Three Autumn Nights in Knoxville

Ida and Dan White lived in a little four-room house at 36 Hart Ave in Knoxville after WWI and Dan worked nights at the Appalachian Cotton Mill. On September 13, 1919, as she slept in a bed with her six-year-old sister, a man entered her room.  Ida awoke around 3 a.m. to feel a man’s hands on her body.

In a statement Mrs. White made to the private investigator in 1924, she said the man pointed a pistol at her and warned that if she screamed, he would kill her, “just as he killed Bertie Lindsay.” That detail is not included in the original news report of her encounter with the intruder. The Journal and Tribune of Knoxville reported on September 14 that the Whites went to the police station together the next morning. With hours having passed since the break-in, police had nothing to go on and no way to identify the man. It was the newspaper that made the connection with Bertie Lindsay, noting that this was the first instance of a home being “invaded by a marauder” since Lindsay’s murder. They added that Maurice Mays was in custody and awaiting trial.

Mrs. White described the man who entered her home as low, stout, shabbily dressed, and “a white man with a dark complexion.” She claimed that she kept her cool—she addressed him in “determined tones” and did not “appear alarmed or agitated.” The Knoxville Sentinel reported that she also told the man to leave, and the man simply walked out of the room. The police did not have enough information to go on, but considered the matter dropped. Since the intruder did not threaten violence, the police assumed it was a would-be robber who gave up. If he really had threatened to shoot her and made a reference to Bertie Lindsay, it didn’t come up at the time.

Mrs. Dacie Ward (sometimes Dicie) was attacked on September 25th at 1642 Boyd St. In this case, from the start, Ward declared that the intruder claimed he would shoot her as he had shot someone else for screaming, but she reported he claimed to have shot “a boy.” In the Ward attack, the intruder had “jimmied” open a window while her husband, Henry, was at work at 3 a.m. using a chair that had been left outside to reach the window. To reach her room, the intruder actually had to pass through a room in which Ward’s teenaged sister-in-law, Roxie, and her little brother were sleeping. Mrs. Ward awoke to find the man standing over her with a flashlight and a pistol, which he had pointed in her face. Twice, she shoved the gun away from her face and begged the man not to hurt her baby. The man put his hands on her legs. Since he would not back off, Mrs. Ward yelled out to the pair sleeping in the next room, and he shot her before fleeing out the window. It must have been a gruesome sight—the one-year-old was spattered with her mother’s blood but otherwise unharmed. Mrs. Ward described her attacker as “a dark-skinned white man or mulatto.” Reporters again compared this attack to what had happened to Bertie Lindsay. Police could not recall any recent case in which “a boy” was shot, so they wondered if the intruder misspoke and it really was a reference to the Lindsay murder. A white man named Lon Howell (sometimes Lon Griffith or Lon Parker) and another named J. D. Mantoosh would be briefly held as suspects in the attack on Ward.

Nettie Pinkum (sometimes Pinkham or Pinkston) was attacked a few days later, on October 1st. She shared a bed with her five-year-old daughter in a house at 309 Maria St. in Knoxville. She stated that around 2 a.m. she woke up to find a man in her room. He shone a flashlight on her and sat on the bed. He threatened to shoot her if she screamed “as he shot that other woman.” Her first reports make no mention of Bertie Lindsay by name. The man then made an “indecent proposal” and Mrs. Pinkum moved to strike a match to light her lamp. At that point, the intruder hit her three times and blood flowed from her head. The little girl ran to help her mother and the intruder picked the child up and threw her against the furniture, injuring her badly. Mrs. Pinkum told the investigator in 1924 that she was pretty sure the intruder was Black. However, she also stated that she wasn’t able to identify him with any certainty but that he was a tall and muscular man.

By October 2, 1919, attorneys for Maurice Mays had sought out Ida White, Nettie Pinkum, and Dacie Ward among other victims of home invasions. Their testimony was meant to show that a marauder, the type who had killed Lindsay, was still at work in Knoxville. It was at this point that newspaper accounts detailing the events of the Mays trial included the statement that the man who entered Mrs. White’s home DID threaten her and specifically referred to Lindsay’s murder. Mr. Mays said from the stand in his own defense, “The man who threatened Mrs. White—who said to her, ‘If you make a noise, I will kill you as I killed Bertie Lindsay’—that is the man who did kill Lindsay.” Mays later told reporters, “The police didn’t even try to find the man who threatened Mrs. White. They already had the man they wanted.” Maurice Mays was targeted because the officer on duty the night Lindsay was killed had some enmity toward him and was simply waiting for the chance to put Mays behind bars.

Though the women’s testimony was declared incompetent by the judge, and their stories did nothing to save Maurice Mays, White, Ward, and Pinkum would be listed among the survivors of the Night Marauder from this point onward.

Published by Nancy Locklin

I am a professor of history at Maryville College in east Tennessee.

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