Two more women describe unwanted overtures by Roy Moore at Alabama mall

https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/two-more-women-describe-unwanted-overtures-by-roy-moore-at-alabama-mall/2017/11/15/2a1da432-ca24-11e7-b0cf-7689a9f2d84e_story.html?utm_term=.c0756a41c890

 

Gena Richardson says she was a high school senior working in the men’s department of Sears at the Gadsden Mall when a man approached her and introduced himself as Roy Moore.

“He said, ‘You can just call me Roy,’ ” says Richardson, who says this first encounter happened in the fall of 1977, just before or after her 18th birthday, as Moore, then a 30-year-old local attorney, was gaining a reputation for pursuing young women at the mall in Gadsden, Ala. His overtures caused one store manager to tell new hires to “watch out for this guy,” another young woman to complain to her supervisor and Richardson to eventually hide from him when he came in Sears, the women say.

Richardson says Moore — now a candidate for U.S. Senate — asked her where she went to school, and then for her phone number, which she says she declined to give, telling him that her father, a Southern Baptist preacher, would never approve.

A few days later, she says, she was in trigonometry class at Gadsden High when she was summoned to the principal’s office over the intercom in her classroom. She had a phone call.

“I said ‘Hello?’” Richardson recalls. “And the male on the other line said, ‘Gena, this is Roy Moore.’ I was like, ‘What?!’ He said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m in trig class.’ ”

Richardson says Moore asked her out again on the call. A few days later, after he asked her out at Sears, she relented and agreed, feeling both nervous and flattered. They met that night at a movie theater in the mall after she got off work, a date that ended with Moore driving her to her car in a dark parking lot behind Sears and giving her what she called an unwanted, “forceful” kiss that left her scared.

“I never wanted to see him again,” says Richardson, who is now 58 and a community college teacher living in Birmingham. She describes herself as a moderate Republican and says she didn’t vote in the 2016 general election or in this year’s Republican Senate primary in Alabama.

Moore’s campaign did not directly address the new allegations. In a statement, a campaign spokesman cast the growing number of allegations against Moore as politically motivated.

“If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you,” the statement said. “If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.”

Richardson, whose account was corroborated by classmate and Sears co-worker Kayla McLaughlin, is among four women who say Moore pursued them when they were teenagers or young women working at the mall — from Sears at one end to the Pizitz department store at the other. Richardson and Becky Gray, the woman who complained to her manager, have not previously spoken publicly. The accounts of the other two women — Wendy Miller and Gloria Thacker Deason — have previously been reported by The Washington Post.

Phyllis Smith, who was 18 when she began working at Brooks, a clothing store geared toward young women, said teenage girls counseled each other to “just make yourself scarce when Roy’s in here, he’s just here to bother you, don’t pay attention to him and he’ll go away.’ ”

 

The encounters described by the women occurred between 1977 and 1982, when Moore was single, in his early 30s and an attorney in Etowah County in northeastern Alabama. In October 1977, he was appointed deputy district attorney.

In all, The Post spoke to a dozen people who worked at the mall or hung out there as teenagers during the late ’70s and early ’80s and recall Moore as a frequent presence — a well-dressed man walking around alone, leaning on counters, spending enough time in the stores, especially on weekend nights, that some of the young women who worked there said they became uncomfortable.

Several of the women said they decided to share their accounts after reading a Post story last week in which four women said Moore pursued them as teenagers, including one who said she was 14 and Moore was 32 when he touched her sexually.

Since that story was published, another woman, Beverly Young Nelson, appearing with lawyer Gloria Allred, accused Moore of sexually assaulting her in his car when she was 16. A lawyer for Moore’s campaign held a news conference on Wednesday to dispute Nelson’s account, suggesting that a signature in her yearbook she said was Moore’s might have been forged.

Moore has denied engaging in any kind of sexual misconduct. In an interview last week with Sean Hannity of Fox News, Moore did not rule out that he may have dated teenage girls when he was in his 30s, though he said he could not recall. Moore said he doesn’t remember “ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

Moore has brushed off mounting calls from Republican leaders in Washington to end his campaign, saying the media and the GOP establishment are aligned against him. The reaction in Alabama, among voters and elected officials, has been more mixed.

President Trump has not gone as far as other Republican leaders, saying through press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that Moore should drop out if the allegations are true. Trump ignored questions Wednesday from reporters asking if Moore should quit the race.

Republican senators on Nov. 14 continued to urge Senate candidate Roy Moore to end his campaign in Alabama amid allegations of sexual misconduct. (Jordan Frasier, Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

****

The sprawling Gadsden Mall opened in 1974 with a Sears at one end, a Pizitz department store at the other, a movie theater in the middle and plenty of parking all around. It quickly became a social hub for teenagers.

By 1977, Moore had returned home from law school after attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and serving in Vietnam. It was around that time, people say, that he became a regular at the mall.

“It would always be on Friday or Saturday night,” says Becky Gray, who was then 22 and working in the men’s department of Pizitz. “Parents would drop kids off, let them roam the mall. Well, he started coming up to me.”

She says Moore kept asking her out and she kept saying no.

