These court records sketch the trajectory of the divorce case of Pryor’s parents — and suggest the dramatic circumstances around Gertrude’s decision to file for divorce.

Three years after they were married and five years after Richard was born, his mother Gertrude took Richard away from the red-light district of Peoria and fled with him to her hometown of Springfield, Illinois. According to the court papers, she did not notify the Pryors where she had gone — and they found out only when she filed for a divorce from Richard’s father, charging LeRoy (Buck) with “extreme and repeated cruelty” and enumerating various incidents of physical abuse.

LeRoy countered in court that Gertrude had been faithless and added that he was a veteran.

Gertrude returned that LeRoy was no longer in the military. (In fact, he had received a Section 8 discharge.)

In a decision that had great repercussions, the judge sided with LeRoy, proclaiming that Gertrude was “an unfit person” to have custody of Richard. He awarded full custody to Richard’s father, giving Gertrude no right to visit her son without the approval of his father. It was a curiously extreme decision, one that sent Richard back to Peoria: brothel-bound.