By TAMMIE TOLER
for the Daily Telegraph
Liddie Mae Slater lived a mysterious life.
Born in June 1928, the enigmatic woman married and had two children before a robbery plot netted her a 15-year sentence in prison. Six years into that term, Liddie Mae escaped what was then Alderson State Prison for Women and disappeared.
Much of her family is gone now, but Lenora Tucker, Liddie Mae’s niece, believes her aunt died Sept. 12, 2011, after living the last part of her life in Kegley. Lenora hopes someone here knew her aunt and can fill in the blank story that has plagued her family since 1966.
“I know the circumstances of what she did were terrible, and none of us are proud of that. But, she was my dad’s sister. My dad loved her, and that was the only sister he had. She was the only mother that my two cousins had, even though they didn’t get to be raised by her. They need to know what happened to her,” Lenora said.
Liddie Mae was born in the area around Blue Creek, W.Va., and lived much of her life in and around Kanawha County. She was the oldest of three children born to William Howard Slater and Della Marie Anderson Slater.
At some point, Liddie Mae married and took the name of Liddie Mae Chandler. Lenora said she never knew of her aunt being divorced or changing her name, but no public records surfaced under that name after a 1966 escape from Alderson.
A Nov. 5, 1959, edition of the Charleston Daily Mail featured a front-page photo of four people accused in the beating and robbery of a 73-year-old South Charleston woman. One more man was still on the large at that point.
Liddie Mae was one of the four suspects.
Newspapers in the Kanawha Valley tracked the court proceedings as the suspects went to trial. Liddie Mae pleaded guilty to robbery with violence. She also testified during several other hearings.
Each time for which an account was located, her story was the same.
She was an accomplice in the robbery, and her role was key. During a hearing reported in the Nov. 11, 1959, Charleston Daily Mail story, witnesses testified that Liddie Mae had a casual acquaintance with the robbery victim, who was believed to keep up to $9,000 in cash on hand at her home.
The robbers reportedly sent Liddie Mae to the woman’s home first with a story that she needed a place to wait until her boyfriend picked her up at the conclusion of a nearby football game.
When Harold Igo, the perpetrator of the violence against the victim, arrived, he was readily admitted and proceeded to beat the woman before robbing her. In the end, there wasn’t as much cash as the conspirators expected. They only made off with slightly more than $100.
Liddie Mae was sentenced to 15 years in a correctional facility, and she was assigned to Alderson, where security wasn’t as significant as it is today.
Liddie Mae, who still used the surname of Chandler at that point, escaped early into her incarceration but was located and returned to custody.
In November 1966, however, she left the prison forever.
According to the Nov. 24, 1966, Cumberland News, Liddie Mae and a woman named Elizabeth McCoy, of Mingo County, escaped the State Prison for Women, likely by climbing through a window in the dining hall.
Two days later, authorities told the Post Herald and Register that the two scaled a wire fence near the dining room after jumping out a window in the mess hall, where they were listening to music on records.
The only tip investigators had was that one woman might have been wearing black slacks when she fled incarceration.
While Liddie Mae paid her debt to society in prison, her brother William Franklin Slater — Lenora’s father — hoped and prayed that his sister would be released and live on the straight and narrow.
Even though her sentence was longer than six years, Lenora believes Liddie Mae was slated to be released from prison within weeks of her escape, because Liddie Mae talked with Lenora’s mother via telephone and said she couldn’t wait to meet Lenora and the baby her sister-in-law carried at the time.
Then, Liddie Mae dropped through that prison window and out of her family members’ lives.
“My dad raised her two children. My grandfather actually took my cousins for a while, and then, he passed away,” Lenora recalled. “When he passed away, they were shuffled around in a lot of foster homes.”
Ultimately, however, William welcomed them into his home.
“There are just so many questions. My dad spent his whole life looking for his sister, and when he couldn’t find anything, he decided she must have died somewhere,” Lenora said. “That’s really what we all believed until recently.”
Not long ago, a random search on Ancestry.com turned up a death record for Liddie Mae Slater. There was no mention of her married name, but Lenora and her family concluded that it must have some link, because it accurately listed Liddie Mae’s parents and age.
The death certificate that tripped that Internet search is on file at the Mercer County Courthouse, for a woman named Liddie Mae Slater, who died at Glenwood Park Retirement Village on Sept. 12, 2011.
Indeed, it lists William Howard Slater and Della Marie Anderson Slater as her parents in a birthplace known as Three Mile, W.Va.
The only occupation listed is that of a homeowner, and it identifies her education level as running through the ninth grade. She was a widow.
Liddie Mae’s body was entrusted to Memorial Funeral Directory and Cremation Center, and she was buried in Roselawn Memorial Gardens, where her grave site sits under three huge crosses.
But, visitors would not identify the grave without asking, because the tombstone that Lenora believes was purchased in 2001 carries the name of Mary J. Broyles, born June 12, 1928. Roselawn representatives are bound by confidentiality on specifics, but they could confirm that a woman named Liddie Mae Slater is buried in that cemetery with a tombstone of a different name.
Lenora believes there must be someone in the Mercer County area who knew her aunt and can help heal the holes in her loved ones’ hearts. She hopes that person will contact her with any information that might be helpful.
“My dad was just basically devastated over the whole situation. He never supported what she did, but he loved his sister. She was the only sister he had,” Lenora said.
The information will come too late to answer her dad’s questions; he died 16 years ago. Liddie Mae’s son has also passed away. But, she still has a daughter who would love to trace her mother’s life from 1966 to the time of her death, if the woman buried in Mercer County is her mother.
The family has identified a woman who claims to have been Liddie Mae’s caregiver, but she reportedly has declined to talk with any of Lenora’s family members. That alleged caregiver is listed as the person who reported the Liddie Mae’s death on the official record, and her Kegley address is also listed as Liddie Mae’s address.
Due to HIPAA and other privacy laws, Glenwood Park Retirement Village has been unable to release any information to Lenora or her family.
So, they turned to the media as a last hope of finding answers.
“We’re not interested in money, if there is any,” Lenora said. “We just want to find out what happened to my aunt. My dad loved her so much, despite the things she did, and he made it his mission to find his sister. It would be a blessing if we could finish that work for him.”
Lenora asked that anyone with potential information on Liddie Mae Slater Chandler contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 606-209-3295.
Liddie Mae is also believed to have used the names of Mary J. Broyles and Shirley Broyles. One of the newspaper accounts also indicated she used the surname of Gillenwater at times.
If the death certificate on file in Mercer County indeed belongs to Lenora’s aunt, she was 83 years old when she died.
“We need to know what happened to her. All we can hope is that someone else can feel our family’s pain and help us find answers,” Lenora said.
— Contact Tammie Toler at email@example.com.