The Horrific Death Of George Laurs

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

George Laurs was a 24-year-old immigrant who like many men in 1913, came to Rockford to look for employment.  He considered himself very lucky when he was hired by the Cyclone Blow Company from Chicago to assist in the installation of a giant blow pipe on the third floor of a furniture factory.

George was part of the crew hired to hoist the huge pipe into position.  He was stationed in the basement of the factory.  George was in charge of the slack rope in the hoisting pulley.  The rope came in through a window about 10 feet from him.

All was going according to plan on the morning of June 12, 1913.  Everyone was at their stations and though no one was in the room with George, it seemed the work would go according to plan.  Then suddenly, things went horribly wrong.  The only indication that there was anything amiss was a strange thudding noise.  When George’s co-workers decided to investigate, they could not comprehend what they were seeing.

They looked up to the shaft bar, which was spinning around.  Clothing hung from the whirling piece of metal.  Blood covered the clothing; in fact, blood covered everything.

The men’s eyes followed the blood droplets from the bar above them down the walls to the floor.  Their confusion turned to horror as they realized that there were body parts scattered around them.

Somehow, though no one could figure out quite how it might have happened, George became caught in the rope that he was supposed to keep tight.  The slackened rope tangled around George’s body and it wrenched him up and slammed him into the galvanized iron pipe, denting it out of shape.

The damage to George’s body was incredible.  His limbs had been torn from his body and he was also decapitated.  A quote from the Rockford Republic from June 12, 1913 stated, “Sight of the gore splattered area and the collection of the scattered remains was enough to unnerve the men.  The factory was closed for the day to allow a clean up.”

George Laurs was highly thought of by his crew and the men at the boarding house where he stayed.  His landlord told the authorities that George’s parents lived in Lithuania but that he had a sister and brother that lived in Chicago.  The sister had recently visited George at the rooming house.  She had been courting a Lithuanian man that she met in Chicago and he had proposed.  Since her father could not give his consent, she came to ask George for his.  George was honored and very happy for his sister.  He not only consented, he bought her a dress.

Unfortunately, George wouldn’t be the one to give his sister away.  The wedding was supposed to take place a few days after the accident.  On the day they were scheduled to gather to watch his sister walk down the aisle, George’s devastated friends and family gathered instead to watch his body lowered into a grave.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Tragic History Of Barnes Mansion

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The sounds of long-forgotten music are heard in the halls of a home on Rockford’s west side.  The house was built on the Rock River in 1893 by W.F. Barnes for his family.

The music has been heard by several employees of the Burpee Natural History Museum who now owns the building.  The building was once used as the actual museum but now contains administrative offices.

A former employee whose office was on the first floor of the three-storied building shared an incident she experienced in the house during an interview.  She stated that was in her office on the first floor late one evening when she heard music that seemed to be coming from a different floor.  The second floor of the building also contains offices and the employee assumed one of her co-workers must still be in the building, listening to a radio.  She finished her work and decided to check to see if her co-worker was ready to depart so they might leave together.

The music was definitely coming from the second floor and though there was no light on in the office the employee decided to check the room anyway.  She lifted her foot to step into the room and the music stopped.  As she stood there in the darkened doorway she felt a cold draft blow by her, chilling her.  She turned to look back down the hallway and felt as though someone had stepped behind her.  She decided that it was time to leave and rushed back down to her office to collect her things.

There is a theory in the paranormal world that certain materials work as better “conductors” for paranormal activity.  Some of the stronger ones include Native American influence, water, and limestone.  If there is any truth to these claims, then the Barnes House is a prime location, as well as the rest of downtown Rockford.

The Burpee Natural History Museum had its beginning in the Barnes building.  The museum used the first and second floors when it opened in 1942.  One of the more unusual displays was an entire skeleton of a Native American.  According to psychics Paul Smith and Sara Bowker, this has left a bad “imprint” on the house.

In the basement of the home, staff and visitors have experienced the feeling of being watched all throughout this floor.  They have also reported being overwhelmed by a sense of anxiety or sadness.  There were several Barnes family deaths in the house and the theory is that the family member would be brought to the basement for preparation for their funeral.

