The Unsolved Murder Of Rockford Police Officer Arthur Bassett

Originally published in the Rock River Times.

Mr and Mrs Arthur Bassett

1927 was an exciting time for Arthur Bassett.  At 28 years old, Arthur was already a highly respected police officer who had served in the department for three years.  And he was soon to be married to Pearl Johnson.

Sept. 22, 1927, Arthur worked until 11 p.m. and then picked up Pearl for a short drive down Montague Road.  On the way back to Pearl’s home, Arthur turned onto Michigan Avenue near the intersection of South Central Avenue when he pulled off to the side of the road.  This is a residential area now, but in 1927, it was still surrounded by fields.

The couple hadn’t sat there very long when another car pulled up behind them.  Arthur and Pearl were both startled when four men surrounded the Ford sedan, pounding on the hood and yelling obscenities.  Arthur asked them what they wanted. “Get out of the car and you’ll see,” was the answer given.

Arthur climbed out of his car, grabbing both the .45 automatic that he kept stashed by the seat and his service revolver.  One of the assailants jumped into the car with Pearl and told her to get down; Arthur turned to face the other three, and they all started to shoot.

The shooting soon stopped, and the man in Arthur’s car jumped out of the sedan.  Pearl heard one of the men yell, “For God’s sakes, Ralph, get me in the car quick, I am bleeding to death!” The others picked him up and carried him to the car, and they roared away.

Pearl ran to Arthur, who was in the middle of the street, a pool of blood spreading out under him.  Pearl ran down the street screaming for help.  Police rushed to the scene, but there was nothing they could do for their fallen comrade.

The police could tell the gun fight had been at very close range, and the substantial amount of blood in the field near the road told that one of the men had been hit.  They spread out and searched the fields and road around the scene with flashlights, certain they would find another body, but there was nothing.

That same night, Dr. O.M. Ford was awakened by pounding on his door at 2011 School St.  There was a man at his door yelling for help for his friend who had been shot, and the friend waited in the car.  Dr. Ford explained that he didn’t have the proper equipment there at his home.  He told the man to take his friend to a hospital.  The men left, and Dr. Ford noticed it was around 12:30 a.m.

Later that morning, when Dr. Ford heard about the shooting, he phoned police to tell them of his late-night visitors.  He said the man who knocked on the door was young but that he didn’t notice the type of car or see anyone else.  Since the wounded man was taken to the doctor’s home, the police theorized that at least one of the men was local.

At Arthur’s autopsy, Coroner Fred Olson reported that the fatal shot went right through Arthur’s chest, cutting his aorta and exiting just under the right shoulder blade.

Police investigated, but could come up with no motive; there was nothing taken except for Arthur’s service revolver.  They were led to believe this was a completely random act by strangers.

The police checked local hospitals and other doctors, and searched field after field looking for evidence of a recent burial, but they never found any sign of the men.

The police, Pearl, and Arthur’s family all thought it would just be a matter of time before someone talked or they found new evidence that would lead to the men who killed Arthur.  But they were wrong.  There were never any arrests made for the killing of Patrol Officer Arthur Bassett.

A scene re-enacting the killing: X marks the spot where Bassett died; the cross is the position of the bandit wounded by the officer; and the figure to the left of the car is Bassett’s killer. Photo by the Rockford Register Republic.

Arthur Bassett’s two-door sedan with bullet-shattered window. Photo by the Rockford Register Republic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Prohibition And Early Mob Activity In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Many people know about Prohibition and can easily call up images of police officers breaking in doors, smashing stills and confiscating bottles of illegal hooch. They can also imagine gangsters dressed in fancy suits, racing through city streets and shooting at each other or the police. But one imagines these things taking place in big cities like New York or Chicago; one hardly thinks of them happening here in Rockford.

But the Rockford Sunday Republic stated in an article from Aug. 17, 1930: “Back in 1923, Rockford bootleggers were beginning to organize into groups, now known as gangs, to withstand the attacks being made on them by enforcement officers and to hold up the tumbling alcohol and moonshine prices which were rapidly slipping down.”

During that same year, Rockford had its first reported gangster killing. It was Oct. 8, 1923, when a corpse was found forced into a culvert on Montague Road. The man would later be identified as Louis J. Milani. Milani’s throat was slashed and his body was mutilated. He also had a large rock placed on his chest. His murder has never been solved.

