Thomas And Judith Middleton

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Anyone reading Ralph Middleton’s obituary printed in the Register Star on July 30, 1998 would have been impressed by his life. The article mentioned his 62 years of employment at Ingersoll and that he served in the National Guard. Ralph was also voted Rockford’s Father of the Year in 1950. By all accounts, Ralph led a successful life filled with many accomplishments.

But it is what wasn’t written in his obituary that makes Ralph Middleton truly astonishing. Ralph suffered a personal tragedy that would have crippled most people. The fact that he went through this dark period and continued his success is nothing less than inspirational.

In the mid 1950’s Ralph lived on the west side of Rockford with his wife Dorothy. Ralph worked as a field supervisor at Ingersoll Milling Machine. Dorothy, who had been a dedicated teacher to children with cognitive and mobility issues, stayed at home to care for their three children. The oldest, Richard was enrolled in Harvard University working on a degree in Biology. Thomas who was 18 in 1956, recently graduated from West High School. Their only daughter, Judith was 12 years old and enrolled at Roosevelt Junior High School. Neighbors would later speak of the close bond that was evident between the family members.

Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton

Ralph’s life wasn’t perfect, of course. There were some bumps in the marriage, typical things that all young couples face. But as the years passed, different troubles appeared. Dorothy would sometimes be overcome with depression. She became confused in her thoughts and on really bad days would speak of harming herself. Luckily, Dorothy’s parents and siblings were close and helped with the the children. Eventually, Ralph had no choice but to admit Dorothy into a mental health facility for a few weeks.

Dorothy suffered another spell several years later. Ralph must have felt helpless as he watched his wife fall into utter despair. When he returned home from work one day to find Dorothy with her head submerged in the bathtub, he once again committed her.

These incidences had taken place years before and the summer of 1956 promised wonderful things. Richard was a junior at Harvard and made high marks in all of his classes. Thomas had taken a competitive examination for the Air Force Academy and was accepted. Judith showed all the signs of being as brilliant as her brothers.

Judith Middleton
Judith Middleton

But by the beginning of September there were clouds forming on the horizon that threatened the Middleton family. Thomas had decided to take leave from the academy to think about his future. Ralph and Dorothy wanted Thomas to return to the academy but he held firm and made the decision to enroll in the University of Wisconsin at Madison instead. He was interested in becoming a dentist and Madison had an excellent program.

Ralph was obviously disappointed but wanted to show his support for his son. Dorothy on the other hand, began to think that there was something lacking in Thomas. Ralph pointed out all of Thomas’ successes during high school. Thomas was a star athlete, made the honor roll consistently, was inducted to the National Honor Society, and had passed the very tough exam required to be accepted into the Air Force Academy.

Dorothy spoke with Ralph and her sisters about the negative effect she was having on her children. They were quick to deny that claim and tried to reassure her that was not the case. Dorothy’s sisters grew very concerned. They pleaded with Ralph to return Dorothy to the mental facility that had helped in the past. They offered to take Judith until Dorothy recovered. But Ralph was certain that his wife would eventually support Thomas’ decision.

Ralph woke up on Saturday, October 13, 1956 feeling hopeful that Dorothy would change her mind. Dorothy seemed in good spirits that morning and got up early to make Ralph breakfast before he left for work. They drank coffee and discussed the plans for the day. Ralph mentioned that he was only working a half day and should be home by noon. Dorothy seemed happy as she kissed him goodbye. Ralph would later state that he had no warning of what was to come.
Ralph arrived home after noon to find a note addressed to him on the kitchen table. His hands were shaking as he tore open the letter. The letter started with the words, “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Ralph dropped the letter and raced to the master bedroom. He was stunned to see the rifle that he used for target practice placed on the bed. The gun had obviously been fired. Ralph raced to Thomas’s room where it took a moment to understand what lay before him. There was blood on the pillow and a hole in Thomas’ temple.

