At one point when I was in college, I lived in an end room on my dorm floor.
Like many students, I left my door unlocked when I was at home. Besides getting drunk and rowdy on some of the weekends, most of the people were quiet and kept to themselves. There were no shady characters skulking around looking to steal stuff or do anyone harm.
So, when I was home, I was comfortable leaving the door unlocked.
One day, the door opened and someone just walked in. I’d never seen this guy before in my life, so I asked him what he was doing. He starts looking around at my stuff, and said that he just wanted to come look at the den.
I informed him that the den was a common area for the students at the other end of the floor. This side – my side – were private, single-occupancy rooms.
The statement didn’t even faze him. He looked at me and said that the den was at the end of the floor, apparently not hearing what I had just told him. So, I very carefully and very adamantly explained the way of the dorm floor world to him again.
Thankfully, he seemed to hear that time and left.
Having an intruder in our homes is something that nearly all of us have thought about at one time or another. We’re startled by the strange noise in the night, or we wonder if we really had left that light in the living room on.
Mostly, we think of someone who has somehow snuck into our homes. Maybe they picked a lock or found an open window. Either way, it’s that killer that’s secreted themselves away in a closet that scares us the most.
And history supports our fears.
In 1912, Josiah Moore, his wife, and six children were murdered while they slept in a small home on the outskirts of Villisca, Iowa. One of the prevailing theories behind the killings was that the murderer had snuck into the house and hidden themselves in the attic while the family was at a church event.
But there were other theories, too.
According to the confession of the Reverend Lyn Kelly, a bizarre Presbyterian minister who confessed to the murders, he simply walked in the back door to the house. Why? Because the Moore’s had left their doors open. They lived in a low-crime, peaceful community where nothing bad ever really happened. Why lock the doors when it was perfectly safe to leave them open?
How many of us feel the same way? How many of us live in a small community and don’t think anything of leaving our doors unlocked at night?
In 1927, Edna Ross must have felt safe and secure in her apartment in Cincinnati, Ohio. While we don’t know for sure, we can assume that Miss Ross was enjoying a relatively quiet evening at home. Maybe she was listening to her favorite radio program, or maybe she was reading.
Either way, she was warm and safe from the cold midwestern winter outside. Warm and safe enough where she left the door unlocked.
As she was going about her business, Edna suddenly heard the front door open. Startled, she turned toward the sound. To her astonishment, a man walked in.
He was middle-aged, and wore a black suit, with a brown overcoat and a brown hat. He looked tired and out of breath, almost panting as he stood there, one hand against his chest. The man seemed confused, almost as if he didn’t quite know where he was.
“May I have a glass of water?” he gasped.
Edna stood there for a moment, staring. She was almost in shock. One minute she had been minding her own business, and the next a strange man had just walked into her apartment.
Shaking off her shock, Edna took a good look at him. The man seemed to be sick, not frightening. She told him to stay where he was, and then walked to her kitchen sink and filled a glass with water. Over the sound of the faucet, she heard something heavy hit the floor.
With glass in hand, Edna walked back in the other room. The man had collapsed.
Edna rushed to his side, checking to see if he was alright. He seemed to be passed out cold. Edna tried to wake him up, but got no reaction. At some point, she realized that he wasn’t breathing.
Getting up, she went to get help.
By the time the authorities arrived, the stranger was dead.
He had no wallet or any other kind of identification on his person. After making sure that Edna was alright, they asked her about the stranger. She explained that she had never seen him before in her life, and recounted the events of that evening, including how he had seemed to be short of breath and confused.
The dead man was taken to the coroner and an autopsy was performed.
The cause of death was clear: alcoholic cardiomyopathy, or severe heart problems caused by and enhanced by alcoholism. The shortness of breath, the fatigue, and confusion that Edna Ross had described to police could all be explained by the man’s condition. Still, police were no closer to knowing who he was.
For nine days, the man’s body lay in a drawer at the Cincinnati morgue. Finally, two men, L.J. Rossman and Arthur Tolliver, heard about the incident and contacted authorities. Together, the two of them were finally able to bring the mystery to a close.
The man’s name was Joseph Moreflock. He had been a machinist employed at the machine shops of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. He was about forty-five, and was divorced.
For whatever reason, he must have been near Edna Ross’ apartment when he started to feel unwell. As his heart struggled in his chest, Moreflock began to feel confused and just walked in the first door that he came to.
We worry about people being in our homes, but we never think about them just stepping in through the front door.
After that guy walked into my dorm room, I always locked my door. If you wanted in, you had to either call me or knock. It worked well.
The lurking evil in the world is supposed to sneak and crawl and slide its way through the dark spaces, waiting to slither out and eat us. It’s not supposed to stride boldly through our front door.
But just because you think something is supposed to happen a certain way, doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen that way. Sometimes the most direct way is the quickest way.
So, pay attention to your surroundings and keep your doors locked. Just like Edna Ross in 1927, you never know when you might have a surprise guest walk in.
Body is Identified. The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/13/1927
Man Dies. The Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/03/1927
Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis (healthline.com)