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Rain on the castle

by Brian Clarey

Rain on the castle

Rain falls on the castle near the foot of Summit Avenue. It rolls off the roof and trickles from the eaves, runs through the gutters and drainpipes. Rain slinks down the castle’s hard granite surface, rivulets racing to the mossy ground, where they seep into the soil.

The castle has stood guard on this corner since William Vaught built it in 1906, a bulwark against the expanding center city back when this was “Silk Stocking Road,” when this stretch of urban gentility was what passed for a suburb in Greensboro.

Now it braves the rain, squeezed from a late-summer weather pattern stalled over the city for what seems like weeks.

The windows have gone dark and quiet in the castle’s apartments — everybody moved out within the last year, and now the house is on the market.

Maybe somebody will want to put a law office in there, or a web-based business. Maybe — just maybe — someone wants to live there again.

The house is quiet, but it tells a story: The black smudge on the alcove facing Charter Place suggests fire; the empty rooms bespeak silence; the way people look at it when they walk or drive by implies fear.

Something terrible happened on that ground floor apartment just a year ago. A violent beating. A sexual assault.

A murder. And it happened in the Saturday morning stillness of the Aycock Historical District, with neighbors walking to the farmers market and cars passing by on their way downtown for a trip to the library or a cool-weather brunch. William “Ransom” Hobbs was murdered in this castle some time around 8 a.m.; his hostess, Deborah Ann Moy, brutalized and beaten. Both were set afire in a blaze that scorched the floor and blackened the ceiling in the center of the room.

Ransom was likely dead before the flames took him. Deb Moy was not so lucky. It’s been a year since the fire in the castle. Ransom has been mourned and remembered, and his name still comes up just about every weekend at the Blind Tiger when the band plays a certain song or the night hits just the right level of absurdity that Ransom would have appreciated. And Deb Moy exists inside a triangle of fear, excruciating pain and incalculable mental anguish as those who love her hope desperately for a reckoning.

It’s been a year since the vicious attacks took one life and broke another, and yet the case remains much where it has been since the very beginning.

Detective Tim Parrish lives with this case, its details committed to memory, its victims part of his everyday vocabulary.

He says he’s made some progress in the collection of physical evidence, been able to reorder a list of primary suspects and gained enough perspective to look at the case in different light. But the handcuffs stay put, for now.

“It’s moving slowly,” he admits. “I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is…. We just continue to look at this stuff. It’s not what I want — I don’t want to move slow. You move at a pace that’s comfortable and try to do things right.”

An arrest in this case is one thing; a conviction quite another. It takes evidence to get a conviction, and most of the physical evidence has already passed through the fire.

“It’s the most frustrating case I’ve ever worked,” Parrish adds. Still, the barrooms are abuzz with possible suspects, pet theories, barely remembered fragments of that Friday night when Deb Moy decided to host an after-hours party for a select few friends and acquaintances.

“It was my birthday that night.” “I thought it was her ex-boyfriend.” “What about that dude she was dancing with?” “It’s totally messed up.” Even a year later, at the bars and parking lots, in the wait-stations of Greensboro’s restaurants, the talk turns to the fire at the castle, the murder of Ransom, the fate of Deb Moy. And the unspoken fear can still send a jolt through the community: Whomever did this could still be walking around the city. It might be someone at the bar or someone I work with. And it could have happened to me.

Still, the beers get filled and the tables gut bussed. The people who remember Ransom celebrate in his name and grieve in a way of which he surely would have approved, while those around Deb Moy tighten their circle and look for spiritual reassurance. The grisly episodes come and go in Detective Parrish’s caseload. And rain continues to fall on the castle, give a chill to the granite façade and scatter sounds in its empty rooms. It falls like whispers. It falls like tears.

Anyone with information about the murder of William Ransom Hobbs Jr., the assault on Deborah Ann Moy or the fire in the Castle on Summit Avenue should call Crimestoppers at 336.373.1000 or call Detective Tim Parrish directly at 336.574.4008.

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