NewsCovering Kentucky


Cold case: 75 years after Muriel Baldridge's murder, family members remember Prestonsburg teenager

Posted at 7:00 AM, Jun 28, 2024

FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Friday marks 75 years since the discovery of a high school cheerleader's murder shocked Floyd County – and the entire country.

During the summer of 1949, 17-year-old Muriel (pronounced Merle) Baldridge was killed, her body found underneath a bridge.

The notorious cold case has never been solved, but family members hold onto memories of Muriel that have been passed down from those who knew her.

Kristen McClure is Muriel's great-niece. Her grandmother Irene was Muriel's older sister.

She keeps photos of both of them on her mantle and recalls how her grandmother talked about Muriel.

"She was a sweet, very sweet, funny girl," said McClure. "My grandmother spoke of her; it makes me kind of emotional. She spoke of her as if she were the girl that hung the moon."

But everything changed for the family on the night of June 27th, 1949. The popular and friendly Muriel had spent the night at the carnival with friends. Sometime on the way home, she was abducted, beaten, and dragged to the bottom of the West Prestonsburg bridge.

"As a mother myself, when you read those court documents, it does impact you directly," McClure said. "You know, what would I do if something like that happened?"

"It's so tragic when someone passes away so young, especially in such a violent and unnecessary way," said Michael Crisp, the author of Murder in the Mountains: The Muriel Baldridge Story.

He knows the case extensively and explained why it was never officially solved.

"It happened way, way, way before DNA," he said. "So had this murder happened 15, 20 years ago, it likely would have been solved because there was DNA evidence involved with this case."

"You have the small town sheriff, the local police, they're not used to dealing with anything like this," he added.

Initially, a carnival worker named Bill Gamble was charged, but he was released when he recanted his confession.

Then, a prominent Board of Education member named Lon Moles went on trial for the crime – and was acquitted.

"Since then, there's still been some strange things over the years, confessions, recanted confessions, but sadly today there's really still no real hope of it ever being solved," said Crisp.

Most people believe Moles was the culprit, but McClure says justice now will not come from a verdict but from remembering her great-aunt.

"I want people to remember her as the little 17-year-old girl she was," she told LEX 18. "She was a girl. She was a child that was put through this horrific moment in time."

The West Prestonsburg bridge where Muriel's body was found is now fenced off after it was condemned in 1989.

McClure told us her family still visits Muriel's gravesite in the family cemetery in Eastern Kentucky.