On August 6, 1930, Mary Ball and her companion, Claude Deeter, were attacked by three African Americans, Tom Shipp, 18, Abe Smith,18, and James Cameron, 16, at Lover's Lane along the Mississinewa River. Claude Deeter was shot multiple times and Mary Ball was pushed in the weeds and thorns along the riverbank and later claimed to police that she was raped. Claude Deeter and Mary Ball had been parked on the edge of the Fansler property when they were accosted by Cameron and his buddies. Rex Fansler had witnessed the crime on Lover’s Lane. In a farmhouse just up the hill, he stood in the window listening as his father ran out with a shotgun and fired at Shipp’s fleeing car. Then his mother and brother ran out to give Deeter first aid (Carr, pg. 33-34). Deeter died the next day. Then later that night Tom, Abe, and James were arrested and put into the Marion jail. On August 7, 1930, Tom and Abe were hung by a mob at the court house for the “rape” of Mary Ball.
Was Mary Ball really raped?
According to popular rumor, Mary Ball was criminally assaulted, but the investigation cast grave doubts upon this story. “When taken to the police station and questioned, she stated that she did not know whether she had been assaulted or not and in another statement is reported to have said that she was not assaulted by Abe Smith as a passing motor car had frightened him away” (Carr, pg. 326). Walter White’s investigation focused on Mary Ball’s claim of rape. Ball was 18 years of age, a good-looking woman with bobbed, wavy hair, of working-class origins. Walter White did not believe Mary Ball’s story. He found no evidence to support her claim but lots of evidence to throw doubt on her “character” as a pure innocent victim (Madison, pg.67-68). A local NAACP leader, Flossie Bailey, told national leader Walter White about Claude Deeter’s dying statement to his aunt, Gertrude Whybrew, “that the girl [Mary Ball] was not attacked by either boys, but that [Claude] recognized the Smith boy and called him by name, which was the reason he thought that he was shot (Carr, pg.310). Most newspapers featured Mary Ball as an innocent victim but according to Walter Fansler, Mary Ball didn’t appear to be injured and she had her dress on and it didn’t look like it had been torn (Carr, pg. 315).
Mary and her father, Frank Ball, went to a local clinic downtown on August 8, 1930 right after the lynching happened. The nurse at the clinic confirmed that Mary Ball had been raped or had been sexually active (Conrad interviews, Carr email). Carr shared with Patterson that she found a witness in Marion that had had direct contact with the case and this person was a witness to the scratches on the back of Mary's arms at Claude Deeter's funeral which attests that Mary was thrown to the ground - while raped. (Conrad interviews, Patterson email). John Lloyd, Mary Ball’s nephew, claimed that his aunt was raped. He said his mom, grandmother, and aunt said yes because they remember pulling the thorns and everything out of her legs when they took her home that night and that they were terrified (Carr, pg. 323-324). Madelene Patterson was married Mary's step son, Clyde McNaul, and had known Mary for almost eighteen years and was very close to her. She explained that premarital sex was looked down on during this time period. Then Madelene shared with me that Mary had a harsh viewpoint on women of ill repute. She referred to women that were "loose" as "chippies." Madelene also said, "When I think of Mary I remember a woman who was in my opinion 'stunted' in her personality as if something really awful had happened to her which caused her to 'shut down' in many ways" (Patterson email).
Rumors of Mary Ball
Many blacks and even a few whites later agreed that Mary Ball represented the hot side of the 1920s and that she was sexually promiscuous. She was far from the innocent white virgin portrayed at the time in the newspapers. Lucille McGwin was twenty-four at the time of the lynching. At age ninety she gave Carr her story on Mary Ball. Lucille claimed that everyone knew about Mary’s reputation throughout the community. She also said that everyone believed they knew about Mary Ball and Abram Smith being lovers (Carr, pg. 104). Willie Deeter, Claude Deeter’s brother, said the Mary Ball had been immoral and she was cast as ‘There goes the whore.' She went out with anything. Mary Ball was classified as the lowest down that there was (Carr, pg. 333). Evelyn Thompson, a black woman, bluntly told an interviewer in 1977 that Mary Ball “was nothing but a prostitute”; Thompson remembered seeing her near the Courthouse Square wearing a thin dress without underwear, deliberately provocative (Conrad interview).
Opal Larkin was twenty years old in August 1930 and knew Carl Deeter, Sr. She said that Mary Ball was on the street the next morning and came into the store where Opal had worked. Opal said that it didn’t appear that she had any injuries. She also said that Mary Ball wasn’t a nice person and involved with Shipp and Smith (Carr, pg. 340). Cynthia Carr also talked to several people who told similar stories (Carr, pg. 340, 386) Roy Cox, a white policeman in 1930, later recalled that all Marion cops knew Ball “because she was no good.” Roy Cox in 1977 explained that Mary Ball was listed as a prostitute (Madison, pg. 69).
