Walter Moody: Startling Mail Bomb Murder for Revenge

Our case last week was that of Thomas Piper, the infamous 1875 Boston Belfry Murderer. This week takes us to Birmingham, Alabama where in 1989, Walter Moody killed two people with mail bombs.

Walter Moody

Walter Leroy “Roy” Moody, Jr. was born and raised in Georgia, where he showed a measure of mechanical ability. After graduating from Peach County High School, he served in the military until 1961.

Walter Leroy Moody
Walter Leroy “Roy” Moody

When his military career ended, Moody considered becoming a neurosurgeon. He took classes at a small college but didn’t make grades good enough to get into medical school. Later, he took some law school classes.

Walter Moody’s First Bombing Conviction

On May 7, 1972, Walter Moody’s wife, Hazel, opened a package she discovered in her kitchen. The package contained a pipe bomb that exploded when she opened it. She survived but required six surgeries to repair the damage caused by the bomb.

Moody apparently made the bomb intending to send it to a car dealer who had repossessed his car. In a somewhat odd compromise verdict, a jury convicted him of possessing the bomb but acquitted him of making it. He received a sentence of five years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary (Moody served four years). Not surprising, Moody and Hazel divorced shortly after his conviction.

Moody’s Mail Bomb Murders

It was almost Christmas, Saturday, December 16, 1989. Federal appeals court judge Robert S. Vance was at his home in Mountain Brook, a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. When he opened a package that had come in the mail, the bomb inside exploded. The blast killed Vance instantly and severely injured his wife, Helen.

Federal appeals court judge Robert S. Vance was Moody's intended target
Federal appeals court judge Robert S. Vance was Moody’s intended target

Two days later, another mailed bomb exploded in the Savannah, Georgia office of civil rights attorney Robert Robinson. Robinson, too, died when he opened the package.

Civil rights attorney Robert Robinson, the second victim
Civil rights attorney Robert Robinson, the second victim

Authorities intercepted two more bombs before they reached their destinations. One was addressed to the Eleventh Circuit Court in Atlanta. The second targeted the NAACP office in Jacksonville, Florida. Neither of these bombs injured anyone.

Walter Moody Arrestws and Convicted

The FBI attempted to build a DNA profile from the bomb packaging, including the stamps. But their break came from an ATF explosives expert. He recognized the 1989 bombs as similar in design to the 1972 bomb that injured Moody’s first wife, Hazel. With this lead, a thorough investigation was able to link all four of the 1989 bombs to each other—and to Walter Moody.

Moody in shackles on his way to Federal Court
Moody in shackles on his way to Federal Court

Police arrested Moody and his second wife, Susan McBride, on July 13, 1990. McBride agreed to testify against her husband in exchange for immunity. Prosecutor (and future FBI director) Louis Freeh presented the government’s case. A federal court jury convicted Moody on all counts, and he received a sentence of seven life terms without the possibility of parole.

The federal trial was for charges related to making and sending the bombs. After the federal court convictions, the State of Alabama tried Walter Moody for the murder of Judge Vance. He was convicted in that case, too, and sentenced to death.

Walter Moody shortly before his execution (Alabama Department of Corrections)
Walter Moody shortly before his execution (Alabama Department of Corrections)

Epilogue

On April 19, 2018, Walter Leroy Moody died by lethal injection at the Holman Correctional Facility near Atmore, Alabama. At 83, he was the oldest inmate executed since executions in the United States resumed in 1976.

Moody never officially explained his motive in murdering Judge Vance. Prosecutor Louis Freeh believes the Vance murder and the Eleventh Circuit bombs were twisted revenge for the Court’s refusal to expunge Moody’s 1972 conviction. Ironically—and tragically—Vance was not on the panel that reviewed Moody’s case, nor was he involved in the decision. The murder of Robinson and the attempt to bomb the NAACP office were red herrings to make investigators think the bombings had a racial motivation.

Ray Jenkins published a book about the case in 1997, Blind Vengeance: The Roy Moody Mail Bomb Murders. An earlier book, Priority Mail, by Mark Winne appeared in 1995.

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