Saturday, May 6, 2023

The Moody-Tolliver Feud.

I am pleased to introduce this week’s guest blogger, Bob Moody, author of The Terror of Indiana: Brent Jones & The Moody-Tolliver Feud. Bob is the great-great-grandnephew of Tom Moody, who was murdered during the Moody-Tolliver Feud.  He is a retired radio personality, programmer, and corporate VP.  Bob served on the board of directors of both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.  He was inducted into the Country Radio Hall of Fame in 2007.  Bob and his wife, Karen, live in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.

The second edition of The Terror of Indiana: Bent Jones & The Moody-Tolliver Feud is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

For more information:



Date:  March 2, 1875

Location:  Orleans, Indiana

Victim:  Thomas Moody

Cause:  Shotgun blasts with poisoned buckshot

Accused:  Alonzo “Bent” Jones; Lee Jones; Parks Toliver; Tom Toliver; Eli Lowry

In 1868 the Moody and Toliver families owned adjoining farms in Lawrence County, Indiana, just north of the Orange County line.  William Toliver (some family members and most newspapers preferred “Tolliver”) was the father of thirteen children, three of whom were living at home when his wife died that year at the age of 53.  The Moody farmhouse was shared by four elderly bachelor brothers and their 51-year-old never-married sister, Mary Ann, known as “Polly.”  The Toliver family was shocked when William unexpectedly married Polly and put her in charge of his household.  Matters got considerably worse when he was killed in a wagon accident eighteen months later.  William Toliver did not leave a will, meaning that Polly – who quickly moved back in with her brothers to avoid the hostility— was entitled to at least one-third of his property.

At the subsequent estate sale one of the Toliver boys shouted, “The black-hearted sons-of-bitches have stolen more than they ever brought here!”  That resulted in a brawl, with Tom Moody being attacked and seriously injured by four Toliver sons and son-in-law Alonzo “Bent” Jones.  Each of the assailants was at least twenty years younger than their victim.  This led to a series of lawsuits that only increased the anger as the Moodys prevailed in court and annexed sixty acres of the Toliver family farm.

Shortly after midnight on Sunday morning, June 25, 1871, as the family was sleeping, the Moody farmhouse was firebombed with jugs of burning benzine.  A group of unknown assassins surrounded the house and fired at those attempting to escape the flames.  Polly suffered severe burns and a hired man was seriously wounded.  Tom Moody was climbing a fence to run for help when he was hit with a load of buckshot.  The next day’s edition of the New Albany Ledger called it a “Dastardly Attempt to Assassinate a Whole Family.”  The attack generated headlines across the U.S. and Great Britain, including a front-page story in the New York Times.  It was reported that there was “no possible chance” that Tom would survive his gunshot wounds – but he did.

The Moody family hired private detectives to find those guilty of the attempted murders and there were more trials and hearings that served only to build frustration on both sides.  Meanwhile, the Moody brothers and Polly sensibly relocated to a two-story house in nearby Orleans.  It was claimed that they rarely left home after dark and turned their dwelling into a virtual fortress.  After more than three years of threats but no additional violence, Tom Moody decided to participate in a card game at a shop in the Orleans business district on the night of March 2, 1875.  After walking home, he stopped to open the gate and someone hiding behind a hedge across the street shot him in the back with both barrels of a double-barreled shotgun.  After hours of excruciating pain, he died the next morning.

The Moody family offered a $3000 reward, while the Indiana governor and local officials added another $1600, resulting in a bounty amounting to a total of more than $125,000 in 1923 dollars.  That enticed additional self-styled private detectives to arrive in the area.  Local citizens were outraged and there were rumors that they might call upon the euphemistic “Judge Lynch.”    

