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

This post was originally published on Aug. 26, 2015.

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.

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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.

Shawn Moore

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.”

Ronald Bailey as he looks today. Photo taken in April 2020.

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.


This piece originally ran on Aug. 26, 2015.


 

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