Lucille Ruffin-Moore interview
Tuesday, May 4, 2021 – 11:07 a.m.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore was an outspoken critic of the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Pageant.
Detectives Armstrong and Murphy interviewed her at the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department.
- Detective T. Armstrong
- Detective S. Murphy
- Lucille Ruffin-Moore
Detective Murphy: Thank you for talking to us today, Dr. Moore. We appreciate you helping us.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Certainly. I'm happy to help in whatever meager capacity I can.
Detective Murphy: Would you please state your name and address?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I am Lucille Ruffin-Moore, Ph.D. I live at 2238 Lee Loop. In Oxford, Mississippi, of course.
Detective Murphy: And your occupation?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Officially, I suppose you could say that I am retired. I used to teach at the university. Now, I work on my scholarship and writing literary criticism.
Detective Armstrong: When did you retire from Ole Miss?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Well, let me think… I abdicated my position there about four years ago. My late husband was in very poor health, and I wanted to be by his side in his final days. After that, I contented myself with doing my own writing and research.
Detective Murphy: We're sorry for your loss.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Thank you. He was a very kind man, brilliant. After his passing, I just didn't have the stomach to go back to the academic world and all the politics and subterfuge. I can stay in my own little home, enjoy my gardens, and write just as much as I did in my office in Bondurant Hall. So I really have enjoyed my retirement, and I've found it quite fulfilling.
Detective Murphy: Do you have any idea why we wanted to speak with you this morning?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Honestly, no. I can't imagine why the police want to trifle with a retired schoolteacher.
Detective Armstrong: We're investigating the murder of Barbara Dubois.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: And what does that have to do with me? Was she a student of mine?
Detective Murphy: She was a finalist in the Yoknapatawpha County Literature Festival Pageant.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Oh yes, now I remember that name. Please forgive my forgetfulness. I'm afraid Oxford has become so violent in recent years that murder investigations involving the local authorities are quite common. To a quiet and reserved woman like me, they're just names in the newspaper.
Detective Murphy: Yes, ma'am. Do you—
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Not that I mean that in a callous or uncaring way, you understand. It's just that all these murders… well, it's hard to keep the names separate. I'm afraid that as I've gotten older, it's just so hard to remember things. I constantly get real people mixed up with the fictional characters that I study.
Detective Armstrong: Even though you were such an outspoken critic of the beauty pageant?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Precisely because I have been such an ardent critic of the competition. Precisely that very reason. I have no interest in learning these girls' names.
Detective Armstrong: But you're aware she was killed.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I read about the murder in the paper. Dreadful business, really. But simply because I think the whole event was a travesty, there's no reason I would have all the competitors' names on the tip of my tongue. I see no reason to honor them or put them on a pedestal.
Detective Armstrong: Do you see any reason to harm them?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I find that question extremely offensive, detective. I am a respected member of the academic community. I can assure you that I had my fair share of frivolous airheads in my courses, and although I considered them deluded and childish, I would never dream of harming any of them.
Detective Murphy: I think Detective Armstrong is probably just trying to get at all the anger you expressed in your letter to the editor. The one where you ranted against the pageant.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Even so. Writing a vociferous letter to the editor does not make one a thug capable of bodily injury.
Detective Murphy: Didn't you compare the contestants to a Faulkner character who is raped? And didn't you say that they would be paid back for their choices in life?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I must admit that I'm shocked. I had thought better of our local police force. Surely, you cannot mistake a literary device for true intent. If that's the case, you should call your colleagues down in Greenville. I believe the young man who wrote The Silence of the Lambs is from down there. He should certainly be locked up under these standards.
Detective Armstrong: Why don't you humor us? I didn't do so good in English. Tell us what you meant?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I was simply trying to show how these women can be questioned for their judgment. Temple Drake was a character in William Faulkner's 1931 novel Sanctuary. Although she presented a very clean-cut image—quite similar to the university's Sorority Row—the truth was that she made very questionable choices in life. Just like the competitors.
Detective Murphy: But those were pretty strong words you used for them.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Indeed they were. Harsh language and violence seem to be the only way to get through to people in today's society. Subtlety and nuance are lost in this culture. So I used the harsh language as a device to get my point across.
