Like a smile with a broken tooth, the former site of Claypool remained a vacant lot for over a decade (Courtesy Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

Like a smile with a missing tooth, the former site of the Claypool remained a vacant lot for over a decade. (Image: Bass Photo Company Collection, Indiana Historical Society)

It would be unusual for a hotel to advertise that “*fill in the blank famous person* died here!” However, when tragedies occur, the general public tends to have a long memory, perhaps sharing in whispered tones what infamous activity happened over there. If the infraction were grave enough, it might send a place into ruin. Perhaps distressing events of the past contributed to the decline and eventual downfall of the Claypool Hotel? You be the judge. Beginning in 1943, a series of high-profile crimes and a large fire occurred in the hotel, casting a dark shadow over the massive property.

The first incident took place on August 28, 1943, during the height of World War II. Maoma L. Ridings, a 33-year-old woman from Warm Springs, Georgia, was serving in the Women’s Army Corps at Camp Atterbury, when she headed to Indianapolis for a date. The evening came to an horrific end. Around 8 p.m., a hotel maid discovered Ridings’ body in Room 729, evidently murdered, with a broken bottle of whiskey. Police searched for an elusive woman dressed in black, the last person spotted with Ridings earlier in the evening.  Although many leads were pursued, the crime remains a cold case to this day.

Just over a decade later, tragedy struck again. In July 1954, Dorothy Poore, an eighteen-year-old woman from Clinton, Indiana, came to Indianapolis seeking employment in civil services. Though not a registered guest of the hotel, she spent her last night there. Her body was found in a sixth floor room, stuffed into a dresser drawer. The room was registered to a man named Jack O’Shea. Using finger prints and handwriting samples, police discovered this was an alias of Victor Lively, registered at another area hotel under that name. He was not to be found in Indianapolis; police arrested him near St. Louis, Missouri, on July 23.  He was found guilty of murder on December 2, 1954, giving Poore’s family the closure that the Ridings family never received.

A large gala was held in 1969 the eve of the impending Claypool demolition. The Zebrowski sign refers to Ed Zebrowski who's comany was responsible for the destruction of many an Indianapolis landmark including the Marion County Courthouse, Maennerchor Hall, and Pythian Building (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

A large gala was held in 1969 on the eve of the impending Claypool demolition. The Zebrowski sign refers to Ed Zebrowski, whose company was responsible for the destruction of many Indianapolis landmarks including the Marion County Courthouse, Maennerchor Hall, and Pythian Building. (Image: Indiana State Library)

In 1967, the hotel underwent a number of updates. The rooms were renovated, and the exterior was sandblasted to brighten the facade. The effort was in vein. In the early morning hours of June 23, fire broke out in a utility closet on the fourth floor. The fire, most likely caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette, smoldered for hours before being discovered. Over 300 guests had to be evacuated, including the Tacoma Cubs AAA baseball team and the Fraternal Order of Eagles, who were having their convention in town. Although the fire was contained to the utility area between the fourth and fifth floors, heavy water damage from the firefighting efforts flooded the lobby and rendered more than 80 rooms unusable.

Rather than attempt to restore the damaged hotel, the owners opted to close the building in hopes of developing a new hotel on the site. Legal problems caused by first-floor retail tenants delayed demolition for another two years. An attempt to redevelop the site in the late 1970s included a Radisson Hotel, but nothing came of it. Finally, anticipating a downtown revival, Simon Property Group constructed Claypool Court on the historic site. The project included restaurants and retail outlets on the lower floors and a high-rise Embassy Suites Hotel.

What memories do you have of The Claypool Hotel?

The modern Embassy Suites hotel sits on the former site of The Claypool (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

The modern Embassy Suites hotel sits on the former site of The Claypool. (Image: Indiana State Library)

Printed Sources

Indianapolis Times, June 14, 1950

Indianapolis Times, December 12, 1953

Indianapolis News, June 23, 1967

Indianapolis Star, November 7, 1971