The Sledding Tragedy Of Little Nannie

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Sledding has been a past time for children for many generations.  During the late 1800s one of the areas that offered this activity was Rockford’s southwest side on Knowlton Street.  At that time, Knowlton Street ran all the way down to the Rock River.  The river was narrow at that point and would freeze over completely and the children were able to slide down several blocks of the street and shoot out onto the ice.  The children would slide on Knowlton even when the river wasn’t frozen they just needed to stop their sleds before it reached the water.

The Flenniken sisters had been sledding on Knowlton many times and there was no indication that Saturday, February 16, 1884 would be any different than their previous occasions.  Nannie was nine years old and her older sister Maggie was 11.  The girls were joined by their friend, Mamie Mosher, that day.  The hill had been busy that day and there were many children coasting down the street.  Each of the three girls had her own sled and Nannie was all set to go down first.  Maggie and Mamie watched as her sled flew down the street.  They were horrified to see the little sled containing Nannie slide onto the ice where the ice was thin.  There was nothing they could do to stop the sled as it slid into the cold water of the Rock River.  Maggie ran to help her sister and she too fell into the frigid water.  Mamie was close to Maggie and bravely grabbed one of her legs to pull her back onto the solid ice.

After saving Maggie, Mamie reached out and caught Nannie’s mittened hand.  Nannie screamed for her to hold onto her.  But to the horror of the girls, Nannie’s hand began to slip from the mitten.  Nannie screamed, “I can’t hold on any longer.”  With these words she slipped under the surface.  That would be the last time Nannie Flenniken was ever seen alive.  Both Maggie and Mamie began to scream for help.  Mrs. P.H. Welsh who lived at the foot of Knowlton Street heard their screams and she along with another neighbor, Mrs. A. Bessey, ran to assist the girls.  But the women were too late to save little Nannie.

The police were notified and the search began.  It was decided that the river should be dammed.  Twenty five men cut holes in the ice and inserted huge timbers into the holes. They also stretched netting between holes in the swiftest part of the current.  The men were so determined to retrieve the little girl for her mother that they worked late into the night on Saturday.

On Sunday, February 17, hundreds of men volunteered to join in the search for the little girl.  They cut channels in the ice and dragged lines with hooks through the water.  The men retrieved the little girl’s sled and one mitten but no other sign of the little girl was recovered.

Nannie was the daughter of T.M. Flenniken.  He was a well-known Rockford inventor.  Mr. Flenniken had been dead for several years prior to Nannie’s accident.  His widow lived with the couple’s three children in a nice little cottage down by the river.  Mrs. Flenniken sent the girls to the butcher shop on the day of the accident and had no idea that the girls were sledding until someone came to tell her of the tragedy.

Later, a reward for 100 dollars was offered when the little girl was not immediately recovered.  It was not until February 26 that Nannie’s body was discovered by Sylvester Scott.  Later, Scott would suggest that a locket be given to Mamie Mosher as a reward for her bravery and quick thinking in saving Maggie from the same fate that Nannie suffered.

Mrs. Flenniken lived until 1898 but everyone who knew her stated that she never recovered from the death of her little girl.  Her friends all said that part of her went to the bottom of the river with her daughter on that cold February day.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rockford’s First Christmas Tree – History Of Giving

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The lighting of the Christmas tree during ‘Stroll on State’ is the official start to Rockford’s Holiday Season.  This event brings the holidays to life for thousands through displays of lights, good food, and markets to shop.  Entire families brave all kinds of weather to see the lighting of the tree and share in the celebration.

This is a contrast to celebrations of the holidays in Rockford’s past.  According to an article from 1942 in the Register Republic, Rockford did not celebrate the holidays during the early days.  The article quoted Miss Mary Bigelow who was the head of the Rockford Public Library during the time.  She stated that “it was due to the fact that during that era most Rockford residents were from New England where the Christmas celebrations were regarded with suspicion.”

Further research produced an article from the Morning Star dated December 24, 1911 that explained Miss Bigelow’s comment.  It stated that while some Rockford citizens were of Puritan ancestors and did not believe in reveling the day, there were many of German stock that delighted in celebrating in the tradition of their homeland.

