The Fiend Becomes a Monster

While Elijah McGill faced trial for the murder of his wife, the Night Marauder went on a rampage. Over the course of the summer of 1920, several women in Knoxville were attacked easily as their doors and windows were left open to let in the cool night air. Circumstances, however, would lead the marauder to discover a new and disturbing thrill by summer’s end.

Miss Joy Thomas was attacked on May 24 when she was about 14 years old. She lived on University Ave with her parents and shared a room with her two little sisters. Miss Thomas woke up around 2 a.m. because she felt hands on her body. The light from a flashlight shined in her eyes and she could see the man held a pistol. He told her she was too young to kill but that he would not hesitate to shoot if she screamed. He instructed her to get out of the bed and lay on the floor. Petrified, she silently did as he said, and he assaulted her while her parents slept. Years later, while speaking to a private investigator, she would leave out the part about the assault, claiming that he simply turned away and left. On the night of the attack, she was able to tell the police the man was “low and heavy”, with a “red” complexion. Bloodhounds sent out that night followed a trail from the Thomas home to the Euclid avenue street car line.

On June 1st, Miss Alma Booker slept alone in a downstairs room in a house she shared with her mother and brother on Burwell Ave. She woke up because she felt a man’s hands on her body. She immediately tried to push his hands away and jump out of the bed. He told her to be still and he would not hurt her. He made “an indecent proposition” to her and threatened to kill her. The man pressed the gun firmly against her temple and flashed the light in her eyes so that she could not see him. She could not even tell if he was white or Black, but she thought she felt his jacket against her skin and it seemed to be corduroy. She screamed and then fainted. When she regained consciousness, she ran to her mother’s room. However, she was still so shaken she could not speak for some time. When they returned to her room, they saw “the prints of his feet” on the bed. Newspapers at the time of the attack did not publish her name because she was only 13 at the time. Apparently, she was unharmed because her scream alerted the household and the intruder left quickly.

On July 22, 1920, the same edition of the Knoxville Sentinel that announced the conviction of Elijah McGill reported the latest Night Marauder attack. Mrs. Mattie McCall awoke just after midnight in her home on Lawrence Ave to find a man in her room, holding a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. She remembered thinking that he had gloves on his hands as he pushed the gun into her face. He whispered something to her in a harsh tone, but she could not understand what he was saying. The light from the flashlight was blinding and the man kept it pointed towards her eyes the whole time. He forced her back on the bed and assaulted her, though she struggled to resist him.

The man did not stay long but McCall stayed laying in bed for several minutes after he had gone because she was terrified that he would return.  She lived alone with her 22-year-old son who was away from home on the night shift at the Brookside mills. Eventually, McCall made her way to a neighbor’s house and the police were summoned. No clues were found, as was the case in so many of these attacks. McCall could only describe the man as “probably white” and that his trousers felt like corduroy. The newspaper did note that, at 54, Mrs. McCall was “the oldest” victim so far.

Mrs. Mildred Young was attacked on July 30 in a 3-room house on Maria Street. She was alone because her husband worked for the railroad and they had been separated for some time. Sometime after midnight, the signature flashlight shone in her eyes, causing her to wake up, and she screamed. The man holding the flashlight told her if she screamed again, he would kill her. She screamed again and the intruder shot her in the abdomen before running away. He climbed out an open window which was presumably the way he had entered. Mrs. Crawford, a boarder, and her daughter were asleep in the second room, and they quickly came to Mrs. Young’s aid. They took her to the hospital where the bullet was removed, but surgeons discovered it had perforated her intestines in eleven places. Mildred Young would spend the next six weeks recovering from the gunshot wound. While there, fearing she would die soon, Young said the man who had shot her was someone who had become infatuated with her and had seen her out with another man. She described the intruder as a “deserter from the U.S. Army” named Carl Stephens. Stephens was arrested and held without trial pending Mrs. Young’s full recovery. However, Young dropped the charges at some point and Stephens never stood trial. Years later she would claim that she never got a good look at the man who shot her.

On August 10th, Lula Eunice Robinson was attacked and killed in her home on Van Street. Her husband, Mannie, had left to work at a mine in Claiborne County, and Lula shared the room with her sister-in-law Elizabeth.  About 3 a.m. Elizabeth woke to see a man with a flashlight and a gun standing at the foot of Lula’s bed. She could not recall if she woke up because of the gunshot sounds or Lula’s screams but it was terrifying. The intruder kept telling Lula to be quiet but she kept screaming. The man shot Lula three times—twice in the leg and once in her side.

The clamor of the screaming and the gunshots did not frighten the intruder away on this occasion. He did not turn and run after shooting his victim. Instead, with Lula groaning and bleeding out on the bed, the sick intruder turned his attention to Elizabeth. He assaulted Elizabeth while her sister-in-law lay dying in the same room. The Knoxville Journal and Tribune called it “the most heinous of the similar tragedies that have swept the city in the past few months.”

Lula would cling to life for two whole days, but there was no saving her. This would be the dawn of a more chilling pattern as the Night Marauder began to target two people. Perhaps hoping to recreate the thrill of the attack in the Robinson home, he sought out a home where two people slept and shot one of them before raping the other. The horror of the attack was amplified, as the first victim was helpless to help the second, and the person being assaulted could not save their sister or spouse. There would still be the occasional attack on a solitary woman, but even these were more likely to end in death. The serial rapist and burglar was now a dedicated killer.

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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