The family’s golden lives were shattered through a string of tragedies.  The favored son Joseph, who was as creative as his father and loved and respected by all that knew him, died suddenly 1906.  Joseph’s only son, Fletcher, was struck down and killed by an automobile in 1910.  Fletcher’s accident was called a strange twist of fate by some who knew the family – he was one of the first men in Rockford to own an automobile.

Julia, Fletcher’s wife, was accidentally shot by a hunter while camping in Wisconsin.  Though she would survive the shooting, her wounds caused her severe pain for the rest of her life.  She was no longer able to attend the lavish parties that she once hosted.  Julia passed away in 1922 but according to psychics, she still stands looking out the second-floor windows of her beautiful home.

In 1928, Fletcher became ill and was bedridden before he died from a stroke on December 30, 1930.  He was survived by his son, W.F. Barnes, and his daughter, Amy Barnes Lane.  Amy would decide to sell the house to the Rockford Park District in 1937.

The beautiful building still showcases the craftsmanship of the builders, and the love of the owners shines through the entire house as much today as it did when the Barneses would proudly entertain there.  Though no children play here anymore and some of the rooms are vacant of any furnishings, the Barnes Mansion still echoes with the sounds of the family that once roamed these halls.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Walter Kalamaka’s Unrequited Love

Originally published in The Rock River Times. 

This tragic story played out right on the streets of Rockford.  It was March 24, 1922 and spring was just beginning to take hold.

Mrs. May Sorter and her son, Theodore, were being escorted by Amos Estes.  They were making their way home from the Colonial Theater.  Amos Estes lived in the same rooming house as the married Mrs. Sorter.  May’s husband was in Indiana looking for work while she and her son stayed in Rockford.  Rockford was convenient because May’s parents Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Thompson lived on Myott Avenue on Rockford’s west side.

May worked as a waitress at the Schrom’s Restaurant.  She was an attractive young lady who definitely caught the eye of the men around town.  One of those men was a dishwasher at Schrom’s.  His name was Walter Kalamaka.  Walter wasn’t from Illinois, in fact he was born in Hawaii in 1885.

Walter served in the Army during World War I.  He worked as a laborer and spent most of the war stationed at Fort Dodge near Des Moines, Iowa.  Records show that Walter came to Rockford around 1919.  He lived in a rooming house at 528 Park Avenue.

Walter and May knew each other from the restaurant.  May downplayed their relationship but letters found in Walter’s room led authorities to believe that the couple was romantically involved and in Walter’s mind at least, possibly engaged.

May did tell friends that Walter had proposed to her in February 1922, and he became enraged when she explained that she was already engaged to James Sorter.  May was able to calm Walter down and she thought the matter was settled.  May married James Sorter three days later in Indiana.

May came back to Rockford to work at the restaurant until her husband found employment.  She told her landlord, George Hoffman, that she was frightened of Walter and he arranged for another boarder, Amos Estes, to escort her and her son to the theater.

Kalamaka must have been following May and mistook Estes for her new husband.  He waited until they entered an alley in the area of the 600 block of Chestnut Street before he showed himself.  He called to May and said he wished to talk to her.  Amos answered him by stating, “If you want to talk to her, you’ll have to talk to me too.”

This seemed to aggravate Kalamaka and he shouted, ”Then by God, I’ll kill you both!”  Kalamaka quickly pulled a revolver and aimed it at the couple.  He shot May first, once in the side, and when she fell he shot her in the back of her head.  Estes rushed forward and Kalamaka turned the gun toward him and fired, hitting him in the throat.  Then the left-handed Kalamaka raised the gun to his own left temple and pulled the trigger for the last time.

Theodore, May’s son, ran screaming to the rooming house where he told the landlord that Walter was killing his mama.

At the same time Estes, who was not badly injured, made his way to a neighboring house to use their phone.

Police were called and the two survivors were loaded onto stretchers and rushed to the hospital.  There was nothing to be done for Walter Kalamaka.  He died in the street, not realizing that both of his intended victims would survive.

Kalamaka’s landlord and co-workers from the restaurant were questioned by the police.  Not one of the witnesses could explain his actions.  Walter hadn’t spoken of his relationship with May. They did see him writing a letter at the restaurant the night before the incident and stated that he seemed depressed the next day.

