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.

The Investigator

Victor Jonas Hultquist is known to some as “the father of Alcoa.”  The mayor of Maryville, Sam Everett, had welcomed the Aluminum Company of America to build a new site in what was then called North Maryville in 1914. Just a year after that, Hultquist was transferred from the company’s New Kensington site to oversee construction of a new plant along with a company town to house the many thousands of workers they were going to need. The new city of Alcoa was incorporated in 1919 and, until 1950, the city’s government was connected to the corporation. Hultquist was deeply involved in both the plant and the city, and he had a lot to be proud of. The town boasted of one acre of park for every one hundred residences and Hultquist oversaw construction of the pool and gardens that are still in use today. The company paid for schools for both the white and black residents, and the town included the area’s only hospital. It was a thriving and growing city, with many benefits for those who lived there. But schools and parks are no comfort when people live in fear. The Night Marauder attacks enraged Hultquist, and he would have done anything to protect his community.

Most Private Investigators were connected to one of a handful of agencies like the Pinkertons. But corporations also had their own, dedicated, investigators and it made perfect sense that Hultquist turned to ALCOA for help. On December 9, 1924, Hultquist sent a telegram to Aluminum Co. headquarters in Pittsburgh. He laid out the problem and asked if they knew of anyone who could come and help catch a killer. E. S. Fickes in Pittsburgh replied that he doubted the company could supply anyone. However, he forwarded Hultquist’s request to a Mr. C. B. Fox in Saint Louis. Fickes also confirmed that the company would “authorize any expenditure” and wanted Hultquist to “take whatever steps” he thought necessary. A separate letter, from P. J. Urquhart, head of accounting in the Pittsburgh office, added that they thought it would be good to supply the chief of Alcoa police with a few good bloodhounds. “Whatever (the dogs’) utility may be for tracking criminals,” Urquhart wrote, “their moral effect in the south is very great, even among educated people.”

Urquhart went on the express very clear feelings about the Night Marauder and how he should be dealt with:

If the crimes you describe are the work of one man, he is a very dangerous type of insane criminal, and if identified beyond doubt his captor should shoot him. The ordinary detective hasn’t either the ability to find his man or the guts to shoot him down if he does. One of your East Tenn gunmen had better deal with him, if you can find one to track him down or catch him.

It may assist in finding him if you will consult an able alienist or criminologist, regarding the peculiarities of men afflicted with this rather common but dangerous form of insanity.

When you start to hunt down any kind of ‘critter’, a knowledge of its habits and how it differs from others of its kind is mighty useful. On the staff of every big law or medical school or any modern insane asylum there is usually a man who has specialized on the criminally insane who would be able to advise you. Dr. Mac can doubtless guide you to one. By all means get this brute buried as soon as possible and don’t have a lynching, or worse yet, cause someone innocent of the trouble to suffer. Get the dogs at once.

(Emphasis in the original)

It was only a few days later, on December 15, that C. B. Fox wrote Hultquist saying he had the perfect man in mind for the job. There was a man who worked as chief of plant security in East Saint Louis, Illinois. Fred C. Hinrichsen (sometimes Hendricksen) was his name, and he was getting a little bored with his current posting. He was also eager to prove his worth to the company. “He has worked for us for over eight years on all sorts of jobs and we know he is absolutely safe and reliable and has splendid judgement,” Fox wrote.  Fox went on to explain the plan: Hinrichsen would travel by train to Knoxville and check into a hotel under an assumed name like “Smith or Jones or any other name that seemed advisable.” Hinrichsen believed his best approach would be to open a little sign-painting shop in Alcoa in order to get to know the community and for people to trust him. In his reply to Fox, Hultquist suggested Hinrichsen check in as Edward Jones. He also informed Fox that the man most recently shot by the Marauder, Clyde Poe, had just died and he was “very anxious to avoid a repetition of the affair.”

Hinrichsen arrived as instructed and immediately met with Hultquist to plan their best approach. Upon settling his headquarters in Maryville, Hinrichsen took former Sheriff John McCampbell into his confidence. And he did, indeed, open a sign-painting shop and got into that business seriously to cover his real purpose for being there. Hinrichsen had some keen observations of the former sheriff, who had operated a livery stable in the days before the automobile. “I have always found the Livery man the Pilot of the surrounding country to where he is located,” Hinrichsen noted, “his barn is the loafing place generally of the toughest element and it is at these places all news is first gathered. An ex-Livery man makes the best Sheriff in the rural districts.” Hinrichsen recognized the ex-sheriff’s zeal in solving the Marauder cases and believed he would have captured the villain if he had gotten full cooperation from the County and City. McCampbell had even spent a few hundred dollars of his own money and it was against his wishes that he had to discontinue his investigations.

Shortly after his arrival, Hinrichsen traveled with John McCampbell to interview Lora Poe. She was living with her brothers, “The Sullivan Boys” on the outskirts of Alcoa. Before reporting on her statement, Hinrichsen took time to wax poetic about Lora’s appeal.

From my observance of this girl, I formed a picture in my mind of Divine purity and innocence, and as I talked to this poor and unfortunate child, holding in her arms a fatherless babe of just a few months, I was delighted while questioning her to learn that the picture I formed was correct.

