The World Goes On

If there was tension in Knoxville after the Night Marauder attacks in May 1921, you couldn’t tell so from the Knoxville Sentinel.  As in all good urban papers, every issue included a mix of international, national, and local news alongside advice and pop culture gossip. There was a good amount of farm-related news, acknowledging that several family farms still operated within the city limits, and a lot of ads for local stores and dubious cures for a variety of ailments.

A series of reports in the first part of the summer dealt with a “mysterious howl” many had heard coming from an abandoned house, widely believed to be the work of a ghost. It was common to see society posts, such as “Miss Louise Johnston, the attractive daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thos. H. Johnston, will return from New York, where she is attending school, the first week in June.” (May 21, 1921) Post-WW I European recovery reports dominated, alongside sports news about Jack Dempsey’s incredible feats in the ring and Mary Pickford’s role in the latest film “Through the Back Door.”

The Knoxville Sentinel, July 4, 1921

More serious headlines throughout June 1921 followed the Tulsa race massacre as the story unfolded. The front pages of city papers for weeks featured the scandalous trial of a rich woman in Cleveland, Ohio, for the attempted murder of her husband. The Kaber case was a scandal that made the news nationwide. The biggest local story involving violence concerned a posse trying to find four white men who had murdered a man in Harriman, TN, leaving his bound and gagged body in the woods. The killers evaded arrest until June 16th. Meanwhile, Marion Wilson, the police chief of Johnson City, TN, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in an arrest gone wrong. An 11-year-old girl was found murdered in a baseball park in Kingston on June 6, her body “outraged” after her death. While the suspect in Kingston went on trial, that city enacted a strict curfew. The only reports in Knoxville related to the Night Marauder were updates on Maurice May’s ongoing appeal of his conviction and capital sentence for the Murder of Bertie Lindsey.

The Night Marauder went on a bit of a rampage in July, breaking into five homes over two nights. First hit was the home of John Condon at 207 Laurens Avenue: in the early hours of Tuesday, July 5, Condon interrupted an intruder attempting to assault his young daughter. The stranger fled and later entered the home of Mrs. Lonas Yates at 915 North Central, who was threatened with death if she screamed: she screamed anyway and ran out of the house and the marauder left quickly leaving Mrs. Yates unharmed. It would have been a 47-minute walk from Laurens Ave (now Laurans) to North Central, but this brings the Marauder back to his favorite neighborhoods. The next home, somewhere on Jackson Ave, was located in what is now known as the Old City. Miss Donna Daniels, the third person to find an intruder at her home that night, lived only 17 minutes from Mrs. Yates. Miss Daniels screamed and jumped out a window as a shot was fired at her, but neither she nor her roommate Annie Haynes were ultimately harmed.

The three failures must have frustrated the marauder because he returned later Tuesday to try again. Around 8 p.m., unusually early for the Marauder attacks, J. T. Leidenhammer found a man in his house at 2727 Jefferson Avenue and shouted at him. The man fired a shot, striking Leidenhammer in the arm, and then left. Leidenhammer called the police immediately, convinced the shooter was still hiding in the space under his house. Police found no one there, but Leidenhammer crawled under the house himself and found his own pistol with one round missing. He didn’t remember when he last used his gun but clearly it was stolen by the intruder and then discarded. Just after 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, Miss Ethel Wilson awoke to an intruder in her home at 603 Chamberlain Street. She was instructed to remain silent and go to the kitchen, where the man assaulted her on the floor. Wilson’s mother was a deep sleeper and never heard a thing and there were very few clues left behind. Nevertheless, Chief Detective O’Conner told reporters that he felt sure they were on the verge of an arrest, and he credited the recent lack of attacks on the vigilance of the night patrolmen. Chamberlain St. no longer exists but it was not far from W. Fifth Ave near the Old City. Jefferson Ave is not very close by, but of course the Night Marauder had all night to get there from Leidenhammer’s place and needed to be careful to select a target where the patrolmen did not pass frequently. Chamberlain ran alongside a rail line and Second Creek so it was isolated in spite of its proximity to busy urban areas.

The Night Marauders activities in Knoxville were far from over. However, the strangest thing about his attacks in the summer of 1921 was the waning interest of the public. Only a few months earlier, headlines screamed of a populace in terror, armed to the teeth. The report of July’s incidents were on page 14 of the Knoxville Sentinel and the Journal and Tribune didn’t carry the story at all. The Night Marauder was becoming boring.

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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