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Pastor's Wife: Arsenic and Old Lace?

August 22, 1989|DOUG STRUCK | The Baltimore Sun

BURLINGTON, N.C. — She seemed a perfect bride for the minister: pretty, friendly, outgoing and at age 56, she had a sweet voice for hymns.

So it came as a shock when police said that she had poisoned the pastor with arsenic as soon as they got back from their honeymoon. The pastor, the Rev. Dwight W. Moore, survived.

Then authorities started digging around in graveyards and soon declared that Blanche Taylor Moore had poisoned to death a boyfriend three years ago and a husband 16 years ago.

And her father, who died 23 years ago, had abnormal levels of arsenic in his body, authorities said, though it was heart disease that did him in.

Now Mrs. Moore, a woman described by those who know her as "a sweet, Christian lady," sits in the Alamance County jail facing two charges of murder and one charge of assault by poison.

Her two devoted daughters come to see her for the 15-minute visits permitted on Sundays. They kiss through the glass partition, and sometimes one of her three grandchildren comes. They all wonder about this bizarre turn of events, the daughters say.

"Nobody wants the truth more than we do," says Cynthia Taylor Chatman, 30.

"One thing is certain," adds her sister, Vanessa Woods, 36. "Behind the headlines is a person who is not capable of doing this."

Also perplexed is Moore, who struggles in a hospital to regain the use of hands and feet that were deadened by what doctors told his family is the highest dose of arsenic anyone has survived. Growing slowly on his fingernails are white streaks that doctors say are a telltale sign of the poison.

And wondering, finally, are the police, who are mulling over a half-dozen other deaths of people who knew Mrs. Moore. They will probably ask to exhume some of those bodies, the chief investigator says.

"I would say it is the most talked-about crime this county has seen," said Lt. Steve Lynch.

Indeed, it is what one resident called "a delectable topic" of conversation in this languid Piedmont stretch of tobacco fields, textile mills and outlet stores that siphon tourists off Interstate 85.

Some are amused. Bad jokes abound, and a Blanche Taylor Moore Cookbook T-shirt with ant poison recipes made a brief appearance. Others are annoyed. "We're tired of you all coming around," a woman barked at a reporter. "This ain't been nothing but aggravation for us."

Blanche Moore spent most of her life in Alamance County. For 32 years, she worked in a supermarket. She was friendly. Customers would pick her checkout line just to chat with Blanche.

"She was always pleasant and outgoing to customers," said Brenda Green, a former co-worker. And attractive--the photograph of a drawn, old woman taken at Blanche Moore's arrest is atypical. "The sadness doesn't let her picture do her justice," said a friend.

Her father, Parker Kiser, was a mill worker, insurance salesman and womanizer who left home "to find himself a younger woman," according to divorce papers filed in 1960 by Flonnie Kiser.

Blanche, one of seven children, was gone by then. At 19, she married James Napoleon Taylor, a furniture restorer just back from the Korean War. Taylor was a burly man, quick to become annoyed. He spent his Sundays editing tape recordings of the sermon from the Glen Hope Baptist Church, so tapes could be sent for overseas missionary work.

In 1966, Blanche's father died. He had remarried, and become a preacher. At age 62, he was declared to have died fom heart disease.

Seven years later, James Taylor died, at age 45. Blanche told a co-worker she awoke hearing an alarm clock ringing incessantly beside her husband's bed, and she knew he was dead. It was declared a heart attack.

A widow at age 40, Blanche Taylor did not lack from attention. She was pretty, bright and always dressed sharply. She began dating Raymond C. Reid, a divorced manager of the Kroger store in Burlington where Blanche was the head cashier.

"Mom never expected to spend the rest of her life by herself. She had too much to offer," said daughter Cynthia Chatman. Reid "was a very good man. He was good to us," said her sister, Vanessa Woods.

But her long employment with Kroger was troubled. Despite her popularity with customers, she was not universally liked by those who worked with her.

Kroger gave her top ratings in her job, called her a "good leader" and used her to train checkers. But "if you got on her bad side, she could be vindictive," said one co-worker, who asked not to be identified.

"Everyone thought she was two-faced," said another colleague. "She could be underhanded."

More troublesome was a top company official, area manager Robert J. Hutton. Blanche Taylor alleged he had long made advances and fondled female clerks.

He had reached up her dress, exposed himself, and finally in October, 1985, grabbed her from behind in a conference room, Mrs. Taylor contended. She said that he was nude from the waist down and said, "Are you ready for this?"

She grabbed his pants and underwear and fled from the store. Hutton had to leave in a meat cutter's smock.

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