Coroner Olson took custody of Kalamaka’s body.  It was during the examination that Olson found the letter the witnesses had mentioned.  The letter was quoted in the paper.  “Why live when life is a worry?  My life was made unhappy by a woman I love and we will both pay the penalty.”

The bullet that Kalamaka fired into his head tore through his skull and came to rest above his eye.  Coroner Olson held the body as long as possible.  He hoped that Kalamaka’s family would come forth to claim his body.  No one ever did and Kalamaka was buried in an unmarked grave at Cedar Bluff.

In a very strange twist, May’s sister, Mrs. George Herwalt, was also attacked in almost the same manner.  On November 3, 1921 her husband, George, burst into the home at 421 South 1st Street.  He pulled his revolver and fired a bullet into his wife’s head.  Herwalt then put the gun to his own head and fired.  Mrs. Herwalt recovered but George died immediately.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Belvidere WWII Casualty Jack Magee

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Jack Magee was born in Rockford on August 6, 1916.  He was one of six children born to Harry and Ethel Magee.  They lived on Chicago Avenue before relocating to Belvidere around 1929.

Jack married Lucia Burton in 1937.  They had a son that they named Charles after her father.  Jack got a job driving a truck for the Harry Perkins Transfer Company.

In August of 1941, Jack left his family to join the Coast Guard.  Jack was assigned to the 102nd Coastal Artillery Battalion from California.  The battalion left San Francisco on the ship, Mastonian.  It was a former luxury liner converted into a troop transport ship.

Jack was assigned to fly on the Short Empire Flying Boat named Corithian.  They flew into Groote Eylant in Australia on March 20, 1942 to be a part of the first mission for World War II.  It was a massive undertaking.  Every available airplane was being piloted by American, Dutch and English pilots.  They were gathering at Port Darwin to begin their assault.

Jack’s plane left for Port Darwin, and around 1 a.m. they began their descent.  There were several theories about what happened next.  One stated that their flying boat hit debris during the landing and sank two nautical miles from Darwin.

There were several men on board the aircraft including Capt. Tapp.  He re-entered the hull after the crash in an attempt to save his men.  Despite the other men’s efforts, Jack and another man, Sgt. Edward J. Endres, died in the crash.  Their bodies were never recovered.

The crash happened in water that at low tide was about 30 feet deep.  The tail of the plane actually stuck out from the water. The plane was embedded so deeply into the silt and mud that the decision was made to scuttle the ship instead of salvaging it.  This was done quickly to clear the waterway for the shipping and other flying boats.

Jack Magee was the first casualty in Belvidere from World War II.  Though his body could not be returned to his family, they were able to place a marker in the family plot at Cedar Bluff Cemetery.  On Memorial Day of 1942, The Thomas G. Lawler Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars joined Jack’s family in honoring him as well as several others buried in Cedar Bluff.

The other men honored that day were Roger Atkinson, a RAF pilot who died over England; Albert K. Herron, a soldier killed in the Philippines; and Lt. Mike Tony Tangora, an Army flier who was killed in a west coast airplane crash.

Though Jack’s body lay in a watery grave many miles from his family, maybe it brought the family comfort to know that his name would be listed next to the rest of his family.

Jack’s wife and son lived for a time in New Milford before moving to Floresville, Texas.  Lucia died in 1995 and was buried there in Floresville Cemetery.  Charles Owen died in 1998 and was buried next to his mother.

Jack’s stone tell of his military title and states, “Lost at Sea”.

The remains of the wrecked plane once known as Corithian were allegedly found by a Darwin high school teacher, Sasha Muller, and her students in 2004.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Remembering RPD Officer Randall Blank

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Everyone who knew Randall Blank described him in the same way; happy, caring and completely dedicated to becoming a Rockford police officer.  Randall worked hard to make his dream come true.   He graduated from Jefferson High School and went to Rock Valley College.  Randall passed the test for the police department but since there were no openings on the Rockford Police Department, he applied for the Freeport department instead.  In February of 1980 a position became available and Randall was finally hired as a Rockford Police officer.

Randall was assigned to a beat on the east side of the river along East State Street.  It was the early hours of December 31, 1980 when Randall called for assistance on the radio.  He was in foot pursuit of a suspect.  A woman at the Stage Door bar on First Street in downtown Rockford had her purse stolen.  Randall was running after the man suspected of snatching the purse.