Aug. 14, 1930, Joe Giovingo, a Rockford native, was standing on the curb by the corner of Morgan and South Main streets, talking to four men who were sitting in an automobile. One of the men was Tony Abbot. Abbot, whose real name was Abbatini, was reportedly part of Al Capone’s gang from Chicago. Abbot allegedly killed one of “Bugs” Moran’s men, Jack Zuta, in Wisconsin and was in Rockford, hiding out.

As Joe was speaking to Abbot, two detectives called him over to speak to them. They wanted to talk to him about the recent raid at Giovingo’s home on Harding Street. The officers were Folke Bengsten and Roy Johnson.

They had just started to talk to Joe when a large “high-powered” Dodge sedan appeared on South Main Street. As it passed Abbot’s car, a shotgun was poked through the rear window and shots were fired. They struck the car that Abbot was sitting in. Abbot and the other men in the car scrambled out of the doors and hunched behind the car. Johnson hit the ground, and Bengsten ducked and then drew his gun to return fire. He hit the rear window. The car continued south on South Main and then turned onto Montague Road.

Joe had 17 wounds from the gunshot blast that had torn into his side. One slug hit his elbow first, then passed into his abdomen. He died a few minutes later.

The Dodge sedan was recovered the next day about a mile-and-a-half from the city on Montague Road. This led the police to believe this was a premeditated hit. Bengsten and Johnson also reported that Abbot appeared nervous as he was sitting in his car. Abbot kept checking the rear-view mirror as if looking for someone.

Police officers could not agree whether the bullets were meant for Abbot or Giovingo, who was a suspected bootlegger himself. Abbot and his body guards were taken into custody, but later released.

Paul Giovingo, Joe’s brother, came to the station to speak to police and then left with Abbot. Paul and Abbot were apparently good friends.

Paul Giovingo would, years later, suffer the same fate as his brother. Paul was also murdered in a gangster-type slaying in February 1933. He was found shot to death in his car on South Winnebago Street, not far from his house. There was shotgun damage to the driver side of the car and wounds on the left side of Paul’s body. The killers must have wanted to ensure Paul’s death because evidence showed they stopped the car and fired several revolver shots to the back of his head. Powder marks indicated these were contact wounds.

“Abandoned Death Automobile Found Today”: “The automobile used by Chicago gangsters who last night murdered Joseph Giovingo of Rockford with bullets believed to have been intended for Tommy Abbott, notorious Chicago gangster, near the Morgan st. intersection of S. Main st., was found abandoned today near Beverly Gardens on Montague road. The license plates on the car were issued to Antonio Cantone, 1236 Ferguson st. This address is that of a vacant lot, and nobody by the name of Cantone can be located in Rockford.” Pictured: Deputy Sheriff Chester Pence (right) and Police Detective Roy Johnson examining a shot gun shell. (From the Rockford Daily Republic, Aug. 15, 1930)

Paul Giovingo (from the Morning Star, Feb. 12, 1933)

Joseph Giovingo (from the Rockford Daily Republic, Aug. 15, 1930)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Mr. Blakesley And His Musical Mouse

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

A story about a man having a mouse in his house may not seem very newsworthy today, but that is exactly what was in the headlines of the Rockford newspapers in December 1883.  Apparently, Mr. Blakesley, who lived “at the foot of Winnebago Street” during that time, had been awakened by strange noises in the night.  He described the sounds much like the singing of a canary.  Mr. Blakesley told of his search that went on for several nights until he was awakened by the sounds that were now coming from his very bedroom!  He stayed still, but very quietly looked around the room until he spotted a small mouse on the bureau.  Blakesley was astonished to see the little creature “warbling with the greatest freedom.”

He decided to trap the little mouse, and finally, after many attempts, succeeded.  Blakesley had heard of this phenomenon, when a similar story was recently reported out east.  His was the first account to come from this part of the country, however.

Rockfordians were fascinated by the story of this little musical mouse.  It was described as “a beautiful maltese color, with a breast of snowy white fur.”  The articles claim that the head is different from an ordinary mouse because it was longer and the ears were larger.  The mouse’s little hands and feet were entirely white.

Blakesley built a little house from tin for his musical guest.  It had two stories, and he would set fresh bedding outside of the cage.  The little mouse would pull it through the bars of the cage and carry it to the second floor to build a little nest.  Every morning, the mouse would pull the bedding to the first floor, where it would spread it out to air.

