Unsolved murder stunned Prestonsburg
Eastern Kentucky has seen its share of blood spilled due to murders, and Floyd County has contributed its fair amount to that list, including what was considered then as the most brutal murder to date, the vicious death of Muriel Baldridge on July 27, 1949. The investigation of the murdered Prestonsburg High School cheerleader that resulted the following year was, perhaps one of the most bizarre in the county's history.
Indicted for double charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in connection to the slaying were two Prestonsburg residents one of whom was will known and respected member of the Prestonsburg Board of Education. Lon S Moles, a 60 year old member of the local Board of Education and veteran C&O freight agent was indicted on Feb 4 1950, along with fellow Prestonsburg resident E.K. Dotson for the murder of Muriel Baldridge. Before the two could even post bond a venue change to move the impending trial out of the county was entered . The trial would take place later in Pike County, where both Moles and Dotson were being held under separate bonds of $15000.00.
The story of Baldridge's murder is one that many PHS graduates would later hear in whispers and tales bordering on folklore. On Monday July 27 1949 , Baldridge joined two friends as they walked home from a carnival that had taken place that evening. Near the West Prestonsburg bridge , the two left Baldridge, who reportedly said she wasn't afraid to walk by herself. Her body would be discovered early the next morning beside the riverbank a little more than 50 feet from the home of her parents and just over 30 feet from Dotson's home. The young cheerleaders head was smashed in, the damage a result of five fatal blows to the head, authorities later concluded. Officials later said she had been struck near the bridge and apparently dragged the length of a small walking path near the rivers edge. Her necklace was found hung in a small peach tree that had been uprooted, possibility from being clutched during a struggle. Numerous reports were given by nearby residents who heard screams coming from the direction where Baldridge was found, including a report from the Dotson home. The days following found over 50 people questioned , including Baldridge's close friends and others.
According to court reports Dotson himself was later questioned under "truth serum" and elicited no information concerning the murder. The indictment to include Moles came with evidence that would be submitted during a four day trial. The evidence seemed overwhelming and was entered into trial by the Commonwealths Attorneys office backed by 11 testimonies in the very first day of the trial. One of the most damning witnesses against Moles at the time was admitted bootlegger Clyde M Godsey and his wife. The Godseys testified that Moles had arrived at their house near midnight on the night of the murder, (authorities had placed Baldridge's time of death to be around 10:30 p.m. ,less than two hours prior the same night). Godsey's wife said under oath that Moles had arrived at her home to buy a pint of whiskey. She testified that he had asked her not to turn the lights on. She told the court to make change for a $20 bill. Mrs. Godsey told police later that she had seen bloodstains on Moles shirt upon turning the light on. Approximately four hours later Godsey said Moles returned to buy a second pint and to ask if anyone else had bought whiskey that night. Testimony at the time reported that Godsey claimed Moles asked the husband and wife to "remember that he had never been there." The link for the investigators was the discovery of an empty pint of whiskey found along the riverbank near the murder scene. It was the same brand the Godseys claimed Moles had purchased. In addition to this evidence, several others testified during Moles trial to have noticed scratches along his arms in the days following the murder. A local gas station owner claimed under oath that Moles had brought his vehicle in to have the seat covers changed only days after the murder. The station owner told investigators there had been a stain on one of the seats but he couldn't be positive as to its nature. He added only that Moles later disagreed with him about when the seat covers had been changed, claiming it had been nearly a month before the murder. Further damaging to Moles' contention of innocence in the murder was the match of his shoes with prints found along the riverbank. Further, it was well known that Baldridge often stopped at the nearby C&O offices where Moles worked to use the telephone, something she would have been comfortable with , considering her father George Baldridge was also an employee with the company. During his trial, Moles contended that he had been at home asleep at the time Baldridge was killed. Moles' defense would later put the accused murders eife on the stand. With proper documentation to support her complaints of arthritis, Mrs. Moles said she had been awake most of the night on July 27 dealing with related pain. She testified that Moles had been asleep beside her the entire night. The Commonwealth , which had been asking for the death penalty against Moles in the case would be made to settle for a not guilty verdict. The decision came from a jury consisting of 10 men and 2 women, Who deliberated just under two hours before returning the decision. The jury decision to find Moles not guilty of Baldridge's murder resulted in the Dotson case being dismissed and left literally thousands of Prestonsburg residents without closure to what had been for many of them , their first true exposure to brutal murder. During early court proceedings against Moles and Dotson, it was reported that upwards of 1,000 spectators were present in the upstairs circuit courtroom for the two men's change of venue hearing. At the time the trial came to close, there was reportedly $2000.00 reserved in a fund operated by citizens determined to find Baldridge's killer. With Moles acquittal and the dismissal of charges against Dotson, the case was never solved.
1949 Floyd County Times. Transcribed by Robie Prater