MC professor is uncovering the “Night Marauder” mystery with student aid

Many history and english majors may have recently received an email about a research assistant position working with Dr. Nancy Locklin-Sofer on her newest trade book. 

In spring 2021, on the first day of Locklin-Sofer’s History of Murder class, she shared a timeline of the Night Marauder on a Zoom meeting. 

“That was probably the most interactive Zoom meeting I’ve ever had,” said Locklin-Sofer. Students’ excitement about this project never diminished even through the fall 2021 semester. 

As school picked up, Locklin-Sofer recognized the need for help while she would be teaching classes, so she sent out an application for a student researcher. Many students responded but couldn’t commit much time to the project. Locklin-Sofer’s solution was to form a team of small helpers.

Dr. Nancy Locklin-Sofer works on her latest blog post in her office in Anderson. 
Photo Courtesy of Chloe Lewis.

Students will be listed in the book when it’s finished. On The Night Marauder Blog, some entries are already published in students’ names that will be included in the book itself. This project offers a unique opportunity for students to participate in this local true crime history book.

Locklin-Sofer is a history professor at Maryville College working her dream job. She devotes time to coming up with new history classes, such as History of Murder, and works on summer and winter breaks authoring academic books. 

Like many of us, Locklin-Sofer dreaded taking her history class when starting her first semester at Hartwick College, but she was forced to sit down at her own small liberal arts college and take the core curriculum. At the time, she intended to declare herself a theater major, hoping to dedicate her future to building sets for plays. Locklin-Sofer truly believed she was only good at history because she was good at memorizing lines, so she was prepared to receive an easy “A” and move on. However, the professor she met taught history like nobody she’d ever heard.

Newspaper clipping shows William Sheffey, the main suspect of Locklin’s research on the Night Marauder. 
Photo Courtesy of Nancy Locklin-Sofer.

“It’s not memorizing all these dates and regurgitating them, you know, you’re telling human stories. You’re finding lost puzzle pieces,” Locklin-Sofer says. She accidentally fell in love with the true nature of history and then took history class, after history class, after class at Hartwick.

“You know you’re a history major, right? You’re just a history major,” said her advisor. Locklin-Sofer shook her head, and they spoke about changing her major from theater to history. 

In researching for her History of Murder class, Locklin-Sofer found herself needing to walk down to the Blount County Public Library to find one specific news story on the local microfilm. In the process of scrolling through pages and pages of old newspapers from the 1900’s in Maryville, she found a headline.

There was an overwhelming amount of information on this Night Marauder, and Locklin-Sofer quickly realized its potential. She made a joke on Twitter about stumbling on a 100-year-old local cold case and using it as a basis for her entire History of Murder class, and students online responded with excitement.

Dr. Nancy Locklin-Sofer works on her latest blog post in her office in Anderson. 
Photo Courtesy of Chloe Lewis.

A private investigator that had been hired in Alcoa wrote first-hand documents that Locklin-Sofer used as a base for assignments in her History of Murder class. A widow of one man convinced he knew who the attacker was even allowed Locklin-Sofer’s students to interview her. Locklin-Sofer assigned students to analyze primary source documents on the Night Marauder, which turned into long essays worth of usable text regarding this local history. 

Quickly, this local true crime story was becoming enough information for Locklin-Sofer’s next book.

Although Locklin-Sofer loves to teach, she also loves to share knowledge beyond the classroom through books. She has written multiple books, most recently writing “Murder, Justice, and Harmony in an Eighteenth-Century French Village” in 2019. 

Unfortunately, she discovered the difficulties of academic writing, including lack of pay, lack of advertising and frustrating accessibility to her own works. These works, which she had hoped would sell and provide interesting historical analysis to many, were priced at $160, as much as a normal textbook. Last year, Locklin-Sofer remembers making only $46 in profit.

Locklin-Sofer wasn’t looking for a new book project so soon before she found the Night Marauder. The most she could see was a small French history project, but she couldn’t travel because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so getting primary sources from France was almost impossible. Instead, Locklin-Sofer fell into a well of information right where she lived. 

Photo Courtesy of Nancy Locklin-Sofer.

In researching the Night Marauder, she worked with the Beck Cultural Center and the Blount County Public Library to collect information. There were many murders in Knoxville that stopped after 1922 that were blamed on Maurice Mays, a wrongfully convicted black man. After Mays was put in prison, the attacks still continued in Knoxville and later in Maryville and Alcoa. The microfilm in the Blount County Public Library led to most of Locklin-Sofer’s discoveries and primary source documents. Locklin-Sofer connected all of this information between Knoxville and Maryville to “form a union.”

Most true crime focuses so much on the killer and their motives, but Locklin-Sofer finds a special spot for the victims. She wants to dedicate just as much time, if not more, to researching and reporting on the lives of the victims.

The Maryville College library has more valuable microfilm that unfortunately cannot be accessed due to how expensive a microfilm reader is. For now, the most Locklin-Sofer can do about that lost information is wait for a used microfilm reader to go on sale.

There is still much work to be done, however. Students are constantly researching bits and pieces to fill in the blanks of the large expanse of Locklin-Sofer’s research. New information will be updated consistently in the Night Marauder Blog.

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