The night the woman called herself Fannie Hill, she had told the desk officer in the precinct that she was from Orangeburg, S.C. It is the name of both a city and the rural county where it sits, about 60 miles from Charleston.
In 2012, the 1940 United States census became available online to the general public, a page-by-page trove for historians and armchair ancestry buffs.
The New York Times searched the census pages from Orangeburg, looking for any of the names the woman used in New York. There was a tantalizingly close match to one of the names the woman gave the police, Evelyn Moore.
On one page of the census, among other family members in a crowded house, a female was listed under the name “Moore, Elvin.”
A census worker visited May 14, 1940, but most of the questions would have sought information as of April 1, 1940, the official date of the census. Little Elvin was listed as being four months old — corresponding to the date of birth of Dec. 3, 1939, that was given by the woman, calling herself Fannie Hill, when she was arrested in 1968.
According to the census, the little girl lived with siblings, aunts, an uncle, a grandmother. And her mother, a woman with a name that, spelled differently, would appear on that desk blotter years later, perhaps as her daughter thought quickly for an alias.
The little girl had a brother, Jacob, 10, and two sisters, Pearlie and Martha, listed in the census, all older. Searches for their whereabouts last year were largely fruitless. Record-keeping was not consistent in poor, black counties like Orangeburg in the middle of the 20th century.
There were others in the house. The girl’s mother, Fanny, had a brother named Leroy Jones, 19 then, who lived there with his wife, Darcus Jones, 18 — the little girl’s uncle and aunt.
Mr. Jones was listed as a farmer, and Fanny Moore, a “farm laborer,” both reporting zero wages or salary.
They lived near the town of Bowman in Orangeburg County.
Old Reevesville was a dirt road in 1940, and it remained a dirt road earlier this year, when The New York Times paid a visit. The road has been renamed Wayside Drive, and part of it had been relocated by several hundred yards.
Walter Minus, 87, grew up on that road, and was 10 in 1940. He remembered the teenage husband, Mr. Jones — they were lifelong friends.
“Big old wooden house,” Mr. Minus recalled. “Lots of rooms in it.” But he did not know them all, and had no recollection of the infant girl.
His father picked cotton and carried it to a market in a horse-drawn cart. His sister, Janette Minus, 79, remembered other children — “The girls played jacks with peach kernels,” she said — and walking barefoot to the all-black, five-room Bowman Rosenwald School nearby, but did not recall the Moores specifically.
The Moore house seems to have emptied soon after the 1940 census. Public records show that at some point, the teenage husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Jones, moved to Philadelphia.
Public records show the Joneses started a family, including two daughters, Barbara and Delores — cousins of the girl “Elvin.”
A telephone number was found for Barbara, now 70, and she answered.
Yes, she said, she did indeed have a cousin, named Evelyn, not Elvin. She said she hadn’t seen Evelyn in many years and did not know what had become of her.
Evelyn, when she was little, attended the Sleighton Farm School for Girls in Philadelphia, Barbara said, describing it as a place for chronic truants. After that, Evelyn left Philadelphia for New York.
In the 1960s, when Barbara was a teenager, Evelyn would drop by the family’s house unannounced. “She would come like once a year with a friend,” she said. “The person didn’t really come in. They stayed outside.”
Evelyn dressed exotically — “like a boy,” Barbara said.
Barbara’s sister, Delores, 75, (both women asked that their last names be withheld because of the nature of the crime at the center of this story) remembered the visits as well.
“She’d pop in every now and then,” she said. “She would speak, ask how everyone was doing, and then disappear.”
Barbara said she did not know what Evelyn did in New York. She said no one really asked.
“You don’t want to know all that,” she said. “It’s like you’re getting into their life or whatever.”
Then one day, Evelyn left after a visit and never returned. The sisters were surprised when, after their father died in 1981, Evelyn did not attend the funeral, but by then they hadn’t seen her in years.
Barbara agreed to look at the 1969 police photo of the woman. A reporter sent an image to her, and the black-and-white photograph appeared on her phone’s screen. Barbara looked and gasped.
“My God,” she said. “Yes.” She choked out a quick sob and said, “At least now we’re done wondering.”
The state police may soon be done wondering, too, about her identity. Investigator Salomon located one of little Evelyn’s siblings from the 1940 census: Jacob Moore, 10 years old then, 87 now, living in Philadelphia in the home of his caretaker. He has been mentally disabled all his life and has relied on the care of others.
He vaguely remembered Orangeburg — “It was country, a farm,” he said in a recent interview. And he remembered a baby sister. “She didn’t want to go to school,” he said. “Hollering so much.” He did not recognize the police photo or remember seeing his sister grown.
The state police took a swab of his saliva for a DNA comparison to the body in the woods. The results are pending.
On the Dangerous Turf of Nicky Barnes
Douglas, the teenager in 1970 who drove around with the woman he called A.C., clearly remembers the last time he saw her. The two of them had just left Shirlene Dixon’s apartment, and a car approached and stopped.
As he tells it, two “butch” females emerged from the car, grabbed A.C. and drove away.
“That was their world,” he said. “That was the type of people she was dealing with.”
She never came back. Life moved on. “ Not that we didn’t like A.C. or miss A.C., because I did,” Douglas said. “In a world of drugs, people were always coming and going.”
That particular corner of the world of drugs was soon to become notorious. The arrival of the woman from Orangeburg on the streets of Harlem roughly coincided with that of Leroy Barnes, a living legend in the neighborhood who was better known as Nicky. In 1965, three years before the record of the woman’s first arrest in Harlem, a newspaper article described Mr. Barnes as “one of the biggest distributors of narcotics in Harlem and the Bronx,” arrested with $500,000 worth of drugs in his possession.
“Me and Jazz covered the West Side,” he wrote in his memoir, “Mr. Untouchable,” “but only I got the Marketplace on Eighth and 116th, power alley of the Harlem dope scene. It was just spectacular.”
In 1968, the woman who used the name Fannie Hill was arrested two blocks from that corner, holding the gun with four bullets.
Investigator Salomon said he believes there is enough overlap between these two heroin dealers — one starting out, one king of the neighborhood — that they may have interacted.
Mr. Barnes testified against his former partners and went into the witness protection program in 1998, where he presumably remains, with no news to the contrary. He would be in his mid-80s. The state police have appealed to anyone with information on the case to call 845-782-8311.
Or perhaps she passed through the heroin kingpin’s neighborhood of choice as invisibly as she would pass from life a few years later. Having cycled through her many identities — little baby Evelyn with the misspelled name, and Fannie and Shirlene and A.C. — she would spend a far longer span of time with the label scrawled on the ledger of the potter’s field beside grave No. 537, one both factually lacking and yet wholly accurate in describing who she was, how she came to be in that grave and who put her there.