A cold case heats up

by Brian Clarey

I’ve been thinking a lot about the fire at the castle tis year, about the brutal murder of William “Ransom” Hobbs, the tragic fate of Deborah Ann Moy and the fire that obscured most of the crime’s physical evidence. I’ve been thinking about this unsolved murder, this savage attack that happened all those years ago, back in September 2009. I’m thinking about it because people are still talking about it, still floating theories and reconstructing the events of that warm, fall evening that flowed seamlessly into early morning in the side room of the old Vaught place on Summit Avenue, culminating in the most violent chapter in the city’s recent memory.

I’ve been thinking about it because I’ve written thousands of words on the case; there’s a passage about it in my book, and I read it out loud whenever I’m in a venue where the grisly episode is still very much at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

And when I learned that Greensboro police made an arrest on June 30 in this case that had long since gone cold, nabbing one Michael Wade Slagle from his residence in Jacksonville, Fla., there were some people I needed to talk to.

“Yeah, that’s him,” said Craig Trostle when he saw Slagle’s mugshot.

“That’s Micah.”

Trostle was my primary source when I first wrote about the fire in the castle. He was with Moy and Ransom that nightafter last call had sounded. He was at Kellie Edwards’ house over by the Westerwood Tavern after last call, when they were all playing music on the front porch, and had he not fallen asleep on Edwards’ couch he very well may have shared Ransom’s fate.

It was Micah, he said, who drove Deb and Ransom back to Deb’s place. And after the fire in the castle, Micah split town for good — until last week, when Greensboro police Det. Tony Hinson went down to Florida and brought him back. He’s here right now, held without bond in the Guilford County Jail.

Hinson inherited the case from Det. Tim Parrish, who retired after 29 years on the force in November 2010. But Hinson has been involved from the start. He was with Parrish when they went to interview Slagle in Jacksonville in 2009.

“[The case] got cold-case status after Tim retired,” Hinson said, in flawless copspeak, “and then I just picked up the case. We knew the suspect still lived in the Jacksonville area, so we decided to go back to interview the suspect on conditional questions that weren’t asked back in 2009. Upon the completion of that interview, along with additional information recovered from….”

Here he stopped, not wanting to blow his chances of a conviction by revealing too much to a reporter.

“We’ve had additional leads in the past few months,” he said. “And in conjunction with this interview last week in Jacksonville, the probable cause existed for arrest. First degree murder. Attempted murder. First degree arson.”

A cold case, he told me, doesn’t end with an arrest. That’s just the beginning.

“People move out of town,” he said, “people remember things differently, the time factor. Really it is about documentation and preparation for trial.”

He was in Atlanta at the time gathering evidence, but he would not elaborate.

“My goal is prosecution,” he said. “I’m not gonna victimize these families twice.”

It is important that I remind you here that an arrest is not a conviction; Michael Wade Slagle is presumed innocent until judged guilty. Hinson reminds me that this is likely a capital murder case — if we’re proposing to take this man’s life, we had better be damn sure he did the crime.

If there’s a trial, I will be there. For now I will watch and wait along with everybody else.

Over at Suds ‘N’ Duds and the Blind Tiger they’re talking about Ransom — not that they ever stopped. Deb Moy is regaining the pieces of her life one arduous step at a time. The worst is over. The best is yet to come.

In fact, good things are already happening. Back in 2009, one of Deb’s closest friends, wracked with grief, took it upon herself to do some investigating at the corner of Walker and Elam, where the events of that evening were set into motion. While there she met a bartender who watched the thing unfold, and after grilling him about that night she realized she liked him well enough to tell him her real name.

Things happened quickly between them, as they sometimes seem to do, and from their grief they forged happiness. And now their happiness has a name: Sadie Lee, a sweet little ginger baby, born just a few months ago.

Still, questions remain about Michael Wade Slagle, about the fire in the castle and the crime that Det. Hinson called “particularly brutal.”

By the time little Sadie Lee takes her first steps, we should have some answers.