“A month ago he was just another student seeking a lucrative career in dentistry. Now he is a hunted man.”
That crazy reversal of fortune–in January 1950–made national headlines and turned Wake Forest College student Raymond Hair into a fugitive whose shocking crime and daring escape rivaled the strangest of Hollywood thrillers.
It began with an all-night card game on December 14, 1949 in which 24-year-old Hair lost big–so big that he wrote checks totaling $400 (more than $4,000 today). His highest payout was to 20-year-old Roy Coble, a recent WFC dropout.
But Hair was writing bad checks and the next night Roy Coble was dead.
It allegedly went down like this: Hair and Coble spent that next night driving around, drinking, and bickering over money. The car was Hair’s. Inside the car was a Coca Cola, a whiskey bottle, a revolver, and a holster.
Eventually they parked on campus behind a dormitory. They argued and grappled over the gun. Hair later testified there was a flash, the gun went off, and Coble was shot through the head.
A short time later the car was involved in a minor accident on campus. The police arrived and found Coble, unconscious and gushing blood, splayed across the floorboard beneath the front seat.
As the officers prepared to take Hair into custody, he escaped and vanished into the streets surrounding the quiet campus. A bloodhound was brought from Wilson Prison Camp, and Hair was trailed throughout the residential part of town–apparently stopping in every garage, checking to see if anyone had left the keys in their car.
The next morning he was seen getting off a bus in his hometown of Fayetteville–and that’s where the trail ended.
For weeks the law couldn’t uncover a single clue.
The month of January 1950 was consumed by a frantic, nationwide search for Wake Forest’s infamous dental student fugitive.
Here’s what actually happened over those mysterious lost weeks:
Raymond Hair arrived in Fayetteville and snuck into his family’s basement. He took some money, food, and clothes. With about $325 in cash, he fled to Washington, D.C. and looked up an old friend who later wired the money to Las Vegas, where Hair collected it under the alias of J.S. Royster.
As it turned out, Hair was an amateur hypnotist and card expert–a real interesting character who proved so elusive the State Bureau of Investigation ended up blanketing the state–and maybe even the country–with more than a thousand flyers featuring his crime, name, and photograph.
It wasn’t until nearly a month later–on January 12, 1950–that Los Angeles police officers burst into a room in the Hotel Cecil and found Hair asleep inside. (Incidentally, the Hotel Cecil is the real-life inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel due to its eerie links to suicides, deaths, and murders.)
Apparently, the police had received a tip, ending the 27-day search. Hair, who was registered under his alias, offered no resistance. He had in his possession a single suit of clothes, an extra shirt and coat, and $165 in cash. He said he’d been trying to figure out some way to get home and “face the music.”
Hair was extradited to Raleigh on January 19, 1950. He went to trial three months later. The jury found him guilty of second degree murder and he was sentenced to twenty-five to thirty years in prison.
In late 1955, citing a “perfect prison record,” Hair was granted parole… closing the book on one of the most sensational slayings in Wake County history and one of the biggest North Carolina news stories of 1950.
In that small, lawful town of Wake Forest, residents were horrified to learn of this ‘killing.’ No one wanted to walk through a dark campus, at Christmastime, for fear of Hair’s elusive whereabouts. I was a teen then. Coble had rented a room in a family home just a block from my house. When the perp was captured, there was RELIEF in our community, which, at that time, never locked its doors!
Remembering the incident; I was a teen, who often walked through the college campus without fear. During that Christmas, since the college was in recess, no one entered. Roy C. rented a room in the home of a relative. The college held a squeaky -clean reputation, and the town was in awe.