Arts Literature

Book Feature: Murder at Asheville’s Battery Park Hotel

The Search for Helen Clevenger’s Killer

Anne Chesky Smith, Author

When historian and author Anne Chesky Smith happened upon a box of papers related to a sensational 1930s murder in Asheville, she was intrigued. The documents had been donated to the Swannanoa Valley Museum. “As it turned out, the papers had belonged to Laurence Brown, who had been sheriff of Buncombe County for more than 30 years, including in 1936 when Helen Clevenger was murdered in the Battery Park Hotel,” says Chesky Smith. Brown was the lead investigator on the case that made international news at the time.

Of the newspaper accounts and photographs that Chesky Smith pored over during her research, the Brown papers were key because, she says, “they revealed some information that I included in the book that law enforcement had never made public.”

Besides the tragedy of the 18-year-old Clevenger’s murder, there was a rush to judgment in the arrest, conviction and execution (less than six months after the crime) of a young Black man who worked at the hotel. “I think the story’s relevancy comes from how the investigation was conducted and how law enforcement built a case against the young Black man, Martin Moore,” says Chesky Smith. “In my mind, there were two murders that resulted from the events that occurred at the Battery Park Hotel on July 16, 1936—and neither of them have found justice.”

Murder at Asheville’s Battery Park Hotel: The Search for Helen Clevenger’s Killer, July, 2021, history, paperback, $21.99, by Anne Chesky Smith, and published by The History Press, Mt. Pleasant, SC. The book is available at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in Asheville and City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.

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