It should have been the safest place in the world to be. It was August 3, 1919 and a religious camp meeting was being held near the Morrow’s school house at Mayhew in the Davidson Township. What Deputy Sheriff Robert L. Cloaninger found instead was a large and unruly crowd with weapons and illegal alcohol. Deputy Cloaninger had only been on the job a year when he arrived at the camp meeting around 3 p.m. to serve a warrant with Mooresville police officers H.C. Furr and T.W. Broome.
Lloyd Cloaninger was the deputy sheriff for the Coddle Creek Township and he had a warrant for assault with a deadly weapon on a black man named Sinclair Conner. Sinclair was attending the meeting with other family members. The deputy was carrying the warrant in his hand as he approached Conner and informed him he was under arrest. Suddenly, Sinclair drew a pistol firing at the officer while pulling another man in front of him for protection. Deputy Cloaninger’s arm was glazed by a bullet as he pulled his own weapon and returned fire hitting Sinclair who ran a short distance before falling. The officers went to Sinclair’s side and found the man had been hit in the arm with the bullet entering his body. As he attended to Sinclair a brother to Sinclair named Boise Conner physically attacked Cloaninger who put away his pistol and fought back with a blackjack.
A third Conner brother named Ralph Conner then rushed up and fired a 38-caliber pistol hitting Deputy Cloaninger in the back before firing again and hitting him in the chest as he turned to defend himself. Deputy Cloaninger fell mortally wounded as Ralph and Boise Conner fled. Cloaninger was placed in a car and rushed to Long’s Sanatorium in Statesville by J.B. Smith where he died Sunday night about 10 p.m. Sinclair Conner was brought to Statesville and treated for his wounds by Dr. Ross McElwee and placed in jail. His brother Ralph Connor was arrested eight miles out of Davidson and also brought to jail in Statesville. Both Ralph and Sinclair were charged with murder in the first degree with the state arguing that the brothers had conspired to kill any officer that attempted to arrest them.
During the trail it was established by witnesses that Ralph Connor fired the shots that resulted in the death of Deputy Cloaninger. Both Ralph and Sinclair Conner were convicted of murder and sentenced to be electrocuted at the State prison on November 21, 1919. Ralph was electrocuted while Sinclair Conner had his death sentence commuted to thirty years by Gov. Bickett. Sinclair later escaped from Camp Polk at the State Penitentiary near Raleigh on March 28, 1921 and was never recaptured. More than a dozen local men went to Raleigh to see the execution of Ralph Connor at the State Prison including Cloaninger’s two brothers.
Boise “Bozzy” Connor remained at large until he was finally arrested four years after the murder in March of 1923. He was captured in Welsh, West Virginia where he was living under the alias of Ernest Potts and returned to Iredell County to face trail for the murder of Deputy Sheriff Cloaninger. Boise Connor was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years at hard labor. The Landmark newspaper at the time blamed much of the trouble at the Morrow Camp Meeting on the presence of illegal liquor. A young white man from Lincoln County named Marvin Sherrill was later convicted and given 18 months for the illegal sale of alcohol at the meeting.
Deputy Sheriff Robert Lloyd Cloaninger, 33, was the son of E.Lee Cloaninger and Sarah (Sally) Rose Cavin of Mooresville. He was survived by his mother, his wife, Agnes Wagner, of Troutman, an eight-year old daughter Kay Lee, brothers Oscar and DeWitt (D.P.) Cloaninger and four sisters Ola, Effie, Bessie, and Cordela.Uncles included Mr. James and Francis Cloaninger of Statesville. The funeral services for the deputy were held at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. It was attended by one of the largest funeral crowds ever assembled in Mooresville up to that time. Pall bearers included Sheriff M. P. Alexander and ex-Sheriff J.M. Deaton, of Statesville.
The St. Mark’s Lutheran Church council published a resolution in honor of the fallen officer which read in part, “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the congregation of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church of Mooresville that in this unfortunate tragedy the State has lost a fearless and bold officer, the home a true exemplar of the qualities that go to make the home ideal and the Church generally, and St. Mark’s particularly, a conscientious and loyal supporter of all her interests and institutions.” Deputy Cloaninger was buried at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church Cemetery in what is now an unmarked grave.
Mr. W. A. Brown who was for many years chief of police in Mooresville was appointed by Sheriff Alexander to succeed Deputy Sheriff R.L. Cloaninger. Beth Cloaninger 89, of Troutman is a niece of Deputy Cloaninger. Her father was Lloyd’s older brother Edward Oscar Cloaninger. She can still remember how bitter her father was over the escape of Sinclair Conner from justice. Lt. Rick Eades and the Iredell County Sheriff’s Office are seeking a photo of Deputy Robert L. Cloaninger to add to the Officer Down Memorial page at www.odmp.org. If you have information or photos that might be of help please contact Joel Reese at the library at (704) 878-3093.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Religious camp meeting turned tragic” on Sept. 27, 2011