In some ways, Lora Poe had the advantage of being the ideal sort of victim. Small and feminine, quiet and demure, she was without a doubt the innocent victim of the worst sort of fiend. Perhaps Hinrichsen was worried she would be ugly and crass, presumably because such a witness would turn off a jury. But Lora would be sure to inspire sympathy and stir outrage at her assault.

Lora was the ideal witness in other ways, as well. Even in the presence of her brothers, the Attorney General Mr. Jackson, the former sheriff, and a complete stranger, she calmly and plainly detailed everything that had taken place during the attack. She was asked directly if she thought Wright Saffle was the man who shot her husband and assaulted her. She replied that she did not, that the more she thought of it the more certain she was that Saffle was not the intruder. While this did not rule Saffle out entirely in the mind of the P.I., it left open the possibility that Lora might ultimately identify Will Sheffey as her assailant.

Special thanks to Judge David R. Duggan for his loan of the Hultquist papers.

Private eyes

This post was written by Channing Bragg (MC ’21) and Cole Cleek (MC ’23) and was edited by N. Locklin.

The first thing that people tend to think of when tragedy strikes is to seek out the police, but what do you do when the police cannot help you? There is only one place to turn to and that is private investigators. Private Investigators are the ones who put their ear to the ground and try to solve the crimes for their respective clients. They accomplish this in any number of ways by searching for clues, conducting interviews, and surveillance just to name a few. The benefits of using a private investigator over the police is that they were able to employ more shady tactics to solve the case than your average detective. Private agencies also often had more resources available than did typical local law enforcement agencies.

The story of private detective agencies really develops leading into the time around the Civil War and especially after. The first of the most prominent agencies was opened by Allan Pinkerton in Chicago in the middle of the nineteenth century. The agency began early on by supplying help to companies and assisting politicians like Abraham Lincoln, but also taking action in other ways such as helping runaway slaves leave the country. After the war, there was more of a chance for work to pick up.

P.I.’s were originally little more than mercenaries and a private police force, given the price is right. In extreme cases P.I. were even private militaries that were primarily employed by private companies. The Pinkertons were a lot like the other agencies at the time, they acted as private security forces and in other situations they were a private militia. During the labor strikes of the late 1800’s the Pinkertons would be bought out by private companies to work as security or to quell the strikes if possible. They accomplished these jobs through strike breaking measures, though during 1892 several Pinkerton agents killed several strikers in an attempt to use these anti-strike tactics. The Pinkertons were also famous for hunting outlaws such as Jesse James and the Sundance Kid. They also had the capability to ignore borders when a suspect had fled into a country where there was no extradition treaty. The private detectives would just kidnap the fugitive bring and him back to the States. It has been said that at one point the Pinkerton agency had more members than the entirety of the United States Army.

Pinkerton logo

Another advantage private investigators had was their large network. In an era in which law enforcement in one town might not even be aware of crimes in the next town, PIs could keep in touch with their contacts across the country. Their prevalence began dwindling, though, as bigger cities began to develop their own detective networks. This development left the more rural parts of the country behind, but even that would come to change as more and more state agencies were established into the middle of the twentieth century.

During the 1920’s P.I. were often hired to investigate small cases such as infidelity, theft, or missing persons. Detectives in the 1920’s were pretty unreliable or even corrupt. Some P.I.s took bribes or rigged cases to get a certain outcome, for profit or for personal satisfaction. In The Man from the Train, Bill James offered a shining example of the wild and unorthodox methods that detectives in the early 1900’s were able to employ. James wrote about when a detective used a ventriloquist to get a man to divulge information to his “talking” donkey. In any context that previous statement is completely absurd, but this is real. The detective had utilized a ventriloquist to try and gain information from a man by having the ventriloquist throw his voice towards the man’s donkey. It worked and the detective was able to trick the man into giving information about the case.

Through the early 1930’s, during Prohibition, P.I.s got a lot of funding from the federal government and private groups to investigate bars and distilleries. Despite the national ban on the consumption of alcohol there were hundreds of secret bars and taverns scattered across the country. Many temperance groups would hire detectives to find and shut down these speakeasies. Although as was a staple for P.I.s at the time, many of them were bribed off or were directly profiting off of a bar. One of the biggest reason’s prohibition groups hired P.I. was due the simple fact that the federal government was unable to enforce the ban on its own. So many private groups tried to take it into their own hands. However, their efforts weren’t much more successful than government enforcement efforts. There was also a lack of incentive for detectives to hunt these criminals down as many of the bars were owned by gangs and mobs, such as the Chicago Outfit and the Irish mafia.

Private investigators did not have to have any particular training before they could take on clients. Their methods included simple surveillance—a task that requires patience. They also gather evidence through formal interviews with witnesses or the victims of crimes. But they also learn a lot by keeping under the radar and just listening to gossip. In such cases, it helped if they were not local so no one would suspect that they were being watched. The detective had to be careful to only gather evidence that could be used and shown in court. If he gathered evidence that couldn’t actually be used, then he was not only wasting his time but possibly his client’s as well. In some cases, detectives had an already predetermined outcome in their head and tended to stack the evidence in favor of their choice. Although as time went on detectives became more reliable and more people sought their services.