The article continues with a description of the first Christmas tree that was in the home of Rev. Augustus H. Conant who was the pastor of the Unitarian Church from 1857 to 1861.  The Reverend used the tree in his home to “bestow happiness” in the families whose children attended the church.  It was decorated with handmade ornaments of transparent bags filled with candy and fruit donated by the ladies of the church.  The tree also included strings of popcorn and cranberries and was light by small candles.  The families all donated gifts for the children that included dolls, sleds, skates, mittens and scarfs.  The article mentioned that during this simpler time the gifts that were chosen gave the receiver comfort during the long days of winter.

The families of the church gathered in the little home on the corner of Green and Church Streets for the festivities.  The families all brought dishes of food to pass and the anticipation of the children grew as they awaited the arrival of Santa Claus.  The jolly old elf finally made his appearance to hand out the gifts to the children saving the fruits and candies for last.  The popcorn though used as a decoration was also devoured.

Rev. Conant served his congregation until 1861 when the call came for men to join the fight for the Civil War.  He became the Chaplain for the 19th Illinois Infantry Volunteers.  Rev. Conant died of pneumonia brought on by exposure and exhaustion on February 8, 1863 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The first public tree in Rockford came in 1913.  It was displayed in front of a community center organized by the Rockford Woman’s Club called the Montague House.  The Rockford Woman’s Club was granted permission by the Rockford Park District Board to use a house on Rockford’s south side.  The house was sold in 1957 and is now used for the Zion Baptist Church at 604 Salter Avenue.

The center opened in 1913 and offered activities to immigrant families that were settling in Rockford.  These activities varied through the years but included sports, music and art classes and educational programs.  The ethnic groups included Italians, Lithuanians, Greek , Germans, Irish, Jewish, Swedish, Poles and African Americans.

L.W. Thompson was in charge of the Montague House in 1913.  He really wanted to make Christmas a community event and came up with the idea of a Christmas tree display.  Thompson approached several organizations to assist with the project.  He contacted the Rockford Electric Company to donate the lighting of the tree and the women from the Rockford Woman’s Club helped gathered funds for presents for the children.  Soon everything was in place except for the tree itself.  Everyone involved must have begun to panic when there was no offer for a tree.  Finally, at the last minute on December 20, Mr. John Andrews offered a 20-foot tree from his house on School Street.

The tree was moved on a wagon to its new home where it took “10 men and about 100 willing youngsters” to hoist the tree into place.  The Register Gazette article from the day stated “A Christmas spirit is enveloping all of Rockford.”

Over 1,000 people crowded the area to help celebrate with the families of the Montague House.  There was a choir that sang Christmas songs as the tree was lit for the first time.  A cheer went up from the crowd that could be heard over most of the downtown area.

It was in the vision of people such as August Conant, the Rockford Woman’s Club, and L.W. Thompson that helped start the Rockford tradition of celebrating this time of year as a community.  The article from 1911 captures the thought elegantly, “the fruits of love whose seeds were sown through the influence of the tree and in many thoughtful acts have been blossoming and maturing seeds for the bettering of children and for all mankind through the years.”

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Thou Shall Not Covet

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The events that took place on November 7, 1948 happened so quickly that witnesses would find it difficult to remember the exact sequence.  There were other details that were abundantly clear, however.  When it was all over and the smoke had cleared, two men lay dead and a young woman was missing.

Events leading up to the tragedy had begun months earlier when two couples moved next to each other on North Second Road.  Glen Marsh and his wife, Audrey, moved into a small house right next to Vernon and Catherine Anderson in March of 1948.  They had a lot in common and quickly became friends and managed to find time to get together during that spring and summer.

It was during this time that Glen and Catherine, or “Kit” as she was called, began to spend more time together away from their spouses.  Soon, Glen went from being smitten with the pretty young housewife to completely obsessed.

Kit returned Glen’s affections but she started to feel guilty about the affair and decided to take a step back.  She went for a visit at her parent’s house in Michigan to think things over.  Before Kit left she told Vern of the affair.

Kit’s father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Grant Muhrlein, brought her back to Rockford in early November.  Kit made the decision to stay with her husband.  Vernon and Kit decided to start over and planned to move to Michigan.

Glen’s wife, Audrey, told Glen of Kit and Vern’s decision probably hoping that this information would make her husband realize that the affair was over.  If Audrey thought that this would end Glen’s infatuation with Kit, she was wrong.  The news made Glen enraged.  He grabbed something from his chest of drawers and left the house.