Terrified now, Ralph raced into Judith’s room. There was more blood and Ralph realized that Judith had also been shot. Ralph slowly returned to the kitchen. He picked up the phone and dialed the number for the police.
Detectives arrived quickly along with the Coroner Sundberg and States Attorney Canfield. When they questioned Ralph about Dorothy’s location, he stated that he did not know. They decided to check the house and went to the basement with Ralph following behind. They found Dorothy on the floor in the basement. She was curled into a fetal position and gasping for air. They later found evidence that Dorothy had ingested a solution of lye and carbolic acid after shooting the children.

Dorothy was rushed to the hospital as Ralph tried to answer the detectives many questions. Though Dorothy had extensive burns to her mouth, trachea and esophagus, she survived. She was placed under arrest for the murder of Thomas and Judith as soon as she regained consciousness.

Richard came home to assist his father in securing counsel for his mother. The defense attorney believed that they could get a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. The state was just as sure they could prove murder. The trial turned into a battle of the psychiatrists as the state worked to prove that Dorothy knew what she was doing was wrong because she waited until Ralph left for work before killing the children.

While Ralph and Richard dealt with Dorothy’s medical care and arrest, they also had to plan a funeral for Thomas and Judith. The children were laid to rest at Wildwood Burial Park on West State Street. The service was held at St. John’s Evangelical Church. Besides friends and family, the church was filled to capacity with many who were unknown to the family. These strangers came to show support for the family that had suffered so much.


The state decided to try Dorothy for the murder of Judith first. Dorothy, still weakened by the damage inflicted in her suicide attempt, attended the trial in a wheel chair. The jury deliberated for 2 hours and 25 minutes before returning with a guilty plea. The courtroom exploded with emotion as family members broke into tears. Dorothy became distraught and Ralph reached to comfort her. His stoic demeanor cracked a little as reporters rushed to snap photographs of Dorothy in her despair. In an act completely out of character, Ralph lunged for one of the cameramen.

There was no feeling of resolution in this case, even the thought of bringing the family justice gave no comfort. The judge called Ralph to the front of the courtroom after announcing the verdict. He expressed sympathy for Ralph for the tragedy and spoke of how this case had rocked the entire community. The judge explained that though he felt compassion for Ralph and his wife, his job was to speak for the victims. Dorothy was sentenced to 30 years at the Illinois Reformatory for Women in Dwight, Illinois. The family was devastated and filed an appeal immediately.

Dorothy was re-assessed in the prison and quickly transferred to the Kankakee State Mental Hospital on the recommendation of the prison psychiatrist. While incarcerated, Dorothy made several suicide attempts. During one attempt Dorothy damaged her hands which had to be wrapped in gauze. On April 7, 1957, she removed the gauze wrapping from her hands and used them to hang herself. The newspapers carried the news of Dorothy’s death and her funeral. The articles mentioned the pastor offered hope to the family that Dorothy could at last find peace. She was laid to rest near Judith and Thomas.

Ralph continued to fight to have Dorothy’s murder verdict overturned. In May 1957, he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to grant a Writ of Error. Ralph spoke of the stigma the conviction brought upon his remaining son. The court denied the request.The same church that held all of the funerals for the family hosted a fund raiser to help Richard to continue his studies at Harvard. Richard eventually received a doctoral degree. He moved to New Jersey where he worked in Biology and raised his own family.

Ralph moved forward from this unbelievable tragedy. He remarried and worked at Ingersoll until his retirement in 1988. He continued to honor Dorothy’s memory whenever possible. When Richard got engaged the announcement mentioned both Ralph and Dorothy as parents. His long time commitment to the company he worked for and his service to this community brought Ralph great pride. But Ralph would probably take more pleasure in being remembered for his dedication to his family.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Dead Of Night

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

Charles from newspaper 2 small

It had been a special night for Grace and Charles Kalb. December 22, 1937 was Charles’ 46th birthday and their wedding anniversary. The couple were married for 24 years by then. They had already celebrated with a fancy party for their friends at the Faust Hotel.

On this night they had taken Charles’ best friend and business partner, Harry Dunn to a night on the town to celebrate. They were almost back to their house where they were going to eat cake with the couple’s two sons, Charles Jr. who was 18 years old and John Robert who was 13. Both of the boys were home for Christmas break and excited to celebrate this special day with their parents. Charles Jr. attended Northwestern University while John went to St. John Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin.