Well into the 1950’s there was a boom in popularity for detectives and private investigators. This was due to not only the rise in crime and the change in culture, but it was also heavily influenced by the rise of detective stories. During this time, a lot of movies, books, and comics featured detectives and private eyes. People still sought out detectives for their personal needs, like their husband is sleeping with the neighbor, or asking to investigate their brother for theft. However, during this spike in popularity many P.I. had to change the way they ran their businesses. With more and more people seeking them out, the increased pressure and high expectations would cause trouble for any agency that was involved in crime or corruption.

Eventually, the federal government and many states increased funding for formal law enforcement and investigative agencies. The FBI had been created in 1908 and for decades it was used to address whatever threat loomed largest at a given time—organized crime, Prohibition, communism, etc. The Bureau itself was not immune to corruption, but the high profile and required training gave incentives to improve.  Governments were also able to fund labs for forensic analysis and the first FBI lab opened in 1932. As communication and access to resources improved, fewer law enforcement officers turned to private investigators for assistance. Today, private investigators tend to have specific academic or professional credentials and might work with attorneys but are much less likely to be involved in criminal cases. PIs work for insurance companies or investors, but they can still be hired to investigate family issues.

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.”

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.

Luther and Ada Wells

This post is based on a piece written by N. Locklin, edited by Andy Kelly (MC ’23) and Sydnee Hansraj (MC ’23).

At eighteen years old, the young couple had only been married eight months when the terrifying Night Marauder landed on their doorstep and changed their lives forever. On the night of December 10, 1923, at 1:30 a.m., newlyweds Luther and Ada Wells were sleeping peacefully in their bed on Morganton Road in Maryville when the killer entered their home. Luther, an aspiring engineer, and his wife Ada both worked together at the Maryville Hosiery Mill. The two had just hosted a dinner party earlier in the evening, and Luther stayed up for a while to study before joining his wife in bed.

Ada and Luther had been sleeping when the attack happened. Ada, having been awakened by the feel of someone’s hand on her ankle, cried out to Luther that someone was in the house with a flashlight and a nickel-plated pistol. Roused by his wife’s cries, Luther stood to challenge the intruder, saying that if money was his purpose there was none to be found in the house. The terrifying figure then made “unspeakable demands” and ordered Luther to step away from the bed where his wife lay helpless. When Luther refused to leave his wife at the mercy of the stranger, he was shot three times.

As Luther lay unconscious on the floor, the intruder whispered fiercely for Ada to “be quiet,” and that if she “hollered or screamed” he would shoot her, too. Clutching to her blankets, she resisted the attacker trying to pull the covers away and began to scream as loudly as she could. The man wasn’t bluffing: he shot Ada, who continued to scream as the man fled the scene. Despite the terrifying situation, Ada endured the pain of her gunshot wound and pursued her attacker. She was shot again by the intruder but did not stop following him and screaming until she collapsed on the porch.

First on the scene was John Whitehead, a neighbor, who reported that the shooter was long gone by the time he got to the Wells’ place. Sheriff McCampbell was quoted as saying the Marauder apparently has the ability “to vanish into thin air.” He and his men had lain in wait so many nights and never got close to seeing him, let alone capture him.

Luther had been shot twice in the head and once in the arm. He lost consciousness immediately. Ada was shot twice in the abdomen, with one bullet lodged in her liver. At the Alcoa hospital, Dr. J. Walter McMahon reported that the two were in and out of consciousness over the course of several hours. They had both undergone surgeries to remove the bullets from their bodies, but their survival was not certain. The media caught wind of the attack, and one newspaper report went as far as saying Luther’s “brains oozed out his nose” from the shot that had entered his skull just above the right eye. Sadly, the Wells’ recovery process would take weeks and would cost a great deal of money that this newlywed couple just didn’t have. B. H. Kinsler issued an appeal on December 21st to raise funds to cover their hospital bills. He offered the services of the Maryville Enterprise newspaper to collect donations and to publish the names of all generous benefactors.

Once in a stable condition, Ada was questioned by the police. As she recounted the events of that night, she recalled being absolutely petrified during the attack. When investigators asked her to describe the attacker, she was only able to recall his approximate height and build. Ada admitted that she did not manage to get a clear look at his face due to her fear at that moment. Though she did offer that she might be able to recognize the attacker’s voice, but nothing more. However, Ada would contradict her statement in a later testimony, claiming that she lost all of her fear as soon as the man shot her, and she did look at him as he ran away. Still, for hours, she could not describe him clearly. Then, as she lay recovering from her wounds and from surgery, Ada claimed to see the man who attacked her. Others assured Ada that no one had come into her room, but she insisted that she could see him and could see his face. Ada’s recollection of the man’s appearance would be a key factor in the trials to come.

