I have been a journalist now for half my life, and in that time seen a good many things. I’ve seen presidents and paupers, national celebrities and local heroes, people in their finest moments and those at their worst.
You develop a degree of detachment over the years — stop making friends with your sources, stop investing so much emotional energy in your stories — and, often, even the most consequential events fade into the background as new ones come up every week.
But the Deb Moy story has stayed with me since I first wrote about it in 2008, astounding me in ways both good and bad at every turn.
It astounds me still.
One thing I remember about 2008 is how angry I was.
I was still drinking pretty good back then, and I heard about it just days after it happened while I was hanging out at the bars on Greensboro’s Walker Avenue: a fire in the castle on Summit Avenue from which they pulled the charred remains of the musician William Ransom Hobbs and another broken and burned body that turned out to be Deb Moy.
They didn’t realize she was still breathing until after they had carried her from her smoldering apartment — the second time that morning someone had assumed she was a corpse.
Because police discovered very quickly that Ransom had been beaten to death before he had been burned, that Deb had been bludgeoned within an inch of her life and then doused with accelerant before the perp struck the flame. Police had not made any arrests. And at that point, the News & Record had published nothing on the incident save for a single item a couple inches long on B2, until my old pal Jeri Rowe came in hard on the Ransom angle with a series of columns about his life, his friends and his music.
But still, there were few details about the crime itself, and next to nothing about Deb.
I didn’t really know Deb back then except as another face at the bar, but I identified with her as a member of my tribe: the floundering artists, service-industry lifers, lifestyle drinkers and other assorted stripes of the creative underclass. And it pissed me off that no one was doing anything about it. So of course, I did.
All I had to go on were several disconnected threads, snippets gleaned over nights at the bar and in after-hours apartments. Neither Deb, her parents nor any of her friends would talk to me, and the Greensboro police do not typically share details of an ongoing investigation with journalists, or anyone else for that matter.
I used shoe-leather reporting to retrace Deb’s steps that night, construct a timeline of events and a roster of the people who dropped in and out of the group as they wound their way from Walker Avenue to downtown Greensboro, through Westerwood and, finally, to Deb’s first-floor apartment in the castle on Summit Avenue where the fire almost, but not quite, consumed her.
In the process, I would interview a dozen or more of my drinking buddies and bartenders who had been around that night, some of whom had been questioned by police. I remember thinking in the back of my mind during some of these interviews: Jesus, this could be the guy.