Remembering Shawn Moore, 30 years later: When Livingston County lost its innocence

Share this:

I remember exactly where I was on Sept. 13, 1985. It was 30 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was the 25-year-old sports editor of the Brighton Argus and Livingston County Press, and we were having a newspaper awards ceremony at JB’s Lounge, a restaurant inside the Brighton Athletic Club (where 2/42 Community Church is now). We had just finished the meeting, and everyone was crowded around the TV in the bar.

11882866_10154287054216808_1417053770_o
Top — Shawn Moore and his gravesite. Above — Shawn Moore’s parents, Sharon and Bud, both passed away within months of each other in 2011. Their graves lie next to Shawn’s in Brighton’s St. Patrick Calvary Cemetery.

For two weeks, everyone in Livingston County — and everyone in Michigan — had been following the case of Shawn Moore, a 13-year-old Green Oak Township boy who disappeared on Labor Day weekend. On Sept. 13, 1985, we all found out that the story wasn’t going to have a happy ending.

There were maybe 40 of us in the bar that day — mostly hard-bitten journalist types — and nobody said a word as they broke into the regular programming on TV to deliver the bad news. The body of Shawn Moore had been found in a shallow grave up north near Gladwin, Mich. A manhunt was under way in Florida for his killer, a pedophile named Ronald Lloyd Bailey.

I remember exactly how I felt at that moment. If you were in Michigan on Sept. 13, 1985, you probably felt the same way. It was an emotional punch to the gut that I can still feel today.

This is the 30th anniversary of the Shawn Moore case, and I feel safe in saying that this is still the biggest news story Livingston County has ever known. We’ve had other tragedies before — other murders, other sickening crimes — but the Shawn Moore case still stands alone. Thirty years ago, we all came together and felt a pain the likes of which we’d never felt before. Or since.

If you were around in Livingston County back then, you probably remember the details. If you weren’t, you probably should know them. But here’s what happened 30 years ago.

On Saturday, Aug. 31, 1985, a 13-year-old boy named Shawn Moore left his house in the Horizon Hills subdivision in Green Oak Township just south of Brighton. He was going to ride his bike up Whitmore Lake Road to the gas station on Lee Road (where the roundabouts are now) to buy a bottle of pop. Just like he had done a million times before.

This was in the middle of the day, around 3:45 p.m. In broad daylight, as they say.

Bailey then and now
Ronald Bailey in 1985, and as photographed in prison in May 2015. He’s currently incarcerated in the Bellamy Creek Correctional facility in Ionia.

Witnesses saw a Jeep pull over, and then saw the driver jump out and grab Shawn. The driver — 26-year-old Ronald Bailey — pulled Shawn into the Jeep and drove away. It took two weeks before the case was finally resolved, and those two weeks were gut-wrenching.

Some great police work helped the cops identify Bailey as the suspect. The first time they brought him in, though, a witness was unable to pick him out of a lineup, so they had to release him. Bailey took that as his cue that he needed to flee the state, so he hopped on a plane bound for Orlando.

While Bailey was heading to Florida, the police were searching a cabin in northern Michigan owned by the family of Bailey’s girlfriend, because they suspected that’s where Bailey had been spending time on Labor Day weekend. On Sept. 13, that’s where they found the body of Shawn Moore.

The next day, following an intense manhunt, the police caught up with Bailey in a remote area near Belleview, Fla. They nabbed him, flew him back to Michigan, and tossed him in
the Livingston County Jail.

Shawn Moore Timeline

That’s when the sick details of the crime began to come out. We found out that after Bailey abducted Shawn, he had indeed taken him up to the cabin in Gladwin. Bailey sexually molested him numerous times, and then put a belt around his neck and choked him to death. We later found out that a year earlier, he had done the same thing to a 14-year-boy from Ferndale named Kenny Myers — abducted him, molested him and then killed him.

If you weren’t around at that time, it’s hard to describe just how deeply the Shawn Moore case affected all of us in Livingston County. It was just so … painful.

Very few of us had known Shawn personally — I didn’t — but when you saw his picture and heard his family and friends talk about him, you felt like you knew him. Shawn was a short, blonde kid with one of those smiles that was so broad that it made him squint. He loved riding his bike, playing sports, and having fun with his friends. He was the most typical Livingston County kid you could have imagined.

And back then, this type of thing didn’t happen in Livingston County. Kids in Livingston County were safe. Kids in Livingston County were immune to danger. Kids in Livingston County could ride their bikes up to the store without having to worry about anything.

All that changed with Shawn Moore.

David Morse, the Livingston County assistant prosecutor who did a brilliant job putting Bailey behind bars, once described the Shawn Moore case as “the time when Livingston County lost its innocence.”

That’s exactly what it was.

So when I talk about the importance of what happened 30 years ago, that’s what I’m getting at. Labor Day weekend in 1985 was the time when we turned the corner in a bad way.

In September of 1986, a full year later, Ronald Bailey finally went to trial. His trial was held in the historic Livingston County Courthouse in downtown Howell — the last trial ever held in that old courtroom — with Judge Stanley Latreille presiding.

