The Trials of Maude Moore

During the night of Monday, Sept. 8, 1919, Maude Moore fatally shot Roy Harth near Bearden, west of Knoxville.

Who Was Maude Moore?

She was born Maudene L. Moore on July 6, 1893, at Emporia, Kansas, the daughter of Barnard Vandevort Moore and Nellie S. Moore. When Maude was a young girl the family moved to the new Oakwood development in North Knoxville. Her father worked at the nearby Southern Railway Coster Yards.

Maude was educated at Lincoln Park School, the county high school (now Central High), and Knoxville Business College. She worked as a stenographer.

Marriages did not work well for Maude Moore. When she was only 16 she married Charles Drake (age 26). He left town immediately after their Dec. 15, 1909, wedding, then returned in approximately three months and promptly died. When she was 23 she married William A. "Lon" Wright (age 43) on Dec. 20, 1916. They cohabited for approximately 15 months. She eventually divorced him on Jan. 7, 1919, for cruel and inhuman treatment.

Who Was Roy Harth?

LeRoy David Harth was a bachelor businessman from a wealthy Knoxville family. He controlled both the Imperial Motor Company and the Farragut Tire and Battery Company. Physically he stood around six feet and weighed close to 200 pounds. Harth had a reputation as a womanizer. A couple of years older than Maude Moore, he knew her only as a speaking acquaintance.

The Pistol

In 1919 Maude and her mother Nellie lived alone in the Mechanicsville community; father Barnard had died three years earlier. For protection they owned a Colt .32 caliber revolver with a five-inch barrel and swing cylinder. Because of civil unrest culminating in the Knoxville Race Riot (see my March 2007 article on "The Trials of Maurice Mays"), Maude loaned the weapon to Frank Lindsey on Saturday, Aug. 30, 1919. She retrieved it and loaned it to Roy Harth on Friday, Sept. 5.

The Prelude

Maude called Roy on Monday afternoon, Sept. 8, and requested return of the pistol. They arranged to meet that evening after Roy attended a vaudeville performance at the Bijou with visiting businessman J. W. Hangsteffer of Detroit and after Maude attended a movie at another theater with her boyfriend of a few weeks, Martin Hunter.

The Car Ride

Maude Moore planned to travel by train Tuesday to Blount County seeking employment at Alcoa Aluminum; in preparation she had checked luggage at the L & N Railroad Depot. Roy Harth offered to drive her there Monday night, and she accepted. But instead of driving from downtown Knoxville across the Gay Street Bridge and south out the Maryville Pike, Harth proceeded westward on the Kingston Pike. Maude protested, but Harth drank prohibition whiskey and continued driving. He stopped just beyond Bearden Hill (where I was farm raised during the '40s and '50s).

The Shooting

Roy Harth then unbuttoned his trousers and proposed that Maude Moore perform "an unmentionable act." She refused. He yanked her out of the car, and she fell to the ground. The pistol fell from Harth's pocket. Both reached for it. Maude got it and shot Harth through the heart. He stumbled to the porch of a nearby house and died. It was about 10:35 p.m.

The Cave

Maude tried to restart the car without success. So she walked several miles back to town and awoke Martin Hunter. He retrieved Maude's clean clothes when the L & N baggage area opened. The two took a trolley to South Knoxville, and Maude hid in Spring Cave on the river bluff from around 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday, when she surrendered to authorities.

First Trial

Maude Moore stood trial for first degree murder from Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 4-6, 1919. Presiding was Judge T. A. R. Nelson. Rufus Mynatt was District Attorney, but special prosecutor W. T. Kennerly took the lead. The defense team was led by Hal Clements. Maude testified. After an hour of deliberation the jury returned a verdict of guilty "with extenuating circumstances" and set the sentence at 21 years.

Motion for New Trial

On Saturday, Dec. 27, Judge Nelson granted a new trial. Exercising his 13th juror prerogative, he opined that the evidence supported second degree but not first degree murder.