Police Dispatch and other witnesses would later testify about the following details.  Randall caught up with the suspect later identified as 30-year-old Ollie Staten.  The men struggled and Staten was able to grab Randall’s gun.  Witnesses reported that Randall was on his knees with the other man in front of him pointing the gun.  Randall raised his head and looked down the barrel of his own gun.  He uttered one word, “Please!”  There was one shot and Randall slowly fell forward face down onto the pavement.

His fellow officers found him there not far from the intersection of East State and Madison Streets.  Randall was rushed to Swedish American where doctors struggled in vain to save the young officer’s life.  He had been on the force only ten months.

Staten ran off but was caught a short time later by Officer Gregory Hansen.  Hansen saw a car with Ollie Staten and another man inside.  Hansen followed it and when the car pulled into a parking lot and one of the men got out, Hansen approached the car and secured the man inside and waited until the other came back out.  The two men were arrested and transported to the jail.  While searching the car Hansen recovered a woman’s purse and Randall’s gun.

Staten was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He died in November of 2000.

Randall’s funeral was held at St. Rita’s Church.  Over 425 people including 300 police officers from Rockford and surrounding areas attended the services.  Another 600 people were in the St. Rita’s gym where they watched the services on closed-circuit television.  Fellow officers were pallbearers and over 100 squad cars followed the hearse to the cemetery.

Randall Blank’s name has been remembered in several articles through the years.  A scholarship is offered in his name for Rockford students interested in police science by the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois.

Randall wanted to be a Rockford Police Officer from the time he was a boy.  When people would ask him why he was so determined to make this his career, Randall always answered the same way.  Randall wanted to help people and thought that being a peace officer would be a wonderful way to do that.

Though Randal was only 23 years old when he was killed, his dedication to the people of Rockford has carried his name through the 36 years since his death.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Legacy Of Leo Carlson

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

There are no records left to tell how the young couple met.  But one thing was abundantly clear, Leo Carlson loved Celia.  They were young when they married in 1908.  Later, Leo’s friends would say that he would speak often of his young wife’s beauty.  That was in the beginning, of course, before trouble came to the young couple.

Leo made his living as a carpenter and it was this, as well as the close proximity to Celia’s family in Janesville, that brought the couple to Rockford.  They were thrilled to find a nice apartment at 414 Market Street.  The apartment was large and the young couple decided to rent out the extra rooms.

Celia made friends quickly and asked Leo if they could rent the extra rooms to some of her new companions.  The young ladies were all single and the extra income would save the couple money.  Leo agreed and four girls moved in.

Leo had a very good job as a carpenter but the hours were long and Celia found herself alone in the evenings.  The other girls would invite Celia to join them when they made plans.  At first Celia refused; eventually, the young girls’ pleas convinced Celia to join them.

The neighbors in the area began to gossip about the girls’ comings and goings and the word eventually got back to Leo.  At first, he ignored the talk as just gossip but one night the girls brought the party back to the apartment and the police were called.  The landlady confronted Leo and Celia and demanded that the roommates leave.  Leo agreed and carried it one step further by stating that he did not want Celia to see the girls anymore.  This caused heated arguments between the couple.

Leo’s friends would say that the turmoil at home changed Leo.  He became angry and his drinking increased which led to more fighting between the couple  This cycle continued until Celia couldn’t tolerate it any longer.  She decided to leave Leo and move to Janesville with her mother.

Celia didn’t leave empty-handed, though.  She took all the furniture and withdrew the money from the bank account.  Leo became a broken man.  His friends became concerned and claimed Leo became obsessed about the wrongs committed by Celia.

In late August of 1911, Celia filed divorce papers, claiming their differences were caused by Leo’s drinking, cruelty and jealousy.

On September 24, 1911, a month after Celia left him, Leo went to his favorite local pub and his friends were relieved to see their friend back to normal.  He spent the evening talking of his plans for the future.

The next day dawned with the promise of a beautiful fall day.  Emily Sitzkow was Celia’s mother and she rose early that day.  She was startled by a knock on the door.  Emily probably wondered who would be knocking on the door at such an early hour.  Her surprise grew when she opened the door to find her daughter’s estranged husband standing before her.  Emily would state later that she hesitated for just a second before she opened the door.  She had no idea that this single act would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Leo entered the house and Emily showed him to Celia’s room.  He woke Celia gently and asked if they might talk.  She rose and began to dress.  She stood in front of the mirror to fix her hair and Leo moved behind her.  Celia had no time to register the pistol that Leo put to her head in one swift movement.

