FAIRMONT — Before Dr. Charlotte Laws was 26 years old, she had not met her birth parents.
Laws was adopted when she was young, and when she finally met her biological family, she learned of her surprising ties to Fairmont.
Her grandfather, Tucker Moroose, was a victim in one of the city’s most shocking murders.
In 1948 Fairmont resident and devil-worshiper Ernie Yost shot and killed his wife, Nellie, and her lawyer, Moroose, in his downtown office before turning the gun on himself.
Yost had suspected the pair of having an affair.
When Laws was in the early stages of learning what had happened in her family, it brought tears to her eyes. She was also learning for the first time of her Italian heritage through her grandfather.
“I just felt such a connection to my grandfather, and I really feel very much a connection to that family,” Laws said. “I just welled up with emotion essentially, and then my academic self kicked into gear and I started investigating.”
After five years of research Laws is set to release her book on the murders and the circumstances surrounding them.
As time went by Laws said her search became more about satisfy her need to find the truth and less about satisfying her heart’s need for closure.
“Even though it made headlines across the nation at the time, it was very limited in what it said in the newspapers,” Laws said. “I thought it was really important that the entire story be told.”
Her first trip to Fairmont was in 2012, when she met numerous family members, but the bulk of her in-town research was done in 2016.
Yost was one of the nation’s first documented Satanists, though his crime had less to do with Satanism and more with his suspicions of infidelity.
Laws said that when she visited in 2016, the affair rumor still permeated the town, but none of her, nor Nellie Yost’s relatives believed it had validity.
Through her research she found out that in the 1930s and ‘40s there was an anti-cult mentality in the media, through movies and news reports, and felt it was possible Ernie Yost was influenced by those materials.
In fact, etched into Ernie Yost’s front steps was “Hell’s Half Acre,” possibly a reference to a traveling sideshow of the time by the same name.
She learned that Ernie Yost’s hometown, Mannington, also had its fair share of local ghost stories, and thought that might be a part of his introduction to the occult.
Ernie Yost had also planted bombs in the basement of his Fairmont home, which exploded later in the day after the murders. When police searched the home they found a life-sized satanic effigy of his wife.
This story was originally going to be an 800-word part of her memoir, but as she continued to look into it, she realized it needed its own book to be told properly.
The prejudice faced by her family as Italian-Americans was also fascinating information for her to learn, and something she felt warranted investigation.
Other than the families involved in the incident, Laws found that most people she spoke to did not have a great aversion to the subject. In fact, most were fascinated to learn more.
The impression she got from her family members in Fairmont was that they were still upset with Ernie Yost for what he did. Her relatives even refused to get out of the car when they visited Ernie Yost’s house on two occasions.
“It’s just painful for them I think,” Laws said. “My mother even said she was having trouble reading the book.”
Likewise, the Yost family was hesitant to talk to her. Most family members she tracked down were unaware of the story other than that Yost had killed himself.
The few members who did know the full extent of the crime didn’t readily share it with the others, and Laws got the impression that she exposed a family secret.
“I don’t think they were upset with me, just a little reluctant to talk to me maybe because they feel bad,” Laws said. “Even though it’s not their fault, maybe they feel responsible or think I’m upset with them, which I’m not of course.”
Laws was dismayed that she could not obtain a picture of Ernie Yost however, despite her attempts to acquire one from family and former employers. One family member had even cut him out of their photos and thrown away anything of relation to him.
“Devil in the Basement,” which will be released March 14, documents the case, Yost’s history as a devil worshiper and Laws’ family struggle with racism as Italian-Americans.
Visit devilinthebasement.com for more information.
Email Carter Walker at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @carterw284.