Detective Murphy: Did you—
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I believe Flannery O'Connor said something along the lines of how people won't get the point if you brush them with a feather. You have to hit them in the head with a board. I'm paraphrasing here. Don't quote me on that statement. Or was it O'Connor anyway? Oh well, regardless, the point is that although I expressed strong emotions in my missive to the local news editors, that in no way implies I actually wanted anyone physically harmed.
Detective Murphy: Did you intend to harm anyone involved in the pageant?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Of course not!
Detective Murphy: Can you tell us where you were on Friday night?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Goodness, no. As I said, my memory is pretty lacking. I could check my calendar.
Detective Murphy: It was the night of the pageant gala event. The big party. Do you remember now?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Oh, okay. Yes, I believe I do recall that evening.
Detective Murphy: What did you do?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I had dinner that evening at Ravine. I believe I dined with Dr. Robinson from the university. We ate dinner, and then Dr. West joined us for dessert. Or maybe she was there for dinner as well. I do remember that the evening was planned to be just Dr. Robinson and me, and we coincidentally ran into Dr. West. But when? During dinner or just after?
Detective Murphy: It's not important. What time was dinner over?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I believe it was around 9:30 p.m. or so.
Detective Murphy: What did you do then?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I went home. I skimmed through some Faulkner texts and read some criticism—Noel Polk, Joseph Blottner, Dr. Kartiganer, those types of scholars. Maybe I didn't read Polk that night. I might have reviewed his text later in the weekend.
Detective Murphy: Did you remain at home all evening?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: No, I didn't. I couldn't concentrate on my work. Not at all. The whole pageant business was really bothering me. I felt like I had to see it. I had to face my own demons, so I drove out to the YCCC.
Detective Armstrong: When did you arrive at the hotel?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I don't really remember. It was late. Quite possibly, it was around 11:00 p.m.
Detective Murphy: What did you do when you arrived?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I just meandered through the hotel. Honestly, I felt quite foolish once there, and I was disappointed in myself. I shouldn't have given in to my curiosity. Gawking at accidents is not my usual type of thing.
Detective Murphy: Who did you see when you got there?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I went to the lounge and ordered a glass of wine. I didn't really know anyone in the lounge, so I suppose I can't consider that seeing anyone, merely an example of the randomness.
Detective Armstrong: How did you get into the hotel? Wasn't the gala by invitation only?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: But I did not attend the party.
Detective Murphy: Still, you must have had to get past someone.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Oh yes, that's right. I did indeed have to talk to someone. I did speak with a man, some sort of maintenance employee. He opened the door for me. I'm not proud of this, but I told him a little fib. I said that my daughter was in the competition, and I had misplaced my key. As I said, as soon as I got into the hotel, I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself.
Detective Murphy: But then you wandered around?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Yes. I didn't really know what to do. It wasn't like the competition itself was going on, so there really wasn't anything to see. People were just milling around. So I wandered around, trying not to look too out of place, and then I went to the lounge.
Detective Murphy: Do you remember what time you went to the lounge?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Well, not exactly. I believe it was around 11:00 p.m.
Detective Armstrong: You said you got to the hotel at 11:00 p.m.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Did I? Then it must have been shortly thereafter. I couldn't have ambled long. I don't move very fast with this.
Detective Armstrong: With your cane?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: My companion. We're old friends. It's served me well.
Detective Murphy: There are some stories about you and that cane and inattentive students.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Exaggerations, I'm sure. Such stories are overwritten.
Detective Murphy: What time did you leave the lounge?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I honestly can't remember. I'm afraid I felt so out of place that I had a few glasses of wine in the lounge area, so I have no clue what time I left.
Detective Murphy: Was anyone else in the lounge when you were there who might know when you left?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Maybe the bartender or someone could remember me. They might be able to give a more exact time. I suppose if I had to guess … I can't imagine I stayed in the lounge that long. Perhaps I was there an hour or so, maybe less. I know it wasn't a very long time.