Some of the habits of this extraordinary mouse varied as well.  Mr. Mouse, as he is named in one article, would daintily reach into the food bowl and eat one seed at a time, much like a canary.  When a basin of water would be added to the little cage, Mr. Mouse would drink his fill and then proceed to dip both of his front paws in the water and scrub his face.  The sight of the little creature’s little, wet paws, stroking his fur in such a “deliberate manner,” would thoroughly entertain his audience.

What really delighted the audience, however, was the sight of the tiny creature giving a musical performance.  Blakesley had successfully trained the animal to perform on command.  He would tap his finger on the cage several times and the mouse would stop whatever it was doing, sit up and open its tiny mouth.  The sounds that came out would startle first-time guests.  The sounds were not a squeak, as one might expect from this animal. They were described as a “melody of sounds — high and low pitch, sharp and clear, low and trembling, exactly like a canary.”  The mouse would also bob his head while singing, increasing the similarity.

The effect on the audience was always astonishing to observe.  Most would laugh outright, and then they would question Blakesley about the “freak of nature.”  He would always point out the similarities between Mr. Mouse and a canary, calling the paradox of seeing one type of creature mimicking another “astonishing and interesting.”

The similar story of the capture of another such creature took place in London, England, and that little animal was put into a museum.  Blakesley had several offers for the purchase of his unique songster, including one from the Chicago Museum, but he had turned them all down, content to share his delightful performer with his neighbors here in Rockford.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Mattie Culver – Her Spirit Still Walks

Some of you may know that I travel all over the country to visit haunted historical locations.  I am very blessed to have a partner that never hesitates to drive the “road less traveled”.  We have ended up in some pretty amazing places and have experienced many adventures together.

This story is about one of these adventures. This past fall we headed toward Yellowstone National Park.  I visited the Rockford Public Library and checked out several tour guides for the park and surrounding areas.

I am always astonished to find ghost stories in the most unusual places.  One of the books mentioned that there are several grave sites in the park beyond the cemeteries of Fort Yellowstone and Kite Hill.  One of the graves that caught my attention was the story of Mattie Shipley Culver who died in March of 1889.

Her grave was not inside one of the cemeteries but stood all alone close to the Nez Perce Picnic Area inside of the park itself.  At first I was curious about why a woman would be buried there all alone with no other family members close by.  I became fascinated with Mattie and felt compelled to learn her story.  

She was born Martha Jane Shipley on September 18, 1856 in Massachusetts.  Her family was very poor and Mattie (as her family called her) started to work in the dirty textile factories as a young child.  Her parents divorced when she was seven causing even more hardship for the little girl. Mattie lived with her father after the break up of the marriage.  When he was killed during the Civil War, Mattie was passed around to several family members.

Mattie grew to be a lovely young woman with very limited resources.  She and her sister, Nellie would spend hours dreaming of far-off places away from the crowded city. Their dreams became possible when Nellie met a young man named David Alston.  David made the sisters feel like they could have the life they had visioned.  The three decided to leave the crowded cities of the east coast behind and headed toward the west.  They settled in Pease Bottom, Montana.

It was in Montana that Mattie first fell in love.  The man’s name was Eugene Gillette.  Mattie’s happiness was short lived, however.  She must have been heart broken when Eugene contracted tuberculosis and died one year after their wedding. Mattie’s devotion and care for her young husband impressed all who knew her.  

Mattie next met a dashing young man by the name of Ellery C. Culver.  Ellery was an adventurer that had left his home state of New York and traveled west.  He served in the Civil War in the Ohio Infantry. Though the details of their meeting have been lost to time, stories tell of how the widowed Ellery was taken with the beautiful twenty six year old Mattie. Records show that the couple was married in Yellowstone, Montana in 1886.

The young couple welcomed their first child in June of 1887.  They named the little girl Theda after Ellery’s sister.  The couple must have thought all of their dreams were coming true when Ellery was offered a job through the Yellowstone Park Association as the Master of Transportation.  He had to leave Mattie and the newborn behind until he could make things ready for them in their new home.  

Ellery established their new living quarters at the Firehole Hotel, set in a beautiful location on the Firehole River.  Mattie was filled with excitement when she left Billings on July 26, 1886.  She was moving to a beautiful location with her husband and her daughter to begin their new life together.  Mattie thoughts probably wandered back to the nights spent with her sister when they talked of their future lives far away from the dirty factories of the city.

Both Ellery and Mattie must have felt blessed as they settled into their new surroundings. Mattie helped Ellery with his duties at the hotel and they shared many happy days watching their little girl playing among the pine trees.  

