News & Features » News and Features

Hail the Outlaw

by

1 comment
news29_moore_200.jpg

Sam Moore sits in isolation in Richmond Jail, serving as much as 60 days for his videotaped transgression with an underage girl.

While the notorious Richmond strip-club owner's activities are severely curtailed by concrete and steel, his legend may well be roaming far more freely than the local law-enforcement officials who orchestrated his downfall might like.

"[C]an't wait to see him out in 30 days. [T]he case was so stacked against him. The city will create whatever to take him down," one anonymous poster wrote to the Richmond Times-Dispatch Web site on the day of Moore's sentencing.

A half-dozen or so others dittoed that apparent sympathy, like this poster: "Another case of mind over matter. A.,ªÝ The government don't mind and the citizens don't matter! I say we start a A.,ªEoFree Sam' group and tell the guys at ABC [Alcohol Beverage Control] to go do to themselves what Sammy did to them girls!"

The public sympathy concerned Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Mike Herring in late June as he lamented Moore's growing legend just hours before a court hearing, where Moore's lawyers tried to move their client from the dingy confines of the Richmond pokey to more pleasant accommodations. "I knew that there would be sympathizers -- the guy's going to go into prison A.,ªÝ he's going to come out almost mythologized in the eyes of some people," Herring says.

Mythology is a powerful thing, and Moore, owner of the downtown strip club Velvet, is hardly the first to benefit from fact-bending to fit the needs of a community. The outlaw hero in American folklore -- from Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger to slain gangsta rapper Tupac Shakur -- is a long and storied tradition, says Stephen Winick, a folklorist with the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

"I would say generally important to the formation of outlaw heroes is that -- people might not admit it -- but people wish they could rebel against the law and social customs the way outlaws do," Winick says. "Everybody as a kid, at least sometimes, played cops and robbers and wanted to be the robber. Everybody has the need to rebel sometime."

Moore is no Dillinger in either deed or story, Winick says, but he does share a number of the classic characteristics common to outlaw heroes that have emerged as part of popular mythology: Born privileged to well-heeled, tobacco-connected Richmond gentry, Moore spent his early years in that world, but eventually eschewed it for an underground lifestyle that nips at the tattered fringes of accepted social norms.

"It's hilarious to me that 'Old Richmond' is heralded as the ... morality police," wrote another sympathetic Web posting. "Aren't these the same line of people who not only killed native Americans in order to take over the land but also enslaved -- and murdered -- African Americans?"

Winick sees shades of Robin Hood here -- a man born of landed gentry who took to the forest to fight injustice. "This guy could have been an upper-class dude," Winick says of Moore, "but decided not to go that route, so he appeals to people who are more working-class for that reason."

Moore also killed a man -- Stephen Hendricks -- in a 1998 knife fight outside a downtown nightclub. Stories of other alleged violent altercations are common among Moore's associates and purported witnesses, whose talk only serves to increase the community's natural, if slightly base, curiosity about the man.
And their sympathy.

"I'm not saying the kid deserved to die but get your facts straight, Stephen and 4 other guys jumped Moore putting him into the hospital," another poster wrote on inRich.com. "There was a reason the case was dropped, because it was self defense. Yes Moore is a little strange but it doesn't make him a murderer or a A.,ªÝ bad person."

A commonality among outlaw heroes, Winick says, is that rarely do their real-life deeds jibe with the ones attributed to them. Confusion over how events unfolded often help create the mystique that follows men like Moore.

"Characters will always gather stories," says Nancy Martin-Perdue, president of the Virginia Folklore Society. "There are these motifs in folklore ... that turn up time and again."
"The less that is known about them A.,ªÝ the more will be attributed to them," says Martin-Perdue, who's also a scholar emeritus in residence in the University of Virginia's anthropology department. "The things attributed [to them] may have no foundation, but it doesn't matter."

The tradition of taking liberties with reality did wonders for Charles "Pretty Boy" Floyd.

Oklahomans championed Floyd during the Depression as a man done wrong by the law who then took up arms against his tormentors. He killed only crooked lawmen, as the stories go, and the lawmen who eventually captured him lied about his attempts to evade them in order to kill him.

Folk musician Woody Guthrie immortalized Floyd in song, recounting how Floyd's first murder was of a deputy who used "vulgar words of language" in front of his wife.
The reality is far different.

Floyd, according to historians, killed 10 people during 30 bank robberies. Many of them were bank tellers, and Floyd filed a notch in his pocket watch for every person he killed. Yet he became a sort of modern-day Robin Hood, credited with giving to the poor what he took from the rich.

Often, Winick says, the ascent of an outlaw hero depends on timing, other current events often unrelated to their deeds or class differences between prosecutors and sympathizers. Dillinger and Floyd both gained fame during the Depression.

Dillinger and Floyd have moss growing on them, but in black and Latino cultures especially, the outlaw hero remains strong.

"Our system has not served black citizens as well as it has white citizens," Winick says, noting gangsta rappers. "Another [example] is, it's quite popular in both Mexican and Mexican-American culture where there are songs called narcocorrido -- songs about drug-running.

"It's easier for these people not to feel enfranchised by the system and feel like crime is a legitimate form of protest against it," he says, adding that the outlaw hero isn't as prevalent today as in the past because "our government has been pretty successful at selling the idea that we're governing ourselves."

But Moore's growing status as an outlaw hero might represent a shift, particularly in a recessionary economy. "In the past few years, the government has gotten perhaps more intrusive," Winick says.

"Anybody that has worked as a construction or farm laborer knows the hard reality of selling their bodies for wages," quips another poster on the T-D Web site. "There can be only one judge on judgement [sic] day and it is certainly not one of us." S
 
 

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

 

Add a comment