Making the List

It should come as no surprise that the defense team for Maurice Mays, facing the death penalty after having been charged with the murder of Bertie Lindsey, pulled out all the stops. The crucial evidence, that the assaults and murders kept happening even as Mays was incarcerated, never made it to the jury’s ears. That long list of attacks would continue to grow well past the execution of Mays in 1922 and it would be resurrected and enhanced with every telling. Two more men would face trial before the killing stopped in 1926, each suspected of being the Night Marauder.

But were all the attacks on that list really the work of the same man?

Many of the early attacks raise questions, particularly when the victims identified someone else as the violent intruder. Della Cunningham Wagner was attacked in 1919, months before Bertie Lindsey was killed, and she accused a preacher who had been following her around. She later dropped that accusation. When Ida White first reported a night-time intruder in September 1919, she had not been at all afraid and did not mention any threats of violence. Dacie Ward and Nettie Pinkum described attacks in late September and early October 1919, respectively, and the details they reported certainly match the pattern established by the Night Marauder. However, the threats each woman remembered the intruder making did not match one another and did not at first make any reference to Bertie Lindsey. Even so, beginning with the legal defense of Maurice Mays, the attacks on Wagner, Ward, and Pinkum would be cemented as part of the series and evoked in the press every time a suspect was brought to trial.

There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon. The most cynical explanation is that defense attorneys for Mays and later suspects coached the women to include details explicitly connecting their crimes. Mind you, this would not mean that Mays or the later suspects were actually guilty. Clearly, attacks kept happening even while the accused were in custody and even after two of them were dead. Someone was responsible for those crimes. Yet, one could imagine a defense attorney suggesting that the intruder must have been referring to Bertie Lindsey when he threatened to shoot the women.

Another possible explanation, also cynical, is that the women realized that adding their tales to the narrative that haunted Knoxville kept them in the center of attention. None of these women were very powerful and a couple of them were in the midst of dysfunctional family drama. Being asked to testify repeatedly, being featured in news stories, and being visited by private investigators must have made them feel special, even vindicated.

But perhaps it was simply the result of having survived a traumatic event and hearing about similar attacks and sister survivors. It may have brought relief and a sense of closure to count themselves among the victims of the Night Marauder. And let’s not forget the power of suggestion. Memory is hazy, even under the best of conditions. In the aftermath of a terrifying assault and, in some cases, a gunshot wound, it is possible that they “remembered” the intruder saying something about Bertie Lindsey. It would make sense if they suddenly realized the intruder must have had a flashlight, even if they did not mention it at first.

One case that will make it on to the list of Marauder attacks at first appears to be entirely unrelated.  At 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, August 10, 1920, a man entered the room where Maude Maples slept, fired a shot, and then ran away. Maude Maples was separated from her husband and living with her father but was eager to find someplace else to stay.  On this occasion, she was simply staying over at the home of a friend. Maples told police she woke up because someone pulled the covers off of her. She looked up at the man who told her, “Lay still, Maude, and be quiet or I’ll shoot you.” Frightened, she ran around the bed to wake up her roommate, who told her to leave with the man and be quiet. It was at that point that a shot was fired into a wall and the man turned to leave.

Maples insisted that the shooter had been none other than the man of the house, Henderson Radcliff. Radcliff and his wife Katy owned the home at 815 Irwin St. in Knoxville, and they had some rooms they let out to boarders. Hazel Brummet (sometimes Biles) was living with them at the time, and Maude was a friend of hers. The Radcliffs and Miss Brummet testified at the preliminary hearing that the intruder was a stranger, and that Maude was confused.  Their accounts of what happened that night certainly explain how Maude could have been so confused.

Late Monday afternoon, Maude came to visit Hazel and she gave Radcliff a dollar to get them some whiskey. He did so, though he said she had clearly already been drinking, and and then he went back out to have dinner with a friend. Hazel and Maude spent the evening drinking whiskey with lemon extract, making a cocktail similar to a whiskey sour. They then walked around the neighborhood in the company of two unidentified men. After that, they returned to the house and Hazel insisted Maude spend the night in her room. The Radcliffs testified that Maude Maples seemed intoxicated but that they thought nothing of it and went to their room. Hazel Brummet testified that she awoke to see a man talking to Maude at the side of the bed in low tones. When he noticed her looking at them, he chided Maude for waking up her roommate. At that same moment, Katy Radcliff shook her husband awake and told him there was a man in the house. He looked and saw a man in a white shirt standing at the foot of the bed where the two young women had been sleeping. Henderson heard the man threaten to shoot Maude. Henderson then spoke out loud, saying “Perhaps I’ll just shoot him,” hoping to frighten the intruder. He succeeded because at that point the strange man fired a shot towards the Radcliffs’ room before turning to run out of the house. Radcliff then fired a round into the floor to make sure the intruder left.

This testimony was bolstered by strong character witnesses who spoke in favor of Mr. Radcliff. Statements by Detective Gibson, who had visited the scene of the crime, absolutely cemented the man’s innocence.  There were two bullets recovered from the house—one in the wall and one in the floor, but Radcliff’s gun was missing only one round. Initially, no report made reference to a flashlight, but the detective searched for one anyway. The only flashlight in the Radcliff home was covered with dust and did not contain any batteries. Combined, the evidence led to the dismissal of the charges against Henderson Radcliff. This left the identity of the intruder unsolved.

It seems likely that Maude Maples, having had too much to drink, looked like an easy mark in the eyes of a predator. It may have been one of the men who accompanied the two young women on their walk, or it could have been someone else who saw them together. Whoever it was entered the room and tried to persuade Maude to leave with him. That would explain why Hazel was not at first very frightened and why she told her friend to be quiet and leave. When Maude refused to leave and the Radcliffs interrupted him, the stranger fired a shot and fled. The next day, having sobered up, Maude insisted that the man at her bed had to have been Radcliff because “he was the only man in the house.” The Knoxville Journal and Tribune reported that Maples became heated and “appeared sullen” on the stand, sticking to her story that Radcliff had tried to assault her. However, the testimony of the other three witnesses made it clear she was not being truthful. Maples admitted in court she had been drinking with Hazel, but she denied going for a walk with two gentlemen. She might have been impaired enough that she was having trouble reconstructing exactly what had happened.

With no other suspects to pursue, the police and the press added the attack on Maude Maples to the list of unsolved Night Marauder cases. If the intruder in this case was the same man who had preyed upon so many women before, Maude had no idea how fortunate she was. The initial accusation against Henderson Radcliff delayed recognition that this attempt was part of the series. This case was included in the list several days after the horrific murder and assault at the Robinson home, but it had happened just a couple of hours prior. The intruder was in the Radcliff home at 1:30 a.m. and the Robinsons were attacked just after 3 a.m. This would mean that the Night Marauder, frustrated by the way he had been interrupted at the Radcliff home still yearned for that elusive thrill. He was determined to find satisfaction.  The Robinson home at 1321 Van St. (now Val St. at Baxter) was less than a mile from the Radcliff home on Irwin. It would have been a fifteen-minute walk, less if the man walked through the Old Gray Cemetery. That determination to fulfill his urge could explain what tipped him over the edge, to the point where he would shoot Lula Robinson and then stay to complete his assault on her sister-in-law Elizabeth.

Image taken from Pitner’s 1930 map of Knoxville (Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection) https://cmdc.knoxlib.org/digital/collection/p15136coll4/id/3331

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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