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60 years ago in Laurel: The case of the stripper shooter

Maryland State Trooper John Biggs inspects Robert McCuddy’s car lying in a ditch. Honey B. Darling tried to drive the car away after shooting McCuddy. (Baltimore Sun file)
Maryland State Trooper John Biggs inspects Robert McCuddy’s car lying in a ditch. Honey B. Darling tried to drive the car away after shooting McCuddy. (Baltimore Sun file) (NOLAN / HANDOUT)

As any fan of “Law & Order” can tell you, our judicial system doesn’t always provide resolution, even if a case appears to be a slam dunk. Take, for instance, 1959’s Case of the Stripper Shooter, which which went down in Laurel and appeared in newspapers across the country.

Geneva Gerrard, a 19-year-old stripper (or “exotic dancer” according to some newspapers) at the “Merry-Land Club” on L Street in Northwest Washington, was also known as Jean Lewis, but her professional stripper name was “Honey B. Darling.” She was divorced with a young daughter who lived with relatives in Missouri. The “bosomy young striptease dancer,” as described by The Washington Post, was apparently very popular.

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Robert F. McCuddy, 22, owned a 300-acre farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, and also sold real estate for a time. When he and his wife separated in fall 1958, he closed his real estate office and farmed full time. His wife and daughter moved to Illinois.

McCuddy went to the Merry-Land Club in February 1959 and clearly was enthralled with Ms. Darling’s “dancing” skills. According to The Post, after her performance “at his table she had several champagne cocktails and at least one double bourbon,” claimed Ms. Darling. She didn’t elaborate on what McCuddy drank.

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The details of their encounter are sketchy and one-sided. All of the accounts in the newspapers, as well as statements from the police, originated with the stripper. McCuddy had very little to say.

When the club closed at 2 a.m., McCuddy drove Ms. Darling to her home on 17th Street, NW and waited outside for her. According to The Baltimore Sun, she “dropped off her cosmetic bag. Before rejoining him for a predawn ride into the countryside, she picked up a revolver she had in her apartment.”

Why did she bring a gun? Ms. Darling later told police the .38 caliber handgun, a gift for her protection from another male acquaintance, was “too heavy, and I wanted to show it to him and see if he could get me a lighter one,” according to The Post.

Their “ride in the countryside” ended on a dirt lane next to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway interchange with Route 197 in Laurel (at 3 a.m.). In 1959, Route 197 (Laurel-Bowie Road) was nothing but occasional farms and woodland between Steward Manor Apartments, which had just opened the year before, and Bowie.

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According to police reports, at 3:45 a.m., McCuddy was shot twice in the car, once in the chest and once in the abdomen. Ms. Darling claimed to have looked around for help, but there were no houses in sight. She decided to go for help even though she didn’t know how to drive.

Geneva Gerrard, aka Honey B. Darling, leaves the Maryland State Police Waterloo Barrack after being transferred to the Prince George’s County Jail. At right is Trooper Otis Long. (Baltimore Sun file)
Geneva Gerrard, aka Honey B. Darling, leaves the Maryland State Police Waterloo Barrack after being transferred to the Prince George’s County Jail. At right is Trooper Otis Long. (Baltimore Sun file) (COOK / HANDOUT)

She got behind the wheel (where in the car was McCuddy?) and tried to drive but only succeeded in backing the car into a ditch, its right side sticking up in the air. At this point, she really panicked and ran, shoeless and screaming, until she came upon the home “some distance away” of Mrs. George Henson. Unfortunately, Mrs. Henson didn’t have a phone, but she went to the nearby Binder’s Restaurant and called police for the stranded, strangely dressed girl.

The stripper, who presumably had regained some of her composure by then, returned to the car (and McCuddy) while Mrs. Henson called police. Two Baltimore men, Thomas Willie and Edward Banks, happened on the scene and saw the ditched car. They stopped to help and ended up driving both McCuddy and Ms. Darling to Sibley Hospital in Washington, D.C. While Ms. Darling was treated at the hospital for “hysteria,” according to The Evening Sun, “a gun with two bullets fired was found under the girl’s sweater” tucked into her G-string. McCuddy “was in critical condition after surgery for removal of two .38 caliber bullets,” according to the Bridgeport (Conn) Post.

DC Metropolitan Police arrested the stripper at the hospital as a fugitive from Maryland “after she provided widely divergent accounts of the shooting,” according to The Post. The Women’s Bureau of the DC Police told The Post that “the dancer still wore the G-string and halter in which she performed, under a sweater and leather coat. She wore silver spike-heeled” shoes.

Initially, she told police McCuddy was shot because she “had the urge to kill some man,” according to the Washington Star. During a second interview with police, she changed her story, saying that McCuddy “was shot by an unidentified man who stuck the gun through the window of the car.”

By the time she transferred to the Maryland State Police Waterloo Barrack, her story changed for a third time. According to the New Philadelphia (Ohio) Daily Times, she shot McCuddy when he “started getting fresh.” She reached for the gun, which happened to be on the dashboard, and it went off the first time accidentally as they wrestled, and then again, accidentally, “as he fell towards her.” This was the version of events she wrote down for Maryland State Police, which became her official story.

The next day, Ms. Darling made a Police Court appearance in Laurel before Judge Grover Hall. She was charged with assault with intent to kill and her bail was set at $10,000. After being transferred from Waterloo to the Prince George’s County Jail, she was freed under bond reduced to $5,000 by Circuit Court Judge John R. Fletcher.

About five weeks later, Ms. Darling pleaded innocent to the charges. Her bond was reduced further to $1,000 by Upper Marlboro Police Court Judge Nita S. Hinman Crane and the case was referred to the Prince George’s County Grand Jury.

By this time, McCuddy had recovered sufficiently to be interviewed by authorities. He told Asst. U.S. Attorney John P. Mudd that “he did not know why he had been shot,” according to the Cumberland (MD) Times.

On March 23, 1959, Case #1480 against Geneva Gerrard aka Jean Lewis on the count of attempted murder was presented to the Prince George’s County Grand Jury. The grand jury declined to return an indictment against the stripper.

There are no investigative files available at the Maryland State Archives so it’s only speculation as to why no charges were filed. Did McCuddy refuse to testify? There were no witnesses so that would probably have been enough to drop the case. Slam dunk, indeed.

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