James Moodie (inmate)

James Moodie (inmate)

Next Parole Hearing : February 2025 


Two- year-old Gina Higgs was tortured, abused, sexually assaulted and killed by her half uncle James Moodie

James Moodie
James Moodie
Inmate Name: James Moodie
Inmate Number: A140487
Victim: Gina Higgs
Offenses: Murder; Gross Sexual Imposition
Min/ Max Sentence: 15 Years – Life
Next Parole Hearing: February 2025

Case Summary

Gina Higgs, age two, was brutally tortured, abused, and sexually assaulted by her half uncle James Moodie.Gina did her best to survive for three days until her massive internal injuries were more than her little body could handle. While Gina was suffering through more pain than most human beings could experience in 10 lifetimes, her mother, the one person who was supposed to protect her, stood by and did nothing to save her. A jury found Moodie and Gina’s mother responsible for Gina’s death and sentenced them both to life in prison. Gina’s mother is free and her whereabouts are unknown.

James Moodie Case

WARNING: This case is both graphic and disturbing. Please read with caution.

A Fateful Encounter

In 1974 the devil himself had already arrived on earth. He went by the name James Moodie and he resided in room three at the Homestead Motel in Steubenville Ohio. Moodie, who was given up for adoption by his mother shortly after birth, was raised by his adoptive parents in Steubenville. By the age of 23 Moodie was a high school dropout, unemployed, and had been kicked out of the Navy. He returned to his hometown in late April 1974 and in July was introduced to his half sister, Mary Lou Higgs, by his natural father. It was the first time the half siblings had seen each other in over in over 20 years. That encounter would soon cost two-year-old Gina Marie Higgs her life.

Mary Lou Higgs, age 27, was her mother’s first born child. She and Moodie shared the same mother and had different fathers. Her mother decided to keep her rather than give her up for adoption like Moodie. Mary Lou was the female counterpart of her younger half brother. She was a ninth grade dropout, had no job, and already had all three of her children placed in foster homes. Mary Lou, who was recently separated from her three children’s father, soon got pregnant again by another man. She gave birth to her daughter Gina Marie while visiting an aunt in California. She returned to Steubenville with Gina and the two lived with Mary Lou’s mother.

Almost immediately after seeing her half brother for the first time in 20 years, Mary Lou started visiting him at his motel room. According the Mary Lou she “loved” her half brother. The two started having sexual relations.

A Horrific Child Murder

On July 29, 1974 Mary Lou decided to take Gina with her to spend several days at Moodie’s motel room. After arriving at Moodie’s 10′ x 14′ room Gina had a stomach ache and would not eat. When she whined and cried Moodie became angry and beat her. Moodie then continued to beat, torture and sexually assault two-year-old Gina while her mother watched. After being subjected to non-stop horrific abuse for three straight days Gina stopped breathing. At 12:01 AM on August 1, 1974 Moodie and Higgs boarded Moodie’s motorcycle to took Gina to St. John Medical Center.

Gina’s injuries were shocking to even the most seasoned hospital personnel. She was cold, pale, and had bruises all over her body ranging from new to 72 hours old. She had two black eyes. Her eyelids and face had second degree burns from being held under hot water. Clumps of her hair had been ripped from her head. There were scratches on her back and hundreds of tiny u-shaped pin holes all over the front of her body. Her vagina was blood-clotted and contained long non pubic hair and her rectal area was torn. Gina had vomit all over the front of her clothes. Hospital workers immediately called police and advised them they had an abuse case.

Pure Evil Emerges

Police arrived at the hospital and Detective Ross Mike questioned Moodie. Moodie blamed Gina’s injuries on her eight-year-old brother. He claimed he had sex for three days with his half-sister Mary Lou however he never molested Gina. Moodie admitted to hitting Gina only once with his hand. He said his swollen right hand was the result of hitting a wall because he didn’t want to take his anger out on anyone. Moodie also told Det. Ross he had walked out of the Cambridge State Mental Hospital, while still under psychiatric care, in February 1974 after being there just two months.

Mary Lou Higgs blamed everything on Moodie and admitted she watched the abuse occur the entire time. She told a deputy sheriff “He did it. I’m tired of protecting him.”

Moodie and Mary Lou were then arrested for the murder and sexual assault of Gina Marie Higgs.

When police went to the motel room the learned what kind of depraved monster’s they had in their custody. They found eight pornographic paper back books which showed sexually deviant behavior. Officers also discovered a 556 page hard back book called “The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonism”. The book had the name Mary Lou Higgs written inside of it. Police also confiscated other items including a leather belt, a rug, a sleeping bag and a waste basket containing human hair.

Massive Internal Injuries

The autopsy done by Jefferson Ohio County Coroner Dr. Geary Eicher Jr. revealed Gina’s internal injuries were as horrific as her external injuries. She suffered massive internal bleeding in her abdomen. This was the result of her liver having two major tears, her spleen being nearly torn in half, and the first part of her intestine being completely destroyed. Dr. Eicher advised these injures could have been caused by repeated blunt force injuries to the abdomen during a beating. He said there were stress ulcers in Gina’s stomach which are common before death when stress is present.