The three adults had been to see a show and were driving down Oxford Street toward their house located on Clinton Avenue. Charles always turned onto Cottage Grove to take the alley in the middle of the block. Their house was on Clinton Avenue but the garage opened toward the alley in the back of the property.

Charles was proud of the things that he had been able to give Grace and the boys. He loved living in a nice, big house and Christmas was one of his favorite times of the year. The house was all decorated for Christmas and looked very festive. Later, the newspapers would emphasize the contrast with the beautifully decorated lights on the house and the dark scene that played out behind it.

Charles slowed down as he made the turn onto Cottage Grove Avenue and Grace mentioned that there was someone behind them. Charles pulled over to let the car pass on the left before he made the turn into the alley. As the car passed Charles’ vehicle the night exploded with gunfire.

Later, a 12 gauge clean bore shot gun shell would be found in the street making it very clear to the police that whoever had fired the gun meant to kill Charles Kalb. The slugs entered the left side of Charles’ face piercing his brain and causing instant death.

The glass from the shattered window flew through the car and caused cuts to Grace’s face and damaged her left eye. She began to scream.
The car with the shooter or shooters pulled slowly away from the scene. The witnesses would say later they heard the purr of its engine as it slowly made its way down the street. The driver didn’t increase his speed; there was no squealing of tires, just a calm drive down the block.

Once the car moved down the block, Harry Dunn jumped from the car, handed Grace the house keys, and sent her for help. He was concerned for his friend and held his head up to help ease his breathing. But Charles would never take another breath. He died there in his car as his wife ran down the alley screaming for help.

By the time the police arrived a huge crowd of people had gathered at the scene. One neighbor who lived behind the Kalb’s on Oxford was George Mulholland. He rushed to Grace’s aid as she approached her back door. He told her that his wife had already called the police and an ambulance. They walked back down the alley both knowing that the ambulance would arrive too late to save Charles.

Grace must have thought about how ironic it was that Charles would die on his birthday. She must have been thinking about how differently their wedding day had ended 24 years earlier when she began the day as Grace Sullivan and ended it as Mrs. Charles Kalb.

Grace mentioned to Mr. Mulholland that she didn’t want the boys to see their father like that. She grew frantic as the time neared for them to arrive home. Mr. Mulholland agreed to intercept the boys and keep them inside the house.

The police arrived quickly. In fact, since the victim was considered high profile, State’s Attorney Robert Nash, Assistant Chief of Police Sheriff Carl Palmgren and the Mayor at the time, Charles E. Brown showed up, as well.

Everyone knew who Charles was, especially law enforcement and politicians. Charles and Grace had lived in Rockford for over 20 years at the time. Charles ran his own business and was the head of the Rockford Dyers and Cleaners business.

But he had made his real money running a bookie business. His office was in the Stewart Square building in downtown Rockford. He held leases for all of the horse race track wires in Rockford and this allowed him to keep all of the other “bookies” away from the downtown area. Rumors have been floating around that some of Kalb’s competitors though he was getting “too big for his own good”. They were upset that he held all of the power to dictate not only where they could open up a shop but also who could run the business.

The former sheriff in town, Sheriff William C. Bell had made things rough for Kalb by raiding his business. But Kalb would cooperate with the authorities and then go right back to business as soon as they left. He was a smart businessman though and the raids were costly.

It was never made clear who approached who but whether Charles made the first move or the Assistant Police Chief Homer Read doesn’t matter. One of them approached the other with a proposition. Charles (along with others in his business) started paying Read an insurance fee. This worked well for all parties until 1934 when the Fire and Police Commissioners brought Read and Charles before a grand jury on charges of bribery. The grand jury indicted both of the men for the charges but the cases were both dropped before they came to trial. Homer Read resigned from the Police Department and Kalb was fined $500.00.
Police grew frustrated very quickly with the investigation into Charles’ murder. Newspapers stated that when they went to question some of his fellow businessmen that they met “an impenetrable wall of silence.” Most of the owners suddenly decided to take family vacations in other states.