The following year a grand jury indicted five men for the murder of Thomas Moody.  They were: Toliver son-in-law Bent Jones, his younger brother Lee (also married to a Toliver daughter), a young employee of Bent’s woodworking factory named Eli Lowry, local pharmacist Parks Toliver, and his younger brother, self-described “sporting man” Tom Toliver.  Lowry, the only member of that group not related to the Toliver family by blood or marriage, initially tried to escape but soon realized that he had been selected as the “fall guy” and confessed with the hope of a lighter sentence.  He provided explicit details about the plot, including the allegation that Parks had pre-soaked the buckshot used in the murder weapon in a poisonous solution.  According to Lowry’s testimony, Lee Jones had fired the fatal shots (in the company of Parks Toliver), while he, Bent Jones, and Tom Toliver waited outside of town.  When the two killers returned Bent asked if they were sure Tom Moody had been killed.  Parks replied, “Yes, he hollered willfully.”  Eli also implicated some Toliver family members and friends in the 1871 firebomb attack on the Moody farmhouse.  Lowry was spared the death penalty for his cooperation but was sentenced to life at the Indiana State Prison South in Jeffersonville. 

While the remaining prisoners were confined in a common cell in the Orange County jail in Paoli, an apparent lynch mob held the sheriff at gunpoint at midnight and took control of the jail.  As the mob approached the cell, the prisoners fired out at them from behind bars with a pistol smuggled to them by friends of the well-connected Bent Jones, dispersing the crowd.  That episode resulted in a change of venue to Bloomington, where the murder trials began in 1877.  The press reported that nearly five hundred people had been subpoenaed to testify and rooms were so difficult to find that some potential witnesses were provided free accommodations in the Monroe County jail.  It was an event characterized by elaborate Gilded Age legal orations, with some closing statements reportedly exceeding eight continuous hours.  Daily trial updates appeared in major newspapers across the nation.

Bent Jones and his brother, Lee, were quickly convicted of murder in separate trials and were both sentenced to life terms at the Indiana State Prison South, where Eli Lowry was already an inmate.  Parks and Tom Toliver were tried jointly in Bloomington the following year, but the jury was deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial.  Their second trial was held in 1879.  Jury deliberations were underway when Parks Toliver was allowed to return to his wife’s rooming house to change clothes, accompanied by a deputy.  While his beautiful wife and her sister distracted the guard, the defendant walked out the back door, mounted a horse waiting in the alley – and rode off into the sunset.  A posse was quickly summoned to conduct what became a fruitless search.  If Parks had waited for a verdict, he would have learned that this jury, too, had been unable to agree, with seven reportedly in favor of conviction and five voting “not guilty”.  The judge dismissed the jury on the grounds that one of the defendants could not be present for the verdict.  Two years later, amidst complaints about the amount of time and public money already spent on the previous trials, all charges were dropped against Parks and Tom Toliver.

It was later revealed that Parks had made his way to Arkansas, where he was a fugitive until it was safe for him to return home.  Now styling himself as Dr. Milton Parks Tolliver, he established a medical practice in Elnora, Indiana, although there is no evidence that he ever graduated from medical school.  He outlived three of his four wives and was arrested for selling illegal drugs and operating a phony diploma mill for medical students before his death in 1926.  Tom Toliver was shot and killed in 1900 following a dispute over allegedly loaded dice in Washington, Indiana.  Eli Lowry worked in the prison office and was on duty when a telegram arrived on Christmas Day of 1890 informing him that he had been pardoned by the governor.  Lowry went from prison to a job with the Vigo County sheriff’s office in Terre Haute.  That ended when he was accused of being involved in a plot to rob inmates.  Lowry died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1895, less than five years after his pardon.

Lee Jones, who fired the shots that killed Tom Moody, was pardoned in 1893 after serving sixteen years.  He returned to Mitchell, Indiana, and was killed in a gruesome accident at the city new electrical plant less than four years later.  His older brother, Bent Jones, who was regarded as the kingpin behind the murder, was also paroled in 1893.  He joined his brother in Mitchell and bought a saloon.  Called “The Terror of Indiana” by the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bent was constantly in trouble and was finally ordered to leave Indiana permanently in 1898 to avoid prosecution after an innocent young farmer was killed by someone who had mistaken him for Jones.  After a short stay in Louisiana, he used his service in the Union Army during the Civil War to enter the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers outside Los Angeles, where he died in 1918.  His personal effects were valued at thirty-five cents.  Alonzo “Bent” Jones is buried in the Los Angeles National Cemetery.


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