Dr. Eicher’s report showed that in addition to the internal bleeding Gina had a fractured skull. He noted the bruises of varying ages all over her body including on her scalp. Dr. Eicher found hairs, similar to the ones pulled out of Gina’s head, inside her vagina and rectum. He found deep gouges, like fingernail scratchings, in multiple places, especially on Gina’s genitalia. Dr. Eicher said Gina’s hymen was torn and her vagina and rectum were both dilated, lacerated, and full of blood. He said that while her vagina and rectum were certainly penetrated, the was no evidence of sperm. Dr. Eicher found dark-blooded vomit in the back of Gina’s throat which matched the vomit on the rug taken from the motel room.

Two Child Killers Charged with Murder

Armed with a wealth of evidence Jefferson County Prosecutor Joseph Loha indicted both James Moodie and Mary Lou Higgs for the aggravated murder of Gina Marie Higgs. Moodie was also charged with gross sexual imposition as the result of the sexual assault on Gina. The indictment said Moodie and Higgs purposely and with prior calculation and design caused Gina’s death. Moodie and Higgs pleaded innocent to the charges. Prosecutor Loha decided not to pursue the death penalty claiming the defendants were not eligible for ultimate punishment.

James Moodie arraignment
James Moodie being escorted to his arraignment in 1974
(Photo courtesy of the Steubenville Herald Star)

Prior to trial Moodie and Higgs were sent to the Lima State Mental Hospital where the were found to sane and able to go to trial.

Moodie On Trial

Moodie’s trial began on Saturday November 23, 1974 in a rare Saturday session. In Prosecutor Loha’s opening statement he told jurors about Gina’s injuries and said she did not stop breathing until 11:30 PM on July 31st, 1974 after three days of constant abuse. Witnesses included law enforcement officers, hospital personnel, and Jefferson County coroner Dr. Geary Eicher.

Moodie’s mother, who was also the mother of Mary Lou Higgs, also testified before the jury. She said she saw no marks on Gina when she got her dressed prior to the trip to Moodie’s motel room. She also told jurors that Gina’s half brother may have pushed Gina playfully however he never beat her as Moodie had stated during his police interview. During cross examination the defense continued to blame Gina’s eight-year-old half brother as well as Moodie’s and Mary Lou’s mother for the injuries. She adamantly denied all the accusations.

The defense also produced a letter supposedly written by Mary Lou Higgs. In it she stated the she told cops the truth that “Jimmy didn’t do it.” She also accused the detective and coroner of lying and said the coroner told her Gina died of natural causes..a heart attack.

Star Witness: Mary Lou Higgs

The star witness at Moodie’s trial was Mary Lou Higgs herself. Mary Lou said she met Moodie the beginning of July through Moodie’s natural father. She said prior to going to Moodie’s hotel room on Monday July 29, 1974 she spent a couple of days with him previously. Moodie picked up Mary Lou and Gina on his motorcycle and took them to the motel.

According to Mary Lou, Gina was in good spirits when she arrived at the motel on Monday however on Tuesday morning she had a stomach ache and would not eat. Mary Lou told Moodie not to force Gina to eat. When Gina started crying and whining Moodie whipped her “hind end pretty hard” with his hand.

That afternoon Moodie picked up a nude Gina and put his finger in her vagina. Mary Lou told the jury “I said quit it – she’s not a full grown woman – she’s just just two-years-old.” She said Moodie refused to stop and she then put a diaper and night gown on Gina. Mary Lou stated every time Gina would try to go to sleep Moodie kept waking her up to use the restroom. She testified, “He just kept waking her up and wouldn’t let her take a nap. He was making her go to the rest room about every five minutes when she didn’t have to go.”

Mary Lou told jurors she put Gina in a tub of cold water on Tuesday afternoon because she was “sort of limp like from not eating.” When Gina began to turn blue Mary Lou called Moodie’s adoptive mother who was a practical nurse. She came to the motel room and wrapped Gina in a loose sheet and a sleeping bag. Before Moodie’s adoptive mother left she told Mary Lou and Moodie that if she caught them whipping Gina she would whip both of them.

After Moodie’s adoptive mother left he got a cold compress to put on Gina’s swollen face. Mary Lou claimed she couldn’t remember why the baby’s face was swollen. Mary Lou got a bucket of crushed ice and put it in bath water. She then put Gina in the freezing water “to help the marks and things all over her.” Mary Lou said the “marks” were from being hit by Moodie with a doubled “home-made” braided leather belt. According to Mary Lou, Moodie inflicted the wounds when he made Gina “use the rest room again.” Mary Lou said she told Moodie to stop hitting Gina and picked up her up however Moodie hit Gina “about 10 times”. Mary Lou said the belt hit her one time on the thigh and she asked Moodie “What did you hit me for?”

