I guess it was back about 1991 or so that I went through a brief but intense Davis Grubb period.
Grubb, a West Virginia author, made a splash with his debut novel, THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, a wicked tale about a homicidal preacher chasing a couple of kids down the Ohio River after murdering their mother in the early days of the Great Depression.
The novel earned good reviews, got a fair amount of attention, and swiftly inspired a classic film with Robert Mitchum and Lillian Gish mounted by one-time-only director Charles Laughton. James Agee wrote the script that hews pretty closely to the original source material.
Back in the day, I made a kind of barnstorming run through Moundsville and some parts of Wheeling that still smacked of Grubb country, but it was a pretty informal and scattered pilgrimage.
In this month’s Crimespree (#49 should have hit store shelves or mailboxes sometime over the last few days, or soon will), I write of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and, particularly, its murderous inspiration and author.
I wrote the article over the Thanksgiving holiday where we were staying in a mountain resort a short distance from Wheeling and more significantly, from Moundsville, Davis Grubb’s long-ago abandoned hometown.
(Grubb spent most of his adult life in New York. When, closer to the end of his life, a movie based on his book FOOL’S PARADE was filmed in Moundsville and its world premier held there, Grubb took a taxi all the way from NYC to Moundsville and back, racking up one of the world’s great cab fares.)
I decided to use my holiday proximity to spend a bit more time in Grubb country for a second time; to see some key places that shaped the author and to take a few pictures along the way (most of which do not accompany the Crimespree article).
NIGHT OF THE HUNTER was based on the real life lonely hearts murderer and so-called “Bluebeard” Harry Powers, a pretty twisted piece of work who racked up a string of aliases and an unknown number of victims. In the 1930s, Powers was hanged in the fearsome-looking Moundsville Penitentiary, which still looms a few blocks from the childhood home of Davis Grubb.
Powers is buried in a prison cemetery and figures prominently in the museum room of the no-longer in service state pen, which is open to the public for tours and whose walls in the old visitor's area are adorned with Davis Grubb memorabilia.
In the course of preparing my Crimespree article, I toured the prison and located Grubb’s old home. His family lost the place when Grubb was still a child. They say Mr. Grubb was so attached to the old homestead that he carried around a photo of the house for the rest of his life.
Grubb died in July 1980 in New York City.
A new independent film about Powers, and his inspiration of Davis Grubb’s most noted novel, is also now making the rounds on the Indy film circuit.
You can read more about that here, and even listen to a long-ago popular song about the murders that inspired NIGHT OF THE HUNTER here.
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