Mattie probably knew from the beginning that she had tuberculosis.  She had nursed her first husband through the dreaded disease and knew the symptoms all too well. She might have even known before the trip to Yellowstone and hoped the clean mountain air would save her.  

Mattie would put on a brave face for her husband but she began to spend more and more time walking along the banks of the Firehole River.  All too soon, the disease progressed until Mattie could not hide the symptoms any longer.  The couple had to face their worst fears and on a cold winter day in the beginning of March, 1889, Mattie drew her last breath.  Ellery was grief stricken and unsure what to do with himself.  There also was the matter of Mattie’s body.  The deep snow and frozen ground meant that burial would need to be postponed.  

Mattie was well loved through the area and several soldiers came to assist her family.  They brought along two barrels to place end to end.  They gently placed Mattie’s body inside and covered her with snow.  Mattie’s official burial was not conducted for almost two weeks later.  

Ellery knew that Mattie loved the area around the river and he made the decision that she would rest there under the pines.  He built her a coffin from wood that was once a partition from their rooms. Ellery had a beautiful head stone designed and shipped to place on her grave so that all who wandered past the place would know of Mattie and his love for her.  Ellery was due to leave the area in the spring but he made the soldiers and others inside the park promise to look after Mattie’s grave until his return.  He took Theda to Mattie’s sister’s home while he traveled from station to station for his duties.  Ellery often returned to the lovely area to visit Mattie’s grave.  He would work three more years in Yellowstone before moving away.

Even after the rest of the family left Yellowstone, people continued to see Mattie.  She often was seen walking by the river she loved.  Some even heard her lovely voice singing lullabies as they walked among the pine trees. Those who drew close to see her face spoke of her beauty and the incredible sadness that filled her eyes.   

Unfortunately, Mattie’s death would not be the only tragedy in Ellery’s life.  In 1906, nineteen year old Theda lived with her Aunt Nellie in Spokane, Washington.  She became ill and died suddenly.  Ellery seemed broken by this final loss and retired to a Old Soldiers home in California.

 Finally, in 1922, Ellery knew his time was drawing short and he spoke to all who would listen that his final wish was to be laid to rest next to his beloved wife.  This wish was denied and after his death on April 7, 1922, Ellery was buried in the National Soldiers Home Cemetery in what is now Los Angeles, California.  

Though his body may lie many miles from Mattie, some say that Ellery’s spirit has joined hers in Yellowstone.  Travelers in the area now speak of not one spirit but two.  Witnesses tell of spotting two people dressed in older period clothing walking hand in hand by the beautiful river, especially in the evening hours right before sunset.  

As I walked where Mattie and her family once lived so long ago, I was once again touched by her story. I noticed the untouched beauty of the spot and also realized that this location, like so many I have been fortunate enough to visit through the years,  holds its place in time.  The veil between the present and the past is very thin here and it is possible to envision the way things once were.

 

For more details of the fascinating life of Mattie Culver, see the book “Mattie, A Woman’s Journey West” by Nan Weber, https://nanweber.com/my-book-page

If you would like to read more about the people who settled Yellowstone (and their ghosts!) I would recommend the following two books.  “Death In Yellowstone” by Lee H. Whittlesey describes some of the mishaps, accidents and other means of demise that have befallen visitors and staff throughout the years and “Yellowstone Ghost Stories” by Shellie Larios tells of the spiritual inhabitants as well as some of the legends that have been passed down.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Carrie Brown

carrie_brown_web_med Carrie Brown was born in August of 1860 to parents Horace and Mary August.  Carrie was her parents pride and joy.  She was described as being remarkably handsome and as one of Rockford’s fairest daughters.

Horace and Mary must have felt very satisfied with all three of their children.  The whole family was very happy when Carrie met Frederick Lee.  He was a fine young man who held a high position at an insurance company in Iowa.

Carrie graduated from Rockford High School in 1880.  She and Fred became engaged and the wedding was planned for Carrie’s graduation from the premier finishing school that she was accepted into.  The Dillaye’s Chestnut Street Seminary was located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Carrie was excited but anxious about going so far away for school.  She was very close to her family and was reluctant to leave her home town.  Things went well at the school and soon Carrie settled in to the dormitory.  She did complain to her roommates about having trouble sleeping attributing it to stress.

It was this stress that would lead to a life-changing event.  Carrie had a horrible accident while away at school.  She had a room on the second floor of the woman’s dormitory.  Carrie was apparently sleep- walking when she fell from a window.  Luckily, her night dress caught on a flag pole and though it did not stop her fall completely it did help slow her descent.

