When bones washed up on the shores of Lake Michigan near Manitowoc in 1947, folks speculated that the bones might be a clue to a mystery that had been unfolding since the beginning of May of that year. They were wrong as it turned out. The bones weren’t even human. But it showed how prominent the following story was and how far it had spread.
The story began months earlier and over 140 miles away from where the bones washed up. It started on a rainy day near Lake Ripley, Wisconsin. The fact that it was raining on that May 1, 1947 played a big part in what happened later that day.
The Weckler family was well known in the Oakland Center area. In fact, George and his wife, Eleanor were known throughout all of Jefferson County. George’s family lived on the same land for over 100 years and he was very involved in the community. George and Eleanor had served their little community in many capacities throughout the years. And each of those positions had increased folks respect of the Weckler family.
May was always a busy month in a farming community and May 1947 was no different. That May 1st dawned rainy and chilly. The fact that it was raining changed the regular routine in the Weckler household. The three younger children attended the Oakland Center Rural school. The school was about a mile down the road from the Weckler home. Usually, 12 year-old Laverne, 10 year old Joanne and 8 year old Georgia Jean rode their bikes to the school. But since the rain was coming down in sheets, Eleanor drove the children that morning.
Georgia Jean was in the third grade and for some reason her class was dismissed much earlier than the older classes that day. The mother of one of Georgia Jean’s classmates offered her a ride home. It was about 3:30 when Georgia Jean was left at the end of her driveway. The little girl had chatted all the way home about picking flowers for a May basket for the family’s front door. Mrs. Carol Floerke smiled to herself as she watched Georgia Jean stop at the mailbox and then begin to skip down the driveway.
The Weckler’s large house set back about a half mile from Highway 12 and Mrs. Floerke stated that she always left the little girl off at that particular spot when she gave her a ride. Back in 1947, most folks wouldn’t have thought about what might happen to a young child in a half a mile stretch of road.
Inside the Weckler home, Eleanor had no reason to feel alarmed. The children always came home together and Laverne was very protective of his little sisters. Even after Laverne and Joan arrived at the house without Georgia Jean, Eleanor wasn’t worried. She thought that maybe her husband had seen Georgia Jean on his way into town and decided to take the little girl along.
When George came home alone at 6:00 that evening, Eleanor began to panic. She called some of the neighbors to see if anyone had spotted Georgia Jean after school. Mrs. Floerke told Eleanor that she had dropped Georgia Jean off at the end of the driveway. She mentioned that Georgia Jean had picked up the mail and was excited to pick flowers for the May basket she intended to create.
The sun was starting to set as the family began to search the woods around the home. Eleanor called some of their closest neighbors to assist. Georgia Jean spent many hours playing in the woods with her siblings so no one thought she had gotten lost. Their initial fear was that she had fallen or hurt herself somehow. By the time full darkness had settled over the farm, the woods were full of searchers. After a couple of hours without any success, George decided they needed to get the police involved. He had served as a Deputy Sheriff for years and still had many friends on the force.
By the next morning, the word about the missing girl had spread throughout the county. Hundreds of people came from miles around to lend a hand. Policemen from neighboring towns joined in and soon people were walking shoulder to shoulder through the woods looking for some clue of the little girl.
By the end of that first full day, most of the men involved in the search knew that this was not a case of a missing child. Later the next day a truck driver confirmed their worst fears. The driver told the police that he had been driving on Highway 12 about the same time that Georgia Jean had been dropped off. He spotted a dark car pulled off the side of the rode not far from the driveway to the Weckler home. Just as the truck driver was about to pass the car, it suddenly pulled out in front of him and turned into the driveway. The driver had to swerve to avoid hitting the car. He turned back to yell out the window and saw a young girl skipping down the road. It was the last confirmed sighting of Georgia Jean.
When the authorities shared their theory that Georgia Jean had been taken they promised that they would do everything they could to bring her back to them. George went on a Chicago radio station to plead for his daughter’s safe return. The police and the radio station donated money for a reward. The reward quickly grew to over $10,000.00.