Detective Murphy: Then what did you do?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I wandered around again. I had planned on trying to find someone associated with the pageant, maybe a sponsor or someone. I was irritated and wanted to confront someone. But I was too embarrassed to ask anyone directions or ask who the important people were, so I just roamed around.
Detective Armstrong: Do you remember where you went?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: No, I just walked around the hotel. I can't say that I went to this room or that. I just walked around.
Detective Murphy: Did you see anyone while you were walking around?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I saw lots of people. The hotel was very busy that night. My feet hurt.
Detective Murphy: Let me rephrase that. Did you see anyone out of place or anyone unusual?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: No. I was very confused, very embarrassed that I had lowered myself to enter the premises and, to be honest, I was a tad tipsy. So I really wasn't paying much attention to the people.
Detective Murphy: Did you see anyone out of place in the hotel. Maybe someone in an area that's usually off-limits to the public?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: No, I don't believe so, and I wouldn't know much about what places people go in hotels such as those anyway.
Detective Armstrong: What time did you leave the hotel?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I don't know for certain. Haven't we beaten that dead horse enough? Would you like to embarrass me even more?
Detective Murphy: Just try to remember.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I would think that it was about 12:30 a.m. Maybe a little before then.
Detective Murphy: And you don't recall anything unusual that you might have seen?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: It was a very unusual evening. There were lots of beautiful girls in ridiculous dresses, lots of grown men leering. There were people with cameras. An unruly child. A woman walking out the back door with her shoes in her hands. A drunken boy staggering about. There were lots of unusual sights that evening. Or maybe I dreamed some of that. … I do remember having dreadful dreams that night. Oh, I just don't know.
Detective Armstrong: Could you identify these people if you saw them again?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I might. If I remembered them correctly.
Detective Murphy: Okay, can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt Barbara Dubois?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: No. I didn't even know the girl. I couldn't begin to venture an idea. Who was she?
Detective Murphy: The victim.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Oh yes. Poor girl. Terrible that she had to pay for someone else's barbarism.
Detective Armstrong: What makes you think a barbarian killed her?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Not a barbarian, detective. Really. I should wonder at your education.
Detective Murphy: He's like that. Go on.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Clearly, the poor girl was the pawn of larger interests. Great ideas were at stake, and she was no more than the nameless victim of that clash of great forces.
Detective Armstrong: What forces?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Do you read, detective?
Detective Murphy: He's been known to look at a magazine.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Literary Review?
Detective Armstrong: Sports Illustrated.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Tsk, tsk. A critical reader would understand that there are powerful forces at work in such an event as this pageant, just as there are forces at work in Faulkner's texts. Money, power, the desire for fame, passions, the quest for social justice. In fact, you could say the pageant itself is a text, with these events an author's attempt to make meaning.
Detective Armstrong: Uh-huh.
Detective Murphy: And what's your close reading of the text?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: You need to look to the page, detective. There is writing on the page of the pageant. Look at the writer—
Detective Murphy: Of the graffiti?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: That is the obvious writing. Obvious yet clearly present. So obvious as to be overlooked, and authors don't make meaning within one dimension only.
Detective Murphy: So we might look to that author for other acts to make meaning? Even to murder?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Imagery, detective. It's all imagery. If an author has a truth in his or her heart—regardless of whether that truth is good or evil—then that truth will manifest itself in the text of events. Faulkner would understand. Do you?
Detective Armstrong: Uh, sure.
Detective Murphy: Your insights are very valuable, Dr. Ruffin-Moore. Thank you
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: You are most gracious.
Detective Armstrong: Is there any reason your name is going to come up again in this investigation?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I wouldn't think so. I didn't do anything, so why would my name be involved? Of course, I would have never thought you'd knock on my door today either.
Detective Murphy: Just one more thing, ma'am.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Yes?
Detective Murphy: What size shoe do you wear?
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: I'm sorry? What kind of question is that?
Detective Murphy: Just something we're asking everyone, and we do need an answer.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Eight. I wear a size eight. Is there anything else?
Detective Murphy: Not just now. Thank you for your time. We may wish to talk to you again, depending upon what we discover and if you remember anything else.
Lucille Ruffin-Moore: Of course.
Interview ended – 11:53 a.m.