In Roy Moore’s hometown of Gadsden, Alabama, the fact that the current GOP Senate candidate dated teenagers was hardly a secret, according to two new reports.
The New Yorker’s Charles Bethea reported Monday on rumors that Moore was banned from the local mall for repeatedly trying to pick up teenagers — finding “more than a dozen” people who said they had heard about the ban (although they weren’t all sure it really existed).
And Gadsden residents told AL.com, the website of several Alabama newspapers, that Moore’s habit of “flirting with and dating much younger girls” was well-known.
"These stories have been going around this town for 30 years," Blake Usry, who grew up in the Gadsden area, told AL.com’s Anna Claire Vollers. "Nobody could believe they hadn't come out yet."
The reporting fills in more background on the unspooling narrative about Moore’s indiscretions, and suggests that at least in parts of his home state, rumors about them have circulated for years. Five women, including a new person who came forward on Monday, have now accused Moore of inappropriate contact with young woman in the late 1970s, when they were teenagers and he was a prosecutor in his early 30s.
Roy Moore reportedly spent a lot of time at the mall
The Gadsden Mall — a teenage hangout in the town — has been a recurring theme in stories about Moore.
Sources recounted to the Washington Post that Moore had a reputation for walking around the mall alone, “well-dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt.” At least two of the women who spoke to the Post said Moore had first approached them at the mall. Gloria Thacker Deason said she met Moore while working at the jewelry counter in a department store in 1979 when she was 18, and Wendy Miller said she first met Moore when she was 14 and working at the mall as a Santa’s helper. He approached her again when she was 16, she said, also at the mall.
The Gadsden residents who spoke to AL.com offered similar accounts — that Moore frequently spent time at the mall, flirting with teenagers who were much younger than he was.
Moore and his defenders have questioned why the stories about his alleged sexual contact with teenagers are only coming out now, decades later, in the heat of a Senate race. Both the New Yorker and AL.com accounts suggest that in some parts of Alabama, these stories have long been well-known.
More than a dozen people told the New Yorker that Moore had been banned from the mall, including former mall employees and two local cops. Some were not sure whether a formal ban actually existed, though the stories about Moore and his interactions with teenagers were notorious. As one man who grew up near Gadsden told the magazine:
Us kids would congregate outside on the sidewalk near the theater after the mall closed on Friday and Saturday nights. Anyway, when asked why they had to keep an eye outside, they said that some older guy had been trying to pick up younger girls. They didn’t go beyond that but one of the concession workers whispered to us later that it was Roy Moore he was talking about.
The sources told the magazine that the then-district attorney had a reputation for approaching young women at the shopping center.
“The general knowledge at the time when I moved here was that this guy is a lawyer cruising the mall for high-school dates,” a law-enforcement officer told the New Yorker, adding, “I heard from one girl who had to tell the manager of a store at the mall to get Moore to leave her alone.”
At least one person, who managed the mall from 1981 to 1998, confirmed the existence of a banned list, but denied that Moore’s name was ever on it.
Moore has derided the latest allegation as “absolutely false” and also vigorously denied the initial Post story — though he did not dispute that he had dated women as young as 16 in a Friday interview with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. His campaign did not respond to the New Yorker’s request for comment.