The Crime Wave shifts to Blount County

Based on a piece written by Nancy Locklin, edited by Cooper Harrison (’22).

The Blount Country crimewave began on June 15, 1922, when Miss Mary McCampbell awoke to a man with a pistol and a flashlight in hand. She was the matron of the Blount County Children’s Home and was checking on the residents. The intruder struck her with the pistol and then left. When police questioned Mary, she was unable to describe the intruder, and all the intruder had left behind was a pair of muddy footprints. That same night, three or four other cases of break-ins were reported but no one saw the man’s face. Were these break-ins the work of the Night Marauder or were they simply attempted burglary? The private investigator hired by V. J. Hultquist in 1924 seemed to think they were connected. These homes, like those in the Knoxville attacks, lacked electric light and were therefore easy targets. But aside from that, the June 15 break-ins were different.

The targets are not the same at all. It’s one thing to sneak into a room where a young couple or pair of sisters are sleeping and quite another to break into a children’s home where potentially a dozen residents are sleeping. The intruder’s actions at the children’s home also did not match the behavior of the Night Marauder.  In no account does Mary McCampbell indicate she awoke to find someone touching her. She simply states she saw the man, then he struck her, and took off. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the attack on Mary McCampbell was at the hands of the serial killer. The people of Maryville and Alcoa were terrified. They had yet to see the likes of the murders and assaults that had plagued Knoxville, but the possibility was very real that such attacks were coming.

Historic downtown Maryville. Links to Preservation Plaza.com..

The widespread fear was justified. The next series of attacks left no doubt that it was the work of the same criminal. On March 23, 1923, in the early hours of the morning, perhaps 2:30, Ressie Allison awoke because a man’s cold hands were on her body as she slept. A man’s hand grasped her ankle. As she roused herself, she asked, “Is that you, Daddy?” The reply she got shocked her. He told her to “be quiet” or he’d kill her. She saw then the intruder had a flashlight and a pistol. She tried to scream for a boarder named Mr. Walker who slept in an adjoining room, but the strange man prevented her from calling out. He assaulted her and then fled the house.

On April 27, 1923, Grace Martin Walker was attacked in her home. The intruder attempted to assault her, dragging her from the bed. She stated it was clearly a Black man she fought with, and he ran off when she screamed for her family sleeping upstairs. Her assailant fled. Like others before her, Miss Walker later told the private investigator that said she was sure she could identify the voice of her attacker.

A couple of nights later, in April 1923, the Night Marauder entered the home of a woman while her husband worked a night shift. Myrtle Cook was assaulted around 2 a.m. in her home on Hannum Ave, on Parham Hill. She confirmed that he had a pistol and a flashlight and that she believed she could identify the attacker’s voice.

On July 5, 1923, the Night Marauder visited a series of homes. We now know it is not unusual for a serial killer to attack multiple victims in a single night, especially if he was left unsatisfied by the first attack. On this night, the Marauder targeted homes at the back of Babcock Lumber Mills near the South Rail yard. Mr. and Mrs. Sam Lawson were awoken by the sounds of an intruder, but the man never got close. They both cried out and the intruder fled.

The next target was the Reagan home. Sam Reagan and his wife, Lizzie, slept in one room and Sam’s brother, Allen Reagan, and his wife Martha slept in another. Lizzie would prove to be a useful witness in the investigation because she saw everything clearly and had a lot to say about that night. By chance, Lizzie woke up to see a man with a flashlight enter the house from the door on the front porch.  She saw the pistol and flashlight and, in dismay, woke her husband because she believed Sam’s brother was pointing a gun at his own wife. Turning back to the figure in the dark, she said she got a really good look at him and realized it was not Allen holding the gun. She clearly described him to the police, and she would later select his photo out of a set of suspects.  That night, Lizzie saw the man and heard him threaten to shoot Allen if he moved before fleeing the house.

Foiled in the Reagan home, the Night Marauder went directly to the Roberts home on Wrights Ferry Road. Carter Roberts was the first to wake when a man entered their home holding a flashlight and a pistol. When Carter challenged the intruder and advanced toward him, he fled.

Having been chased away from two homes in a row, the Night Marauder was becoming frustrated. That’s when he entered the home of Lon Bible. It was 3 a.m. and the storm was still raging. Lon’s mother-in-law, Mrs. J. A. Sharp, awoke to find a man standing over her with a gun and a flashlight. The intruder warned her to “keep quiet” and that he would shoot her if she hollered. She screamed for Lon to get a gun as there was a man in the house. Lon scrambled to light a lamp but found someone had hidden the matches and moved the lamp. The marauder may have been frustrated but he was still attentive to detail. Giving up on the light, Lon turned to chase the man out of his house. Just as Lon reached his front porch, the intruder turned and fired a shot that narrowly missed him.

In spite of his many failures that night, the Night Marauder would take pride in his attack on Lon Bible’s house and carefully describe it in a letter to the sheriff.

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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