The 73-year-old Temple resident is the daughter of Hugh Gravitt, who spent 10 months and 20 days in prison – the entire time in isolation, for his own protection – after having been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell on Aug. 11, 1949. Reports at the time were that Gravitt was under the influence of alcohol and speeding the night he struck Mitchell on Peachtree Street in Atlanta between 13th and 14th streets as she and her husband were walking to the theater.
But Moulder has evidence she believes shows that not only was her father not drunk on the night of the accident, but that he was not driving at an excessive speed, and that Mitchell was struck by his car because she turned back into traffic as he tried to avoid her.
In a new e-book she’s written, “Death of Margaret Mitchell: The Tragedy Behind Gone With the Wind,” Moulder relates the story her father told her shortly before he died. The book is available on most online bookstores.
“My daddy was as much a victim as she was, and this book shows that,” Moulder said. “Everything is in the book. Nobody has ever really looked at it and considered him and what he went through.”
Moulder said her father never spoke about the incident for most of his life, but when he related his version of the August night that changed his life forever, she had no doubt he was telling the truth.
“I was shocked at what he told me, but I believed him because you’d have to have seen his face,” she said. “You had to see his expression. Tears just flowed because it was like he was reliving it. He said there was no doubt in his mind what happened.”
Gravitt was initially charged with murder, though the grand jury indictment that led to his conviction was for involuntary manslaughter. The indictment states that Gravitt was drunk at the time of the accident, though the accident report states that the driver “was not impaired,” even though he had admitted to having a beer four hours prior to the accident.
“Daddy (a taxi driver) was off of work, he’d got off at 4 o’clock, and he had a beer with one of his buddies before he went home,” Moulder said. “When he got home, his stepson was sick, so he was going to the drug store on Peachtree to get medicine for the little boy. He had supper, took a shower and it was more than four hours from the time that he drank that beer until he hit her. He was not drunk.”
Another contradiction Moulder has found is a statement in the grand jury indictment that it was a hit-and-run accident, though a photograph Moulder has of the scene clearly shows her father standing with a crowd that includes police officers and other bystanders as Mitchell lay in the street. Gravitt’s statement about the accident is also included, along with his signature, on the accident report.
“You can see him standing in that picture. He didn’t hit-and-run nothing,” Moulder said.
Though the accident took place at about 8:20 p.m., the photograph shows that it is pitch-black dark in the background, which leads Moulder to conclude that it was taken sometime around 9 p.m. and Mitchell had to have already been dead. Otherwise, she said, emergency personnel would have had Mitchell at the hospital by then. It was reported that she died five days later. Gravitt believed she was dead at the scene because her vitals were taken by an EMT who stood up without administering aid and no one else touched her until an ambulance arrived much later.
“Daddy had been a taxicab driver in Atlanta for many years and had been at the scene of a lot of traffic accidents,” Moulder said. “He said he’d never been to one like that, where they left the victim laying in the street for so long. Daddy said he thought she was dead at the scene because she never moved, and she never made a sound.”
In the periphery of the photograph is Mitchell’s husband, John Marsh, who newspaper reports at the time said cradled his wife’s head in his hands until the ambulance arrived. But Moulder’s father said Marsh never touched his wife or showed any emotion while she lay in the street. It was Gravitt’s contention that Marsh might have pushed his wife because he claims Mitchell threw her hands up and fell backwards in front of the car.
“Daddy told me John Marsh shoved her in front of his car,” Moulder said.
One of two police reports Moulder has obtained states that Mitchell – listed in the report as “pedestrian” – was crossing the street, not at an intersection as it states in the indictment, when she became frightened and turned back into the path of Gravitt’s car after having passed the center of the street.
The indictment also said he was driving at an excessive speed, though the police report states he was traveling between 25 and 30 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour zone.
“This indictment is a joke. A lawyer told him that she was the one that was drunk,” Moulder said. “There was a big cover-up. They covered it up, and I just want the truth out there.”
Gravitt moved in with his daughter in 1991, and she took care of him until he died three years later of lung cancer.
“Before he died, he told me this whole story. All those years, and he never would talk about it,” Moulder said. “He told me that he had never told anybody what he told me. He said he was afraid to tell it because people tortured him for 45 years. He lived in fear. I’m surprised he wasn’t killed because on the anniversaries of her death he would get threatening calls.”
Moulder worked on gathering evidence for nearly 20 years and has been putting together her book since shortly after her father’s death.
“He made me promise him I wouldn’t let this go,” she said. “I want that case reopened, and I want people who know what they’re doing to look at this thing again. The book’s not perfect because I’m not a professional writer, but I did the best I could, and I kept my promise. My purpose for the book is to keep the promise I made to Daddy and try to clear his name.”
Moulder said she’s already getting negative comments from skeptics and fans of Mitchell’s who refuse to believe her story. Though she understands their passion, she doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to hear the facts of the case.
“I can’t believe they don’t want to know,” she said. “I can’t believe her family wouldn’t want to know or anyone who knows anything about this wouldn’t want to know. Daddy and John Marsh were the only people in the world who knew what really happened.”