Road Rage

Somebody badly wanted 32-year-old Dorothy Moormeister dead. So badly that on February 21, 1930, the killer not only hit Dorothy with her own limo, but he (we’ll use the male pronoun for simplicity) backed up and ran over her body for good measure. Five times. By the time he was done with Dorothy, she looked more like a pile of rags than a life-in-the-fast-lane gal who cavorted with Hollywood stars and Persian princes.
There is plenty of mystery and romance surrounding Dorothy’s unsolved murder and no shortage of suspects.
She came from humble beginnings, born Grace Dexter Hugentobler in the very small town of Salina, Utah, shortly before the turn of the century. She was known as one of the prettiest girls in Sevier County, which isn’t saying much since it’s sparcely populated, and graduated at the head of her class.
Along the way Grace adopted the name Dorothy, but depending on who you asked, she was known as “Grace,” “Dorothy,” or “Dexter.” At the inquest into her death, the coroner simply referred to her as “Mrs. Moormeister.”
After school she worked her way to Provo, where she waited tables and dreamed of a Hollywood career. She never made it into the movies, but she did eventually get to rub elbows with the glitterati through her 1928 marriage to a wealthy widower, Dr. Frank Moormeister. Frank brought a young daughter, Peggy, into the marriage and for a time they all seemed happy — or at least contented. At some point, however, it became clear that Dorothy was more interested in Frank’s friends than in him.
In 1929 the new family headed to the continent and while Frank traveled to Amsterdam, Marseilles, and North Africa, Dorothy and her stepdaughter enjoyed the high life in Paris.
It was in the City of Lights that Dorothy met Prince Farid Khan Sadri-Kajar of Persia. The two quickly became friends and Peggy later intimated that the prince and Dorothy might have become quite close.
“She cared for the prince, and he cared for her,” she testified at the coroner’s inquest. “She had him in our apartment for dinner many times, we strolled together, and I saw him kiss her good-bye when we left for home.”
Peggy never told her father of Dorothy’s relationship with the prince, who continued to write to Dorothy after the Moormeisters returned to Utah.
Another witness at the inquest, Larry Potter, who is described in newspaper reports as “a man about town,” confirmed and elaborated on Peggy’s story.
“We took a ride in her car for half an hour,” he said. “She told me she was desperately in love with another man, that she was going to get a divorce and marry him, and settle down in Los Angeles.
“Yes, she told me he was a prince and she expected him to be here early in the spring. She said that her husband did not know, that she was careful he would not know.”
That all was not well in the Moormeister household was made apparent at the inquest.
“She told me her husband required her to be home for dinner every night and to go to bed early,” Potter testified.
“She told me all about falling in love with this prince, who was an intimate friend of her husband. ‘I used to think of nothing but money, but now I think only of him — the prince,’” he quoted Dorothy as saying.
Testimony at the inquest revealed that Frank kept a photograph of Prince Farid and his son in his bedroom, but was ignorant of Dorothy’s attraction to the Persian.
“He never thought she cared for the prince,” Peggy testified.
Frank confirmed this.
“I didn’t suspect any intimacy between the prince and my wife until I read a letter she received from him,” he said on the stand at the inquest, adding that he did not read the letter until after Dorothy died and he was going through her things.
Frank Moormeister made it clear he was naive and ignorant of his wife’s secret life.
“Prince Farid and his son were with Mrs. Moormeister when I arrived back in Paris after one of my trips, but I considered it just a matter of courtesy,” he said.
In addition to the prince, Dorothy was also involved with a Salt Lake mining engineer named Charles Peter, another acquaintance of the doctor’s — a man who certainly had reason to hold a grudge against Dr. Moormeister.
In 1924 Peter was tried in federal court of using the mails to defraud in connection with a mining venture. Frank testified against him at the trial. The conviction was later reversed by an appellate court and dismissed.
Peter was in love with Dorothy, but his affection was not returned.
“Charles once expressed a wish that ‘you can learn to love me like I love you,’” Amelia Hugentobler testified at the inquest. “(Dorothy) told me ‘I would not have Peter — the lop-eared fool.” Amelia was Dorothy’s sister.
Something else, more sinister, was hinted at during the inquest, but never followed up: Dorothy told her sister that she could “easily get a divorce from the doctor with $80,000 besides.
“I have something on the doctor he knows nothing about,” Amelia testified that her sister told her. “He would give me $80,000 to avoid publicity.”