The police spread to talk to everyone about the car that the truck driver had spotted. Several people thought they had seen the car driven by the same young man. Fear spread throughout the community.
Schools around the immediate area closed down while everyone waited for Georgia Jean’s safe return. The newspapers interviewed her teacher, Mrs. Miller. She described Georgia Jean as a caring, smart little girl. She also spoke of Georgia Jean being quite the artist. Several newspapers printed the hand-drawn pieces of artwork. The little girl loved to draw pictures of her mother and father and the large farm.
Years later when folks remembered this story, they spoke of the connection they felt with Georgia Jean’s family. They spoke of the amazing strength George showed as he traveled the county speaking to people to help find his daughter.
The family was so touched that many people reached out to help them. Even as hundreds of people walked the wooded areas in the county, other showed up at the Weckler home. The men brought their tractors and the women brought home baked food. They cleared and planted the fields so that George and Eleanor could spend their energy on searching for their lost little girl. Others sheared the sheep and repaired fences for the family.
The little girl’s disappearance eventually faded from the front page even as George and Eleanor worked to keep people looking for their daughter. Days turned into weeks and then months without any sign of the little girl.
Finally, in December word came that there had been a confession. District Attorney Francis Garity of Jefferson County told reporters that a Richland Center man had confessed to taking Georgia Jean. Buford Sennett was only 22 in 1947 when the story broke but his name was well known to authorities. In November, Sennett and his accomplice, Robert Winslow had kidnapped Carl Carlson and a female relative in Madison. They murdered Carlson and dumped his body into the Wisconsin River where he was later recovered. It took only 90 hours from the time that they kidnapped Carl for them to be standing in front of a judge. They were both given life sentences and sent to Waupun.
Sennett confessed that he and another man had taken Georgia Jean because they knew her father was well off. The plan was to return the little girl when the ransom was paid. They held the little girl in the woods outside of Richland Center. Sennett testified that he gave the little girl two sleeping pills before he left for town. He had a date that night back in Richland Center. When he returned in the morning the little girl was dead. The accomplice (who went unidentified) had given her more of the pills.
Sennett stated that they weighed Georgia Jean’s body down with cinder blocks and tossed her from the Blue River Bridge near where they had left Carlson’s body. Though many hours were spent searching the area no body was ever found. Sennett quickly recanted the confession. While some folks believed that Buford Sennett had taken little Georgia Jean, others didn’t believe the story at all.
The months passed and there was no concrete evidence to tie Sennett to Georgia Jean’s kidnapping. Every time a new lead would be revealed the Weckler’s hoped that they would finally learn the truth of what happened that rainy May day in 1947. Every time bones were discovered anywhere in Wisconsin, the family would wait to see if they could finally bring the little girl home. Unfortunately, no trace of Georgia Jean was ever found.
In a further twist to this strange story, Edward Gein was questioned about Georgia Jean’s disappearance when he was arrested in November of 1957. No connection between Gein and Georgia Jean was ever found.
This story was reported in papers all over the country. Many man hours were spent running down every clue but to this day, no solid evidence has ever been found. George a quiet farmer was forced into the spotlight time and again in order to keep Georgia Jean’s story alive. He believed to his dying day that Georgia Jean was alive somewhere. Eleanor carried the agonizing loss of her daughter with her until her death in 1996. Georgia Jean’s name was listed on George and Eleanor’s tombstone in the quiet cemetery where all of the Weckler family was laid to rest close to their family home.
It has been 72 years since the day that Georgia Jean was last seen skipping down her driveway. But folks haven’t forgotten the tragedy of the Weckler family. On the 70th anniversary the news broke that a new cold case task force was looking into the story. Detective Leah Meyers took the case over and was hopeful that she could finally prove that Buford Sennett did in fact kidnap and kill Georgia Jean. Meyers also hopes that she can find the little girl and lay her to rest in the same cemetery where generations of her family are buried.
Copyright © 2020 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events