City leaders were afraid that Charles’ men would retaliate against whoever had placed the hit on him. They were also afraid of what tactics the lesser men would use as they tried to scramble to the top to gain Charles’ share of the business. Authorities decided to shut down the gambling in Rockford. James Kieley who was president of the Rockford Operator’s Association at the time and represented the legitimate gambling establishments in town, agreed to their demands. All slot machines would be removed from business and clubs by January 1, 1938.

The legitimate gambling places in town had been hoping that the state would pass new licensing ordinances to help stop all of the illegal gambling. The men felt that the new law would also help to stop the illegal shake down by police officers who would take the bribes to look the other way.

In fact, officers discovered an article in Charles’ wallet describing the actions taken in Chicago to hurry the law along. But that decision wouldn’t help Charles or his family.
Grace continued to live in the house on Clinton Avenue. The boys, Charles and John Robert grew into fine men. Charles became an aeronautical engineer, married and moved to California. John Robert became a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force proudly serving his country. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Charles would have been proud of both of them.

Charles Kalb’s murder was never solved. It was a case that had too many suspects and not enough witnesses.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rockford’s Amazing Sports Legacy

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.


Rockford has been very excited about sports lately. Native Fred Van Vleet has managed to bring Rockford together in a way that nothing has for decades. Though most people have forgotten, Rockford has celebrated a rich heritage of great athletes almost from the very beginning.

The city was a part of the first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players back in 1865. The man making Rockford buzz back then was Cap Anson. Some believe he was the best baseball player of the entire nineteenth century. Cap played  third baseman for Rockford’s Forest City Base Ball Club in 1871. Cap would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Another baseball star to play for the home town team was Albert G. Spalding. A.G., as he was called, was born in Byron in 1850. Spalding was a pitcher for the Rockford Forest City Nine, though the newspapers stated that he excelled at all aspects of the game. Spalding left Rockford and made his way to Chicago where he played for the Chicago White Stockings (the team would later become the Chicago Cubs). Legend has it that his pitching was the reason that Chicago won the first ever National League Pennant in 1876. Later Spalding would travel to bring the sport to the world.

In the 1920’s if you were to ask anyone who the best coach in Rockford was chances are they would say “Honk Garret. Prior to moving to Rockford, Honk was a coach at Hyde Park High School in Chicago. He was hired by the Rockford High School Association to coach all of the athletes in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Some of the best athletes in the Midwest were fortunate to be coached by this very talented African American man. He would lead his football team to the state championship in 1909 and 1910.

After he retired from coaching at the high school level, he opened up a gymnasium for amateur boxers in the 300 block of East State Street. He also managed the Olympic Athletic Club (O.A.R.), one of the first of its kind. The newspapers from the 1920’s talk about the events that he arranged, one mentioned that there was a crowd of 400 spectators at the Pioneer Hall for a boxing competition. 

Honk was proud of turning these talented boys into exceptional young men. But the achievement he was most proud of was his own son William.  

William attended Rockford High School and was skilled on the track and the basketball court as well as the football field. Everyone who watched this extraordinary young man was in awe of his speed and great athletic ability. William (according to one newspaper) “won the respect of every man and boy who were his team-mates, companions, and every spectator who ever watched him play.” 

But what made William even more unusual and why he really inspired so many people was the way he handled himself. As an African American, Bill, as he was called by his team-mates, was often the target of insults and foul tactics from players on the opposing team. In fact, there were times when the opposing team refused to even play against him. Bill never let this break his determination to give his very best and he always returned the sneers with his amazing smile. 

When William died of a sudden illness in 1924, he was only 20 years old. His untimely death shocked and saddened many. His funeral was attended by an astonishing 1200 people. The newspapers stated that the crowd was made up of people of all races and walks of life. People who knew or were trained by Honk, those who loved to watch William play sports, young men who had been motivated by him or his father, friends, and complete strangers all gathered to pay their respects for the humble, gifted young man. 

It was said that watching William play was so thrilling that everyone who saw him admired and respected him. Maybe that was his real talent, to play sports so well and with such humility and dignity that it made all who watched him focus on his talent and not his color.