The sound was loud as Leo pulled the trigger.  He lowered Celia’s body softly to the ground.  Emily, hearing the loud noise, was standing in the hall when Leo rushed at her.  Leo pointed the gun and said, “I’ve got a good notion to put a bullet into you, too!”

Emily stopped in her tracks and Leo raced into an adjoining bedroom.  He raised the gun to his head and fired.

The police soon arrived and found Leo dead and Celia just barely alive.  She clung to life for four hours before losing the battle.

This already strange case took another turn when a letter that was found on Leo was printed in the local papers.  The letter explained the reasons for Leo’s desperate actions and put the blame for this horrible crime on Celia.

Celia was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin while Leo was buried at Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Rockford. Neither grave is marked.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Oregon Shooting Of 1930

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

When the sun came up on that Thursday morning, July 17, 1930 people in the little town of Oregon, Illinois were bracing themselves for another warm day.  No one could predict that gunfire would disrupt the normally peaceful downtown square.  Henry Schwingle certainly had no idea as he pressed his suit in preparation for the day’s events.

Henry’s thoughts on the drive from his home in Rockford to Oregon were probably on having to attend yet another court appearance.  Henry and his wife, Evelyn, separated a few months prior and she kept dragging him into these hearings to try to force money from him.  Henry would have gladly paid her the $20 a week to take care of her and their little nine-year-old daughter, Betty Jane, but he just did not have the money.  Since he lost his important job at the Paragon Foundry, jobs were few and far between.  Henry was glad to finally have secured a job as an insurance salesman for a company in Rockford.  It meant leaving his little daughter in the care of his wife but that could not be helped.  It was the depression and Henry needed to go wherever he could find work.

Henry was concerned about his daughter because his wife was clearly not well.  Evelyn had become more and more mentally unstable.  It wasn’t always like this between them, of course.  Once they had lived a charmed life.  They had fallen in love and were married in Michigan in February of 1911.  They moved to Oregon, Illinois where Henry found work at the foundry.  They became members of the Rock River Golf Club and were active in Oregon society events.  Evelyn had once been described as the most beautiful woman in Ogle County.

The hearing on July 17 did not go in Evelyn’s favor.  She did not work outside of the home and was completely dependent on her husband’s income.  Evelyn had not received any money for weeks and was furious when the court ruled that Henry would have more time to pay what he owed her.

The judge calmed things down and Evelyn and Henry left the courtroom together.  They walked over to the garage and witnesses later testified that everything seemed fine between them.  Everyone was shocked when suddenly Evelyn reached into her purse and retrieved a small automatic pistol.

She opened fire at point-blank range in the direction of her husband.  Henry felt a bullet graze his right hand and another nick his shoulder.  He turned and ran for cover.  Everyone who witnessed the shooting would be shocked to discover later that not one of the five shots found their mark.

After Evelyn opened fire, she turned around and headed back to the courthouse.  Police were already starting to run toward the location of the shots.  No one could suspect the fact that this woman who walked calmly into the courthouse was the shooter.  Evelyn entered the office of the circuit court clerk.  She pointed her gun at the lone clerk left during the lunch hour and told him that she would not hurt him.  She just wanted to use the phone to call her lawyer.

By now the Sheriff and his deputies were at the garage and heard details of what occurred.  They raced back into the courthouse, no doubt frightened for everyone’s safety.  Sheriff Good and his deputy entered the clerk’s office and were immediately confronted by Evelyn.  She threatened to shoot them if they came any closer.

“Kiss Betty Jane goodbye for me.”  As she spoke these words Evelyn Schwingle raised the small gun to her own temple and sent a bullet crashing into her brain.  Though a physician was called, there was nothing to be done.  She died there on the floor within a few minutes.

