The Murder of Maoma Ridings


Lillian McNamara wondered how many times she had checked these rooms.

It was part of her job as a housekeeper to make sure that the guest rooms were clean, presentable, and didn’t need any repairs. The Claypool Hotel was the go-to event venue in Indianapolis, and the people who stayed there expected a fresh room where everything worked. It simply wouldn’t be up to the Claypool’s standards to have leaky faucets and holes in the wall.

Lillian McNamara, the housekeeper who discovered the body of Maoma Ridings. Courtesy of the Indianapolis News.

They had been a respected hotel in the city for decades, and guests and management alike wanted the facility to live up to their expectations.

It was part of Lillian’s job to make sure that this was done.

Every time she went through a room, she made a note of anything that didn’t work or needed repairs as she cleaned. Floors were vacuumed, sheets replaced, towels stocked. A quick phone call to hotel maintenance assured that everything would be fixed before the next guest occupied the room.

Lately, several soldiers had been staying at the hotel. It was 1943, at the height of World War II. The previous June, Camp Atterbury had been founded about 34 miles south of Indianapolis. Not only were several military personnel travelling through the city on their way to other places, but Indianapolis also provided a great destination for personnel on weekend passes from the nearby camp.

Being one of the best hotels in town, the Claypool Hotel became a favorite place to stay.

Lillian walked down the hall toward the next room. She glanced at the number on the door: 729. She knocked politely and announced herself to anyone in the room. There shouldn’t be anyone there, but sometimes people lingered past the checkout time.

When no one had answered after a few moments, she opened the door. She had barely begun to step through the door when she saw the body on the floor.

Outside of all the blood, all McNamara could see was the uniform top.

Shocked, Lillian closed the door, then went to the nearest telephone. She called the switchboard operator and told them that someone had killed a soldier in Room 729. Lillian asked them to call the police.

The operator immediately placed the call as Lilian hung up. Returning to the room to wait for the police, Lillian took another look inside.

Examining the body more carefully this time, Lillian realized that it was a woman., not a man. Seeing the uniform top, she assumed it had been a male solider. In that horrible first moment, she hadn’t wanted to look any closer.

The woman was lying face up, with her arms above her head. Her uniform skirt and dark-colored slip had been pushed up over her waist.

Her face was covered in blood, and a large pool had formed on the floor near her head. A quarter was lying in the middle of the pool. Broken bottle fragments were lying near her head. There were very deep cuts in her wrists, arms, and her neck.

Thinking a moment, Lillian closed the door, then went to get a bedsheet. When she came back, Lillian carefully covered the exposed lower half of the woman’s body. The least she could do was give her some kind of decency in death.

When the police arrived, they quickly determined that the woman was Corporal Maoma L. Ridings, a 32-year-old Woman’s Army Auxiliary Corps member.

The Woman’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was for women who wanted to enlist into the Army to aid the war effort. Although they were prevented from joining the ranks of combat soldiers based on their gender, the WAAC still aided the war effort in important supporting roles.

In 1943, members mostly worked in four different, generalized fields within the WAAC. These were medical, clerical, baking, and driving. Maoma Ridings worked in the medical field as a physiotherapist.

Maoma Ridings. Courtesy of the Indianapolis Star

Born in Georgia, Riding grew up in the town of Warm Springs. Before World War II, she had worked as a therapy nurse. In 1931, Riding married and moved to New York state. She later divorced, then joined the WAAC in 1943. She had arrived at Camp Atterbury five months later, where she worked at the camp hospital.

Riding was very well-liked and had a reputation as being a hard and efficient worker.

Because Ridings was active in the military, the investigation was initially conducted by both military and civil authorities. However, military investigators quickly decided that this was a matter best left to the civilian police and withdrew from the main part of the investigation and relegated themselves to a supporting role.

It was obvious that Ridings had been murdered. An autopsy was ordered, and the body was carefully removed from the crime scene and taken to the Ft. Benjamin Harrison Hospital at Camp Atterbury.