The rumors continued to circulate around the town about Mary Ball throughout this time period. There were many saying that Shipp, Smith, and Ball did robberies together and another that Deeter, Smith, Shipp, Ball, and Cameron were all part of a gang that committed stick-ups together and they’d argued. Another story was that Deeter and Smith were both dating Mary Ball, that Smith became enraged when he found her with Deeter on Lover’s Lane. All of the stories are shifting blame away from Shipp and Smith or, at least, giving everyone a share. The stories all made Deeter, Ball, Shipp, Cameron, and Smith all part of the robberies (Carr, pg. 374-375). James Cameron had a different perspective on the situation. Cynthia Carr talked with James Cameron about Mary Ball’s reputation and asked if she was Abe Smith’s girlfriend. He responded with some outrage saying that he didn’t think that was true (Carr, pg. 341).
Claude Deeter and Mary Ball
Mary had had the audacity to come to the Deeter house for the wake, where she announced to the family that she and Claude were almost engaged. According to Willie Deeter, he had never heard of Mary Ball’s name before that night. No one else in the family ever heard of her either (Carr, pg. 310).
Mary Ball Testifies
During the trial on the rape of Mary Ball, former Sheriff Jake Campbell was first to take the stand and testified that James Cameron confessed the night of his arrest that he held Mary Ball while Abe Smith raped her. Cameron then testified that he was threatened and browbeaten by the sheriff that night. Next Mary Ball took the stand and says she was assaulted, but then stated that the summer night was too dark to identify Cameron as one of the rapists (Madison, pg. 107).
Mary's New Life
Mary fled out of Marion because the Balls were ashamed of what happened and of the rumors circulating around town about Mary. Mary Ball’s sister said that the events of August 1930 had ruined the Balls and that Mary wasn’t allowed back in Marion and had slipped in at night to see her mother, Emma Ball (Carr, pg. 339-340). Mary had eventually moved to California. Madelene Patterson recalls that Mary told her shortly after World War II that she had lived in Mentone, California which is thirty minutes from where she eventually moved and lived (Patterson email). She got into real estate in San Bernardino, buying foreclosures cheap and reselling them. She grew wealthy from this (Patterson Email). At one point, she owned thirteen or fifteen rental properties. Later she married a man whose mother, Grandma Rich, rented one of the small houses Mary owned. Mary recalls their marriage as not good (Patterson email).
Then later on, after her divorce with Grandma Rich's son, she worked at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino where she met her new husband, Clyde McNaul. Clyde McNaul and his family never knew about Mary's secret until after 1990 (Patterson email). Mary wouldn't open up to anyone and always had a barrier up - which didn't let you get close to her. If anyone in her new family would try to hug her she would "stiffen" up as if it would be uncomfortable for her to get close (Patterson email). Mary didn't sleep in the same room as her husband. She had a separate bedroom filled with dolls and stuffed animals, lace and ruffles, and many things "little girls" would have in their rooms. Statistics say that many rape victims will not want physical contact with anyone after they have been assaulted. It is also said that it is hard for victims to get close or open up with anyone.
Mary never bore a child, but when she married Clyde McNaul she had three step children (Patterson email). In the 1960s she had an automobile accident. Clyde McNaul Jr. said “that made her afraid to drive. That’s when the whole thing started to unwind. She lost her zeal for life.” He described her as “very extremely sensitive to other people, not really in a normal fashion, but in a very frightened, almost reactive fashion” (Carr, pg. 341). Madelene Patterson, Clyde’s ex-wife, knew Mary Ball for eighteen years recalling that Mary had a “very deep aversion” to black people (Carr, pg. 341) Madelene described Mary as a "brittle" person, she was very thin and kinda boney (Patterson email). Mary Ball died of bone cancer in 1987 in San Bernardino, California (Carr, pg. 323). When Mary died, her ex daughter-in-law, Madelene Patterson went to see her body at the mortuary, she said "Mary looked looked more peaceful then when she had known her when she was alive" (Patterson email).
After Mary's Death
Ruth Anne Nash, Tommy Shipp’s relative, received a phone call from an unknown caller. The caller claimed to be Thomas Shipp and Mary Ball’s grandson. The caller wouldn't give his name or say where he lived, only that he and Nash had a mutual acquaintance. The caller ultimately hung up on her, but his story happened to jibe with a bit of Shipp family lore about Tommy. Growing up, Nash had been told that one day back in 1930 Tommy Shipp had come home and told his mother, “She’s pregnant.” It was understood in the family that “she” meant Mary Ball (Carr, pg.446). All newspapers say that Mary was only involved with Smith if anyone, but did Mary Ball have a child with Tommy?
Mary was a mystery with many secrets, and no one will ever know the real truth about what happened that night at Lover's Lane. There is no proof that Mary Ball was raped. We can only decide for ourselves if she was or not based on stories and rumors after what happened that summer night in 1930.
- Carr, Cynthia. "Mary Ball." Message to Jessica Martin. 18 5 2011. E-mail.
- Carr, Cynthia. Our Town. New York, NY: Crown Publishing , 2006. Print.
- Evelyn, Thompson. IUPUI Archive. Intervew by Larry Conrad. 23 6 1977. County Files: Marion. Print. 19 May 2011.
- Larry Allyn Conrad Papers, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, University Library, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
- Madison, James H. A Lynching in the Heartland . New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001. Print.
- Patterson, Madelene. "Mary Ball." Message to Jessica Martin. 17 5 2011. E-mail.
This paper was written by Jessica Martin for Mr. Munn's IU ACP History Class at Marion High School during May 2011.