Audrey, frightened by her husband’s reaction, went to the Anderson’s house to warn them.  Vernon decided that it might be safer for the family to spend the evening at his parent’s house on Sixth Street.  Kit’s father accompanied them.

That evening when they were preparing dinner, the whole family gathered in the kitchen.  Vern’s sister, Mabel, was sitting the three young Anderson children at the table while Kit helped Vern’s mother, Gertrude, finish the cooking.  Kit’s father, Grant and Vern were also in the room.

Vern’s mother heard a soft tap on the door and before Vern could stop her, she had opened it.  Vern shouted, “Mother, don’t open the door.”  Getrude screamed as Glen forced his way into the room with a gun in his hand.

Gertrude stated in her testimony later that everyone was yelling and that Glen came in shooting.  She saw her son fall to the ground first and then Grant.  Gertrude shouted to Kit to “Run for your life.”  She saw Kit run into one of the bedrooms before Glen shoved her against the wall.  He told her that if she was quiet no harm would come to her.  Gertrude screamed.  Glen shoved the gun into her stomach and pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire.  Glen raised the pistol and struck Gertrude on the head with the butt causing her to collapse on the floor.

Glen chased after Kit and dragged her from the house kicking and screaming.  He forced her into the car waiting at the curb and then he drove off into the night.

Gertrude regained consciousness only to find the two men dead in the kitchen.  Vernon and Kit’s children had witnessed the whole horrible event.  The police arrived quickly and took everyone’s statements.  The search for Vern and Grant’s killer and Kit’s abductor began.

Several hours later and 100 miles away, a car pulled into a motel parking lot.  When Glen left the car to enter the office Kit realized that this might be her only chance to escape, so she grabbed the gun that Glen had left on the seat and ran.

Glen knew any further escape would only postpone the inevitable so he made his way back to Rockford and surrendered to authorities.

The courts decided to hold separate trials for the two murders.  The trial for Vern was held in January, 1948.  The jury acquitted Glen of the murder of Vernon Anderson.

The trial for the murder of Grant Muhrlein was held in May of 1948 and ended in a conviction for murder.  Glen was sentenced to 199 years in prison for the death of Grant Muhrlein.  He was paroled in December of 1963 but was sent back to prison when he stole a gun.  Marsh was paroled again and two months later in August of 1967, he was killed in a car accident near Peoria Heights, Illinois.

 

 Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Remembering Rockford’s Role In The Civil War

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

John Travis served in the Rockford Rifles as a part of the Illinois 45th Regiment.  It was Travis’s job as the Commissary Sergeant to make sure the soldiers had enough rations and supplies.  But Travis took his job further and would run food and coffee to the men on the front lines.  He also assisted in the dangerous job of pulling the injured from the battlefield.

John died in February of 1862 during the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee.  His death would be the first of too many men from Winnebago County that fell during the terrible war.  His body was pulled from the battlefield and hurriedly buried there in the hills of Tennessee.  But unlike others that would fall in the war, his body did not stay in that faraway place.  A friend of John’s, Mr. Israel Sovereign, decided that he would make it his quest to bring John Travis’s body home to Rockford.  He overcame near impossible obstacles to reach the battlefield where John was buried.  He removed the body and brought it all the way back here to be buried where his friends and family could honor him.  It speaks volumes to the level of respect and admiration that people held for Travis that anyone would make such a dangerous trek into the heart of the war.

Rockford’s role in the Civil War is made up of hundreds of small stories such as John Travis’s.  One story that takes place on the same battlefields as John’s was written about in an article on February 27, 1862.  It is the story of a group of volunteers who left Rockford and traveled to the Fort Donelson battlefield.  This group consisted of several doctors and other civilians.  They traveled by train to Cairo, Illinois where they boarded the steamer Memphis.  The article told of the difficult trip and of the horror the group felt as their neared the battlefield.

When the volunteers finally arrived in the Fort Donelson area, they were greeted by Major Nevius who warned the group that the fighting had been fierce and they must prepare themselves for what they were about to view.  Of course, all were still shocked and appalled as they were led into the hospital.  They saw hundreds of injured men “cut to pieces in every conceivable way.”  Their shock turned into despair as they began their bloody work.  Two of the group, Dr. Richings and Dr. Strong, would spend over six straight hours amputating and dressing the limbs of the wounded from the battle.

