Changing the Pattern or Inspiring Copycats?

In preparation for a case in Blount County in 1924, a private investigator attempted to create the definitive list of every Night Marauder attack since 1919. We have alluded to him before, especially when the original reports of an incident did not line up with what witnesses later told the P.I. In some of these cases, break-ins and attacks were often similar enough to the typical pattern that one could chalk up the differences to trauma and the power of suggestion. In such cases, the attacks could have been the work of the Night Marauder. Other cases in 1921 included details that suggest someone different was to blame for the violence.

Hazel Giffin told the investigator in 1924 that on the night of April 20, 1921, someone broke into her family’s home at 510 Clinch Ave. Hazel told the private investigator that a man had attacked her during the night as she came out of the bathroom in her home. The P. I.’s report says simply that the intruder “assaulted her and accomplished his task” before fleeing from the house she shared with her parents and siblings.

However, the Knoxville Sentinel reported a very different kind of attack on that night. On Wednesday the 20th, the Sentinel reported that the daughter of Robert Giffin was accosted by two Black men as she passed an alleyway near the First M. E. Church. Hazel was 15 at the time and on her way home in the evening. She told the police one of the men grabbed her and tried to clamp a hand over her mouth while the other seemed to be reaching to open a nearby car door. She managed to scream, and the two men fled. On that night, she was left uninjured though she was hysterical while talking to the police. Her dress was torn. The Knoxville Journal and Tribune did not even report the attack.

The unfortunate Hazel, however, seems to have conflated two attacks into one. On May 12, 1921, the Knoxville Sentinel reported that “a fifth attempt” had been made to break into the Giffin home.  Someone attempted to open a window from outside the small house around 2:30 a.m. and the noise awoke the teenager, who shared a bed with her little sister, Eva. Hazel ran to her parents’ bedroom and that movement was enough to dissuade the intruder from entering. Police found tracks outside the window, but a hard rain made it difficult for the bloodhounds to get a scent. Selma Giffin, the girls’ mother, said that similar attempts had been made over the last year.

In either case, there was no report of sexual assault within the house. It’s possible a sixth attempt was made successfully and that all these memories ran together in Hazel’s mind. The attempt at breaking into a teenaged girl’s bedroom certainly matches the Night Marauder’s usual pattern. However, in this case the intruder had targeted the home of a married couple, their six kids, a son-in-law, and a boarder. The possibility of confronting three grown man would have been a risky proposition for the Night Marauder. If there had been multiple attempts to enter the Giffin home, the would-be intruder had to be familiar with how many people lived there. The attack in this case would have been in the early hours of a Thursday when the most recent attacks had all been on Tuesdays. Finally, Clinch Ave is downtown and therefore also a bit outside the Marauder’s usual hunting grounds. That could reflect the increased vigilance in neighborhoods where he’d already been active, but it could indicate the work of a copycat.

The next case actually took place prior to the attempt to break into the Giffin home, but the investigator listed it as having happened after, accepting Hazel’s statement about being attacked in the month of April. W. B. Davenport told the private investigator in 1924 that during the early hours of Friday, May 6, 1921, someone broke into his home at 647 Dandridge Pike and attempted to assault his two daughters. He claimed the man fled after the girls began to scream and he jumped out of bed.  On a modern map of Knoxville, E. Summit Hill Dr SE is what used to be the beginning of the Dandridge Pike, so depending on how houses were numbered at the time, this could have been walking distance from the Old City. That would mark a return of the Night Marauder to his usual grounds. However, today 647 Dandridge Ave is now somewhat remote. If that is where the attack actually happened, it might signal that the intruder was taking pains to avoid areas prepared for his attacks.

Image taken from Pitner’s 1930 map of Knoxville (Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection)

In a strange reversal of Hazel Giffin’s tale, the newspaper reports at the time of the attack state that both Rose (18) and Josie (15) Davenport were sexually assaulted multiple times before their father woke up. Oddly enough, the Knoxville Sentinel report connected this assault to two others in which arrests had already been made. A white man with bright red hair named John West had been arrested on charges he had broken into a home on Clyde St. and attempted to assault some house guests. But, the guests were acquainted with West and had positively identified him. In addition, bloodhounds had led police from the Clyde St. home to the house where White was staying. The very next day, an African American man was arrested following an attempt to enter a Lonsdale home just before sunup.  Chief O’Conner took advantage of the opportunity to remind everyone to remain vigilant and protect their homes and families.

On May 9, 1921, The Knoxville Sentinel reported that Robert Huskey had been arrested in conjunction with the assault of Rose and Josie Davenport. Huskey had formerly boarded with the Davenports and knew the home well. In fact, Mrs. Davenport’s maiden name was Huskey and Robert may have been a relative of the family. Huskey and West were in jail awaiting trial, but the newspaper reported that the African American who had been detained earlier had been released when the witnesses agreed he was not the man they saw.  Huskey’s trial was set for Tuesday, May 10, and he claimed he would be able to furnish a solid alibi.

On May 11, the Sentinel reported that Huskey had given proof that he was in Sevierville the night the Davenport girls were assaulted. Huskey then turned to the girls and told them if he had been guilty, he understood why they would have turned him in. At that point, in the courtroom, the girls broke down and exonerated Huskey, saying he was not the man in their room that night. Their father then threatened them, right in the courtroom, saying he would withdraw all financial support of the girls and kick them out if they did not admit who had been with them. No one else was ever tried for the crime committed in the Davenport home and both women were still living with their parents in 1930.

Rose Davenport went on to marry Randolph Pace. Josie was briefly married but divorced and returned to the home of her parents. She died of tuberculosis in 1935. Their father was the one who met with the investigator three years after the attack, still hoping for closure.

Knoxville remained on alert but the nights would remain quiet until July, when the Night Marauder would outdo himself.

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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