“I’d always say no, I’m dating someone, no, I’m in a relationship,” says Gray, now 62, a retired teacher and a Democrat who supports Moore’s opponent in the Senate race. “I thought he was old at that time. Anyone over 22 was just old.”

Gray says he was persistent in a way that made her uncomfortable. She says he lingered in her section, or else by the bathroom area, and that she became so disturbed that she complained to the Pizitz manager, Maynard von Spiegelfeld. Gray says he told her that it was “not the first time he had a complaint about him hanging out at the mall.” Von Spiegelfeld has since died, according to a relative.

Pizitz is also where Deason told The Post last week that Moore asked her out when she was 18 and working behind the jewelry counter.

Beyond Pizitz was a long corridor of shops, including Brooks, which sold rabbit fur coats and fashions geared toward young women. Smith, the one-time Brooks employee, says she was probably 19 when Moore began coming into the store, which she says employed many teenage girls. She remembers him being alone and had the strong impression he wasn’t looking to shop.

“I can remember him walking in and the whole mood would change with us girls,” says Smith, 59, who lives in Gadsden and says she is a Democrat. “It would be like we were on guard. I would find something else to do. I remember being creeped out.”

Smith says Moore never approached her personally, but she saw him chatting with other young clerks, and that she would tell new hires to “watch out for this guy.” She says that occasionally, one of the store managers would have to deal with bounced checks, which meant going to the district attorney’s office where Moore worked. She says the managers would “draw straws” to decide who had to go talk to him about the cases.

“It was just sort of a dreadful experience,” she says.

At the center of the mall was a photo booth, where Wendy Miller earlier told The Post her mother worked. Miller said she hung out there with her mom when she was 16 and that Moore repeatedly asked her out on dates, which her mother forbade. Miller’s mother, Martha Brackett, confirmed her account.

****

At the other end of the mall was Sears, where Richardson says she was among a clique of Gadsden High girls who worked at the store during their senior year.

Richardson, whose maiden name is Burgess, was assigned to the men’s section, and her friend and classmate McLaughlin worked at the cosmetics and jewelry counter at the front of the store with a view down the long mall corridor.

“I could see when he came in,” says McLaughlin, whose maiden name was Shirley and who says that she and Richardson usually worked evening shifts on the weekends. “He didn’t really talk to me, he was over there visiting with Gena a lot. And that got to be a pattern.”

McLaughlin says she told her friend to stay away from Moore. “I hate to say this, but Gena was like my little sister. She was raised by a Southern Baptist preacher and a little naive. So I’d let her know: ‘Here he comes.’ ”

When Richardson met Moore she says he introduced himself as an attorney, and says she found it odd that he asked her to call him “Roy.”

“That was strange in the first place, because of the way we were always taught to call someone Mr. or Mrs.,” she says.

When he asked for her number, she says that she told him, “No, my dad is so strict. Mm-mm. No.” She and McLaughlin both say they talked about Moore after that, with McLaughlin telling her friend, “You can’t go out with him. He’s old.”

It was a few days later, Richardson says, when she was called out of her trigonometry class.

Richardson says she was startled, thinking maybe her dad was calling, and that when she realized it was Moore, “I felt like every person in that office was staring at me.”

“At that point, he said, ‘Would you like to go out some time?’ ” recalls Richardson, who says she described the call right afterward to McLaughlin, who confirmed the account. “I said, ‘Well, I can’t talk right now.’ And being so naive, and so not worldly, I said, ‘I’ll be at work Friday or Saturday.’”

The next Friday or Saturday night, she says, he came in to Sears and asked her out again and she again told him, “Look, my dad is so strict.”

She recalls Moore suggesting that they meet for a late movie after she got off work. She says she called her parents and told them she was going out with friends.

Instead, she says she met Moore at the movie theater. She says she can’t remember what they saw, but she remembers clearly what happened after. She says it was cold and Moore offered to drive her to her car, which was more than a football field’s distance away in a parking area behind Sears. She says he parked by her car and began chatting with her, and she says she told him again about her dad.

“I just explained to him that my dad’s a minister, and you know, I just can’t sneak around because that’s wrong,” she recalls. “So I thanked him and started to get out and he grabbed me and pulled me in and that’s when he kissed me.

“It was a man kiss — like really deep tongue. Like very forceful tongue. It was a surprise. I’d never been kissed like that,” she says. “And the minute that happened, I got scared then. I really did. Something came over me that scared me. And so I said, ‘I’ve got to go, because my curfew is now.’ ”

She says she got out of the car and into her own.

Richardson and McLaughlin say they talked about it afterward, and when Moore came into Sears after that, McLaughlin would warn her friend so she could hide in the back of the store. “I would call and say he’s coming this way,” McLaughlin says. “She would go to the back. She was uncomfortable.”

Richardson says she never spoke to Moore again. She says she first told her father about the incident on Wednesday. She says she never told her mother, who is deceased.

“All these years, I thought that was an isolated incident,” Richardson says. “Now, as a mother and a grandmother, it just makes me physically sick. I realize that it didn’t just happen to me.”

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