The next morning Major Nevius took them onto the battlefield where even more dreadful sights awaited them.  “On rising the hill the realities of the horrors of war burst upon them with all their force.”  Mangled and rotting corpses of men and horses from both sides of the battle lay in all directions.

They made their way through the appalling scene to the camp of Major Melancthon Smith and the rest of the Rockford boys who were touched to see someone from home.  They all expressed their gratitude to the group and to the citizens of Rockford who had sent them.

The men spent some time visiting with the survivors of the battle and were saddened to hear the news of the death of John Travis.  As the burial crews moved onto the battlefield to begin their grisly work, the volunteers from Rockford rode away.  Their next stop was the steam ship City of Memphis.  The ship was being used as a hospital and on the decks lay over 300 wounded men.  As the group made their way onto the ship through the wounded, they could tell that the majority of the boys would not recover from their wounds.  But to their credit, they did not hesitate to assist in any way they could.

Again Doctors Richings and Strong helped with amputations and other surgeries.  They expressed surprise when they were introduced to General Grant who had come aboard to check on the conditions of “his boys” as he referred to them.  After several agonizing hours the men left to return to the camp.  They collected letters that the Rockford boys had written to their families back home and then once again headed to the battlefield to work on the wounded.  The men left after another day of operating on the wounds of the soldiers.  According to the newspaper, this was the first time such a group was sent to the front lines of battle to assist the wounded.  Unfortunately, the opportunity for this service would arise again.  Though the Union victory at Fort Donelson gave people hope that the war would soon be over, it would rage on for another three years and claim many more Rockford lives.

The History Of The Manny Mansion

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The distinctive limestone house that sits on the west bank of the Rock River is best known today for being a part of the Burpee Museum of Natural History.  The museum is a gem itself and is a must see for visitors and locals alike.  While many visitors may come to see the dinosaurs and other remnants of creatures that lived here long ago, few may realize that the home attached to the museum is quite haunted.

The house was built in 1852 by John Coleman, who moved his family here from New York.  The family lived in the house all the way through 1864, when John Coleman became ill and the decision was made to sell the house to John Pels Manny.

John Pels Manny’s family came from New York.  He met and married Eunice Hicks in 1848.  By 1852, John had begun to work with his cousin John H. Manny to design reapers for wheat, and the decision was made to move to Rockford.  John’s family had begun to grow, and though the number of children born to the family by 1864 is unclear, the fact that most of them passed away quite young stands out.

The family moved into the lovely home and improved the property . By 1867, Eunice had given birth to at least five children and lost all but the eldest boy, George.  When their youngest daughter, Katie, was two, she contracted tuberculosis and died on February 16, 1867.  It was said that Eunice’s heart broke with the death of yet another baby and she passed away a little over a month later, on March 23, 1867.  John built a beautiful monument at Greenwood Cemetery to honor his family.

John P. continued to invent many different farm machines, and his contribution to the Manny reaper blades was monumental.  He opened the John P. Manny Company with partners Elias Cosper and Melancthon Starr.  John Pels eventually married a daughter of Melancthon, Florida Lucretia, in 1868.

The couple lived in the limestone house and had five children there.  One of their little ones, Lucretia, also died young, only reaching one-year-old before she passed away in 1872.  John P.’s reaper business ran into financial issues in the 1880s, and the family sold the house to the Nelson family (of the Nelson Knitting Company fame) in 1889.

John Pels died in 1897.  He was elected president of the West Side Cemetery Association, which later become Greenwood Cemetery, in 1876 and served on the board until his death.  His death was sudden and caused by typhoid, which came from drinking contaminated water at the cemetery one day while he was working there.  His death struck the Rockford community hard, and the newspapers were filled with tributes from his fellow businessmen.

Some of the museum staff claim to hear old-time music playing, doors that open and close and lights that seem to go off and on without any reason.  The most widespread claim is the small shadows seen that dart from room to room, especially on the second floor.