Detective W. E. O’Connor, head of a Knoxville detective agency, suspected “an insane negro man” was the Night Marauder who attacked the Wells. This was despite the testimonies of both Wells, who had described the intruder as white. Ada had supplied the names of four men she thought capable of the attack. The suspect Detective O’Connor targeted was an elderly black man in the community often described as “dim-witted” or “slow-witted.” Ultimately, the detectives dismissed the possibility of his involvement. Then, more serious suspicion was directed at Charley Reed, a former suitor of Ada’s who had jealously threatened the couple in the past. He was detained briefly but then let go. Detective O’Connor claimed to have arrested a number of suspects during the course of the investigation, but all of them had solid alibis and were released. The family of the couple also conducted their own investigations but nothing would come of their work.

One December 17, Sheriff McCampbell outlined how far he had come in his investigations. He reported that an intruder had maliciously entered two other homes that same night prior to the assault on the Wells. The first was the home of House Phelps, on Louisville Pike. Mrs. Phelps was still awake when she was alerted by her young daughter’s scream. Mrs. Phelps rushed into her daughter’s room to see a man standing over the girl’s bed. The trespasser shined a flashlight in Ms. Phelps’s eyes with one hand, and she reported being able to see a pistol in his other hand. Then, the attacker approached the second home in Bungalow Town, and attempted to enter the residence by trying to pry a screen off a window. There, the attacker was scared off by the screaming before he could even get inside. The one clue left behind was the assailant’s footprints in a size seven shoe, but still no one was able to get a good look at the man himself.

It is fortunate that Ada Wells was a brave and strong woman because her ordeal was not yet over. With the attack still unsolved, Luther Wells died less than a year later on September 20th, 1924. The Journal and Tribune of Knoxville reported on his tragic death, declaring “Marauder’s Shot is Finally Fatal.” Suffering from his injuries, Luther was in and out of the hospital over those nine months. In mid-September of 1924, Luther returned to the McMahon hospital for surgery to remove bone fragments that still pressed upon his brain. Once inside his skull, surgeons found a number of abscesses that had formed near his two original head wounds. Despite the grim outlook, Luther rallied once again and was well enough to eventually be sent home, much to the surgeons’ surprise.

Though doctors were astonished that he had survived not one, but two gunshots to the head, Luther nevertheless was unable to truly fully recover. Once home, he then contracted meningitis and died within just a few short hours. The young widow Ada Wells said her final goodbyes to her late husband at Calvary Baptist Church in Alcoa, where many gathered to attend his funeral. Luther Wells was laid to rest in a modest grave covered with flowers at Magnolia Cemetery in Maryville.

Luther Well’s grave stone, Magnolia Cemetery, photo by N. Locklin.

Corrupt Coroners

This post was written by Danielle Abell (MC ’23) and edited by N. Locklin.

In being tasked with defining what evidence constitutes an investigation, which specifics define murder in an investigation, and how to defend those who have been victims of a crime, forensic pathologists and coroners are flush with power in the criminal justice system. Their position affords them a level of involvement in cases that is hardly ever reached by lawyers, judges, or any of the other occupations that are so common in the courtroom. In fact, coroners are probably the most involved in an investigation without being directly related to or being one of the plaintiffs or defendants. While today, we know coroners and forensic pathologists as knowledgeable, unbiased, evidence-producing professionals, the culture surrounding scientific crime investigation was not always the same.

In fact, as a profession and a tool in forensic investigations, that culture has only been considered as it is now for about a century. According to Julie Johnson-McGrath of Harvard University, “scientific crime detection has become an integral part of the criminal justice system, but its implementation and institutionalization were the invention of a specific historic period and were designed to serve particular professional interests”. The emergence of forensic science as a respected profession in the legal sphere was a long process. At the beginning of the 20th century, the increasing urbanization of the United States, coupled with absolutely none of the technological abilities of the modern criminal justice system, resulted in a largely political, corrupt, and ineffective system of justice. Not only were race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status a common determinant of cases, but “Victim and culprit alike remained anonymous”. A mess of a system in the midst of an already socially changing nation, criminal justice could only be loosely defined as such. Forensic pathologists had to prove the integrity and value of their profession, while being a part of a system which was corrupt and largely not respected throughout major population centers. Progressive-era reports, “revealed that the criminal justice system neither punished offenders or protected the public”, according to the historian Jeffrey S. Adler. Americans became increasingly disillusioned with the system, and violent crime continued to soar into the 20th century as the realization that a four out of five chance to be acquitted did not make the courtroom a scary place for criminals.

A report published in 1915 in New York City by a reformer named Leonard Wallstein revealed exactly how easy it was for incompetent individuals to become coroners. As in many cities, the office of coroner was an elected position and political party bosses could rig elections so that loyal supporters got the job.  There were no qualifications necessary to run for coroner. Some physicians were elected coroner, but they tended to be doctors who had lost their practices or licenses. Between 1898 and 1915, the list of men who had served as coroners included undertakers, politicians, real estate agents, saloonkeepers, and a variety of tradesman. Worse yet, coroners worked on commission and some, for the right price, were content to call a murder an accident or a suicide a heart attack. Some got kickbacks from funeral homes if they pressured grieving families to use their services. Some were even said to have signed the autopsy without ever looking at the body.

