The Moody family had a routine.
The men who planned to kill Darrell Moody, a detective captain in the Bowling Green Police Department, were counting on it.
Betty Moody had left their small brick home on Henry Avenue on the morning of Feb. 16, 1972, at her usual time around 8 a.m. She was headed to her waitress job at Ray’s Drive In on the U.S. 31-W By-Pass while her 9-year-old daughter was walking to T.C. Cherry Elementary School a block away.
Normally, Darrell Moody would have been at home alone at 8:30 that morning before he had to leave for work at the BGPD around 9 a.m. But he had a court appearance that morning, so he got into his car around 8:32 a.m.
As he was turning the key in his Oldsmobile’s ignition, a thunderous blast that was heard blocks away shattered the quiet neighborhood.
Bricks, splinters of charred wood, shards of glass and pieces of furniture littered the lawn, and the walls and ceilings of homes across the street were cracked by the blast.
Darrell Moody was shaken but uninjured as he called police headquarters on his car radio.
As firefighters and law enforcement officials swarmed the scene, they smelled a familiar odor – the heavy, sweet smell of dynamite.
It was a familiar odor at crime scenes in the city in recent years, as it was the go-to explosive used by the illegal alcohol sales, gambling and car theft rings that had been waging a dynamite-fueled campaign of terror in the city for a decade.
Exact statistics from decades ago are hard to come by, but it was widely reported at various times in the 1960s and early 1970s that the crime rate in Bowling Green was as high as any metropolis.
In one year in the mid-1960s, the Daily News reported that Warren County had 26 homicides – a murder rate seven times higher than the national average. Despite being almost three times as populous as it was in the 1960s (from 45,000 to 131,000 residents), Warren County typically has had fewer than 10 homicides a year in recent years.
The primary ingredients fueling the lawlessness were the illicit liquor business, illegal gambling and a national car-theft ring based in the city. The decadelong crime spree earned Bowling Green the nickname “Little Chicago.” But the Windy City had nothing on Bowling Green when it came to organized crime, bombings and murders.
• • •
Bootlegging has a long and colorful history across southcentral Kentucky. Whiskey Run (also spelled Whisky Run) is a natural creek that descends from near Hospital Hill to the Barren River. It is now mostly under city streets and serves as a water runoff conduit, but its name comes from its use as a water source by bootleggers in the early days of Bowling Green.
The crime-generating aspects of the alcohol trade flourished in Bowling Green primarily after two votes seeking to better regulate alcohol sales.
In 1957, a group called the Anti-Alcohol Association in Warren County successfully worked to get a local option wet/dry question on the ballot for a Sept. 17, 1957, special election. The county had allowed alcohol sales since the end of federal Prohibition in 1933, but the anti-alcohol forces easily prevailed in the 1957 vote by a 4,712-2,863 margin.
The vote appeared to have an unintended consequence: a massive surge in the bootlegging trade.
Bowling Green Police Chief Horace Snell told the Daily News in 1960 that “the bootlegging situation in Bowling Green is out of hand, despite diligent efforts of law enforcement officers.”
Law enforcement made nearly 200 arrests related to bootlegging in the months after the 1957 vote, but the trade in illegal alcohol showed no signs of slowing down.
The result was another vote, and another unintended consequence.
In 1960, a city-only local option election was held to legalize alcohol sales in the city limits. The measure passed overwhelmingly, 6,670-3,920.
That left the city an oasis of legally obtained alcohol in a desert of surrounding dry counties. Soon, unscrupulous bar and liquor store owners here were the primary providers of alcohol for the entire region – a lucrative business that soon turned deadly.
Former BGPD Officer Gary Raymer, who served as Bowling Green police chief from 1980 to 2002, said “turf wars” among the alcohol providers spurred most of the violence.
Adjacent to some of the bars and liquor stores would be a warehouse where cases of liquor would be sold at the back door to individuals who would then take it to the “dry” areas to resell at a hefty markup. The hands of Bowling Green police were tied because their jurisdiction ended at the city limits.
“We were the only well in the area,” Raymer said.
Jim Rogers, a Bowling Green police officer from 1970 to 1990, recalled seeing cars leaving the establishments “so loaded down with half pints they’d almost burst their springs.”
“A lot of places would actually have delivery services,” Rogers said. The buyers in outlying counties “wanted a schedule. They wanted (the alcohol) delivered at 4 a.m., before the local sheriff woke up.”
