Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Looking back on the history of Crime Stoppers of Rockford

It has been almost forty years since the Rockford Area Crime Stoppers was formed in 1981.  Former Police Chief Delbert Peterson began to develop the program in March of 1980.  Though the stories vary on how Peterson learned of the program, he was intrigued by the thought of a program that united the police department, the local media and the community in order to fight crime.  Rockford was the second city in the nation to adopt the program and it was quickly considered to one of the best of its kind.  The Police Department rolled out the new program on January 1, 1981.

The program’s first coordinator was Charlie Jackson who was a Rockford and Winnebago County Officer.  He was interviewed for a newspaper article to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the program.  Jackson told of the first case solved in December of 1980, before the program even officially launched.  The tip was for a man who had murdered someone in Virginia during 1979.  That man, Robert Lee Word had fled Virginia and settled here in Rockford.  Jackson turned the information in to the FBI and Word was arrested immediately.

Another crime that was solved with help from Crime Stoppers was the horrendous murder of Ethel Safford.  Ethel had married into the well-known family of the Safford’s on December 2, 1925 when she became Mrs. Clyde Safford.  The family is remembered today with a road named for it on the west side.  The couple bought a two-story wooden house at 1511School Street shortly after their wedding.  Clyde worked as a carpenter and Ethel worked at the D.J. Stewart Store in downtown Rockford.  They would live in the home on School Street for the rest of their lives.  Clyde and Ethel were members of the Second Congregational Church in downtown Rockford and it was that church that brought her comfort when she became a widow in June of 1967.  Though the neighborhood had begun to change, Ethel continued to live in the home right up to her 90th birthday.

Her neighbors watched over the elderly woman who by 1983 was nearly deaf and blind.  Ethel referred to herself as the “Old lady on School Street”.  Later, her friends and neighbors would remember her for her wonderful sense of humor and for her kindness toward everyone.  Ethel was described as never having met a stranger and folks spoke of her generosity and general belief in the goodness of people.

In the early hours of New Year’s Day, two men broke into Ethel’s house.  Authorities were called to Ethel’s home by her neighbor Alderman Melvin Anderson.  Anderson had stopped in to check on Ethel and was horrified to find her face down in the dining room of her home.  The elderly woman had been savagely beaten and had a tablecloth tied around her neck.  It seemed a miracle that she was still alive.  Unfortunately, nothing could be done for Ethel and she lingered for five days before succumbing to her injuries.

The neighbor who found her, Alderman Anderson was also the one who contacted Crime Stoppers and started to raise a reward to offer for tips leading to the arrest of Ethel’s killers.  Anderson spoke of one man who came to donate his last $5.00.  The man told Anderson he had been out of work for the past four months but that the news of Ethel’s murder touched him and he felt compelled to help.  Anderson took the money and assured the man that every bit would help bring Ethel’s killers to justice.

Those donations would later lead to the arrest of 26 year old, Ivory Smith and his step brother, Charles Kidd.  Smith lived on Hinkley Avenue, just a couple of blocks from Ethel.  Authorities received Smith’s name in one of the anonymous tips.  Both men were arrested just a couple of days after Ethel died.  Ivory Smith would later be convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison while Charles Kidd was sentenced to life.  Police stated later that without Crime Stoppers, Ethel’s murder might not have been solved.  That was also said about another murder that took place on October 24, 1984 in the 400 block of Island Avenue.  This incident, which was at the time called the most violent incident locally since the Simon Peter Nelson murders, horrified the entire community.

The Winnebago County Coroner at the time was John Seward and he would state that a strange sense of déjà vu overcame him as he first stepped into the scene of the crime.  This feeling was no doubt brought about by the bodies of Betty Moore, 29 and her 8-year-old son, Jesse.  Two more victims were stabbed but would live to testify about the terrible events that brought about the attacks.  Peggy was a friend of the family and had spent the evening with Betty and her three children before falling asleep.  She was awakened by someone pounding on the door at around 10:30 p.m..   Though Peggy was uncertain whether Betty had let the man inside or not, she was able to give the agonizing details of what had taken place.  The man began yelling for money and drugs and when Betty didn’t answer him, the man began to stab her.  He attacked Peggy next, stabbing and slashing at her before she broke away and ran out of the door.  Peggy ran a couple of blocks to her sister’s house and they phoned the police.  The man next attacked 8-year-old Jesse who police suspected tried to protect his mother from a further attack.  The coroner reported that Jesse had defensive wounds on his hands and arms.  The man also slashed at Jesse’s 9-year-old sister before she escaped and hid under a bed.  He left after stabbing both Jesse and Betty five times in the chest.

Everyone in the community was stunned by the senseless crime.  Jesse attended school at King Elementary and his fellow classmates and teachers were hit particularly hard with the news of the little boy’s murder.  Children were frightened and confused by the murder of someone their own age.  No one felt safe.

Hundreds of tips flooded the police department and one of these would lead to a quick arrest.  Richard Kilpatrick was arrested five days after the killings.  He showed no remorse for his actions even as the judge sentenced him to life with no parole.

These are just two of the crimes that would not have been solved without the help of Crime Stoppers.  The program has won many awards and continues to help solve some of the worst cases in our county.  I was contacted by one of the men who founded this organization so many years ago.  In our interview it was obvious that though he was not involved in the Police or Sheriff’s Department and called himself “just a businessman” that he carried great pride for the assistance that he and others like him were able to offer our community.  He asked me not to use his name but stated that he believed that Crime Stoppers made a difference when it was implemented and he believed that even today if more people would understand that they could remain completely anonymous and just come forward, we could make Rockford a better place to live.  He emphasized that is what he valued most about Crime Stoppers, “Everyone can make a difference in making Rockford a safer place to live.”

The Crime Stoppers has a website that is filled with information about unsolved crimes and how members of the community can help.  Please visit http://www.rockfordcrimestoppers.com/ for more information.

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events