The Manny Mansion was one of the grandest homes in Rockford.  The house was always very beautiful, but during the time the Manny family occupied it the house became the center of Rockford’s social scene.  There were lavish parties thrown with orchestras on the lawn, carriages lining the lantern-lit driveway and the impressive guest lists.  There were also beautiful weddings and several funerals conducted in the home through the years.

Psychic Sara Bowker has worked with Haunted Rockford during events at the mansion and shared the impressions of the people that linger in the building.  She has sensed the two Mrs. Manny’s.  Each woman claims to be the true mistress of the house. The two wives are aware of each other but never communicate.

But it is the children who are the strongest presences in the home.  According to Bowker, the children run up and down the stairs, and their shadows are the ones that have been seen going from room to room.  They like to play tricks on the staff by turning on and off lights and shutting or opening doors.

During one of the paranormal investigations, the name Nelly was picked up on an EVP.  This claim was validated by researching the census records.  The family had an eighteen-year-old servant girl named Nelly living with them in 1880.

John Pels and both of his wives, Eunice and Florida, loved their distinctive home on North Main Street and were very proud of it and their contributions to the Rockford community.  Some say the Manny family is still proud that the Burpee Museum of Natural History continues their legacy of serving families in Rockford and the surrounding area.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Terror From The Depths

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Sometimes while digging through old newspapers stories I come across strange little tidbits of history that surprise even me.  This is one such story.

It takes place in the small village of Cherry Valley.  Cherry Valley was first settled in 1835 and named Grigg’s Mill after settler Joseph Grigg built a mill on the Kishwaukee River.  Even today the streets of the little village offer the charm of a quaint, small town.

During the years of 1835 to 1841 bandits ran rampant in northern Illinois causing all sorts of chaos by robbing homes, stealing livestock, highway robberies and murder.  The newspapers from the time are filled with terrible stories of innocent people that became victims of this heartless band of outlaws.

At this time a small pond was located inside Cherry Valley Village limits named Robinson’s Pond.  The pond existed as long as anyone could remember.  No one knew how deep it was though many attempts were made to find the bottom.  Plummets were sent down at increasing depths all the way to 80 feet without any evidence of hitting the floor.  It was also a mystery how the pond held its depth without any clear outlet or inlet to feed into the water.  These mysteries became the foundation for many rumors during the early days of the settlement of the village.  It was declared that during the wild days of the Banditti of the Prairie the bodies of the victims of the band of thugs were dropped into the bottomless pit that would later become Robinson’s Pond.  Whether it was rumors such as this or just the bottomless depths of the dark water, the pond became the subject of many conversations among the townsfolk.

In the fall of 1885, rumors of another kind also concerning Robinson’s Pond began to circulate.  A strange creature had been sighted by several dozen witnesses.  This monster was described as being between 10 to 100 feet long, which one supposes gives a clue to how big the pond actually was.  Its body was dark green in color that lightened to a yellow hue on the belly and neck area.  A long fin ran down the back of the supposed sea serpent.  The head was described as being shaped similar to a dog and the mouth was large and contained a double row of sharp teeth.  The bellows of the animal were said to be quite chilling and compared to that of a hippopotamus.  Many of the reputable townsfolk had proclaimed to either seeing or hearing the terrifying creature.

This ‘Marvelous Monster’ as it was dubbed in the newspapers was seen over a course of several years and the notifications of sightings came in clusters leading witnesses to speculate that the pond’s depths led to some outlet that the beast could access.  The sightings seemed to reach a critical point in August of 1885 when it was decided that the creature must be caught and put on display before being sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Bands of armed men along with many of the townspeople began to patrol the area of the pond awaiting the next sighting.  There was even talk between Constable Reed and a Dr. Bean mentioned.  For some reason, Dr. Bean had access to many sticks of dynamite and wanted to use these to blow up the sea serpent.  Luckily, some other men with cooler heads theorized the ‘Winnebago Wonder’ (another nickname given to the beast), could just use the endless depths of the pool to avoid the blast.

The possible end to the myth was conveyed in another article when witnesses watched as a large head reared from the water.  The creature began to snack on some plants before it headed toward shore.  The crowd drew back in fear as the beast neared the bank.  Some of those present even covered their eyes when the creature’s horrid body was finally revealed as it climbed from the water.  Those men that were armed opened fire on the large creature.  The beast flailed and contorted on the bank for several minutes until it finally died. T he crowd must have been very excited to witness the end of this creature that had terrorized this little village for years. T he ‘Winnebago Wonder’ was placed on display for all to see.

