Q: Whatever happened to Robert Moore? I think he amassed something like 25 traffic tickets in one year in the 1950s in St. Louis. He was born in 1932, so he would be about 85 today.
P.G.F., of Steeleville
A: For well over a decade, his name kept popping up in St. Louis newspapers as Robert H. Moore, with the “H” standing for “Hamilton.”
But that was only on his birth certificate. It didn’t take long for journalists to turn it into “Hot Rod.”
As you’re obviously well aware, the colorful nickname fit him like a pair of racing gloves. On Dec. 5, 1948, Moore had barely turned 16 when he earned his first ticket by blowing through a stop sign, according to Jim Merkel in his book “The Colorful Characters of St. Louis.”
From then on into the ’60s, he played a game of catch-me-if-you-can with the city and county police and the legal system. Sometimes they did as he racked up dozens of tickets over a roughly 15-year period of putting the pedal to the metal. Most times they probably didn’t. But not even a four-month jail stint could slow down this product of a prosperous Portland Place family.
Some teens might have had at least some fear of God put into them after such an early arrest. Not Moore, who had a habit of almost always getting off lightly thanks to being surrounded by what psychologists would call “enablers.” By the summer of 1949, he had amassed five more tickets when city police caught him racing around the track in Sherman Park near Cote Brilliant. According to Merkel, he stopped only when police fired a shot, and his driving privileges were revoked.
Well, sort of. While he was prohibited from driving in the city, he was still legal elsewhere. Sure enough, in May 1950 police caught him racing a friend at 80 mph down Lindbergh Boulevard. Moore’s father, Dr. Harry G. Moore, wanted him to spend some shock time in jail, but the Automobile Club of Missouri reportedly put up his bail of $300. By the time the trial started, witnesses either refused to testify or vanished.
Eventually, Moore tried to enlist in the military, but they didn’t want him, saying they weren’t running a correctional institution. When Dad took the car away, Mom apparently felt sorry and gave him another, according to Merkel.
Big mistake. His slaps on the wrists were gaining the attention of local editorial writers. “How long are Robert H. Moore, teen-age hot-rod driver, and his attorney going to be permitted to make a mockery of law enforcement in the St. Louis courts?” the Globe-Democrat demanded to know. Even politicians were weighing in. Robert Neumann promised to put Moore behind bars if elected county circuit attorney. In 1953, Boys Town of Missouri begged newly elected Mayor Raymond Tucker to stop this rebel without a cause.
By 1954, Moore finally ran into a roadblock when he pleaded guilty in Audrain County (his attorney had argued he couldn’t possibly get a fair trial in St. Louis) to a felony of leaving the scene of damage to property. After testifying in his own defense and denying that he had been drinking, he was fined $100 and given an eight-month prison sentence. Even his request for a two-day delay of its execution was denied. It was the first time that he would spend more than a few hours in the slammer despite a record of 24 tickets in six years, the Post-Dispatch noted.
However, according to the Globe, he was in blue jeans, not typical prison garb, when he joined his fellow inmates to scrub the floors. He was also found reading papers and books and pamphlets given out by a church group. After just four months, a judge granted him probation if he promised not to drive. Part of the parole required him to find a steady job, and his father complied by setting him up with work at a pharmacy near the elder Moore’s office. Hot Rod had become such a celebrity that the Associated Press took a picture of him at the drugstore shortly after New Year’s Day 1955.
But as he usually did, he thumbed his nose at the courts by promptly applying for an license in Illinois. When the court found out, it revoked his probation, so Moore fled to Chicago. Eventually, Missouri dropped the entire matter, and Moore was free to go on time served.
He continued to pile up more speeding tickets into the 1960s, although his offenses apparently were becoming less flagrant. Then, he seemed to vanish from the headlines, and, as apparently the black sheep, his family’s life as well. In 1998, his brother Harry told a reporter that Robert was selling used cars in St. Charles, but did not know how to contact him.
But at some point, Hot Rod eased off the accelerator long enough to start his own family. When he died Oct. 30, 2010, at age 78, his obituary noted that he was survived by “many” children and grandchildren. And if you look at his Legacy.com condolences book, his kids Tammy, Rob and Kristy all leave short but tender farewells expressing their love and loss.
Thankfully, neither he nor anyone else was injured by his need for speed, but he did leave one other lasting legacy: Officials seem to agree that his constant run-ins with the law was a major factor that led to Missouri’s point system, through which repeated violations could more easily lead to license suspension and revocation.
The discoverer of what planet asked that its moons be named after the characters of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: If you thought your last tires were expensive, consider this: Last June, Z Tyre in Dubai offered a set of four tires for $600,000, earning them Guinness’ title of most expensive ever. In addition to the rubber, they were decorated with 24-carat gold leaf work along with specially-chosen diamond stones. Profits from their sale, however, were donated to charity.