crashing the gate.

by Brian Clarey

crashing the gate.

From Greensboro: A community, a fire and a reckoning

The Piedmont Triad can be a pretty small place, and nobody knows this more than a journalist. We find ourselves living in the same neighborhoods as our sources, getting story leads from friends and relatives, doing business with people we’re written about and having awkward encounters next to those with whom we’ve disagreed in print. It’s the nature of the game in these parts, and I think I speak for all of my colleagues when I say we always try to be professional. But still, every now and again a story comes down the pike that touches us deeply. I’ve been working on this week’s cover story, “It happened in Greensboro” (see page 13), off and on since the event occurred almost three months ago. I heard about the murder and arson within hours of the 911 call through my friend David Hoggard’s blog and my own personal network of friends and acquaintances, who checked in by phone. I didn’t yet know the names of the victims, but I was pretty sure I would be able to place their faces. Word spread quickly throughout the heads, hipsters, underemployed musicians and other members of the inebriate class who hang out at the intersection of Walker and Elam, a neighborhood I affectionately dubbed the “Whiskey District” shortly after my arrival in town in June 2000. It is a group with which I am loosely affiliated. So while I couldn’t immediately place the names of William Ransom Hobbs Jr. and Deborah Ann Moy, I had certainly seen them around. And the violence perpetrated upon them affected me in the same way it affected everyone who spends time in the Whiskey District: It bothered the hell out of me. These are good people who shoot pool and dance to the jukeboxes out here on Walker Avenue, who buy each other rounds in celebration and mourning, who dance to the band at the Blind Tiger no matter who is playing, who buy cheap smokes at the Bestway and watch football at the Wahoo and will pontificate by the rail at Walker’s on any given subject.

There are a lot of experts in the Whiskey District, and in the course of this story I spoke to as many of them as I could. Some had good information about the night in question. Others knew the principals well enough to fill in qualitative details: “Deb knew everybody” or “Ransom never slept.” Everybody wanted to help find the person who did this. More people than not declined to participate in this story, a personal decision I respect. And some cautioned me not to write the story at all. They almost succeeded. I wanted to be respectful to Ransom and to Deb and her family; to try to recreate those crucial moments after dawn; I did not want to diminish the chances of solving this crime. I wasn’t sure if it all was possible. I still am not. But in the end I decided that this is a story that must be told. In the Whiskey District, rumors still fly around like flicked cigarette butts, but very little has been reported in any local media; most people in Greensboro still haven’t heard about that night in the Aycock Historical District, where a man was killed, a woman brutalized and the entire crime scene conflagrated into a pyre. After some soul searching, I decided that people needed to know this happened. Life in Greensboro can sometimes seem protected, a few clicks removed from the violence and crime levels that pervade many of our nation’s cities. We have two or three dozen murders a year, very few matching the raw cruelty of this one. And I felt a personal attachment: These are my people, and this could have happened to any number of my friends who run with the late-night wolves and find themselves in strange houses and improbable configurations after last call sounds. This is my crowd, and someone infiltrated our ranks, seeing our natural empathy as a weakness to be exploited. These are my friends who wept and drank for days after the incident, who organized fundraiser after fundraiser and will never be quite the same. Plus, I live here. I have a daughter. I have a soul. You cannot be a functional human and be unaffected by the plight of Ransom and Deb. There is much to this tale that cannot yet be told — interviews with suspects and witnesses are ongoing and information is forthcoming from the State Bureau of Investigation. A case is being built and details, hopefully, will come out in the wash. Until then, pray for Deb Moy and her family, mourn the loss of William Ransom Hobbs Jr. And if you know something, say something. Call Greensboro Crimestoppers at 336.373.1000.

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