Carrie fell onto the sidewalk and struck her head quite hard on the ground.  Carrie suffered extensive trauma and was sent home to recover.  She couldn’t move her limbs for a time but slowly, over time that improved.

Carrie became quite depressed with the effects from her fall.  She struggled to recover her physical abilities but even as these began to improve, her depression did not.  Her parents eventually sought treatment options and eventually even tried shock treatment on the young girl.

Carrie loved music and she agreed to try to go to school in New York state for vocal and instrumental music but had returned home that spring of 1885.

On April 9, 1885, Carrie’s parents were sitting in their home before retiring for the evening. Carrie was writing letters.  It was a usual night in the Brown home.  Horace and Mary decided to go to bed but Carrie told them she wasn’t quite ready yet.  The couple told their daughter good night and went to bed.  Mary was a little apprehensive that night because there had been a rash of break-ins at several homes in their neighborhood.  She slept restlessly and woke suddenly when she heard the sound of a door opening.  She waited to see if there were any other sounds.  There were none so she lay back down.  The next morning, Mary was up before the sun, still restless.  She became frightened when she saw the lantern for Carrie’s room still on the table.  She then went to check on Carrie and found her room empty except for two letters.

One letter was dressed to the family and the other to her fiancé.  The newspapers printed Carrie’s letter,  which stressed that it was her health issues that were causing all her problems and that she could no longer struggle on the way she had.  She ended the letter with, “The River bed in front will be my resting place tonight.”

Horace clutched the letter and ran out to the river bank in front of the home.  It was there that he found his daughter’s favorite shawl.  Nearby neighbors were startled to hear the usually stoic man’s sobs of grief.

One does not even want to imagine what that moment must have like for Horace.  Dealing with his own grief and also knowing that he had to break the horrible news to his wife must have been devastating.

It all seemed cut and dried, but as often happens in these cases, questions arose and then rumors soon followed.  People said that the letters did not appear to be Carrie’s and they thought someone had taken her.  It was also suggested that maybe she had changed her mind about marrying young Fred and did not know how to face the family.

The police were notified and telegraphs were sent to her brother and sister in Chicago and Fred in Iowa.  The search began almost immediately.  People began to search the bank of the river and lookouts were stationed on both sides.  When they didn’t see anything the first day, they began to drag the river with hooked lines.  There was no sign of Carrie anywhere.

After a few days, when the body had not been spotted it was decided that a more drastic technique must be used.   Horace hired a man with a cannon and powder to discharge the weapon.  The thought was that the percussion would shake Carrie loose from whatever she might be snagged on.

Almost a full month would pass before Carrie’s body was found.  It was down south all the way to Grand Detour a full 36 miles away.  A ferry ran back and forth across the Rock River at that point and it was the ferryman who spotted Carrie’s body floating face down.  When they brought her to the bank of the river and lifted her out, everyone was shocked to see that the face was just as if she had spent the last month sleeping instead of submerged.  The hair was gone, probably washed away with the fierce spring current but the fair face was untouched.

Fred Lee and Carrie’s father drove the six hour trip with an empty pine box in the bed of his wagon.  Friends of Horace Brown arranged for a special train to bring Carrie’s body back to Rockford.  When they asked the price for them to have this service, the man in charge told them there would be no cost.  Coroner Marsh met them at the station and transported Carrie to the Undertaker’s Office.

In another strange twist, a young German girl who worked at Nordstrom’s store during the search for Carrie, began to say that she was Carrie.  Erma Erke started to claim that she was Carrie brought back to life.  She became increasingly more insistent that she see the Browns until finally they relented.  The girl actually stayed at their house for a few days and was quite upset and didn’t understand why the Browns did not want her there longer.  The paper stated that it was thought that the young girl would end up in an institution.

As in most of these cases, Carrie’s death left more questions than answers.  Her family laid her to rest in Greenwood Cemetery in their family plot.  Her tombstone is a final tribute to the girl who the Rockford newspapers referred to as “The Water’s Waif”.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

Ionis And Milford Ihlenfield

20160624_110001The people that lived on Pershing Avenue all knew each other. This was pretty typical in Rockford in 1961.  It was a different city back then.  People knew and looked out for their neighbors.  So it wasn’t surprising that it was the neighbors who notified the police that they hadn’t seen their neighbors in a few days.

Milford and Ionis Ihlenfield worked from their home breeding dogs.  Milford previously worked for a construction business but the couple hit a rough spot in the summer of 1961. Milford lost his job and the financial strain caused the couple to fight almost constantly.