Ridings’ body had been found lying on the floor between the bed and the door. A blouse, presumed to belong to Ridings, was found in the closet, while her shoes were found on the floor near the body. They thought that glass from the broken bottle might have been used to inflict the cuts on Ridings.

The crime scene in Room 729 at the Claypool Hotel. Courtesy of the Indianapolis News.

One corner of the bedsheet had been turned down, but the bed was otherwise untouched. Riding’s undergarments and a cape had been carefully lain on the bed.

A glass containing a mixture of soda and what was believed to be some kind of alcohol was on the dresser. An empty soda bottle was under the bed.

Jack Manaheim, who had been staying in room 727, directly next door to Ridings, told investigators that he had been in his room all night and hadn’t heard anything from the other room.

Authorities also discovered that during the previous night the front desk at the hotel had received a strange phone call. They said that a woman had called them, saying that they heard a WAC woman screaming in one of the rooms on the seventh floor. They suggested the hotel call the police right away.

The room the call came from was registered to Corporal Samuel Kaplan, an enlisted man who was also stationed at Camp Atterbury. Following up, police were told that Kaplan had an argument with another woman who was in his room, and that she had called the switchboard operator for the hotel and asked them to call the police. Her call was in relation to her argument with Kaplan and had nothing to do with Ridings.

The switchboard operator had received the call from Kaplan’s room at around the same time that McNamara had called about Ridings’ body. In the excitement, the operator had become confused about the calls when she was telling detectives about them.

Another person of interest was a mysterious woman who had been seen inside Riding’s room by one of the hotel bellboys. He had taken a bucket of ice and some soft drinks to Room 729 roughly three hours before Riding’s body had been found.

He described the woman as Caucasian with black hair. He estimated that she was of average height and build. She was wearing a black dress with a white collar, with a small black hat with a veil that had been put up over the hat.

When he came into the room, she had been sitting on the bed smoking a cigarette.

Appropriately enough, reporters dubbed her the “woman in black.”

The operator of the hotel service elevator, William Thomas Lemmons, also told authorities that he had seen a woman fitting that description on the elevator that night.

Expensive hotels at that time often had employees run the hotel elevators for their guests. This required them to spend long hours in the elevator, which allowed them to see and interact with many people staying at their hotel.

Lemmons claimed that the woman was wearing a black dress with white trim, along with a black hat with a veil. She had gotten on the elevator with a uniformed policeman on either the fourth or fifth floor. They talked as they rode, and Lemmons overheard the pair talking.

She told her companion that he should go to a particular room because either someone had committed a murder in the room or they had committed suicide.

Lemmons let the policeman off on the seventh floor. Before he left, the officer told the woman to leave before she got into any trouble.

The doors closed, Lemmons took the woman to the lobby, and she left.

Police also discovered that a woman fitting that description had also been seen at another hotel at the front desk. Witnesses said she left in a taxi.

While police kept looking for possible suspects, detectives were looking for a motive for Maoma Ridings’ murder.

Judging from evidence at the crime scene, the first theory they had was that the murder was a robbery gone wrong.

Authorities had found 21 cents in her room, apart from the quarter found lying in the pool of blood. Associates of hers also said that she was in the habit of carrying more money than just a few cents. Police also believed that it made sense for her to have more than that amount on her person, at least enough to cover her hotel room and entertainment for the weekend.

While they were looking at the crime from this angle, the autopsy results arrived.

Doctors had determined that the primary cause of death was blood loss from a deep cut to her neck that had severed her jugular vein. Ridings had also suffered severe blunt force trauma to her head, which very likely contributed to her death.

When the cuts on her wrists were examined, it was determined that, due to the lack of bleeding from them, they had been inflicted after Ridings death. However, it was noted that the cuts were deep enough to sever the radial arteries in both her wrists.