Illegal alcohol sales were the lifeblood of the Dixie Mafia – a loose confederation of criminals that controlled organized crime in the South for decades. Locally, the illicit liquor business was largely divided into two factions, Raymer said: a north side squad that sold to northern areas, including Butler, Barren and Edmonson counties, while the southside group mostly sold to points south – Logan, Simpson and Allen counties.
Like their counterparts in the Dixie Mafia, the local criminal kingpins used violence to settle turf disputes and discourage witnesses.
“A lot of it was scare tactics,” Raymer said.
The preferred method to send messages or eliminate opponents was the use of explosives. Dynamite, often used then in farming, quarrying and mining, was easily obtained and left little evidence behind, and thus was the explosive of choice.
The criminals would target “just anybody who looked sideways at them,” Raymer said.
In less than a year after the 1960 vote, there were nine reported bombing attempts in the city.
The violence was startling for what had been a relatively peaceful community.
In 1960, the Bowling Green Rotary Club issued a public statement that read in part, “We abhor the many brazen bombings and bombing attempts which have resulted in the loss of many thousands of dollars of investments, but of even greater loss is the degradation of our community in the eyes of its citizens and the people of this state and nation.”
Law enforcement officials were not exempt from the violence. In August 1963, a bomb made of six sticks of dynamite was found – unexploded – under the car of Bowling Green Detective Sgt. Wayne Constant.
The list of 1961 bombings included several establishments related to liquor sales in the city, including the Horseshoe Beer Depot, the Caribbean Club and the First and Last Chance Liquor Store.
But it was not just the liquor trade the criminal rings were protecting – liquor stores and bars also often trafficked in stolen goods and food stamp fraud. People would buy groceries with the food stamps, and then trade them for liquor. Illegal gambling was also rampant and added to the mix of illegal activity.
“There were a lot of things going on at the same time,” said current Bowling Green City Commissioner Joe Denning, who was a Bowling Green police officer in 1969 and then a state trooper. “It wasn’t unusual for the paper to report on a regular basis about bodies turning up in rivers and creeks.”
One enforcer for the criminal rings was well known to police – he was a former Bowling Green police officer himself. He was known to brandish a stick of dynamite to get the message across that he needed to be listened to, Raymer said. The individual was eventually shot and killed by police after they said he attacked them with a hammer.
But as is the case today, most of the murders during the crime spree were of the domestic variety.
Raymer noted women and children at the time were often stuck in abusive relationships.
“They did not have the resources they do today like” the Barren River Area Safe Space shelter, he said.
Rampant alcohol abuse and the criminal element attracted to the city at the time didn’t help the situation. Some elected officials were also perhaps not doing all they could to stop the alcohol suppliers – some politicians at the time regularly converted bourbon to ballots.
“The going rate was a half pint of whiskey for a vote,” Raymer said.
But the city commission in 1961 did issue a $2,000 reward for information about the bombings. And in September 1961, 90-year-old Warren Circuit Judge John B. Rodes pledged that a grand jury convened that year would make investigating the rash of bombings a priority.
“We are a city of 30,000, a city of homes, a city of churches, a city of schools – that’s our strength,” Rodes told the grand jury. “We aren’t going to permit any lawless band to destroy all this.”
“Full facilities of city and county law enforcement agencies will be given to the grand jury and some persons who profess knowledge of the bombings will probably be summoned,” the Daily News reported that fall.
One of the individuals who reportedly had knowledge about the bombings was an Edmonson County native named Billy Graham, 42, who lived in Bowling Green and had been charged with setting off a bomb at the Siddens Music Co., which was involved in selling pinball machines sometimes used in gambling, in 1960.
Graham testified before the grand jury, but he then never showed up for his trial, slated to begin on Sept. 23, 1961. He was thought to have jumped his bond, and a manhunt ensued. But the search ended three days later, when two farmers crossing the Old Martinsville Road bridge about 12 miles south of Bowling Green spotted a body floating in Trammel Creek near a popular swimming spot.
The body turned out to be that of Graham, who had been severely beaten with what police surmised was a rock or hammer, before he was shot in the head with a pistol. His body was then wrapped in a long cotton plowline tied to a 50-pound grindstone and dumped in the creek.
Graham had “talked too much,” a police official told the Daily News at the time. Coroner Cliff B. Raymer said it was “the most complete job of murder I have ever seen.”
Thanks in part to Graham’s testimony, the 1961 grand jury, under heavy security as they met at the county courthouse, did indict three men in connection with the string of bombings, but the violence continued for another decade.
Meanwhile, that October, Warren Fiscal Court approved paying the two farmers who found Graham’s body the reward they were entitled to under state law – $5 to split between them.
Next week: The car theft ring and the attack on the detective.