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|From the Pit Wall|
The Moormeister Mystery:
The life and dead of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister
(The following is copyrighted by Lee Brown, and should not be reprinted in any form with express permission from the author.)The private lives of Doctor and Mrs. Dorothy Dexter Moormeister were thrust suddenly and horribly into the glaring eye of public attention in the early morning hours of February 22nd 1930 with the announcement in the local papers of the brutal murder of Mrs. Moormeister on a lonely county road. For ten long weeks newspapers from New York City to San Francisco tantalized the publics appetite for sensationalism with stories containing fact, fiction and rumor. Through bold headlines and tantalizing copy they painting a lurid picture of the life and ‘career’ of Mrs. Moormeister while rarely showing the slightest human compassion for, or interest in, those lives that had been thrown into disarray by the act of a maniacal killer.
Before that bloody night, Doctor Frank J. Moormeister had only been know as a well to do physician who shunned public life. Through his medical skills he had gained a reputation of excellence both though his public service while working for a governmental medical reform agency and in his booming private practice. Patients would often travel hundreds of miles to place their physical care in his skilled hands. The very rich would, at times, hired the Doctor paying to have him travel to them, often requiring him to spend weeks away from this office, home and family. He was described be one contemporary as being among the most intelligent and skilled surgeons in the nation.
At home, the Moormeister family was comprised of the Doctor, his beautiful young wife and one daughter from a pervious marriage. Peggy Moormeister adored her father as well as her stepmother Dexter. Also living with the family was Dexter’s sister, Amelia and a live in housekeeper.
Peggy once described their home life as three girls on one side and her father on the other side with the girls giggling and teasing while the father hemmed and hawed. “Daddy had a real time of it pretending to be stern with Dexter and me," Peggy related. "We would tease him at the dinner table and he would feign outrage I'm sure he never felt.” The home, one of the mansions that lined South Temple Street, was normally filled with smiles and contentment. According to Peggy, they always had dinner together and usually retired early.
What manner of events conspired to violently wrest this normal, if somewhat upscale, family into the lurid headlines of newspapers from coast to coast? In spite of the thousands of hours of investigation how did a killer escape the brilliant glare of social, political and judicial justice? What manner of evil entered into this home and conspired to end a life, destroy a family, and leave a young girl without the only mother and confidant she had ever known?
What happened in the days and weeks before that grisly crime on a lonely county road that would turned the life of the victim and her family into lurid headlines for weeks, months and years to come? Why was this crime never solved? Was the murderer ever identified? What facts, fables and rumors combined to keep the life and death of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister in the public eye for so long?
What can be said of the friends and acquaintances of Moormeister family? Were any of them suspects and should they have been suspects? Was the killer among the three people who, over a period of 35 years, were arrested for this murder? Were any of them involved in this murder or were they falsely accused innocents? Why were they released? What happened to the confession of the US Navy deserter and serial killer in the Portsmouth Naval Prison? What information was offered by a career criminal who was incarcerated in California’s Folsom prison at the time of the murder?
What happened in the first crucial hours after the crime was discovered? Did the officers who handled the initial investigation have sufficient knowledge to properly secure the scene(s) or where they treated in a cavalier and non-professional manner? Was the murderer’s trail destroyed by the police? Were either or both of the police departments that investigated the crime scene and handled the evidence guilty of neglect, collusion, political cronyism, malfeasance or were they simply additional victims of the killer of Mrs. Moormeister?
It should be understood that in this jurisdiction, in 1930, the entire qualification for the position of County Sheriff was based on voter popularity. Regarding the experience of the lead investigator in this case, a former County Sheriff remarked, “Just what his capacity is I don't know but you understand in an elective office that probably loyalty is about as outstanding a quality as they can have with as much experience as they can get. Otherwise you might find yourself sold out.”
What information did the underworld have concerning the victim and the events immediately before and after the murder? Why did the police, in this case primarily seek advice information from known criminals? Can the statements of those who live their lives outside the law be taken seriously in the investigation of a crime that may easily be placed at the door of one of more of these characters from the fringes of society?
Although the County Sheriff’s office, along with the City Police, were involved in the investigation of this crime from the start, two other investigators was brought into the case when it appeared that the local investigators were running out of enthusiasm. One of these investigators brought with him an impeccable reputation. Along with the normal descriptions that might be applied to any very successful private investigator was a title he personally despised. Newspapers from coast to coast referred to him as “The American Sherlock Holmes.”
Although he entered the investigation nearly two months after the murder and only worked on this case for a short time (less than three weeks), he always felt that it was solvable. However he never completed his investigation and therefore never submitted a formal detailed report of his efforts to either the Sheriff’s office or to the private party who was paying for his services through the Sheriff’s office. What did he discover in his investigation?