One of Honk Garret’s athletes that became a super star in his own right was Sammy Mandell. During the 1920’s and 30’s Sammy became a household name in Rockford when he won the Lightweight Boxing Champion of the World. Sammy trained with Honk at his boxing ring in down town Rockford. After training, Sammy began his amateur fighting career at Camp Grant and was only 16 years old 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. His family came from Sicily in 1906. 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. 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. 

Sammy won the Lightweight Championship title in 1926 when he was twenty two 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 8 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.   

These men are just a few of the many athletes who have been shining stars for Rockford. Though they have been mostly forgotten, they once stood in the limelight, admired by thousands as they claimed fame for the Forest City through their hard work and determination.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rosemary Peterson – An Unsolved Murder

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.


The two young girls that lived at 3013 Edelweiss Road in Rockford were getting ready for bed around 11:30 on the night of December 4, 1979. They lived in a duplex that was a mirror image of their neighbor’s place and they heard strange noises coming from the bedroom of the adjoining apartment. The girls would later describe the sounds as “loud thumping” and “muffled screaming”. At first, they were curious but that quickly turned to fear and concern. The girls knew the young couple that lived next door. They noticed that 23-year old Rosemary’s car was parked in her usual place. Rosemary lived in the apartment with her 23 year old fiancé, Willard. The girls noticed that his car was missing from the parking area. They figured that Willard was working late and Rosemary was home by herself.

The two girls were concerned enough to go around to the front of Rosemary’s apartment and knock on the door. They called out to the girl and asked if everything was alright. A man’s voice answered saying,  “Rose and me just had a fight.” The girls assumed that Willard must be home after all and returned to their apartment.

They were even more startled a few minutes later when they heard Rosemary shouting for help and asking them to call the police. The girls didn’t phone the police but raced around to the front of the building. They found the front door unlocked and entered the apartment. What they saw in the bedroom was too horrible for them to comprehend.

Rosemary was on her bed with one arm tied to the bedpost with a neck tie. Part of her clothing had been removed and the girls could see that she had been stabbed numerous times. One hand was almost completely severed from the wrist. A machete and four steak knives were left on the floor. When they arrived, even the seasoned police officers were stunned by the brutality of the attack on Rosemary. The fact that many of them had sisters or daughters the same age as Rose made them even more determined to catch the man who had hurt her.

Rosemary was taken to St. Anthony Hospital where the doctors rushed her into surgery. Though they worked on her for hours and gave her 50 pints of blood, Rosemary died the next evening, without regaining consciousness. The injuries inflicted on the once pretty girl were horrible to see.  Her cause of death was a blow to the head and the massive blood loss she sustained from her injuries.

Everyone who knew Rosemary couldn’t believe that the beautiful and bubbly girl was gone. It was even harder for them to understand the motive for the vicious attack. Since the door showed no signs of forced entry, the police theorized that Rosemary knew her attacker and let them inside. Her friends and family were adamant that Rosemary would not have opened the door to a stranger. 

The police worked diligently to solve this case. The only clues they had were the murder weapons and a pair of blood soaked pair of gloves. Every detective on the force was assigned to work the homicide and by the end of the first week, more than 50 interviews had been conducted. They started the investigation by taking a closer look at her fiancé, Willard.  Willard’s co-workers stated that he had been at work the entire time. The police also spoke to dozens of Rosemary’s co-workers both at her current job and her former one at the Belvidere Chrysler Plant. No one they questioned to could give them any insight into the case. None knew of any motive for someone to hurt the popular young woman.

People in the neighborhood were frightened by the attack and many replaced locks and armed themselves. As police worked their way through the quiet streets in the surrounding area, they noticed other emotions, as well. Some of the neighbors felt guilty that they hadn’t heard the life and death struggle that was taking place mere feet away from where they lived. Other people living in the area were angry that someone had come into their safe neighborhood and attacked one of their own. They spoke of revenge and of bringing the man responsible to justice. 

But that justice would never come. This December will mark the 40th anniversary of the attack on Rosemary Peterson.  Police have spent years working through the theories and rumors. They have followed every lead and talked to hundreds of people. In the beginning, the authorities thought they would solve it quickly. They were sure that someone would talk, whether it was the perpetrator bragging or someone he had told about the vicious attack. 

