Thomas Joe Hinkley was born on July 10, 1922, in Abbeville, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. He was the first of four sons born to Etta and Guthrie Hinkley. His mom was a homemaker, and his father owned Abbeville General Mercantile, later renamed the Abbeville Department Store.
He and his brothers had quiet country childhoods, helping out in their family's store, doing chores around the house, hunting, gardening, and attending Yoknapatawpha County schools. Tommy Joe had a paper route in Abbeville during his school years.
He dated several girls during high school but never had a steady girlfriend until his senior year when he began seeing Lois Graves.
Three of the Hinkley boys enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War II. The fourth brother, Walter, was too young to serve. Tommy Joe emerged as a staff sergeant with an honorable discharge. One of his brothers, Aaron, was wounded and sent home to recuperate from serious shrapnel injuries. Their other brother, Arlan, was killed in combat.
After his discharge, Tommy Joe returned home and continued courting Lois, who had written to him throughout the war. The couple were married in 1945 and never had any children.
Tommy Joe got a job with the U.S. Postal Service and worked as a rural route postal carrier for 16 years. He was promoted to a desk job at the main Oxford post office in 1961.
His brother Aaron became an insurance salesman and never married. Walter Hinkley married his high school sweetheart, had three children, and worked at the Bowlan Glove Factory.
Tommy Joe said he'd had enough of guns during the war to last him a lifetime, so he never went hunting again after returning from his tour of duty. He drifted away from many of his old high school friends in Yoknapatawpha County. He became something of a loner, trying different hobbies to pass his free time — ham radio operation, tinkering with electronics, and collecting rare stamps.
He became good friends with Richard Izard, however, during occasional poker games at his brother Walter's house.
The most dramatic moment of Tommy Joe's life as a postal carrier was his discovery of Richard and Lisa Izard's lifeless, bloody bodies. The couple was killed outside their home on Friday, April 11, 1958. Tommy Joe found the Izards' bodies when he went up to the house to deliver a package. The Izard children were already missing when he arrived.
Tommy Joe was so shaken by the slayings that he became even more of a recluse than he was previously. He worked only until he reached retirement age and gladly took his pension.
He was diagnosed with lip and tongue cancer in 1975 after dipping snuff for years. He reluctantly had surgery, and after a struggle with his nicotine addiction, gave up his tobacco habit.
His wife, Lois, died in 1992 after a series of strokes.
Tommy Joe, now 75, lives at Meek's Rest Home, a nursing home just outside of Oxford. Although he sometimes forgets where he puts his false teeth, his memory is as sharp as ever about his war years, the early years of his marriage, and his postal career. He criticizes the nursing home's handling of his mail, often sputtering at the staff and quoting old postal regulations.