One of the articles stated that when the animal shot that August day was examined it was declared to be a very large muskrat.  This led to the rumor that maybe the poor animal shot that day was not beast everyone was seeking and that maybe that creature still lurked under the dark water of Robinson’s Pond.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Phantom Of The Third Ward

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The third ward of Rockford was a bustling place in 1885.  People came and went at all hours of the night and day.  Things changed for the folks of the ward during the fall of 1885.  Incidents began to occur which had people so frightened they were reluctant to leave their homes after dark.

The reports all were the same.  People that worked outside of the ward traveled back late in the evenings to their homes.  Almost every night as the time approached midnight, anyone who might wander the streets of the downtown area was met by a horrific sight.  These people all described the incidents the same way.  First, they had the feeling of being watched then the hairs on the back of their neck would rise.  Suddenly, a swirling mist would appear before them.  This mist would slowly solidify until it turned into a skeleton which began to glow.

As sometimes happens in cases like this, word about the nightly visitor spread.  While adults were too frightened to be on the streets after dark, the children of the city had the opposite reaction.  They flocked to the area, hoping for a glimpse of the glowing midnight wanderer.

One night in early November, a band of small children were playing a game of hide and seek in the territory where the luminous spirit traveled.  The children were flitting about, squealing and laughing while they searched for the perfect hiding spot.

One little boy determined to locate the most secluded spot, wandered into a back yard.  He squeezed down beside a small barrel that he found.  This barrel provided an excellent hiding spot for the little boy, especially since it was covered by a large cheese box.

The boy hid so well in fact that the other children soon tired of looking for him.  They all thought that the little boy had left for home.  The darkness grew in the time the boy huddled there waiting for his friends.  The lad, once so excited about his wonderful hiding place now grew frightened.

The boy began to imagine all sorts of horrible creatures and finally grew so frightened that he decided leave his hiding spot and race for home.  When he stood up, he accidentally knocked the cheese box off the barrel.  He picked up the box to replace it and glanced into the barrel.  The little boy was horrified to see a decayed skull staring back at him.  He covered his eyes with both hands, blocking the ghastly vision from his sight and began to scream.  His screams brought neighbors running.

Authorities would later theorize that someone had decided to dig up a previously buried body and placed it in the barrel.  Newspaper articles about the event did not elaborate how they came to that decision, however.  The articles stated that police had questioned the people in the neighborhood, relentlessly searching for answers.  The people who lived in the house reported that the barrel had just appeared in their yard one day.  According to their statement, they had never bothered to remove the cover and look inside.

The authorities never identified the body or found the cemetery that it was taken from.  The recovery of the body did have a positive effect, however.  The glowing spirit that once terrified the people of the third ward was never seen again after the reburial of the bones.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

One Of Rockford’s finest

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

There is a saying that life can change in an instant.  This story is definite proof of that.  In 1972, Charles J. Williams must have felt that he was a lucky man.  Just 28-years-old, he was married to a lovely woman named Mary and had two children; Suzanne Marie, who was 2-and-a-half years old, and Jeffrey Allen, who was just 6 months old.  Charles’ parents didn’t live in Rockford but were still close enough that he could help his father with the family farm in Apple River.

Charles graduated from Warren High School in 1962 and joined the service.  He served his country in two tours in Vietnam.  Charles was seriously injured during his service and his father worried about him while he was so far away.

In fact, his father was still worried about him and felt that Charles had traded one danger for another since he had become a Rockford Police Officer.  Charles’ father and his wife Mary would both beg him to be careful when he left for work.  Charles would flash his big grin that he was known for and say, “Nothing is going to happen to me.”

Charles couldn’t know that his luck was about to run out and that one instant would change his family’s lives forever.

On May 31, 1972, Charles left to meet his partner, David Henrekin.  They both loved being policemen.  David would later state that they were more like brothers than partners.

The two officers were on patrol and they were sent to Forest Avenue for a call when the received another one sending them to the Lantow Drug Store on 7th Street.  They had just been advised it was an armed robbery when they spotted a car that matched the description given over the radio.