Mary Lou stated Gina slept through the night Tuesday and played with a small dog Wednesday morning. Gina would still not eat. On Wednesday afternoon Moodie woke up Gina from her nap and ordered Mary Lou not to put a diaper or pajamas on her. He took Gina into the bathroom again. Mary Lou heard the water running and found that Moodie was putting Gina under a cold shower despite the fact Mary Lou told Moodie that Gina was terrified of showers and should only be bathed. Mary Lou grabbed Gina from Moodie, Moodie grabbed her back, and Mary Lou grabbed Gina again. Moodie became enraged and according to Mary Lou “He started getting mad, whipping her with the belt on the hind end but missed and hit her back and stomach and such”. Mary Lou told Moodie she was going to leave and Moodie grabbed her by the collar, threw her against the wall, and said she and Gina were not going anywhere.

Mary Lou then dressed Gina and left her alone with Moodie while she went to Moodie’s adoptive parents home to get ice and cigarette money. When she returned she found Moodie in a scalding hot shower holding Gina under the burning hot water. Mary Lou said she told Moodie “Jim, she’s not breathing.” Moodie handed Gina to Mary Lou who dressed her and started giving her mouth to mouth resuscitation while Moodie was pressing down hard on Gina’s stomach. Mary Lou said that liquid was coming out of Gina’s nose and mouth at the same time. Moodie then left the room, wearing no shirt, no shoes, and no helmet and road his motorcycle to his adoptive parent’s house. His father told him to get Gina to the hospital. Moodie returned to the motel room and he and Mary Lou took Gina to the hospital on his motorcycle.

Mary Lou had no explanation for the hundreds of small holes in Gina’s body, the massive internal injuries or the injuries to Gina’s rectum. She claimed Gina’s head injury may have happened when Gina fell as they got off Moodie’s motorcycle at the hospital. She told the jury “He whipped her with a belt but I still don’t know what caused her death.”

During cross examination defense attorney’s presented evidence that Mary Lou was not the victim she pretended to be. Hospital workers, a social service case worker, and a deputy clerk at the common pleas court testified about injuries to her other children. Mary Lou’s ex-husband told how she put her other children in scalding water and stuck bobby pins in their ears. A neighbor told about Mary Lou and her mothers temper and said the Mary Lou would run sticks up her own nose and vagina bringing blood.

Gina’s Killers Get Life

After Mary Lou’s testimony Moodie did not have the courage to take the stand in his own defense.

The trial lasted a total of seven days, and the seven woman and five man jury took only three days to find Moodie guilty of the lesser charge of murder and also gross sexual imposition. The jury did not convict him of aggravated murder because they believed he did not premeditate the murder. Moodie showed no emotion when the verdicts were read.

On December 10, 1974 Judge Dominick Olivito sentenced Moodie to 15-years to life for the murder conviction and 1-10 years for the gross sexual imposition conviction. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently (at the same time). Once again Moodie showed no emotion.

Mary Lou Higgs trial took place the end of January 1975. It was held in Perry County rather then Jefferson County due to the attention brought on by Moodie’s trial. The state again presented it’s evidence. The only witness for the defense was Mary Lou Higgs. She again told her story. She told jurors that she had corresponded with Moodie while they were in Lima State Mental hospital and she continued to remain in contact with him. She said she was afraid of Moody however she loved him.

The trial lasted four days and it took the seven woman five man jury and hour and ten minutes to find Mary Lou Higgs guilty of murder. She showed no emotion when the verdict was read or when she was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

One Child Killer Released and Another Eligible For Parole

Both Moodie and Mary Lou Higgs made several appeals to get their sentences overturned and all appeals were rejected.

Mary Lou got her break in 1983 after serving only 13 years of her life sentence. She was furloughed to a half way house. A year later she was granted parole and on April 20, 1989 she was taken off all supervision. Her whereabouts today are unknown.

While Moodie remains in in prison he regularly comes up for parole. In 1999 Moodie was adjudicated a sexual predator, the most dangerous of all sex offender classifications. Moodie had the audacity to appeal the ruling. The court determined all Moodie’s objections had no merit. Court documents cited the fact Moodie still has not taken responsibility for his actions and continues to deny any involvement in Gina’s sexual assault and murder. When asked why Mary Lou Higgs would implicate him rather than take responsibility herself Moodie told the court “Well I know if I’d a did it I wouldn’t have claimed up to it.”

No Parole

There is no doubt the system failed two-year-old Gina Higgs. First, when it allowed Mary Lou Higgs to keep custody of Gina despite the fact she had already had three children removed from her care after she abused them. Second, when it released Mary Lou Higgs after serving only 13 years of the life sentence she received for killing Gina. The injustice needs to stop now.

James Moodie is pure evil. He sexually assaulted, tortured, and brutally murdered an innocent child. It is impossible to imagine the terror, horror, and pain two-year-old Gina Higgs felt in the last days of her life. Although it has been 40 years James Moodie still has not taken responsibility for his actions of shown any remorse for his crimes.

Releasing James Moodie at any point would be a complete injustice to Gina Higgs and would demean his cruelty to her. In addition, it would pose an immeasurable risk to the community, especially to young girls. We believe based on Moodie’s horrific crimes he should serve EVERY DAY of his life sentence. To further the interests of justice and to protect society we urge The Ohio Parole Board to give Moodie the maximum continuance of ten years at all future parole hearings.