The Sudden End of an Unhappy Marriage

In The Scruffy Citizen by Jack Neelyleave a COMMENT

Clyde Shultz was a slim, clean-cut, earnest-looking fellow. He had ambitions, but nothing ever worked out for him, not for long, anyway. He grew up on a farm in Concord, and moved to California, during the era the Okies were headed that way, and stayed for a few years. When his mother died, he found enough money to come back home and open a small cafe on Wall Avenue, near Market Square.

At 32, he’d been married and divorced twice. At the beginning of the year, he dated a woman named Juanita, who was only 20. Then he encountered a beautiful, high-spirited brunette unlike any other he’d met. She was Juanita’s younger sister. Louise was 16. Their single mother had been trying her best to raise her daughters since their father had walked out on them, eight years earlier.

Clyde was a smooth, persuasive fellow, “slick,” as they said in 1940. Louise liked something about him. They dated for about five months, then got married. After just 10 days, they were having problems. Word was that Clyde thought Louise was stepping out on him, seeing younger men, or boys. Of particular concern to Clyde was a kid called “Peanut.”

Louise walked out on Clyde and got a room for herself at the Stratford, the old residential hotel on Wall overlooking Market Square.

A strong believer in his personal rights, Clyde carried a .32-20 handgun. You never know when you’ll need it.

On a Friday afternoon in mid-August, the temperature was up to 91. Some hope for rain that weekend, but not yet. Newsboy Johnny Davis, 10 years old, was on Market Square shouting the headlines, about the Blitz. Bombs were falling on London.

By 5, thousands of people were getting off work, from TVA or Miller’s or Hamilton Bank, going home on the streetcar, finding a game of pool, doing a little shopping, or thinking about seeing a movie. There was the lighthearted new gangster flick, Brother Orchid, with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, at the Riviera—or the new Technicolor film Maryland, at the Tennessee. Some claimed it was the new Gone With the Wind. Hi-Yo, Silver was at the Strand.

Some hot days, just a cold beer was enough. Clyde had already had a couple of beers himself.

He dropped in at the Gold Sun, the Caracostis family’s famous cafe on the northwest corner of Market Square, and met his sister. “Cafe for Ladies and Gentlemen,” the sign said. Popular with everybody from Republican politicians to overseas refugees, the Gold Sun was always open, 24 hours a day.

Cafe proprietors rarely patronize the place almost next door, but Clyde went into the Gold Sun and ordered a beer. He and his sister sat at a table. At some point Louise showed up. Clyde hadn’t seen her in a while, and had something to say to her.

When she saw Clyde’s gun, Louise ran out the door into Market Square. Clyde chased her, shouting, “God damn it, I told you I’d kill you!” As she ran south, by the Texas Market, the new grocery at number 35, he shot her. She fell. A bystander heard her say, “Lord have mercy.”

As she fell, Clyde kept shooting.

In all, five bullets passed through the teenaged Mrs. Shultz. She was not very big. When the bullets left her body, they still had enough velocity to ricochet and hit other people.

A 14-year-old girl named June Burnett was shopping for tomatoes with her mother. She got bullets in both legs. Her mother got hit, too.

Lee Boruff, 20 years old, had been in the Crystal Theater, the Brichettos’ little cinema at 31 Market Square, watching the new Hopalong Cassidy Western, Hidden Gold, which ends with a big gunfight. He stepped out into the bright August day and got a bullet in his ankle.

A farmer from Neubert Springs got hit in the leg. A 72-year-old garden-supply salesman got hit in the foot.

In all, five bystanders were wounded. None of them understood what was happening.

Lying on the pavement, Louise Shultz was quiet. Her dress was soaked in blood.

When his sister caught up with him, Shultz was overheard to explain. “I’m sorry,” he said, “but it had to happen.”

Charles Phillips, an unemployed former deputy who lived at the Stratford, grabbed Shultz from behind, and held him until the police arrived. Officer George Repaz arrested him for felonious assault. The wounded waited for ambulances. While they waited, 14-year-old June Burnett asked him, “What did you shoot me for?”

Elderly huckster G.N. Fox, of Riverside Drive, was observed to hobble over to a curb. He pulled off his right shoe, and without comment, pulled a bullet out of his foot.

Another witness had some perspective. Newspaper dealer Joe Daniels had a scar on his right eye. “I got that back in 1918,” he told a reporter. “So I’ve been up against bullets before. But it was still plenty bad.”

An ambulance rushed Louise to Fort Sanders Hospital, but doctors affirmed there wasn’t much hope. Transfusions kept her alive for almost two days.

Clyde went to jail. He made a statement and then refused to sign it. He assessed his 17-day marriage to an unpredictable teenager. “I tried to make a go of it,” he said. “I tried hard.”

Shootings weren’t that common on Market Square. But the Shultz incident reminded some people of another day, three years earlier, when state Rep. Arthur Cockrell had a problem with an evangelist and his guitar-playing young daughters blocking his business, the Stratford Hotel. He threatened them with a shotgun. As a policeman confronted him, it went off. Eleven people, none of them intended targets, were wounded.

Clyde Shultz asked to go to his wife’s funeral, but they wouldn’t let him. His lawyers advised him to say nothing to the press. But he couldn’t help trying to make sense of it. He seemed sure folks could understand.

“A thing like this creeps up on you,” he said.

Jack Neely is the director of the Knoxville History Project, a nonprofit devoted to exploring, disseminating, and celebrating Knoxville's cultural heritage. He’s also one of the most popular and influential writers in the area, known for his books and columns. The Scruffy Citizen surveys the city of Knoxville's life and culture in the context of its history, with emphasis on what makes it unique and how its past continues to affect and inform its future.

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