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 lovers’ lane along the Mississinewa River. Claude Deeter was shot multiple times along the river 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 aide (Carr, pg. 33-34). Deeter died the next day. Then later on August 7, 1930, Tom, Abe, and James were arrested and put into the local jail. Later that night, Tom and Abe were hung by a mob at the court house for the “rape” of Mary Ball.
Was Mary Ball really raped?
Mary Ball according to popular rumor was criminally assaulted but 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 and 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 or at all (Carr, pg. 315). But 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).
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. Lucille McGwin was twenty-four at the time of the lynching, and now at age ninety she gave her story on Mary Ball. Lucille claimed that everyone knew about Mary’s reputation throughout the community. She also said that everyone 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,’ ‘Here’s 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, also said that Mary Ball didn’t have a good reputation and 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 definitely was a prostitute and involved with Shipp and Smith (Carr, pg. 340). 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). One man, whom Cynthia Carr called Elliot (wasn’t his real name), said she would go in a tavern, flirt around a little bit, look at a guy who looked like he might have a pretty ring or watch and then she would make eye contact with him and he’d follow her outside and she’d say, ‘I know a nice place out here on the river.’ Then she would take them to lover’s lane and Shipp and Smith would be there to rob them. The man then proceeded saying that Mary Ball was a whore (Carr, pg.386). When 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 takes the stand and says she was assaulted, but then states that the summer night was too dark to identify Cameron as one of the rapists (Madison, pg. 107).
Mary's New Life
Mary Flees out of Marion because the Balls were ashamed of what happened and the rumors circulating 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 Ball had moved to California and married Clyde McNaul. Mary got into real estate in San Bernardino, buying foreclosures cheap and reselling them. At one point, she also owned eight or nine rental properties. 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). Madeline 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) Mary Ball died in 1987 in San Bernardino, California (Carr, pg. 323).
After Mary's Death
Ruth Anne Nash, Tommy Shipp’s relative, receives a phone call from an unknown caller. The caller claims 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 learned 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?
No one will ever know the real truth about what happened that night at Lover's Lane with Mary Ball, Claude Deeter, Abe Smith, Tommy Shipp, and James Cameron. 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.