Henry was located at a nearby hotel where he had raced for cover.  Their daughter, Betty Jane, was also located nearby where her mother had left her while she attended the court hearing.  At first, Betty Jane did not want to see her father.  She had been influenced by her mother’s hatred for the man and taken her side in the separation.  Sheriff Good spoke to Betty Jane and explained the truth of the situation and told her of the awful death of Evelyn.  Only then would the little girl agree to see Henry. Evelyn’s body was still on the floor in the courthouse as the newly reconciled father and daughter left the building.

Evelyn was sent home to be buried in her hometown of Merrill, Michigan.  Henry and Betty Jean lived for a while in Rockford before settling in DeKalb.  Both of their lives were forever haunted by the events that occurred on that tragic day in July of 1930.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Remembering Rockford’s World Boxing Champ

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Rockford has been fortunate to have many men and women whose names have put the Forest City on the map.  One of these extraordinary people, named Sammy Mandell, came to light in the 1920s and ’30s.  Though most people won’t recognize the name, Sammy was once the Boxing Lightweight Champion of the World.

Sammy’s story didn’t begin or end in Rockford but his name would be forever tied with the Forest City.  He started boxing when he was young along with his brother, Joseph.  The boys would challenge men to fight them after work.

Sammy’s next step was working with Rockford’s trainer Honk Garrett who owned a gym on East State Street.  Sammy also began to fight as an amateur at Camp Grant.  He was only 16 when he had his first professional fight.

It was not long before Sammy’s lightning-fast footwork and his devastating left hook earned him the nickname of Rockford Flash.  Sammy also had something else going for him.  Unlike most of the boxers of that time period, he was considered to be very handsome, which earned him the nickname of The Sheik.  This name was chosen because of his resemblance to the very popular actor of the day, Rudolph Valentino.

Another thing that made Sammy Mandell stand out was the fact that even though he reached a place of national recognition, he remained humble and proud of his beginnings.

Sammy’s family moved here from Sicily in 1906, when he was only a couple of years old.  The family left the small town where their ancestors had lived for generations.  His mother passed away shortly after the family arrived in Rockford and his oldest sister filled the void left by her mother’s death.  After he won his title, Sammy would buy his sister and father their own homes.

In 1923, before Sammy won the Lightweight Champion title, Rockford held a grand banquet to honor their hometown hero.  The Knights of Columbus threw the grand bash at the luxurious Nelson Hotel.  Over 10,000 people lined the streets along the route just to get a glimpse of this hometown boy.  The crowd went wild when he flashed his famous grin.

The speakers chosen for the banquet included Mayor Halstrom and Illinois Lieutenant Governor Sterling.  Sammy was presented with a beautiful Knights of Columbus ring by the Grand Knight of the local council, Edward Zeiner.  Every speaker spoke of the fine example that Sammy represented for all of the citizens of Rockford.

Sammy won the Lightweight Championship title in 1926 when he was 22-years-old in the first legal fight in Illinois at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.  He fought Rocky Kansas.  Sammy held the title until 1930 when he lost to Al Singer.

His signature fight took place in 1924 when he faced Jack Bernstein.  Sammy broke his hand in the second round.  Bernstein realized that Sammy’s hand was broken and gave him such a horrible beating that most watching were surprised that the fight was not stopped.  Those four rounds were agonizing to witness. Those spectators were never sure if Sammy found his bearings or he had been pushed to his limit.  But when the bell rang to begin the seventh round, Sammy came out of the corner with one arm hanging uselessly at his side and gave Bernstein the beating of his life.  The fight was a draw and Sammy’s reputation was born.

Sammy would participate in 168 fights that included 28 knockouts and eight losses.  Sammy stayed in Rockford after losing the title and opened a gym with his brother where they trained new boxers.  Sammy, Elizabeth and their son Richard moved to Chicago after World War II where he acquired a job as a collector for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

In October 1962, Sammy Mandell was inducted into the Illinois Sports Hall of Fame.  His son Richard accepted the award for the ailing Mandell.

Sammy died on November 9, 1967 in Chicago and he and his wife, Elizabeth, are buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin.  One newspaper quote from the day he died stated, ”Sammy Mandell is gone and a little more of the color and excitement of what boxing used to be died with him.”  Sammy’s rags to riches story has become part of the rich tapestry of Rockford’s history.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Tragic Death Of Josie Dunn

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Josephine Dunn
Arthur Grenke Dunn
James Dunn

When a woman’s body was found floating face down in the Rock River on July 6, 1925, the police realized they faced many challenges.  There was no identification on the body and there were no witnesses to what might have happened to the young woman.  Her long dark skirt was badly torn and when they turned her over to remove her from the water, they noticed that her mouth and nose were filled with mud from the bottom of the river.  The body was collected by Coroner Fred Olson’s assistants and taken to be prepared for the inquest.