This era is, of course, when the Night Marauder committed his crimes. However, the Night Marauder would have not had an easy time remaining anonymous in such a small town as Maryville and early 20th-century Knoxville. However, we can also see the prejudices of the times in the Night Marauder case, not only with the eventual acquittal of William Sheffey, but also with the conviction of Maurice Mays on very little evidence. The undeniable power of a jury to convict or acquit on the basis of race and small-town politics in the case of the Night Marauder is a microcosm for the state of the criminal justice system across the nation during the interwar period, and marks yet another 20th century killer who went unidentified, and whose victims would never see justice. As we will see in Sheffey’s 1925 trial, handwriting experts, doctors, and psychologists testified for the prosecution but could not make their case. Not only was this case so representative of the justice system, but also representative of the low level of respectability that medical professionals and scientific experts held in the courtroom in the early 20th century.

Modern Forensic Science Lab (Wikipedia Commons)

Scientific evidence in criminal cases has only recently become a standard of operation for the legal system. While we may be able to guess, the technology and science of the early 1920s did not allow for this type of evidence against the Night Marauder, whether or not it was William Sheffey. Unfortunately, this means that the Night Marauder and many other violent criminals went unidentified or escaped conviction in the legal system of the early 1900s, and even past this point as doctors and scientists fought to establish their credibility as part of the legal system. In establishing that credibility, forensic scientists have had an uphill battle to the reputation that they now hold. The occupation has struggled to hold its own in the face of “its association with corruption – the physical corruption of long-dead bodies and the moral corruption of crime” (Johnson-McGrath). In fighting this stigma, the occupation has struggled, even in high-crime, low conviction time periods like the turn of the century. The process to establish the profession of forensic science as a valuable profession on its own and in the courtroom was a long one, involving increasingly strict medical certifications, a fight for the detachment of political power in the coroner’s office, and recognition of the sub-specialty of forensic medical examination.

For further reading, see Jeffrey S. Adler’s “Less Crime, More Punishment: Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice in Early Twentieth-Century America.” The Journal of American History 102, no. 1 (2015); Julie Johnson-McGrath’s “Speaking for the Dead: Forensic Pathologists and Criminal Justice in the United States.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 20, no. 4 (1995); and Deborah Blume’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (Penguin Books, 2010).

The Murder of Dora Davis

This post is based on a piece written by N. Locklin. It was edited by Katelyn Compton (MC ’24).

Dora Davis and Will Sheffey spent most of their teens living a mere few houses away from one another near Seymour, Tennessee. The two were known to be close acquaintances; they went to high school together and Sheffey even came to the Davis house to help with farm work, with some accounts noting that he had stayed over at their house on occasion.

Dora and Will both went to Carson-Newman College; however, Will had to leave the school for having improper relations with young women. One such relation was with a disabled 14-year-old girl, whom a friend of Sheffey said that he got pregnant. Despite this, it is believed that Sheffey wanted to settle down and in 1913, proposed to Dora. She rejected Will and eventually had to get her father, James Davis, involved when Will persisted. For months after Mr. Davis made clear that he did not want Will around, but nothing happened. When witnesses looked back on this, they felt that the last time Will saw Dora he left her with a threat: “I’ll see you another day.”

On the fateful night of September 1, 1915, Dora Davis was murdered while sleeping in her bed. The murderer stood on a chair outside of Dora’s window and fired at her through the open window, while her mother and siblings slept in the room with her. The first bullet struck Dora in the chest just below her throat. She was badly wounded but managed to scream. The second and third shots came after her mother attempted to close the window, and the shots shattered the glass and part of the sill.

According to the September 2, 1915 issue of the Knoxville Sentinel, police brought in bloodhounds to track the scent from the chair the murderer used. Hundreds of spectators followed the dogs as they went through a dense thicket where police thought the murderer could have hidden for a while. That night, the bloodhounds lost the scent and the search had to be postponed until the next day. The next day, the bloodhounds picked up the scent and followed it to Will Sheffey’s house.

Will Sheffey had been expecting police because of his ties to Dora. and it was no surprise when he was arrested later that day. Many in the town were shocked by the arrest because Sheffey was from a good family. Locals thought it to be more likely that it was a random drifter who committed the murder. Others were not so sure. Suspicion of Sheffey went beyond the rejected marriage proposal. The day before the murder, Will asked Mr. Davis if he could borrow a revolver for target practice and told him he’d return it the next day. He inquired about any other guns, possibly to ensure there would be no other weapons in the house.

Knoxville Sentinel, September 2, 1915

Sheffey was brought to the jail in Knoxville, where he immediately began to try and charm reporters. He mentioned his inexperience with how “these things work.” He told them he was not surprised to be arrested because he had heard the rumors surrounding his request to borrow the revolver from Mr. Davis. One of the deputies that went to arrest Sheffey recalled that he said he did not care what happened to him, but he “hated it on account of his mother and sisters.”

