The Poes

Warning: this post includes details of a sexual assault.

Clyde Poe was just 21 in December, 1924, and he and his wife Lora had been married a little over a year. He was listed as a laborer, a “hard working farmer,” in Alcoa. Clyde and Lora lived with their four month old baby boy near Duncan Station. Clyde had grown up in the Babcock addition to Vose Station. Lora Sullivan had grown up in Tuckaleechee Cove, later known as Townsend. Lora was an orphan and did not have a birth certificate but one of her brothers certified the year of her birth based on an entry in the family bible. By 1924, all of Lora’s brothers lived in Alcoa and worked at the mills. It was good that her family was close by as she would soon need that support system.

The marauder entered the Poe home on Monday night, December 1, 1924. As in so many other cases, the first sign that something was wrong was that Lora felt someone’s cold hands on her body. She spoke, thinking it was her husband, and the next thing she knew the intruder shined a flashlight in her eyes, blinding her. The man made “unspeakable demands” of her. Lora screamed. When Clyde realized there was a man in their room he rushed to defend his wife. He moved quickly to grab the intruder and the Night Marauder shot him. The bullet entered Clyde’s shoulder and lodged near his spine, partially paralyzing him. Undeterred, Poe dragged himself back to the bed and reached underneath for his shotgun. This took effort, of course, and it took time.

The intruder was already in the midst of sexually assaulting Lora when Clyde fired the gun. She would later report that the intruder told her to pull some blankets from the bed and put them on the floor. “Under threats of death” he then assaulted her on the floor. As she would later explain to the investigator, the assault took long enough that the man put his mouth on her breast and that was when she noticed something odd. As she was still nursing her son, her breasts were very sensitive, and she could tell her attacker had some kind of “eruption” just next to his mouth. She thought it might be a pimple. Excited, the investigator would ask if it might be a mole, since one of the prime suspects had a mole just next to his mouth. She said it could be so. At any rate, when Clyde fired the shotgun on the night of the attack, he succeeded in interrupting the assault.

The assailant then grappled with Clyde, who was weakened by his wounds and the loss of blood.  The intruder managed to wrestle the shotgun out of Clyde’s hands and ran out of the house. He left the shotgun leaning up against the house as he departed. Lora immediately sought to light the lamp and found the matches were gone from the bedside table. In fact, all the matches in the house were gone. She remembered clearly that she had asked Clyde to get out more matches before they went to bed and now every last match had been taken. She noticed a few embers in the fireplace and fanned them enough to light the lamp. Then, with great effort, she helped Clyde onto the bed and tried to make him comfortable. Lora threw on some clothes, and then, clutching her baby close, she ran for help.

Lora ran to a neighbor, Glenn Moore, and from his house the police were summoned. Clyde was taken to McMahan hospital in grave condition. While there, the Poes identified the man who had entered their home for Sheriff Pate.  John McCampbell had recently lost the election and his replacement was Walter Pate, a man who was his opposite in many ways. Among other things, McCampbell and Pate had distinctly opposite views on the Night Marauder’s supposed identity. While McCampbell set his sights on Will Sheffey, Pate listened in earnest to what the Poes had to say after they were attacked. They told the Sheriff that the man who had assaulted them was, or at least reminded them of, Wright Saffle, a local teenager who had been in love with Lora Poe.

Clyde Poe portrait (Newspaper unidentified in Find-A-Grave)

At first, it seemed that Clyde Poe would beat the same odds Luther Wells had, surviving a dreadful gunshot wound. However, the cold Clyde caught as he lay shivering on the floor, awaiting help, became pneumonia a week later. By the 17th of December, surgeons thought Clyde sufficiently recovered to attempt to remove the bullet from his spine, but he did not survive the surgery. He was prepared for burial at the McCammon undertakers in Maryville before his body was sent home to Copper Hill, in Polk County, TN.

Wright Saffle was scheduled to appear before Justices H. C. Jett and G. R. Henry.  Saffle insisted that he had a number of friends from Monroe County who would swear to his alibi on the night of the attack. Saffle is described in the Knoxville Journal and Tribune as a 15-year old student at the Bassell school in Alcoa. The newspaper further noted that Poe’s dying statement had been a reiteration of his belief Saffle was the man who attacked him. At his preliminary hearing, one witness claimed that Saffle had once boasted that if Lora didn’t marry him he wouldn’t let her live with anyone else. However, Saffle’s alibi stood and he was released by a grand jury on April 20, 1925, just as Will Sheffey’s trial was to begin. Some rumors stated that he had relocated to Ohio after his release.

Lora Poe would join Ada Wells as one of the most important witnesses in the trial of the man many people thought was the killer and rapist. They were in a very exclusive club, if you will, of brave survivors willing to name the crimes they had suffered and go on to live their lives. But first they had to weather the trials. And very soon, their best hope would arrive in the form of a private investigator known in most sources as “Ed Jones.”

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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