The body had been spotted floating about 30 feet from the west bank of the river.  It was almost directly in front of the Rockford Country Club and close to the skating rink of the Harlem Amusement Park.

As Coroner Fred Olson started his examination of the woman’s body, he found a purse with a rosary and a Catholic Prayer book.  Several Catholic priests were brought in to see if they could identify the body.  Two priests from St. Peter’s Church, Fathers F. F. Connor and M. J. Hoare were shocked to realize they recognized the unfortunate woman.

The dead woman was Mrs. Josephine Dunn and even though she was no longer an active member of their parish, they were well acquainted with her family.

While Coroner Olson was busy trying to identify the woman, other authorities were combing the river banks for clues.  They discovered a picnic basket, a young boy’s cap, two stockings, a pair of shoes and a handwritten note.

“In the dark blue waters you will find me,” the note stated.  It was signed Josephine.  The authorities took the note to Coroner Olson along with the other items found on the bank.

By this time, phone calls had been made, one to Josephine’s husband, James Dunn.  James was still at work when he received the news that his wife of two years was dead.  The next call was made to Josephine’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. John Carroll.  Josephine’s mother became hysterical when she received the news.

Mrs. Carroll would later give a statement to the police.  Though her grief and her thick Irish accent made it difficult to understand her at times, the police were certain that Josephine’s mother had no idea what had taken place that day.  Mrs. Carroll also claimed that she had a premonition that something terrible had happened to her daughter.  She told the police of the nightmare she had during the night.  Mrs. Carroll heard Josephine’s voice calling out to her for help.  Mrs. Carrol became even more worried when she heard her daughter’s pleas several times during the day.

The police realized after speaking with Mrs. Carrol that Josie’s eight-year-old son Arthur was missing.  They feared the worst and began to search the river.

The police next interviewed the dead woman’s husband, James.  The couple had previous marriages and children with their former spouses.  James had a daughter and an older son, Clayton.  He and his wife had divorced and the children stayed in Chicago.  Josie was married to a man named Grenke and the couple had a little boy, Arthur.  Grenke had died in an accident a few years before.  Josie met James shortly after her husband’s death and from all accounts, the two of them were very much in love.  The only trouble in their marriage was Josie felt that James cared more for his 19-year-old son, Clayton, than he did for her and Arthur.

The police searched the couple’s apartment and found a note addressed to James.  “Goodbye.  I am going to end all my troubles and hope you will be happy.  When I go I will take Arthur with me so you will have no burden but your own son if that is enough.”  The horrible indications of what had taken place that day were too much for James and he collapsed.

Despite intense searching by the police, Arthur’s body was not recovered until the next day.  His little body was found by several boy caddies from the Rockford Country Club.  The boy that lifted the body from the water was only a few years older than Arthur.  Fred Olson conducted the autopsy of the little boy and his verdict shocked the entire city.  Marks around Arthur’s neck proved that he had been murdered by being held under the water.

The police and Coroner Olson used the autopsy findings and the interviews conducted with neighbors and family members to piece together Josie and Arthur’s final hours.  They speculated that the two had breakfast and then Josie sent Arthur out to play in the yard while she wrote the suicide notes.  Josie then called the boy in and promised him an outing.  Josie packed a picnic basket and the little boy and his mother headed for the park.  It would have been mostly deserted on the Monday morning as Josie led Arthur to the wooded area.

Josie somehow talked Arthur into wading in the river and police theorized she grabbed him by the neck and held the eight-year-old under the water.  After the horrible deed was finished, she dove into the water pushing her own face into the mud.