Will Sheffey’s preliminary hearing began on September 17, 1915. His defense team at the preliminary hearing included his uncle, Judge S. L. Chestnut, along with other judges from Knoxville and Maryville, making it clear that the Sheffey’s were well-connected to the legal community of East Tennessee. Mr. Davis was the first witness called. He recalled the events of the night of the murder; how he heard Dora’s screams and the gunshots, and the moment she took her last breaths. He went on to talk about the conversation he had with Sheffey in 1913 when he made it clear that he was not to be around Dora anymore. Mr. Davis said this tense conversation ended with Sheffey saying he’d regret keeping him away from Dora. Sheffey stopped coming around Dora in person, but would still send her letters and cards. In his testimony, he confirmed that the house the murder took place in was not the same one Will used to visit. The family had moved and Sheffey had no way of knowing specifically where everyone slept. However, later reports suggest that Sheffey, upon seeing the diagram of the bedroom published in the papers, commented to a friend: “That’s not where Dora’s bed was located.”

The prosecution called a number of witnesses, including, Sheffey’s friend, Ben Clark, Clark said Sheffey was showing off a Colt .32 after the murder took place, and it was clear the gun had been discharged. Clark noted that when Sheffey joined in the search party later he oddly enough asked to borrow a gun from him, because for some reason he was not able to use the Colt he had shown off earlier.

Dr. Cusick said he was asked to come to the Davis house after Dora was shot and that as he made his way he passed by an unknown man riding a horse. When he asked the stranger his name, the man replied that his name was Joe Emery. Some other witness testimonies from neighbors mention seeing flashlights and hearing gunshots.

There were no witnesses in the defense of Will Sheffey at the hearing. Defense attorneys pointed out that there was two and a half years between the murder and Dora’s rejection of his proposal, during which, Will had become friendly enough again with the Davis family so much so that he felt he could ask to borrow a gun from Mr. Davis. The defense suggested it was most likely a robbery and that Dora had been shot because she tried to fight off the burglar. Still, Sheffey was sent to Sevierville jail where he was to await the murder trial. It was there that he made his first formal statement, where he denied any guilt:

“On the night in question, I was at home all the time, and slept with my younger brother, in the room where my mother was also sleeping. While it is surely hard luck to be locked up this way, especially since I am guiltless, it is particularly hard on my mother and sisters, and I am worried much more on their account than on my one, but everything will come out all right, I am sure, My past life, I think, does not warrant the making of such a charge against me. I am a church member, and although I have made some mistakes, as perhaps nearly everyone else has, I have never committed any crime, and most assuredly am not guilty of the one with which I am now charged. I could look any person in the world squarely in the eye and tell him that I did not kill Dora Davis. I could tell J. R. Davis, the father, that, and would like to do so, for I have heard that he believes me guilty.”

Sheffey believed that the only reason people suspected him was due to the interaction he’d had with Mr. Davis in 1913. Sheffey opened the defense case on October 6 stating that he and Dora had loved each other and he was hurt when her father came between them. He denied that she had ever rejected him, and produced letters written after 1913 between them. Will said that a year later her parents discovered they were corresponding and he decided they should put the relationship behind them. He said he moved on and considered Dora to be a friend, wishing her well with her teaching career and her potential marriage to someone else.

A couple of items introduced by the defense undermined the state’s case against Sheffey. The deputy sheriffs now stated that they were not sure that the revolver in Sheffey’s possession had been recently fired. Under cross-examination, Dr. Cusick revealed he was well acquainted with Will Sheffey, meaning if it was Will on the horse that night Dr. Cusick would have known it. He said that a few minutes after the stranger revealed his name to be Joe Emery he thought he could hear the stranger talking to Sheffey outside of his house. Sheffey corroborated this by saying that on the night of the murder he was woken up by the commotion in the neighborhood, when the stranger on the horse happened to pass by. The two exchanged a few words and then the stranger left.

Ida Sheffey, Will’s mother, and his siblings provided the biggest win for the defense. She stated that Will had gone to sleep next to his brother and that she had gone to bed in the same room not long after. She was woken up by a phone call at one in the morning from their neighbor who informed Ida of the tragedy. She woke Will to tell him what happened and claimed it was she that stood on the back porch and saw the man on horse approach and then ride back into the darkness. Will’s siblings supported her testimony.

On the morning of Saturday, October 16, 1915, Will Sheffey was acquitted of murder charges. In the October 18, 1915 issue of the Knoxville Sentinel, Will said, “Words cannot express how I feel at having my liberty again. It is a terrible ordeal to undergo a trial such as I did, and it is especially harrowing when one is entirely innocent of the charges against him. No more prison cells for me.” Sadly, for Sheffey, he would be proven wrong on that last count.

Who was Will Sheffey?

Written by Scotty Leach (MC ’23) based on research compiled by N. Locklin.

Within the quiet, peaceful town of Maryville lay the College Hill Historic District. From Goddard to Waller Avenue, this humble area of Blount County lies along with all of its historic memories of its past. The land across from the district is occupied by Maryville College, which was established in 1819. The close proximity of the college and the district allowed for close connections to form, and the neighborhood became the home to several members of the faculty and quite a few alumni. This modest district became home to the Sheffey family sometime during the first World War. The tight-knit Sheffey family was originally from Hawkins County, TN, but had moved to Seymour in Sevier County by 1910. Ida Sheffey, the hardworking mother of the family, had four children – Josie, Maggie, Thomas Phillip, and Will. Will Sheffey shared his mother’s hardworking nature and spent a lot of time at home and within his neighborhood, doing what he could do to help. Will even spent time helping on the Davis farm, who were neighbors to the Sheffeys and lived in the same district. Young Dora Davis was close friends with Will Sheffey and for a time, they were romantically connected. That fact was what made him a suspect when Dora was murdered in 1915. Will would be arrested, tried, and finally acquitted.