Charles stepped from the car to approach the suspect’s car while David picked up the radio.  One man walked toward Charles as the radio squawked out the description of the man involved in the robbery report.  David looked down for an instant at the radio to turn the sound down.  When he looked back up the suspect had drawn a revolver and was pointing it at Charles.

When David saw Charles start to move right he thought he must be diving out of the way so that David could return fire.  That is when David heard the gunfire.  The suspect fired four times and David returned fire.  David saw Charles on the ground and gave chase to the fleeing suspect.

David lost the suspect in the West State and Waldo Street area.  By the time he returned to the scene, policemen were rushing to the area to assist him.  Charles was sent to the hospital as police began their manhunt.  They recovered what would later prove to be the weapon that was used to shoot Charles from a front yard on Forest Avenue.

Police began questioning everyone.  They were given a tip about a man holed up in an apartment on South Main Street.  When they arrived, they arrested 22-year-old Leon G. West.

Shortly after the arrest of West, Charles’ was pronounced dead at 12:33 a.m. on Thursday, June 1.

Charles J. Williams’ funeral was held at the Apple River Methodist Church and he was buried at Warren Cemetery.  Over 1,000 people attended the services including over 200 police Officers from the Rockford Police Department.  Other policeman and state troopers from as far away as Chicago and Indiana attended.

Newspapers would later report that his lovely wife, Mary, remained stoic until the part of the ceremony when she was presented with the American flag that was once draped over her husband’s casket.  Her sobs echoed along with the sounds of the song Taps across the little cemetery.

At the trial in November 1972, it was brought out that Leon West was on parole for a former armed robbery conviction when he shot Charles.  West was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 100 years in prison.

The people of Rockford showed their appreciation for Charles’ sacrifice and support for his family by donating $30,000 in his memory.  Hopefully, Mary and Charles’ parents could take comfort that all the men who served with Charles would later describe him as one of the best men they ever knew.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Vicious Jealousy Of Joseph Maurice

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

At first no one paid much attention to the loud voices coming from the apartment on the southwest side of Rockford on February 3, 1929.  The young couple who lived in the upstairs of the house on Wall Street fought quite frequently.  They moved in shortly after their wedding on July 23, 1928 and their marriage was described as rocky by all who knew them.

Their marital disputes all came from Joseph Maurice’s jealousy over his wife.  Josephine was described as very beautiful.  Joseph was 31-years-old and employed as a laborer at the Gas Company and Josephine, only 24, worked at a local factory.

The neighbors became concerned when the loud voices turned into terror filled shrieks that were suddenly cut off only to be followed by the blast of a gun.  Some of them ran for help while others rushed to the Maurice home.

The police arrived to find the neighbors standing outside of the house.  One neighbor, Mariano Markise, stepped forward to accompany the police into the building which was now eerily silent.

The first thing that they noticed as they started up the stairs was a pool of blood about halfway from the top.  They followed the blood trail up the stairs where they noticed a rocking chair at the top.  The chair appeared to have been brought to the landing from the interior of the apartment.

When they stepped into the little kitchen they were met by a horrific sight.  Josephine was on the floor with her face covered in blood.  A bloody knife lay on the table.  Police were shocked to realize that the woman was still alive.  She was rushed to St. Anthony’s hospital.

The police continued through the rest of the apartment where they found Joseph’s body in the bedroom.  He was on the floor in a pool of blood with a gun next to his left hand.  It appeared that he had shot himself in the left ear.

The police on the scene searched for evidence while others rushed to the hospital where they hoped Josephine would be able to shed some light on what actually happened between her and Joseph.  Their questions would have to wait, however.  Josephine had life-threatening injuries and was in surgery when the police arrived to question her.

In fact, Josephine’s injuries were so extensive it would be a full month before Coroner Julian could present all of the facts to a jury at an inquest.  Josephine was the only witness as she described the events that had taken place on that cold February evening.

Josephine testified that she went home after work and was met by Joseph.  She could tell he was in a foul mood so she left to visit nearby relatives.  When she arrived home at 9 p.m. that evening, she was hoping that Joseph’s rage had cooled.  That was not the case however, and she was startled to see Joseph sitting in a chair at the top of the stairs.  Josephine started to climb the stairs.  Joseph rose from his seat and walked down to meet her.