Then in early August of 1961, there was an explosion at the house.  Ionis was cooking up some food for the seventeen dogs that they had at the house when the pressure cooker she was using exploded.  The fire caused $1500.00 worth of damage to the home.  This certainly did not help the couple’s financial situation.

On Monday, August 13 in the evening a neighbor saw Milford outside the home.  They chatted for a while about the Ihlenfield’s situation.  The neighbor would tell authorities later that Milford seemed to be very upset about losing his driver’s license. He had gotten pulled over and the police officer kept his license because, as Milford told it, he didn’t have car insurance.  The men said goodnight and the neighbor was startled when Milford began walking away and suddenly stopped.  Milford turned back and said, “There really isn’t any point to go on any longer.”

A short time later the quiet neighborhood was shaken by the sound of a loud argument.  They breathed a sigh of relief when the noise finally stopped.

Everything seemed back to normal over the next few days. But then the neighbors noticed that it had been awhile since anyone had since Milford or Ionis.  They all knew that the couple owned seventeen dogs.  No one had seen them for a few days either. One neighbor questioned another until the whole neighborhood was talking about the couple. Finally, on Friday, August 19 one neighbor realized they had not seen the couple since Monday night.

The authorities were called.  They arrived and had to kick in the door to gain access to the home.  The first officers that entered were horrified at the sight before them.   There was a body lying face down on the floor.   There was another, this one a female, lying on the sofa.

The investigation was hampered at first by the dogs that were wandering all over the house.    When the house was searched, the officers found one dog dead and the others near death.

The officers received assistance from the Rockford Animal Hospital who sent food for the animals.  The dogs were transported to Winnebago County Human Society.

The police questioned neighbors and were able to put together a timeline for the couple.  The last time anyone had seen the couple was Monday evening.  Coroner Sundberg determined that Milford has shot his wife while she slept on the couch at around 11:00p.m.  Then Milford put the shotgun to his own head.

Coroner Sundberg, the police officers, and the North Park Fire Department worked for hours to get the animals delivered to safe lodgings.  They also cleaned the house and had the blood spattered furniture removed.

Ionis was laid to rest at Cedar Bluff Cemetery and her grave marked by a nice stone.  Milford was also buried there according to the burial records, right next to Ionis.  There is, however, no marker for his grave.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Frank Cichella, Rockford’s First Italian-American Police Officer

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Frank-Cichella - CopyFrank Cichella’s life in Rockford was pretty typical for the early 1900s. He wasn’t from Rockford originally. In fact, he wasn’t from the United States. Frank came here when he was 16 years old, leaving his home of Ferentino, Italy. He traveled on the S.S. Re D’Italia from Naples to Philadelphia to live with his brother in 1907. It is not known when and why he came to Illinois, but he was here by 1912. Frank married Mary Fromo in 1912 in Rockford when he was 21.

In 1917, he is registered as an alien working as a “moulder” at the Eclipse Gas Stove Company. By this time, he and Mary had three children, and they were very active in St. Anthony’s Church. Frank finally became a naturalized citizen Oct. 3, 1922.

By 1927, Mary and Frank had seven children, between six months and 13 years of age, and the six little girls and one boy kept Mary very busy. Frank worked a variety of jobs until settling in as a police officer. Frank was the very first Italian-American police officer in Rockford and had been on the force for just more than a year in 1927. He was very popular with the other officers.

Frank borrowed a cousin’s car on Thursday, Feb. 24, 1927. He took it back to his cousin’s house and started for home. He was walking dressed in plain street clothes, not in his uniform. All that is known for certain is that he was passing 822 Corbin St. in the evening when he saw a car and noticed the car was without headlights. Frank walked to the car to speak to the man working under the hood. Chester Bailey had just gotten home from work and was working on the engine of the car when Frank approached him.

Frank announced to Bailey that he was a police officer and displayed his badge. He explained that Bailey was going to be fined for driving without headlights. This is as far as the facts are clear. What happened next depends on who is telling the story. Chester Bailey claimed that Frank began to yell at him and “abuse” him.

The men were yelling at one another and began to fight. Chester broke loose and ran for his house. Frank was still standing in the street when Bailey returned carrying his gun. Bailey opened fire on Frank, hitting him five times in the abdomen. Frank returned fire and struck Bailey in the neck, chest and stomach.

Both men were rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery in attempts to save their lives. Tragically, both men died from their wounds. They were both conscious long enough to make statements, but they contradict one another and offer no real clarity to what actually happened.