On Valentine’s Day 1930, Dorothy took a nighttime ride with Peter when their car got stuck in some mud. While freeing the car Peter’s clothes become covered with dirt. Amelia, who had been living in the Moormeister home for the previous three years, asked Dorothy what Peter’s wife would think.
“It doesn’t matter,” Dorothy dismissed her concerns. “He’s going to get a divorce anyway.”
A week to the day after her drive with Peter and a subsequent row about the incident with Frank, Dorothy dressed in her finest clothes, including an ermine cape, and adorned herself with more than $12,000 in jewelry. She wore one of her prized pieces — a large diamond she purchased (or received) in Paris. It appeared that she was planning a long trip: when her car was found in Ogden, it held a large suitcase stuffed with Dorothy’s clothes.
Around 5 p.m. she slipped into the driver’s seat of her limo and left her home for the last time. She dropped in to see her husband who was working with his nurse, Pearl Evans, at 6 p.m.
Hours before her battered body was found on the Provo-Salt Lake Highway, Dorothy was reportedly seen near an Ogden rooming house with another woman. An Ogden woman was struck by the “French doll” hanging in the window of a large sedan parked by a rooming house whose location she could not recall. She reported her sighting to police after a photograph of Dorothy’s car with the “French doll” was published.
Repeated internet searches only turn up “french dolls” the type of which Dorothy would not be caught dead havingin her car.
The clue never panned out, and that was the last time anyone could report seeing Dorothy alive. Her car, however, was seen tooling about Salt Lake City as late as 10 p.m.
Around midnight, Ray Peterson was driving home after completing his shift at a local copper mill. Weary and lulled by the drone of his car engine, Peterson nearly hit a bundle of rags in the middle of a lonely road about a mile outside Riverton, Utah.
He sat down for a midnight snack at home and told his wife about the rags. Something about the pile bothered him, he said, and they decided to investigate.
They found a horrible sight. Anyone who has seen a bloody vehicle-deer accident on a highway can imagine what they saw.
Pieces of clothing were strewn around the dirt road. In the center lay Dorothy’s bloody and battered body, face down in the mud. The coroner later reported that nearly every bone in her body was broken. A trail of blood and body parts ran for 30 feet on the gravel road. The only solace anyone could take was that it appeared Dorothy was already dead or unconscious before her body was so abused. Her skull was showed signs that she had been struck with great force and had not been damaged by the auto. The coroner reported that her skull was shattered by a heavy rock found nearby. She also had a black eye as if she had been struck with a fist. Her left forearm also remained untouched by the car but had a spiral fracture, as if it had been severely twisted.
Police found evidence that a struggle had occurred in the car as it careened down the road, based on the tire tracks leading to the crime scene.
Robbery was probably not the motive. Not only because robbers do not typically show such rage, but not all of her valuables were taken. Her expensive ermine cloak was destroyed and her diamond and platinum wedding ring was still on her finger. Two jewel-encrusted bracelets, one of which contained the diamond she acquired in Paris, were missing, along with an emerald ring. The value of the jewelry was set at $12,000.
Dorothy’s car was later found in Ogden, with evidence that it had been the vehicle that had destroyed her body.
At the inquest the coroner tried to link Dr. Moormeister to the crime as he appeared to have the best motive. He managed to elicit testimony from one detective who said that the doctor was able to identify Dorothy’s body at the scene despite the fact that the mangled corpse was still face-down in the mud. Frank, however, had an alibi in his nurse, who confirmed that he was with her all night.
The inquest ended as one might expect: the jury issued a verdict of homicide by person or persons unknown. The police investigation stalled as the few clues at the scene and in the car led nowhere.
A year later, however, Carl Peter was arrested for Dorothy’s murder after a witness came forward and swore that Peter was the driver of the car the night Dorothy was killed. The man told police that he was forced to slam on his brakes to avoid Dorothy’s car as it crossed the center line. The man’s girlfriend, who was with him at the time, identified the car but could not ID Peter. Another witness, unable to identify Peter, said she saw a man park Dorothy’s car in the spot it was found and hurry away from the scene.
The charges were later dropped as the case was considered much too weak.
Dorothy Moormeister’s murder went cold until 1964 when an inmate in a Texas jail confessed to the crime and was put on trial. He was quickly acquitted when it turned out that he had confessed simply to get out of what he considered appalling jail conditions and had learned details of the case from a detective magazine.
The murder remains unsolved.
p.s. Prince Farid eventually married the ex-wife of the founder of the Kresge drug store chain and they lived happily ever after.