In 1914, World War I began, and the world was thrown into chaos. Eventually, the United States entered WWI in 1917, becoming a part of the international conflicts of Europe. It was during this time that Will Sheffey was drafted. He had enough of an education to decide how he would serve in the military to support his nation and their involvement in the war during this tumultuous time. Sheffey specifically served in the Medical Corps of the United States of America. Will excelled during his service as a year later, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant within the Sanitary Corps and was assigned to Camp Green in North Carolina. It was here that Will met Carol Sykes, his future wife. Will was drawn to Carol, yet the pair were quite different in many ways. Unlike Will, Carol was raised in the busy New York State in a city called Binghamton. Carol later went on to attend the Mechanics Institute of Rochester. Will’s educational experience was more limited. He attended Chilhowee Institute for his secondary education and later was accepted into the Carson-Newman College in East Tennessee, but Will never finished his degree there. It appears he completed his studies at Murphy College, which closed in 1935, and he entertained hopes he would be able to teach after the war was over. After Carol graduated, she became a dietician at the Scranton State Hospital in Pennsylvania. This connection to the hospital was what drove Carol toward military service when the American Red Cross requested her aid in the Sanitary Corps in 1918. Carol later found her way to Camp Greene and became acquainted with Will Sheffey. Despite their differences and their unique backgrounds, Will and Carol were drawn to each other and were married that same year. The marriage was held in Camp Green in the home of Reverend Pressley on August 28th.

The newly-weds were only able to spend a few months together as the war called Will away from Camp Greene. Will, who was now a prominent lieutenant, traveled to New York where he was to sail on the Mauretania to England. Will anticipated being able to aid in the battles in France but, by the time Will arrived, the war was over. The Armistice of November 11th had been signed before Will had reached his destination and all major warfare had ceased. Despite this fact, Will still tried to do what he could to perform the noble duty of serving in the Sanitary Corps. Will even continued to serve in the Corps for another year in France even after the official conclusion of WWI. Local newspapers of Blount County heard of his military career in the war and painted him as a war hero and thanked him for his service. Having completed his service, Will departed from France and travelled to New Jersey on the Leviathan, arriving on August 6, 1919. At this point, Will Sheffey resigned from his service in the military and was reunited with his wife Carol. The two decided to settle down but were undecided on where they should live. Sheffey decided to bring Carol to Maryville, TN where his beloved mother Ida had settled on a quiet, tree-lined avenue surrounded by neighbors and friends. Will soon began searching for a new job and was hired as a store manager at the Aluminum Company of America. For two years, the Sheffeys lived in their peaceful abode in the quiet landscape of Blount County. This peaceful moment only briefly lasted as tragedy hit the Sheffey family.

On February 8th 1921, Carol Sheffey gave birth to a son named William. This joyous moment was shadowed by the health complications that Carol was dealing with after the birth. That same day, Carol passed away. Will’s son would be later sent to live with Will’s mother at her home nearby. The incident impacted Sheffey and the life he had started to build. Two months later, Will met and quickly married a woman named Ruby G. McNutt. Considering Will’s status as a single parent with a newborn child, this was not an unusual event. Such occurrences tended to happen during this era in order to establish security for the child and the widower. Will was in desperate need of such aid. Ruby was an established local resident who lived on Court Street. Her family had been a part of the Blount County community for quite a bit of time and Ruby’s father rose to become a well-known real estate agent of Maryville. Ruby had just gotten out of a divorce of her own a month or two before she married Will. The fate of Will and Ruby’s relationship was not bright as Ruby left Maryville and Will in order to search for a home in Florida. In 1925, Ruby filed for a divorce from Will. Following these events, Will lost possession of his home and was forced to find shelter elsewhere for a period of time. Most of the time, Will resided at his mother’s home on College Hill, where his son had also come to live. Will attempted to continue moving forward in his life and remained as a store manager of the  Aluminum Company of America for a few years.

Suddenly, on a peaceful Saturday evening in downtown Knoxville in 1925, Will Sheffey was approached by the local police force on the streets of Knoxville. The Blount County officers Gus Davis and Charlie Hamon as well as the Knoxville detectives Day and Fogerty were on the scene and shortly after the encounter, they arrested Will Sheffey. Since 1922, the city of Maryville had been plagued with a large crime wave. The events that had started to occur in Maryville resembled the crime phenomena of Knoxville which had occurred a few years earlier. Rumors of a so-called Night Marauder had spread throughout Blount County and fear started to grow among the citizens of Maryville. Was Will Sheffey’s arrest related to these recent crimes? The police officers and investigators were given a tip from a private investigator from St. Louis claiming that there was a link between Sheffey and the crime incidents in Maryville. From this moment, Will’s life drastically transformed and the situation looked grim.