Additionally, an eight-inch ink streak was found on Riding’s right leg. The coroner speculated that it could have been made with either a brush or someone’s finger, and that it might have been some kind of signature left by her killer.

It was also determined that it was very likely, although not definitely, that she had been sexually assaulted prior to her death.

After the autopsy, Riding’s remains were transported to her family in Warm Springs, Georgia, for burial.

Police discovered that Ridings frequently came to Indianapolis on her weekend leaves. She often hosted loud parties, and this had allegedly led her to being asked not to return to at least one hotel.

This had led to Ridings staying at the Claypool, where she had a reputation for leaving good tips for the bellboys. She frequently ordered ice and bottles of soda, and the management there had no records of any complaints about her.

However loud or raucous these parties might have gotten, there had never been any serious arguments or violence at any of them as far as detectives could determine. While this eliminated another section of possible suspects, another one presented itself.

An 18-year-old man named Richard Fearand had been telling people about Ridings murder, claiming that he knew all kinds of things about what had happened. Someone had overheard his boasting and contacted the police.

Fearand was detained and brought in for questioning.

Brought before a judge, Fearand quickly admitted that he didn’t know anything. He said that he had just been playing around. He was completely innocent. He was quickly released and dismissed as a suspect.  But as Fearand was crossed off the list, another name came up.

Robert Wolfington, another of the bellboys at the Claypool, had already been questioned by detectives. He had said that he had been called to Riding’s room to deliver a second bucket of ice the night of the murder.

According to his story, when he came in, no one was there. However, a woman’s voice had talked to him through the bathroom door.

She said to leave the bucket on the dresser, and to take the quarter there as a tip. Wolfington did as he was told, then left.

However, when police checked the official hotel records, they discovered that the book logging room deliveries didn’t list a second call for ice from Riding’s room. If he had gone to the room a second time like he had told them, then why didn’t he sign the logbook? Police began to take a second look at the 23-year-old bellboy.

Wolfington was from Lebanon, Indiana. He had dropped out of high school in 1938 and eventually joined the Navy. After a year and a half, he received a medical discharge because he occasionally had seizures.

He was married but was separated from his wife.

The other employees at the hotel said he had a “nervous temperament.” They told detectives that Wolfington had told them that he was having trouble sleeping because he couldn’t stop thinking about the murder.

Police began to wonder if he was restless because he was feeling guilty. They decided to bring him in for questioning.

When he was detained at his home, Wolfington was so drunk that detectives couldn’t even question him. After they let him sober up, they tried again.

Detectives questioned him extensively about the murder of Maoma Ridings. Surprisingly, they found him to be very open and to the point.

Wolfington liked to hang out in a local tavern where he liked to have a few drinks and dance -and apparently more- with the women there. In his apartment, police found several lipstick-stained shirts, along with several phone numbers, some written in lipstick.

Police also found a letter in his apartment from his mother talking about the murder.

After two days, the police decided that Wolfington didn’t have anything to with the crime and decided to let him go.

Another lead that they had was a strange phone call to Ridings’ room on the night of the murder.

Police traced it to a Corporal Emanuel Fisher, who was also stationed at Camp Atterbury. He told them that he had gone out with Ridings on several occasions, and that he was supposed to have a date with her that night.

Fisher told police that he had made the call that night because he had gotten hung up and wasn’t going to make their date on time. By the time he could go to the hotel, it was after 7 p.m., so he called to let Ridings know. No one answered. He tried again about an hour later and this time a man answered.

Fisher assumed that Ridings had found another date for that night, so he hung up the phone and went and did something else.

With another potential lead dried up, investigators moved on to the next.

This time it was another hotel employee. Although his name wasn’t divulged, police said that the employee was a convicted sex offender who had been sentenced to time in a mental institution.

Following up, they quickly discovered that both the man’s mother and the hotel management knew about his conviction and incarceration. The employee’s mother had found him the job at the hotel and had been open and upfront about his situation. The hotel had agreed to hire him so that they could help him reintegrate back into general society.