Although all the local newspaper had ‘investigative reporters’ assigned to this case, one paper stood head and shoulders above the rest in both the massive amounts of money and the numerous man hours they spent in an effort to unmask this killer. For months the three local newspapers vied with each other for the most sensational headlines. Each paper wanting to be the first to name the guilty party. All three had reporters dedicated to the case. One of these reporters would remark in later years that he had “never, before or since, devoted so much time and effort to one case.” In the final analysis did the newspapers help or hinder the professional efforts to solve this murder?
This case, like many of the sensational murder cases of the twentieth century was simply made for the newspapers. From the cryptic almost poetic description of various characters at the Coroner’s Inquest – “well known man about town,” “mining man” or “social butterfly” – the public’s desire for any information about these people was satisfied by nothing short of a frenzy of tabloid style journalism.
This case had everything. In fact, there might have been too much. From mobsters with names like ‘Mile-away Thomas’ and ‘The Wop’ to world championship boxers to Hollywood royalty and even a Prince of Persian. If it had been a Hollywood movie, “well no one would have believed it,” another reported commented.
As with any sensational case, especially those, which receive more than their share of press, many private citizens (even the court recorder at the Coroner’s Inquest) were drawn into the investigation as amateur sleuths. From these untrained sources sprang a wealth of rumor, gossip, innuendo and the occasional lead. There were more private citizens with strong opinions about the who, where and why of this murder than there were facts in the actual case files. Sprinkled through the plethora of ‘tips’ that were received by the investigators in letters with signatures like “A. Citizen” was a wealth of suspicion, gossip and questionable facts – all of which had to be check out by the over worked officers of the Sheriff’s criminal investigation team.
Wild rumors would abound in and about the City for years. As late as fifty years after the mangled body was discovered there were still new stories coming to light. Rumors of a massive cover up persist in the minds of some to this day. Few people were spared from being included in these rumors that covered nearly anyone connected with the case from the Sheriff’s office to government officials to local church leaders and other prominent people. Was there truth to any of these rumors of collusion and cover-up? How else can one account for the repeated loss of large and important portions of the investigative files, destroyed or uncollected evidence and some of the mysteriously confusing discoveries made during the investigation? Although the fruits of the police investigation resulted in the first arrest in this case just five days after the murder, the first jury trial would have to wait for thirty-five years!
In view of events both before and after the murder of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister perhaps this book should more properly be called the “Moormeister Curse.” In a period covering just twenty-five years this family was visited more than once by violence and sudden violent death. There was the hail of bullets during an attempted robbery (or murder) on the open highway. The death of a local shoe sales man who boasted privately of his professed knowledge of the murder of Mrs. Moormeister. The early death of one family member followed by the long lingering death of the last remaining member of the family.
In the pages and chapters that follow you will learn the answers to these questions and many more. Perhaps, you will agree with this writer as to the identity of the actual killer. The complete evidence will be presented both pro and con as fairly as is possible at this point in time. All the facts in this book are true to the most reasonable ability of the author to verify movements and statements from the distant past. You will learn the story of one branch of the Moormeister family for their arrival in this country to the illness that claimed the final heir of the family. You’ll even learn of the mystery lady who appeared fifty-five years after the crime claiming to be the missing daughter of Doctor Frank Moormeister.
You’ll be presented with the true facts, figures and circumstances surrounding the life and death of Dorothy Dexter Moormeister. From the unpublished details of the life she led with her husband to the truth of the sensational stories that were published in the various newspapers at the time of her death. In order to fairly present these people to the reader a historical narrative has been used and expanded to incase, in a proper mosaic of the time and place, the details in which the victims, suspects and innocents played out their lives.
And for those of you who fancy yourselves amateur detectives, you will find within the covers of this book enough probable motives, evidence and characters to fuel thought and speculation for years to come. Could you, using the evidence presented here convince a Grand Jury to return a capital murder indictment or will a killer again go unpunished?
In an effort to preserve the flavor and continuity of one of Utah’s most enduring mysteries this book is presented in a chronological fashion beginning with the discovery of the broken body. It will then follow the public and private investigations through time finally finishing with a recap of the mystery as enhanced by the passage of seven decades. The story is factually based on all the currently available historical documents, some of which have been lost from public scrutiny for nearly 70 years. Those documents include published articles in various Salt Lake City newspapers, national news accounts, non-published interviews from first put to pen in 1930 that have been gathered from diaries, journals and telegrams both historical and current. Finally, for the first time ever, this book will contain details from the long lost transcript from the coroners inquest held just days after the murder.
Through out the investigation witnesses were interviewed, questions were asked and facts were corroborated. However, as with any search for the truth, facts are often overshadowed by a twisting of reality as each witness attempts to emphasize or de-emphasize their roll in the actual events. To accurately present the characters within this mystery, properly stations in their period of time, no effort has been made to dilute the mixtures of truth, mistakes and misleading statements from the historical body of evidence.
If you're still reading at this point please look over the following names. If you know any of these people, perhaps you might be able to furnish the missing piece that will finally solve this mystery: