A Trap is Set

This post is based on a chapter written by N. Locklin and was edited by Trey Hampton (MC ’24)

In the months after he had received the anonymous letter, Sheriff John C. McCampbell did not stop looking for the Night Marauder. Two people who had seen the letter—the Sheriff’s sister-in-law and old Dr. Cusick from Sevierville—linked Dora Davis from the list of murder victims to Will Sheffey. McCampbell was pretty sure he had his man and looked for any opportunity to build a case against Sheffey.

On March 3, 1924, the Night Marauder tried to enter the home of Jim Pace on Sevierville Pike, fired several shots without harm, and hurried away. Gus Davis was the Deputy on duty that night and he received a report about some screaming and the sound of gunshots. Davis called Sheriff John McCampbell who raced to pick up his deputy and get to the Pace home as quickly as possible.  They met briefly with Pace to make sure no one was injured, and then returned to Maryville as quickly as they had come.

The Sheriff had a plan. Now that he had Will Sheffey in mind as a suspect, he hoped to catch the man returning home from Sevierville Pike. Once he and Gus Davis got to town, they switched cars to avoid detection and told Fred Ballard, a taxi-driver, to drive them to Wilson Ave, where Sheffey lived with his mother.  Once they got to the street where the Sheffeys lived, Sheriff McCampbell and Gus Davis got out of the car and asked Ballard to stay parked quietly in the street while they approached the house on foot. For some reason, Ballard “misunderstood”, as the investigator later reported, and instead drove his car down the street. As another car sped down the avenue towards the Sheffey home, Ballard honked the horn. Distressed, the Sheriff got back into the car so they could get to the house more quickly. At that very moment, The Sheriff, Ballard, and the deputy saw Will Sheffey leap from the car and just about fly into the house. Once inside he locked the door and turned on the porch light. At that point, the Sheriff realized there was no reason to attempt to enter the Sheffey home. Sheffey would have had time to hide or dispose of any gun he had on his person, and they would only have the circumstantial evidence of his arrival after the attack. There were no grounds for his arrest. As McCampbell told the investigator, “I wanted to make a case, not a slip. . . it was just a chance spoiled by the chauffeur we had.”

McCampbell did take the time to look over the car Sheffey had been driving—it was not Sheffey’s car. Instead, it belonged to someone named Red Ownsby. At least, the plate on the car was registered to Ownsby. A co-worker of Sheffey’s at the Aluminum Company would later explain to the investigator that he had witnessed Sheffey and Ownsby swapping license plates in the company parking lot one day in March. Both men drove Buicks.

From this point on, Sheffey knew the Sheriff was keeping a close eye on his movements and the Sheriff was just waiting for Sheffey to mess up.

On August 8, 1924, an intruder entered the home of Mr. Tipton near Montvale Pike and entered the bedroom of a fourteen-year-old girl identified only as Miss Birchfield. The man held a pistol and a flashlight, and he whispered “unspeakable demands” to her. She screamed and he fired one shot at her, narrowly missing her. Then he ran off. A neighbor, Mr. Toole, came out onto his porch and saw a man running and called out “What was that shooting?” The unknown man in the dark called back, “There was no shooting” and kept running. The investigator noted in his report that the girl was now in Cades Cove and that she believed she could identify the intruder by his voice.

On October 17, 1924, a man broke into the home of Mrs. Reba Littlefield and threatened her. There are few details on this case, but it would be included later among the charges in Sheffey’s first trial as a “breaking and entering.” She identified Sheffey by his voice and the investigator considered her a credible witness.

John McCampbell was determined to stop the fiend but there would be one more tragic attack before V. J. Hultquist of Alcoa was able to get the assistance they all prayed for. As it happened, McCampbell was no longer the Sheriff when the next marauder attack occurred, as he had just lost the election to Walter Pate.  But Sheffey did not seem to care about McCampbell’s status and still resented his attention. On December 1, 1923, Will Sheffey spent several minutes standing across the street from McCampbell’s place of business, silently staring at him, before wandering off.

That night, the Night Marauder killed again.

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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