Coroner Olson would rule the deaths a murder and a suicide caused by Josie becoming temporarily deranged due to constant brooding over imaginary troubles.  Unfortunately, that was not the end of this tragedy.  James was devastated by the deaths and Josie’s mother and father could not accept the Coroner’s findings.  They believed in their hearts that James played some role in the deaths.  The case was splashed in the papers for two more years while the families battled about the inheritance left by Josie.  In the end, James prevailed in court but there were no winners in this case.  Both families were tortured by thoughts of how these deaths could have been prevented and by questions that will never be answered.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

The Torch Murder Of 1933

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

It had been a good day that Sunday, August 13, 1933.  Forty-one-year-old Earl Hanson had enjoyed the day with his 12-year-old daughter, June.  They attended church services and went to the theater.  Earl headed north on Main Street to take June back to her mother’s home at about nine o’ clock in the evening.

Earl and his wife, May Mudler, had divorced on December 22, 1932, after a 12-year-marriage.  At first, Earl believed May was happy, especially after June was born in 1922 and then little Doris came in 1923.  There was a lot of strain in the marriage especially after they realized that Doris was developmentally disabled. They made the difficult choice to have Doris placed in an institution.

So on that August night, Ed drove his little girl back to the home they had once shared.  June Hanson kissed her father and skipped into the house.  She was looking for her mother when she noticed a bright light coming from outside.

June stepped back outside and saw an image that no child should have to see.  She must have been horrified to see Earl crawl from the car completely engulfed in flames.

June’s screams soon brought neighbors running.  The first man to arrive saw a burning figure twisting on the ground.  The fire was quickly put out but there was little that could be done.  Earl Hanson was dead.

The police arrived and at first they thought they were dealing with a car that had malfunctioned.  They questioned everyone involved.  May Hanson, Earl’s ex-wife, claimed that she was in the basement when she saw a flash of light through one of the windows.

There were several warning signs to the initial police officers.  They were concerned enough to summon Chief Deputy Millard and the Coroner Walter Julian to the house. As the police explored the crime scene, a porcelain bowl was discovered in the yard, hidden in tall grass.  It was blackened and smelled of gas.

The detectives continued to search the yard and uncovered a box of matches and a gas can that contained a small amount of gas.  Police began to realize that Earl’s death was no accident.  They would later call it one of the most bizarre murders that Winnebago County had ever seen.

The first thing police officers noticed when they questioned May was that her hair, face, eyebrows and neck were singed and burned.  May explained this by claiming that she got close to the car to confirm that her daughter was not inside.

May also answered the authority’s questions in a very strange manner.  One reporter described it like May was reciting a recipe instead of describing the horrible death of a human being.  May admitted that she owned the gas can and had purchased gas that afternoon. She claimed she was trying to get her own car started.  The car had not run in over a year.

The porcelain bowl also belonged to May.  She used it earlier in the day to water the chickens.  May stated that she had no idea knowledge of how it had gotten into the yard.

The authorities began to comb through all aspects of Earl Hanson’s life.  Earl was a sales executive at Ingersoll Milling Machine Company.  He was well respected and liked at his job.  Robert Gaylord, the President of Ingersoll, handed the police what would become the main piece of evidence in the case.  It was a handwritten letter that May had sent Earl that described how much she loathed him and ended with a death threat.  The letter frightened Earl so much that he gave it to Robert for safekeeping in case anything ever happened to him.

The police knew that they had their killer but they found it inconceivable that this tiny woman would kill in such a horrific manner.  The police and coroner worked together to put together a theory of what happened that fateful August night.

Earl pulled into the driveway and waited for June to enter the house.  May hid in the bushes next to the driveway and when Earl stopped at the end of the driveway, she stepped from the shadows and splashed the contents of the porcelain bowl onto Earl.  Then she lit a match and threw it into the car.  She had no idea that the gas would cause the flames to billow up burning her flesh and hair.  May calmly moved into the yard as June came out to see her father struggling against the flames that consumed him.

State’s Attorney Nash prosecuted May Hanson in what the newspapers dubbed as the “Torch Murder”.  The trial lasted 11 days and consisted of 39 witnesses for the state and six witnesses for the defense.  The most riveting testimony came from the Hanson’s daughter, June who staunchly defended her mother’s innocence.

May was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years.  She was transferred in May of 1934 to Dwight’s Correctional Center.

Doris died in the Nebraska institution in 1940.  June was raised by May’s sister, Florence.  June would eventually marry and move to Vermont where she passed away in 1994.

Photos – Rockford Register-Republic.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events