Chester-Bailey-2

Chester Bailey was an African-American, and the newspapers of the day wrote about the city’s concern for the danger of a race riot. Some of Cichella’s friends, and even other police officers, were threatening to retaliate against other African-Americans. Meantime, friends of Bailey’s were threatening to do the same. City officials asked for cool heads and calm hearts. Both men left small children, and the newspapers begged for people of both races to remember the families of the men.

Frank Cichella was honored as a police officer who fell in the line of duty. His funeral procession was one of the biggest in the history of the City of Rockford. Thousands of people accompanied the coffin and family from St. Anthony’s Church to St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Rockford’s Italian immigrants worked hard to take care of Cichella’s family by soliciting donations to help pay off the mortgage of their little house and funds to help support them. The police officers gave many donations as well, and Mary was able to keep her home for her children. Mary died in the house on Montague Street in 1971. Frank and Mary’s children grew up to be adults their father would have been proud of, despite the hardships they had to face without him.

Cichello-Funeral-GS-WEB-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

The Mysterious Deaths Of Stan Skridla And Mary Jane Reed

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Mary-Jane-Reed-Stan-Skridla“Time heals all wounds” is a familiar saying, and while it may work that way for some things, even time can’t heal the wounds that the families of Stan Skridla and Mary Jane Reed have suffered. It has been 66 years since the two young people were found murdered, and while there has been much speculation and many accusations, no one has ever been arrested for the crimes. The only thing the people involved in the investigation can agree on is that on the evening of Thursday, June 24, 1948, these two people were attacked.

Stanley Skridla was 28 years old in 1948. He was born May 8, 1920, and attended school in Rockford, graduating from Rockford High School. Stan served in the U.S. Navy from October 1943 until December 1945. He had been stationed in the Pacific and had seen action on the island of Guam during World War II. He was honorably discharged Dec. 20, 1945.

In February 1946, Stan was employed by the Illinois Bell Telephone Company as a lineman. He was working in the Oregon, Illinois, area in 1948 and living with his widowed mother, Amelia, in a house on Loomis Street in Rockford.

Mary Jane Reed grew up in Oregon, Illinois. Her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Reed, and her father worked at the silica plant in Oregon. Mary Jane was reported to be popular, especially with the opposite sex. That is easy to understand when one sees her picture. She had a very captivating smile, blondish-red hair and beautiful blue eyes.

Stanley and Mary Jane met through their jobs with the telephone company. She was a telephone operator with DeKalb-Ogle Telephone Company, and Stanley was working in the area. They arranged for a date on Thursday, June 24, 1948, when Mary Jane finished her shift at 10 p.m.

They visited several taverns, and the details of their evening get murky rather quickly. The last time they were seen was around 11:30 p.m. when they left a local tavern. The next time either of them was spotted was at 6 a.m. when Stanley’s body was found by a local man, Jack Eckerd. Eckerd was headed down a country road known for being a “lover’s lane” when he saw Stanley’s body in a ditch. Police discovered that Stan had been shot four times, once in the chest and three times in the lower abdomen. His car was found later in the day, abandoned on White Pines Road, just off Highway 2. His keys and wallet were missing. Mary Jane was nowhere to be found.

Police started a search, but felt right from the very beginning that it would be a body recovery instead of a rescue operation. Unfortunately, those fears were realized June 29 when a truck driver taking a load from the silica plant stopped to let another truck pass him. He said he smelled a strange odor, and when he looked around, he found Mary Jane Reed’s body lying face down in a ditch. Weeds obscured her body, but it was evident that she was dead. Mary Jane was found dressed only in panties and a bra, though later Coroner Horner said there were no signs of a sexual attack. The cause of death was a gunshot wound. Details differ here, as some state she was shot in the head, some in the back.

Mary Jane’s body was taken to the Farrell Funeral Home. Her family dressed her in the beautiful gown they had purchased for Mary Jane to wear in her brother Donald’s wedding the weekend she was killed.

Police have interviewed hundreds of people to try to get a clear picture of what actually happened on that lover’s lane so long ago. The details were never clear. Theories were offered, but never proven, and the families never received the justice they so longed for.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Spirits Linger At Camp Grant Museum

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Camp-Grant-MuseumThe Camp Grant Museum and Command Post Restaurant is a treasure trove of interesting history told through actual artifacts of the men and women who served at Camp Grant. It is owned by Stanley and Yolanda Weisensel. They have spent many years scouring the area on a quest to build a memorial to the people who traveled through this area on the way to serve our country in World Wars I and II.

