A Community in Chaos

The level of fear generated by the Night Marauder attacks cannot be underestimated. One example of just how rattled people were is the case against Mrs. Odie Leadford. (Sometimes Otis or Ollie, sometimes Ledford) She had two people boarding in the home she shared with her husband Maurice: Amos Dockery and his seven-year-old daughter. The men left quite early for work each day, usually around 4:30 a.m.  On March 14, 1925, at nearly 5 a.m., Leadford heard a noise and footsteps coming from the front of the house. Nervously she called out, as if addressing her husband, hoping to scare off the prowler. The man did not leave her front porch. So, she grabbed a .38 revolver she kept near her bed and walked to a nearby window. This time, she called out and asked who was there. When she got no reply and it seemed like the man was still trying to open the door, she fired a shot towards the noise. She ran to the neighbors to get help and only realized what she had done when everyone returned to examine the body. Her one gunshot had gone clear through Dockery’s neck. The doctor noted that Dockery would not have lived more than a few minutes with wound like that. It appeared that Dockery must have been stooped in front of the door, as if he fumbled with the lock or something when Leadford fired the gun.

Mrs. Leadford was beyond horrified to find she had killed a good man and left his child an orphan. The little girl had stood by her side as she fired the gun out of the window. But why had Dockery come back and why hadn’t he answered when she called out?   No one will ever know, of course.  Police found Dockery’s lunch pail on the side of the road. Mr. Leadford and Dockery had walked together every morning but parted ways where the road split, with Leadford heading towards a marble quarry and Dockery towards the sawmill.  Leadford said he had taken his leave of Dockery that morning at the usual place in the road and assumed Dockery went on to his job.  Presumably, Dockery simply forgot something, put his things down to be picked up later, and walked back to the house. Sherrif Pate suggested that Dockery was playing some kind of joke on Mrs. Leadford by refusing to answer when she called out. It was a risky game to play under the circumstances.

Headline in the Knoxville Journal, April 12, 1925.

Mrs. Leadford’s trial was on the docket for April 13, 1925, the same day Will Sheffey would be arrested in Knoxville. There were a number of cases scheduled during this session and Leadford’s hearing appeared alongside Wright Saffle’s hearing for the murder of Clyde Poe and the assault on Mrs. Poe. Sheriff Pate had taken the Poes on their word the night of the attack and had immediately arrested Saffle. However, at his preliminary hearing, Saffle waived his case to court and agreed to be tried immediately on the charges. He had been free since his first arrest and true to his word, appeared in court for his trial.  On April 16, the Grand Jury found no true bill against on the charges of murder and assault and ordered Saffle to be set free. They had heard testimony from Lora Poe herself clearing Saffle, though she was prohibited from speaking to the press after the fact. That same Grand Jury noted that those specific charges were now being leveled against Will Sheffey, arrested just three days prior, and that Sheffey’s case was still being investigated. They would report their decision the following day.

Sheffey’s defense team had hoped to get him out on bail leading up to his hearing. He had been granted bail in one of the murder charges but not the other and attorneys threatened to fight that up to the State Supreme Court. Nothing came of it and Sheffey was indicted by a Grand Jury on April 17, 1925, on five counts including the murder and attempted assault of Luther and Ada Wells, the murder and assault of Clyde and Lora Poe, and the break-in at the Reagan home. Judge Blair announced at that time there was no way the Circuit Court could proceed with a trial until July at the earliest. Other high-profile murder cases would take up most of the week of April 20th, and both sides wanted more time to prepare their cases.

Odie Leadford’s case did not come before the judge until April 26. No one doubted a word of the woman’s testimony—she had been terrified and hoped to protect herself and a young girl from some monster’s attack. The jury unanimously acquitted her of the charge of murder.

The county was in disarray following the arrest of William D. Sheffey. The Chattanooga Daily Times described it on April 20th as “the biggest, yet quietest sensations that has ever happened within (the county’s) borders.” Describing Sheffey as “a young businessman”, the newspaper listed the crimes Sheffey had just been indicted for. They also described him as a “war hero” who had “fought bravely” in WWI, in spite of the fact Sheffey had been a medic who arrived after the war was over. Perhaps they were trying to make sense of how loyal Sheffey’s supporters would prove to be throughout the ordeal. The Chattanooga paper also claimed that Sheffey had been arrested in Knoxville in “what was believed to be an attempt to escape from the court proceedings” as he was arrested at the bus depot. Some sources said he intended to flee the country. Hinrichsen’s notes do not mention any sign that they had tipped their hand while gathering evidence, but four men were sent to arrest him: Gus Davis and Charlie Hamon of Blount County and Knoxville detectives Day and Fogerty. That could suggest they worried he might run. Or that could simply be sensationalism intended to fuel the flames of controversy.

All media sources revisited Sheffey’s earlier trial for murder, and the killing of Dora Davis was rehashed in the pages of every paper in Tennessee and quite a few out of state papers as well. The papers also listed every known crime of this nature in Knox and Blount Counties since 1919.  They highlighted the fact that the investigator that led police to Sheffey lamented all the men accused, arrested, even electrocuted for crimes that may have been Sheffey’s doing, not the least of which was Maurice Mays.  The Indiana, PA, Evening Gazette on April 14 carried the headline, “Race Riot Case to be Reopened.” Investigator Hinrichsen had also stirred up frustration that John Honeycutt had been arrested, tried, and convicted in 1921 before mysteriously dying in jail. This, naturally, is the danger in being willing to “put the critter in the ground” like Urquhart tried to convince Hultquist to do. There had always been suspicion that Mays and Honeycutt were innocent of the Night Marauder attacks, but if those who had caught them had seized an opportunity to end the terror. . . well, let’s just hope that the one willing to bury a killer would be very certain they have the right suspect.

Published by Nancy Locklin

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

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