Sheffey’s portrait in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, April 14, 1925.

The Emery Letter

Based on a piece written by N. Locklin. Edited by Luke Nelson (MC ’24).

John M. McCampbell was the Sheriff of Blount County, TN, from September 1922 to 1924 in his first term in office. During those years, the Sheriff maintained something approaching an obsession with the Night Marauder, determined to catch the fiend and bring an end to his terror. McCampbell used every resource at his disposal but could not seem to get any closer to his quarry and it seems the Marauder knew this and decided to have a little fun at the Sheriff’s expense.  Around August 6th of 1923, McCampbell received a mysterious letter in his post office box – handwritten and in pencil – its author claimed to be the killer. The letter carried all the signs we now associate with a serial killer’s ego and his glee over getting away with murder. The letter taunted the Sheriff for his inability to outsmart him and promised to keep at his trade.

The entire letter was released to the public during the first trial in 1925 as it would serve as a central piece of evidence. However, in terms of our timeline, it predates the criminal trials that would take place in Maryville so we will examine it here:

Dear John—
	I can tell you a thing or so when it comes to having a good time with your men over there I was over there Sat night and it rained and I did not leave there till daylight but your rumey’s could not see a bloke if it was on his nose, I have tried to find a woman who would holler so I could get to shot her but they would none of your Maryville women holler, so I don’t get the fun out of it.
	I wish you could tell some of those girls to holler so I can have the fun shooting them. Can’t shoot a woman unless she give me an excuse.
	I am tired of coming over there you can’t catch me and every n***** you catch for me you turn loose. So you can rest till I get ready to come again, I have not been in Maryville yet but in Alcoa I went into a fellow’s house near the bridge where the concrete pike begins, he and a child were in the front room his wife and 2 or 3 children were in the back room I told her if she screamed I’d shoot but when I looked at her I thought she was too old to shoot that way but when she did holler I shot at her old man but don’t know if I got him I then walked to Alcoa or up the pike toward Maryville, I went to a house up that St found a woman but she would not holler so I could not shoot her, I just love to shoot if they scream can get away just as easy when I shoot as if I did not, Good bye John I am going away for a while you are about as wise as Ed. Haynes & Bill Cates.
Mimeographed version of the letter handed out at the first trial. Courtesy of the V. J. Hultquist estate.

Unfortunately, the handwritten version of the letter is long gone. As it is, the Sheriff would testify that he carried it with him in his pocket for years and it became worn down; he’d lost the envelope with no other information about the letter or its author.

The improper grammar and lack of punctuation in the printed copy, handed out to the press at the trial, were reproduced as closely as possible in case there were clues to the mindset of the criminal. It resembles the marks of an educated person trying to appear uneducated, the investigator would note how uneven the writing and spelling were, switching back and forth from proper to improper grammar.  The letter’s author explicitly targeted Sheriff McCampbell, possibly to challenge and enrage him. At the same time, he manages to express his disdain for Sheriff Bill Cates of Knox County and Knoxville Chief of Police Haines. The writer goes on to ridicule the deputies who have tried to track him down, proudly boasts of all the mayhem he has committed, and promises more to come. He doesn’t seem to care about getting caught, though he clearly doubts the Sheriff and his men have the capacity to catch him. He also delights in hearing women scream so he can shoot them, it’s no fun otherwise. He has also sexualized his victims, even though he makes no direct references to sexual assault. He merely observes that one particular woman in Alcoa looked “too old to shoot in that way.” He signs with the name that an unknown horseman in the dark gave to Dr. Cusick in Seymour right after Dora Davis was murdered there in 1915. Finally, he lists some of his past victims, most notably Dora herself and Bertie Lindsey.

The Sheriff would later testify that he shared the letter with multiple people, including the postmaster and a few others involved in law enforcement and the justice system.  We also know, from the Sheriff’s descendants, that he shared it with his wife and sister-in-law, Georgia, after dinner one night.  Georgia is said to have been the one to have spotted the name Dora Davis on the letter and connected her to Will Sheffey. Georgia reminded the Sheriff that “They used to go together,” referring to Davis and Sheffey, who now lived in Maryville.

McCampbell told the story a bit differently to the investigator in 1925. He told the P.I. that, after receiving the Emery letter, McCampbell chanced to meet old Dr. Cusick who had retired to Maryville. Upon learning that Cusick had lived in Sevierville, he asked him what he knew about the Dora Davis murder and was shocked to find that he was speaking with a key witness for the prosecution. McCampbell learned in the conversation that, no matter what was reported about the Davis trial, Cusick had always believed that Sheffey killed Dora. Cusick would later inform the investigator that he felt the Davis case had been rushed because of Sheffey’s relatives who were in legal professions; the prosecution never got a shot at firming up their case, in his opinion. McCampbell was more and more convinced that the good people of Maryville had a seasoned murderer in their midst.

If the writer of the letter liked screaming, he would soon get his wish as the first attack in the heart of Maryville would earn both a lot of screaming and a woman to shoot. However, it would also open the door to more serious investigations and launch a series of trials that had to have made life a lot less fun for him.