The employee had been working at the Claypool for the previous three months, and he was required to make reports back to the institution every week on his progress. His mother kept a very close and careful eye on him and told police that she hadn’t made any note of him coming back late from work on the night of the murder.

The story checked out, and the police moved on in their investigation.

There were other clues that surfaced that were investigated but were quickly proven to have nothing to do with the case.

Police revised their theory from someone that Ridings had known to her killer being a complete stranger. They believed that they could have hidden in her room, possibly in the closet.

They waited for the right time, then came out, attacked and murdered Ridings, and then escaped through the hotel through any number of exits.

While the stranger theory couldn’t be ruled out, Sam Blum, the deputy prosecutor who had been assigned to investigate the murder, along with Saul Rabb, the chief deputy prosecutor of Marion County, were almost positive that Ridings had known her killer.

Based on the evidence that had been found, the two prosecutors believed the crime began by the killer coming in from outside the room. They had either had a key to the room or had been let into the room by Ridings.

Once inside, the killer hit Ridings in the head to either kill or stun her. They used either their fist or some kind of blunt instrument, possibly the whiskey bottle. The killer then proceeded to sexually assault Ridings.

After they were done, they must have become concerned that she was still alive. Taking the whiskey bottle, they broke it, then carefully picked out one of the larger shards, possibly the heavy bottom.

Using the glass, her attacker cut her throat, severing the jugular vein, causing her death through massive blood loss. For some reason, the killer must have decided to make it look like a suicide and cut Ridings’ wrists down to the bone.

Blum and Rabb further supported their theory by pointing out that neither Ridings’ room key nor the bottom of the broken bottle were ever found, suggesting that the killer took the items with them.

Detectives, however, pointed out that the room key was one of the first items that they had found during the investigation. They also noted that several room keys were like Room 729 and that they might have fit well enough to unlock the door.

For the next several days, the investigators tried their best to follow up on the case, but all the leads went nowhere. Within a few weeks, the case went cold.

Today, the murder of Corporal Maoma Ridings remains unsolved.

Was it someone that Ridings knew? Was it a stranger who hid in her room, or maybe bluffed or forced their way into the room? Was it a robbery that went bad, or had there been a darker intent from the beginning?

Today, the murder of Corporal Maoma Ridings remains unsolved. All we are left with are questions and theories, but no answers.



Woman in Black is Hunted in Slaying of WAC. The Times, 8/30/1943

Army, Police Probe Death in Room 729. The Indianapolis Star, 8/30/1943

Woman Sought in WAC’s Death. The Indianapolis News, 8/30/1943

Phone Queries Add to Mystery. Indianapolis News, 8/31/1943

Find Trail of Woman in Black. The Indianapolis News, 9/1/1943

Slain WAC’s Funeral Set. The Indianapolis News, 9/1/1943

Bell Boy Put on Grill for Seven Hours. The Indianapolis Star, 9/2/1943

Window Studied as Escape Route. The Indianapolis News, 9/4/1943

Deputies Believe WAC Knew Killer. The Indianapolis News, 9/4/1943

Letter New WAC Clew (sp). The Indianapolis Star, 9/6/1943

Here Are the Events as They Unfolded In Sensational WAC Murder Case. The Indianapolis Star, 9/5/1943

Kamm, Jeff. At Your Leisure: The Downfall of a Landmark. Historic,1/30/2015

Browne, Tiffany Benedict.  How the Claypool Hotel Began. Historic, 5/15/2019

Price, Nelson. Glamour and Gore: The Claypool and Lincoln Hotels. Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Indiana Historical Society Press, Winter 2020.

Creation of the Women’s Army Corps.

Georgia Warm Springs Foundation.

Indiana Archives and Records Administration; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Death Certificates; Year: 1943; Roll: 10




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