By that time, I was no longer the sports editor. I had been promoted to editor of the Argus just a few weeks before that, and one of my duties was coordinating the coverage of the trial. I was only 26 years old — a sports guy pretending to be a real news guy, for Pete’s sake — and didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing. Thankfully, we had an excellent court reporter named Dan Grantham to cover the trial, so I pretty much just had to stay out of his way.

I did spend a few days in court watching the trial, though, and it was fascinating to see. Livingston County Prosecutor Frank Del Vero prosecuted the case himself — a very rare thing — with chief deputy David Morse handling much of the cross-examination. They were both brilliant.

Most court observers thought that Bailey’s attorneys were awful. They were trying to get him off on an insanity plea — no surprise there — but they had everybody scratching their heads when they made the decision to put Bailey himself on the stand.

Morse was brutal in his cross-examination of this piece of dirt. Absolutely brutal. Morse said later that he wanted to do everything he could to verbally bludgeon Bailey as a sort of gesture to Shawn’s family. Morse knew that nothing he could do would ever erase the pain the family felt, but if he could batter Bailey on the stand, it might give them some small measure of satisfaction.

It took the jury almost no time to reject the insanity defense and find Bailey guilty on all charges. Judge Latreille was equally brutal when he sentenced Bailey to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

Stan quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bailey spent the first decade or so behind bars in prisons outside of Michigan. This is common protocol for child molesters, since they’re considered by other prisoners to be lowest scum of all. Bailey was a well-known prisoner in Michigan, so the thinking was that his life wouldn’t be worth much if he was sent to a prison in Michigan. As a result, they put him into the federal system and sent him to a prison in Texas.

He made it back to Michigan eventually, though, and he’s currently serving his time at the Bellamy Creek Correction Facility in Ionia. A few years back, I looked online at his prison mug shot, and he had a huge black eye. It seems like somebody figured out who he was.

Through the years — and this is probably true of everyone who lived through it — the Shawn Moore case never left my consciousness. When I got married and had children of my own, it gave me the perspective that every parent must have felt back then. Even now, I hug my kids a little tighter when I think of Shawn.

One of the great joys of my career as a newsman was that I got to know Shawn’s mom and dad, Sharon and Bud. In 1995, we did a 10-year retrospective on the Shawn Moore case for the newspaper, and I sat down with Sharon and Bud for three hours one afternoon to do an interview. They were perhaps the most remarkable couple I’d ever met — to have gone through what they did, and still to have kept it all together.

I’ll never forget what Bud told me during that interview in 1995. He said that statistics show that most parents of murdered children end up getting divorced, which is sad but not surprising. Most marriages can’t withstand the pain and anguish.

Bud pointed out proudly that he and Sharon were still together, still married, and that this had brought them even closer together than they ever could have imagined.

I stayed in contact with Bud after that. He sent me a very nice note later that year when I got married, and sent me another note in 1997 when my daughter Amelia was born. We called each other from time to time just to catch up, and he’d sometimes stop by the Argus office in downtown Brighton just to say hi.

I always felt close to Bud, and not just because our names were next to each other in the Livingston County phonebook (Bud Moore, Buddy Moorehouse). I always admired his dignity, his character, his incredible fortitude. And when I sat down with him again in 2005 on the 20-year anniversary of the case, he told me another story I’ll never forget.

“After the sentencing in Howell, they were taking Bailey out of the courthouse and leading him to the police car,” Bud said. “I was outside with all the people, and I saw him starting to walk past us. When I saw Bailey, I put my hand into a fist, and I started to go toward him. I knew this was going to be the last time in my life that I was ever going to see him, so I wanted to rush at him and just punch him in the face as hard as I could. I didn’t even care what would happen to me. I just wanted to punch him as hard as I could. I didn’t do it, though, and I still don’t know why.”

Some years later, in January of 2011, Bud passed away at the age of 85. A few months later, in November, Sharon passed away, too. She was 78. They were together to the end.

Bud and Sharon are buried next to their son in the St. Patrick’s Calvary Cemetery in Brighton, and it does warm my soul to know they’re all together again.

I stopped by their graves last week. Shawn’s grave still bears some presents that somebody must have put there years ago — a couple Hot Wheels cars and a little toy truck. Bud’s grave proudly notes that he served with the U.S. Navy during World War II.

It’s been 30 years since Shawn Moore’s story broke our hearts, and if we want to properly pay our respects, we should do what Bud and Sharon always did. We should hold each other a little tighter, and treasure our kids a whole lot more.

Rest in peace, Shawn. We’ll never forget you.

Buddy Moorehouse is a longtime journalist in Livingston County who worked at the Brighton Argus and Livingston County Press from 1983-2009.

You can read messages to and remembrances of Shawn Moore posted through the years on the “Find A Grave” website. Read them by clicking here.

 

About Buddy Moorehouse 80 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

18 Comments

  1. I was the courtroom sketch artist for the Ann Arbor News for Bailey’s trial. I had to stare at his face every day for 6 weeks. I really wanted to understand what would make someone do something like that but in all that time I couldn’t see into his mind or soul, if he had one. He haunted my dreams for a long time.

