'A gentle man,' a violent end
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Molle Jr.'s house looks like something from a different era, in much the same way that George Molle Jr. sounds like a man from a different era.
He flew bombers over Japan during World War II. He drove his sister to ballet practice. He went to work at the factory every day, the same factory where his father had worked. After his father died, he became live-in caretaker for his ailing mother. He was a quiet, private man and a lifelong bachelor.
All the while, the ever-busier, more commercialized modern world kept encroaching on Molle's small Kanawha City home at 4907 MacCorkle Ave.
On one side of Molle's two-story house is a United Bank. On the other is an apartment building.
Looking out from Molle's well-manicured front lawn, there is an Exxon-One Stop, a 7-Eleven, a Shell station, a cosmetic surgery office and a Sub Express.
There aren't a lot of other houses on the block. In fact, there are none. Molle's is the only single-family home remaining on MacCorkle Avenue in the 3-mile stretch between the 35th Street Bridge and the Yeager Bridge.
The homes have disappeared, replaced by gas stations, doctors' offices and fast food.
As everything changed around him, Molle remained in his childhood home. He lived peacefully there for 85 years . . . and he died violently there in early January.
'He can't help what his son does'
A mile from Molle's home is the Kanawha Mall.
But before the Kroger and the Gabriel Brothers, the Taco Bell and the China Buffet, the site of the Kanawha Mall was home to the world's largest plate-glass factory.
George Molle Jr. went down the road to work as a glasscutter at Libbey-Owens-Ford, every weekday for 40 years. Other than his time as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, it was the only job he ever had.
It was practically the only job his father ever had.
George Molle Sr. moved his family from Marietta, Ohio, to the little house in Kanawha City in 1927 to work at the glass company. George Jr. was 5 years old. Five years later, Molle's younger sister was born in the house. George Jr. would live in that house for the next 85 years, until he was murdered in his home earlier this month, allegedly by a man who had performed lawn care for Molle.
Dave Caldwell's company had been doing yard work for Molle for six or seven years, Molle's sister, Mary Lou Morrison, said.
"He was a very fine man and he thought so very much of my brother," Morrison said of Dave Caldwell. "He can't help what his son does."
Caldwell's son, Anthony David Caldwell, had been working for Molle for two or three years, Morrison said.
Police say that, on Friday, Jan. 3, Anthony Caldwell showed up at Molle's door and entered his house. A struggle ensued and Molle was found dead on the floor with a large amount of blood coming from his mouth, according to the police report. A bloody hammer was found in a Dumpster nearby. No motive was given, but a jar of change and a cigar box containing money reportedly were missing.
Police arrested Caldwell, who then confessed, four days later.
Molle would have been 91 on Jan. 13.
On that Friday night, Molle's neighbor, Larry McGinnis, was the first person to notice something was amiss, after Molle didn't turn his back-porch light on.
"He turned it on to let me know that he had made it through the day, and in the morning time, he would turn it off to let me know that he made it through the night, and that was just our way," said McGinnis, 71. "If he forgot to turn it on, I'd just call him and say, 'What's the problem,' and he'd say, 'I forgot,' or 'The light bulb burned out,' or something."
McGinnis's father worked with Molle at Libbey-Owens-Ford. He ran a saw, cutting the wood to make the boxes to ship the glass that Molle and others cut. McGinnis' grandfather worked at the plant, too, as a supervisor.
"I knew George, but I didn't know him," McGinnis said. "You just didn't see George out very much. He just kept to himself. He was a very nice person; he just never bothered anyone."
'He always said he had a good life'
Molle played the bell lyre (kind of like an upright metal xylophone) in the Charleston High School Marching Band. He graduated in 1941
After Molle finished high school, he began a three-year apprenticeship under his father, at the glass plant.
"That kind of business was family, and it was passed down, from father and son on down," Molle's sister recalled. "It was a good job, and he just stayed with that."
But Molle's apprenticeship was interrupted by war.
Molle was drafted into the U.S. Army. He did basic training at King College, in Bristol, Tenn. He also had stops in Avon Park, Fla., and Macon, Ga., before he was sent to Okinawa, where he was stationed during the war.
As a pilot, he flew missions in the Pacific Theater in a B-25 Mitchell, a twin-engine medium bomber.
His sister said he loved flying but didn't pursue it after he came home and rarely talked about his wartime service.
"At that time, I was only about 12 and my brother did not talk a great deal of it, it was just something that was in his past," Morrison said. "A lot of men like to talk about it and discuss it, but he didn't. He was just a quiet person. He did his duty and came home and wanted to put it behind him."
Molle returned home and resumed his life.
He became a full-time glasscutter and joined the union.
Every day until the plant closed in 1980, Molle would use a steel and copper tool with a diamond point -- a little smaller than a hammer -- to score and cut glass to customers' specifications.
He played the vibraphone (another variant on the xylophone) in two dance bands through the '40s and '50s: the Johnny Combs Orchestra and his father's band, the George Molle Orchestra.
"He was about the best vibes player in the area," Morrison said.
He joined the local musicians union.
He drove his sister and her friend to and from practice at the Charleston Ballet.
"I met Mary Lou at the Charleston Ballet and I lived in the East End then," said Jean Moran, who was 19 when she first met Molle. "He would always drop me off. We lived where the Culture Center is. I always thought he was so handsome -- he was about 33 then -- I guess I had a little crush on him."
Moran and her husband ended up buying a house on Staunton Avenue, not far from Molle in Kanawha City. She still dances ballet once a week, on Tuesday nights, with Morrison and others.
Molle retired when Libbey-Owens-Ford closed in 1980. The plant, which had about 1,200 employees in the 1950s, was down to about 300 then.
Molle's father had died eight years earlier and Molle became almost a full-time caregiver for his mother, until she died in 1987.
For 30 years, Morrison had been visiting from Huntington, once a week or so, first to help with their mother, and then to help Molle with his own health and doctors appointments and such.
More recently, she would come and stay for a few nights to help out.
"She'd always ask him what he wanted to eat," Moran said. "She would make a big pot of vegetable soup with beef, or a beef roast, and then he would eat off that."
Morrison and Moran each described Molle as not just a gentleman, but a "gentle man."
The three of them celebrated Molle's 90th and Mary Lou's 80th birthday last year with a dinner at Bob Evans.
"He was a contented man," Moran said. "That's a good word for George. He always said he had a good life."
Reach David Gutman at email@example.com or 304-348-5119.