Defense counsel Clements had argued that the evidence supported no higher homicide grade than manslaughter, and he used this hypothetical: "Let's assume that Maude Moore isn't a paragon of virtue; that she was a little loose; and that she went with Harth on a joyride for immoral purposes." Judge Nelson bought the assumption and ran with it, essentially branding Maude Moore as a lying whore. His theory was that she had possession of the pistol during the trip and shot Roy Harth over a fee dispute.

Surely this judge would not preside at retrial, right? Wrong. In those days judicial ethics did not require recusal. Today we have Supreme Court Rule 10, Canon 3, covering impartiality and disqualification.

Where Is Maude?

The second trial was set to begin on July 27, 1920. Maude was a no show. Her $10,000 bond was forfeited, and a wanted poster was distributed nationwide plus to a few foreign countries. It contained the photograph reprinted with this article and this description: "Maude Moore, alias Maudene Moore, alias Maude Wright. Age about 27 years, dark brown hair, brownish gray eyes, weight about 125, height five feet four to five feet six inches, slender face, sallow complexion, slender figure, talks in very positive manner, voice clear and loud, excitable temperament."

Home in Tacoma

Maude left Knoxville over a month before her retrial date. On June 19 she began a journey that ended in Tacoma, Washington. Maude as "Helen Hope" dyed her hair blond. On Nov. 24, 1920, she married William H. Stubbs (age 43), a hotelier. Perhaps she did not know that he had an alias, "Atubbo," and had a criminal record for a Mann Act violation.

She was on the lam for over a year, but on Aug. 15, 1921, she was arrested based on a tip from a sailor who recognized her from the wanted poster.

Second Trial

This trial occupied Monday through Saturday, Dec. 5-10, 1921. Special prosecutor Baxter Lee shared center stage with Kennerly, and Fred Houk was brought on board to assist Clements for the defense. On this go-round Maude's team had a lot more trash on LeRoy David Harth, suggesting he may have deserved killing. Four witnesses (three police officers and one firefighter) testified to Harth's reputation for lecherousness. And especially damning was Houk's cross-examination of prominent physician W. S. Nash, called by the prosecution to establish Harth's good reputation:

Q.       Dr. Nash, if you were told
  1. that Harth had taken a 14-year-old girl out in his machine and insulted her,
  2. that he had taken a manicurist out and torn the clothing from her when she refused to comply with his wishes,
  3. that he had assaulted a woman with a baby in her arms,
  4. and that he had tied a young girl to a tree on the banks of the river because she refused to accede to his wishes, would these things change your opinion of his character?"
A.       No, because I would require more than hearsay that they were true.

Judge Nelson also reversed himself concerning a dying declaration made by the victim. He admitted only "Maude Moore shot me." He excluded "to rob me, I think." For history's sake, it's worth noting that no cash was missing from Harth's trouser pockets. And for the sake of current trial practice, please know that Evidence Rule 804(b)(2) would admit both parts, including the "cause or circumstances of what the declarant believed to be impending death."
Also, Judge Nelson charged this defense special request: "If Harth was trying to force Miss Moore to commit an unnatural act, Harth was committing a felony and Miss Moore was entitled to shoot him."
The jurors left the courtroom for six minutes and returned with their verdict: "We find the defendant not guilty."

Aftermath

Maude returned to Tacoma to rejoin her beloved, only to learn that the jerk had taken up with another woman. She divorced Stubbs on Feb. 10, 1922.

Later that year, on Nov. 17 in Spokane, Maude (now age 29) married a widower named Willard L. Wilson (age 31). Curiously, the marriage certificate states that it is her "first" marriage (sorry, Maude, your fourth). On the 1930 census she is listed as "Dene" Wilson (age 36).

The couple moved to Seattle. On the early morning of Monday, March 27, 1939, Maudene L. Wilson died at Maynard Hospital of a spontaneous subarachnoid hemorrhage. She was 45 years old. Burial was at Evergreen Park on March 29. I was born one month later.  


Donald F. Paine DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, and Bickers LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, Tennessee Judicial Conference, and UT College of Law.