Andrew Dys

Brothel dispute led to killing of York Co. officer 98 years ago; now it’s news again

It all started with a brothel, run by a hard old woman named Mary Brown. Ninety-eight years later, after a cop was killed in the tiny hamlet of Sharon, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant wants that little-known, part-time officer who made a living shoeing horses honored.

The offense was so long ago, and so obscure, that a wanted poster for two outlaw brothers who killed the officer, T.R. Penninger, was found in a house two counties over during a renovation. That poster was the first clue it had ever happened.

“In York County, we honor every police officer who gives his life for the public,” Sheriff Bruce Bryant said.

Bryant wants Penninger’s name honored not just in South Carolina, but on the national fallen officers memorial in Washington, D.C.

But first, he needs help.

Because nobody knows if Penninger had family, or if any of them are still alive. The national honor requires family requests, documentation and more that right now law enforcement does not have.

Sharon Mayor Beverly Blair put it this way: “Police officers today put their lives on the line for all of us - this man did it so many years ago and he deserves to be honored.”

Around noon 98 years ago Friday, on Sept. 30, 1918, after a dispute over his mother’s brothel, the older of the Moore brother scalawags, Mills Moore, shot Penninger in the back after a dispute at Penninger’s blacksmith shop.

The brothers not only didn’t want to pay a $10 fine to get the family jalopy out of hock, they argued with the Sharon mayor and made threats. Then they followed through after Penninger tried to arrest them for causing a ruckus.

Frank Moore, the younger scoundrel, knocked Penninger over the head with a pistol. Mills Moore finished off Penninger in the coward’s favorite fashion - two shots in the back.

The Moores eventually were caught in North Carolina and Mississippi after a South-wide manhunt that featured flyers offering a $700 reward, which amounts to about $12,000 in 2016 money. Frank eventually broke out of prison.

T.R. Penninger, the blacksmith and part-time cop, dropped into obscure history until the flyer was found recently.

Trent Faris, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, researched records and found that Penninger’s son was the only survivor of a train wreck in the 1920s in Shelby, N.C., about 25 miles northwest of Sharon, but the trail has gone dry.

“We are hoping someone knows how to find the family, where we can find records, pictures, and honor this man,” Faris said.

An officer in Shelby, just a month ago, was killed on duty while serving a warrant. No different than Penninger 98 years ago. Bryant wants Penninger honored, even if it is almost a century later.

Want to Help?

Contact the York County Sheriff’s Office at 803-628-3059; email; or write to 1675-2A York Highway, York, SC, 29745.