They began to argue and Joseph followed Josephine into the kitchen where he suddenly grabbed a knife off the table and began to slash at her.  Josephine would suffer nine different cuts to her face and neck, some running all the way from her forehead to her chin and others stretching from ear to ear.  She also received defensive wounds on her arms and hands as she tried to protect herself from the murderous rage of her husband.  Josephine lost consciousness and slumped to the floor.

Believing he had killed his wife, Joseph walked into the bedroom, pulled his revolver from a drawer and shot himself in the head.  He died instantly.

Joseph’s funeral was held at St. Anthony’s Church and he was buried in the Catholic Cemetery.

Josephine, who was once described as being so beautiful, was disfigured for the rest of her life by the wounds that her husband had carved into her face.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Enigmatic Dr. Elisha Dunn

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

It seems that many people in Rockford knew of Elisha Dunn.  But they differed in their opinions about him.  Some saw him as a healer, a medical doctor who saved lives.  Others labeled him an eccentric man who once thought himself a psychic.  Many others, less kind, called him a fraud, swindler, and a liar.

Certain facts are known, of course.  Elisha Dunn was born in New York state on July 27, 1840 to Hiram and Charlotte Dunn. His parents moved the family to Sandusky, Ohio when Elisha was three-years-old.  The family stayed in Ohio for six years then they moved to Battle Creek, Michigan.  It was while he was in Michigan that Elisha met Carrie Etts.  The two fell in love and were married on July 27, 1859.  They came to Rockford in 1863 and Elisha bought property around the Fairgrounds Park area on West State.  The couple had two children that survived, one girl named Aeola and a boy, James.

Elisha Dunn traveled with Spiritualist, John Martin Peebles, described as a physician, author and philosopher.  In the 1870s Elisha was thrilled when he obtained the role of secretary to Dr. Peebles who was appointed to a diplomatic post in the Far East.  Dunn later credited Dr. Peebles for helping him develop his psychic powers.

Dunn and Peebles spent four years traveling the globe.  On his return, Elisha was invited to give presentations where he displayed his remarkable collection of curious items to crowds varying in size from a handful to several thousand.  These items, Dunn claimed, were ancient treasures that he had recovered from faraway lands.

Elisha would also claim that it was during this worldwide journey that he achieved the height of his psychic abilities.  Much later some would state that Elisha contradicted himself by stating that during this tour he became a convert to the Methodist church.

Elisha’s wife, Carrie, passed away around 1893 and it was after the death of Carrie that Dunn seems to become a little unhinged.  He bought one of the first motor cars in Rockford and would roar down the street waving his large hat at everyone.  This car became even more unique when Dunn started to bring his beloved dog for rides.  He designed a seat for the dog that he placed on the hood of his automobile. Dunn also decided to pierce his dog’s ears and decorated them with diamond studs.

Elisha served as a doctor, ran for Mayor twice and was elected to the City Council as an alderman.  In 1905 he, along with the rest of the council, was charged with accepting bribes.  They were given money as a bribe to grant a utility contract to a certain company instead of allowing another company to obtain theirs.  Dunn, along with two other men, was found guilty and ordered to pay fines but then was allowed to return to politics.

When Dunn was a deputy grand commander with the Knights of Pythias, he weathered yet another scandal.  Dunn was being considered for a national office within the organization when some of his opponents leaked information about Dunn’s former occupation as a psychic.  They accused Dunn of swindling thousands of dollars from the unsuspecting townspeople for his readings.

Elisha Dunn passed away in his home on March 24, 1914.  Newspaper articles from that day claimed that Elisha was one of the best-known men in Rockford, whether it was because of his habit of wearing his hair long or the scandals that seemed to follow him was unclear.

Elisha’s funeral was conducted by the Masons and took place in his grand home once located on West State Street.  He was laid to rest next to Carrie under the elaborate tomb he built for her in Greenwood Cemetery.

After Dunn’s death the controversy concerning him grew when it was discovered that several of his claims were false.  Some of his ancient items in his collections are found to be fakes, including ancient coins. He also had a collection of nooses allegedly used in different high-profile executions that proved to be all cut from the same piece of rope.

Whether or not Elisha Dunn was a psychic, a healer or a scoundrel does not really matter anymore.  He attracted attention when he was alive and still has people discussing him over 100 years after he died.  That definitely earns him a place in Rockford’s history.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events