The place is fascinating enough on its own, but the Weisensels are gems themselves. Yolanda is quite a storyteller and has spent many hours researching the whole area that once was Camp Grant.

The building for Camp Grant began in July 1917, and by November of that year, 1,100 buildings had been constructed. It was designed to be a training site for infantry, engineers, machine gunners and artillery, and both enlisted men and officers were trained there.

It was virtually a small city, and even had its own fire department and police force. It also included a base hospital, a photography studio, a movie theater, and a parade ground. It totaled more than 5,000 acres. In its peak time, July of 1918, Camp Grant supported a total of 50,543 officers and enlisted men.

In the fall of 1918, the devastating Spanish flu hit the Rockford area. This was a worldwide epidemic that killed millions. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the United States, and Camp Grant was hit very hard. The first case was reported on Sept. 23, 1918. Three days later, there were more than 700 cases reported, and by the end of the month, more than 4,000 cases were reported.

Not much could be done to help the patients who came down with this dreaded disease. It swept quickly through the camp, and there were some 24-hour periods where more than 100 men died. Within nine days, 1,000 men perished, and within two weeks, the number would swell to more than 2,000 dead. The colonel who was in charge of Camp Grant at the time was so overwhelmed with the loss of his men that he committed suicide.

The camp was re-opened for World War II, and in August 1943, started to house German POWs, most of whom were members of the German Afrika corps or U-Boat sailors. These men were paid to work in the fields and canneries to help ease the shortage of men in the local area. Later, many of these prisoners would claim they were treated very well at the camp. Some of them would actually return to the area to live after the war.

Besides being filled with interesting artifacts, the museum also has many spirits who linger within its walls. The owners and wait staff have had many experiences they cannot explain. They have had items moved around, seen moving balls of light, felt someone touch them, and seen full-bodied apparitions.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Veterans Memorial Hall, A Place Where The Walls Talk

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Memorial-Hall-Rockford-KKresolIn 1899, the well-known local soldier, Thomas G. Lawler, who was the Commander of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), Garret L. Nevius Post No. 1, submitted a petition to the Winnebago County Board. The petition, signed by 200 men, was a request for a building specifically for veterans. This building, named the Veterans Memorial Hall, was finished in 1903. It was the first ever of its kind built in Illinois, and according to some sources, the entire United States. Its purpose was “to serve as a constant reminder to all of the sacrifices given by the brave men and women from Winnebago County and a way for following generations to remember and learn about their lives.”

It has gone through many challenges over the last 111 years, but its purpose has always remained the same: to serve Winnebago County’s veterans and their families.

This is definitely a building where the walls actually do “talk.” The walls bear the names of 5,000 veterans who served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

Many dramatic events have taken place inside the stone walls of the hall. Thomas G. Lawler, the man who fought so hard for the building, was laid in state there before his funeral. Several thousand people came through in the four hours his body was on display. Most people left with tears in their eyes at the loss of this amazing man.

Another memorial was held there for another remarkable Rockford hero. Mary J. Brainard was a Civil War nurse who followed her husband when he left to serve his country. She wrote poetry that told of the devastation she witnessed.

Other stories echo in the building, harder to decipher, but just as deeply imprinted upon the hall. Many people see a woman walking on different floors. This author has even seen her, though I did not realize she was an apparition at the time. I was waiting outside the door that opens onto Main Street. I had been waiting a few minutes and was starting to wonder if I should knock again, when I saw a woman dressed in a long gown descending the stairs. I thought maybe she was there assisting the manager, so I knocked on the glass. The woman never turned to look at me as she walked down the stairs to the first floor and turned the corner to continue down to the basement. I was really annoyed by this time, and when the manager let me in a few minutes later, I shared the story and told him the young lady was very rude to completely ignore my knockings. The manager had a strange expression on his face as he told me he was alone in the building.

Paul Smith, one of Haunted Rockford’s psychic mediums, thinks he knows the woman’s identity. The Damon family had a son serving in France during World War I. Grant Damon was due for a visit in 1918, and his mother went to the Veterans Memorial Hall to receive the details of her son’s return home. When she got to the hall, however, she received the unimaginable news that her son, Grant, had died a month before from injuries suffered when he was caught in a mustard gas attack. The impression of her agony still continues in this historic building.

Other paranormal claims are of children who were kept in the balcony area during meetings and a band that plays on as though still celebrating happier times.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events