most storied sagas — the T.K. Harty murder.

“I had always wanted to have a restaurant,” Lee Epting says. He also loved preserving old buildings, and when he learned in 1970 from his fraternity brothers that the Southern Railway depot was available, he was intrigued. “I could combine my interests in the restaurant business with historic preservation. It sounded like a lot of fun.”

The Station was THE place to go in Athens in the late 70s and early 80s for good food and adult beverages. T.K. Harty’s, Somebody’s Pizza and The Valdosta restaurant drew people by droves in its heyday.

He bought the property but needed investors to make the project viable. He persuaded several local friends, each with a particular asset, to join him.

Lee Epting, far left, in the late 70s on the back of one of the rail cars at The Station.
Lee operated The Valdosta, a fine dining car in an elegant setting that took guests back in time.

That was the beginning of The Station, a cluster of businesses in the depot and imported railway cars, that would soon become Athens’ favorite gathering spot. T.K. Harty operated T.K. Harty’s Saloon; John Mooney later ran Somebody’s Pizza. Epting managed the total facility and oversaw The Valdosta kitchen, the railcar with luxury dining. The three men negotiated an agreement over who could sell draft beer (Harty), who could sell only canned beer (Mooney) and who could pour liquor (Epting).

From the beginning, Epting had concerns about two of his partners.

“T.K. was a Yankee. He was abrupt, and he had ways that weren’t Southern,” Epting says. “He made his money at Westinghouse, and he would come down here and hang out.”

Mooney had worked for pizza restaurants in Atlanta, Epting recalled, with the intention of “learning how they operated the business, grabbing their recipes and absconding with those. That always bothered me.”

The Station is now home to the Athens Area Council on Aging on Hoyt Street. (Photo / Minla Shields)
John Mooney operated Somebody’s Pizza out of one of the dining cars at The Station. John Mooney was implicated in the murder-for-hire of rival T.K. Harty in 1977.

Initially, the agreements held and business was good for everyone. But envy between Mooney and Harty grew into anger. Mooney wanted to sell draft beer and negotiated a deal with a local distributor to provide it to him for free, violating the terms of the lease and enraging Harty. When Epting sold The Station to Harty and left Athens, Harty promptly evicted Mooney, setting off the chain of events that led to Harty’s murder in 1977, and ultimately Athens’ featured story on an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”

For more on this story, listen to the Classic City Crime podcast “The Murder of T.K. Harty.”

>> See related story: The Hospitable Humanitarians

Chuck Toney
Chuck Toney
Chuck Toney, owner of C. Toney Communications, is a career communicator who has provided writing support and public affairs counsel to a member of the US House of Representatives, two university presidents and their executive teams, and leaders of regional and national organizations. He enjoys gardening, cooking, reading, hiking, fishing and searching for primitive antique treasures. Chuck and his wife, Laura, a retired art educator, are the proud parents of three young adult sons. They live in Athens' eastside with their cat, Tortellini.

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