The Lull Between Storms

The situation in Knoxville was getting too hot for the Night Marauder. If the city truly had become, as the papers reported, an “armed camp”, it would explain why three months passed before another attack was attempted. In September, KPD had begun their dragnet of the streets each night and special detachments of night Patrolmen were assigned to the neighborhoods frequented by the Night Marauder.

Law enforcement was certainly kept busy. Following the murder of Alice Burnett, police made good on their promise to arrest every “dope fiend” they could to clear the streets. Dozens of vagrants and drug users were arrested and sent to the county workhouse. Some citizens criticized the dragnet, saying some men had become addicted following treatment for illnesses and were too feeble to face the strain of working. Psychiatrists and physicians repeated their statements that morphine and cocaine addicts were generally physically weaker and only likely to steal, not attack like the Night Marauder did. Nevertheless, dozens of drug users were arrested and some were desperate when captured. On September 26, the Knoxville Journal and Tribune reported that John Vanderbeck, an awning maker, had been picked up for loitering and would soon be charged with a federal narcotics violation. Upon hearing this in the city court, Vanderbeck ran past other prisoners in the dock and leapt out a window. He fell 20 feet to the ground and took off across Market Square, where he ran through one store and then through another store on Gay St. before he was intercepted by Patrolmen Hatcher, Lee, and Tyree. Venderbeck was well-known around Knoxville for his drug use, though he was well liked and always nattily dressed. Police found “a considerable quantity of cocaine” in Venderbeck’s hotel room. The Chief of police made it clear that Vanderbeck was not a suspect in the Marauder case but they wanted to increase pressure on all known criminals. Emergency vehicles and squad cars were even kept with their engines running between midnight and 4 a.m. most nights in case they needed to respond quickly.  However, he also had to admit they had no clues to follow and were nowhere near a solution.

There was a cryptic note in the Knoxville Sentinel reporting a rumor that on September 24 “a prominent young man” had been stopped on the Washington Pike the night of the murder. The young man had matched a description of the intruder from witnesses in the Cox and Key cases and had a flashlight in his pocket. Police released him and did not reveal his name. Chief of Police Haynes insisted that no such thing occurred. “If such a person had been under arrest, his name as well as the names of all others taken up in the dragnet would be announced to the public.”

Police followed up on every report or complaint, responding in person every time someone spotted a stranger. They did not, however, take seriously an anonymous letter threatening violence on behalf of Bolsheviks. It was printed in pencil in all capital letters, and it said, “Chief of Police Haynes, Between September 23 and 25 will be Knoxville’s Red Days. Remember Wall Street! Chief, a tip to the wise, they say is sufficient. Better put a few extras on at some of the more important places. Remember Wall Street!” Police turned the letters over to federal authorities.

Police maintained the high alert for several weeks. They arrested vagrants, prowlers, drug users, and thieves but they never found the Marauder. And the Night Marauder stayed away, biding his time. Perhaps, in the dead of winter, the streets were bare enough to risk venturing out. Perhaps the police had let their guards down.

Mrs. Lillian Bales lived at 204 Bearden Place with her two daughters, Ada, aged 19, and Cleo, aged 16. On the 4th of January, 1921, a man entered their home in the early hours of a Tuesday morning. Bales woke up because someone with a flashlight tried to pull back the blankets that covered her and her sleeping daughters. Mrs. Bales cried out and woke her daughters. The intruder shined a flashlight in Mrs. Bales’ face and ordered her to stop crying. However, by then, all three women were screaming. This frightened the Marauder enough that he ran out of the house, leaving them unhurt. Bales was the widow of Fred Bales, a former Deputy Sheriff, and their two daughters were described as “responsibly employed.” Chief O’Conner assigned Detectives Day and Swaggerty to investigate the break-in.

Detectives traced footsteps from the Bales home to two other homes on Bearden Place, with no signs of entry, and then to the home of Clay Henry at 815 Irwin Street. The Henry home was entered through a locked door, leading police to suspect he had a skeleton key. No one was awakened in the Henry home, but some money was taken. The police were puzzled, however, because the Henry home was the same house where Maude Maples was disturbed on August 10. They could not make sense of it. However, it does suggest that the same man was responsible for all these attacks. Maude Maples was the woman who had been drinking and almost willingly left with the intruder. On that night, the Marauder left 815 Irwin and killed Lula Robinson while assaulting her sister-in-law. Perhaps, then, Maples had lingered in the mind of the Night Marauder as the one who got away. When he entered the home where Clay Henry slept, the intruder realized she was not there and left.

An African American man named Leonard Wilson was shot as he tried to enter a home at 617 Randolph St. at 5:30 a.m. on January 4. The homeowner, Mrs. Maloney, did not hear anything. Her son-in-law, Robert Zoloman, was the first to notice anything and fired as soon as he saw someone trying to get in. Chief O’Conner sent his detectives to interrogate Wilson as soon as he was able to talk. While awaiting their report O’Conner told reporters that he did not believe all the crimes to be committed by the same person. Rather, he thought there was a crime wave returning to Knoxville after months of quiet. As he had done in September, O’Conner said his officers have orders to “shoot to kill” and he advised the citizens to follow the same policy. “That is the only way such criminals can be eradicated and the homes of the city made safe from the depredations of these criminals. Citizens should have firearms in their homes for protection against such a dangerous and daring menace.”

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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