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100-year-old serial killer mystery haunts East Tennessee

It’s been almost a century since “the Night Marauder” last assaulted or killed anyone in East Tennessee but that hasn’t stopped Maryville College students from unraveling history to discover findings.
Published: Apr. 15, 2021 at 7:31 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 16, 2021 at 4:40 PM EDT
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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - It’s been almost a century since “the Night Marauder” last assaulted or killed anyone in East Tennessee but that hasn’t stopped Maryville College students from unraveling history to discover findings.

This person terrified people in Knox and Blount counties between 1919 and 1926. If you’ve never heard of him, you’re not alone. The Night Marauder is a cold case Maryville college students have studied this semester in their “history of murder” class.

“Before we started talking about this trial I had no idea that it had happened,” said Shelby Davidson, a student in the class.

The Marauder was a murderer on the loose in East Tennessee who assaulted or killed more than 40 people between 1919 and 1926. He often struck in the night at homes without electricity.

The document called “The Dead Left in the Trail of the Night Marauder” went into gruesome details of the victims.

“It just kind of fell in my lap and that’s just kind of the icing on the cake,” said Nancy Locklin-Sofer, the professor of the “History of Murder” class.

Dr. Locklin-Sofer’s class at Maryville College put the details of the the case under the magnifying glass.

“I already was really happy with this class and excited about it, but getting that case to work on has been really exciting,” explained Locklin-Sofer.

She turned to the Maryville Times, on microfilm.

Locklin-Sofer said, “I could not believe just rolling through that microfilm I saw case after case.”

Identifying the Night Marauder was tricky. A man named William Sheffey went to trial three times but was acquitted in 1926. The dozens of murders and assaults remain unsolved.

Davidson is from Knoxville and has enjoyed learning about this case that has a connection to her neck of the woods.

“It has been really fun to explore it closer to home,” said Davidson.

It’s a case Dr. Locklin-Sofer used to teach her students about investigation and assumptions authorities may make. Davidson said he has absorbed it all.

“I just like really enjoy learning about the Sheffey trial and making it more public knowledge because there were several African American people forced to take the fall for this throughout the murders so it just feels a little bit like we’re giving them justice,” he said.

The class discovered a connection to Maryville College.

“Several professors were called as character witnesses for the person that was put on trial and that was really interesting to like see how it was professors who testified for his defense,” explained Davidson.

Now Dr. Locklin-Sofer said she and others plan to write a book about the Night Marauder.

“I’m really excited to like see it go on after I graduate. It’ll be like a thing I can always say I was a part of,” said Davidson.

You can read more about Maryville College’s research on the Night Marauder here.

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