  2. I was unfortunate enough to be on the jury on this case and had to hear all the details.

  3. Great article sir! When I think of what people like this went through, I am reminded of what the Husband of the stewardess who was killed by a serial killer down near Metro Airport, said after learning the sentence of life was handed down. A reporter asked him what he thought about it and he said
    “Nothing has changed she is still dead and he is still alive”!

    A truly sad experience for all of us.

  4. Mrs. Moore was supposed to be my 3rd grade teacher in the 1985-1986 school year. This happen right when I moved to Pinckney, so I was a new student supposed to be in Mrs. Moore’s class. As third grade students this hit all of us. We were thrown into a situation students should never have to be in. No parent should ever have to face what they faced. To say this was the time Livingston County lost its innocence is absolutely correct. We all, no matter the age, lost innocence when this happened.

  5. I was just a couple years older than Shawn. I never knew him but I knew his mom. She was a teacher at Pinckney Elementary before Country and she was always so nice. I never thought anything of riding my bike to a friends house, we all did it. Bad stuff happened in Detroit or “the city” but never in Pinckney or Brighton. Shawn’s disappearance changed all that. I don’t know if their still around but there are several poems in my old notebooks about Shawn and the fear and despair we felt during that time. I always wondered what happened to Mrs. Moore, I’m glad to know that their family managed and were together until the end.

  6. I was 10 when this happened, and never thought anything bad could ever happen to us in the Brighton area. I have never been so scared or prayed so much for another child I didn’t know. Shawn’s tragedy has Affected me for my entire life. I am now 38 and am still sharing his story. My thoughts and good wishes go out to everyone who keeps Shawn’s memory and spirit alive.

  7. I was serving in the Michigan State Police at the Brighton Post when Shawn’s abduction and murder happened. I was a desk sergeant and remember the unprecedented effort put forth to try and find Shawn to no avail. It consumed all of us during those days and will forever be in our minds.

  8. I was a 3rd grader in Mrs. Moore’s class at Country Elementary in Pinckney that fall. Needless to say she was not our teacher for much of the year and we had a long term sub, but she did return before the school year was over. We were too young to really grasp what had happened and our parents shielded us from the gruesome details. Amazing that she felt able to return to work at any point that year.

  9. I remember this story so well as I have two sons who were 10 and 12 at the time this happened and realized how quickly things could happen. I remember the day of this young man’s funeral and the song that was sung. To this day when I hear that song I think of him. “And I will raise him up on the last day.”

  10. I remember that day very vividly. My brother and I were going to take our bikes up to that exact same gas station around the same time to get some candy bars, and I remember my dad saying that I had to do something prior to going up there, by the time I was finished I couldn’t go. That same day is when we found out that Shawn Moore, one of the kids I went to school with was missing. The shock was unreal, and that is the day when I learned that danger can be anywhere.
    I thought about day for many years, still remember it to this day. I feel for his family and will never forget.

  11. A tragic and a beautiful story you have to watch your children ever so carefully no matter how old they are I know that Shawn and his Parent’s are now together with the Lord and may their souls rest in peace

  12. This is a beautiful tribute to Shaun and his parents. I had often wondered how they were doing.. I was young when this happened (12) but this is the exact time when we all lost our innocence then. Feeling that were all not as safe as we thought
    And going forth into adulthood and parenthood it has always stayed with me, feeling more scared for myself and my kids, and never being as trusting as I once was.. Thank you for doing this story!

  13. My mom and I were driving home from doing school shopping in Ann Arbor. It was a blistering hot day. When we drove past Horizon Hills, the sub was blocked off and there were police cars…many, many police cars surrounding the sub and we just knew that they had found Shawn’s body. Thank you for the update on his parents. I did not know what had happened with them. The other incredible thing about Shawn mom was that she taught school and continued to teach children after losing her child in such a horrific way.

  14. “The day Livingston County lost its innocence” is a perfect description of the Shawn Moore tragedy. I grew up in Pinckney but moved away after high school. My husband, daughters and I lived in a Plymouth subdivision in 1985. I allowed my girls, 11, 10 and 8, to walk or ride bikes to friends’ homes within the sub, but made them call when they arrived and when they were heading back home. My mom (who raised the eight of us with a much looser rein) thought I was being over-protective. After Shawn Moore’s abduction and death she told me she was wrong, that I was right to keep close tabs. Now, parents seldom let their children out of their sight. A sad progression.

    Thank you for this story. I often think of Shawn Moore and his family, and others who have gone through/are going through similar horrible things.

  15. Well said “the day Livingston county lost it’s innocence”. I was 15 at the time and although I have long since left Michigan, I have never forgotten the tragedy of Shawn Moore. May he and his parents together rest in peace.

  16. Scott, there has never been a day gone by when I drive past Horizon Hills to Lee Road that I don’t think about you, your brother and your mom and dad. My prayers and better thoughts of the future have always been with you. God speed to you and yours. Karen (Miller) Dietz

    • What a great read! A very fine tribute to the Moore family. Thank you Mr Moorehouse!

Comments are closed.