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Did he kill her, too?: An Alabama-related mystery, Part 2


The Greenville Standard


Sarah White McClurkin’s memorial stone in Ebenezer Methodist Cemetery in Oak Hill does not mention her married name of Motherwell.

Perhaps, considering the circumstances of her death, that can be understood.

Whether her drowning was an accident, by her own hand, or by the hand of her husband (Larry Lord Motherwell), no one can say for sure.

Considering her husband’s proclivity for being a con-man and worse, perhaps Sarah’s family thought he had gotten away with killing her, which is why the name Motherwell does not show up on her marker.

But just who was Larry Lord Motherwell?

For starters, he was not even born as Larry Lord Motherwell.

According to Mark Gribben’s online article “Con Man and Killer” on “The Malefactor’s Register” website, “Motherwell was born in Punxsutawney, Penn., in 1916 and was named Frank Eugene Caventer.

“There is nothing in his early life that would indicate that Motherwell, who adopted that name in the early 1950s, had anything but a normal childhood.”

Not much is known about Motherwell’s early years, but the article relates that he moved to Youngstown, Ohio sometime during the 1930s. At the time, he was married with a wife and two children.

To support himself and his family, Motherwell worked odd jobs, and he may have been a “gandydancer,” which was slang for a railroad worker, during World War II.

The article states that one of Motherwell’s earliest instances of being a con man came when he was caught wearing a military discharge button out in public in 1945. Motherwell had not served in the military, and his actions were considered unlawful.

He was arrested for the offense, but that did not stop him from once again trying to pass himself off as a war veteran in 1948.

At some point in 1948, Motherwell moved to Washington, D.C. without his wife or children.

There, he struck up an acquaintance with Pearl Putney, whose story will be featured in next week’s article.

He also got married again.

In 1949, Motherwell married Sarah White McClurkin from Oak Hill.

According to Gribben’s article, what type of relationship Sarah and Motherwell had is not known, but Motherwell still apparently visited Pearl Putney with regularity, hinting that the two may have still been carrying on a relationship.

Of Sarah, Gribben states that she was “a frail lady from Alabama named Sarah McLurken [sic], who worked as a librarian at the Carnegie Institution in Washington.”

What is of more interest is the next detail Gribben mentions about Sarah and Motherwell.

“Four years after they were married,” states Gribben, “Sarah gave birth to a child with Down Syndrome, whom they named Heather Robin.

“At that time, children with Down Syndrome frequently were institutionalized at a very young age, and the Motherwells placed Heather in a Virginia ‘home for retarded children,’ according to press reports.

“Just a few months after Heather was born, Sarah mysteriously drowned while taking a bath. Motherwell reportedly found her floating face up in the bathtub after returning home one day. Police ruled her death accidental.”

Sarah’s separation from her daughter could have certainly caused her to go into a depression, which could very well have led to her taking her own life, but that is just conjecture.

What is certain is that her story ends here, in suspicion.

Yet, for Motherwell, his path of deception and lies was just beginning.

What became of Heather, Sarah and Motherwell’s child? And just who was Pearl Putney?

The mystery continues in next week’s article.

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