There was new hope in 1981 when Police Chief Delbert Peterson brought Crime Stoppers to Rockford. Rosemary’s murder was featured along with several others. A reward was offered and a dramatization of the crime was shown on local television stations. No new leads surfaced.

Hope for a solution has all but faded now and as of this writing, no one has been held accountable for the brutal attack on Rosemary Peterson. The newspapers haven’t mention the case in a while but Rosemary’s case is remembered on the Illinois Cold Case Files on Facebook and through the Crimestoppers website at

Anyone with information of Rosemary’s murder is urged to call the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Police Detective Bureau at (815) 319-6400 or Crime Stoppers (815) 963-7867. 


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events


Simon T. Murphy & The Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

Simon T. Murphy was just an average guy living in Rockford. He had a good childhood living on the family farm with his four brother and two sisters. His mother, Mary died young and his father, Thomas moved the family to Rockford so they could attend school.

In 1917, Simon was twenty-six years old and working at the Standard Oil Company on Kilburn Avenue. He was popular with his co-workers. They had heated discussions about whether the United States should get involved in the “Great War” as they called it. They all knew what Simon thought about the whole thing, of course. He was very outspoken about joining the battle. No one was surprised when Simon was one of the first men to enlist after war was declared in April 1917.

They weren’t surprised when Simon was assigned to one of the large destroyers, either. Simon, like a lot of people in Rockford had heard about the danger from the German U boats. The stories of the civilians killed on the Lusitania had been told and retold many times since the sinking of the great ship.


Simon was thrilled to be assigned to the U.S.S. Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) as a Fireman Third Class. It was a “submarine hunter”, built especially to chase them down and shoot them out of the water. It must have felt strange to Simon when the Jacob Jones was attached to the port of Queensland, Ireland. Though Simon’s father was born in Wisconsin, his grandfather and grandmother were both from Ireland.

The U.S.S. Jacob Jones was one of America’s newest and largest of the Destroyers. She was placed in the care of Commander David Bagley. He spent months patrolling the water, looking for the German submarines and training his men. They would soon earn a reputation as relentless submarine chasers. They also were able to save many lives of sailors whose boats were sunk by the deadly German torpedoes. On July 8, they rescued 44 men from the Valetta, a British steamship; 25 men were saved from the steamship Dafila around July 25 and on October 19, they pulled 305 men from water after the sinking of the auxiliary cruiser Orama.

In early December, the Jacob Jones was on its return trip after escorting a troop convoy to France. The weather was awful with stormy skies that caused choppy seas. It was approaching midnight when a watchman spotted a torpedo heading straight for the Jones. Lt. Stanton Kalk was the officer of the deck at the time and though he tried to alter the ship’s course, it was no use. The torpedo hit the starboard side aft and penetrated a fuel oil tank, causing a devastating explosion. Many of the men below deck were killed immediately by the explosion or drowned as the water rushed into the ship. The ship sank in just eight minutes.

Even more died when the ship’s depth charges spilled from below decks and fell toward the bottom. They had been triggered to go off at certain measurements and new explosions took even more lives as each charge reached their assigned depth.


The sinking happened so fast that no distress calls were sent out and there was no time to release the rescue boats. Several men were able to grab the rafts that set around the deck. Lt. Kalk was able to pull several men onto the rafts and stabilize them as other men grabbed hold. Kalk swam from raft to raft and pulled men aboard and kept the weight even to keep them from capsizing. He would do this until he was too exhausted to cling to a raft himself and his body slipped under the waves.

The German submarine that shot the deadly torpedo was the U-53. In what could only be described as a strange twist of fate, the Commander of the submarine was Kapitan Hans Rose. He had actually visited the United States in 1917 on his submarine and had met Commander Bagley. Kapitan Rose recognized Bagley in his binoculars right before the torpedo hit the ship. Though no one would know until months later, Kapitan Rose radioed Queensland to report the Jacob Jones sunk and give her last location to quicken the rescue ships arrival. He also picked up two men who had been severely wounded. These men heard the radio call and told of it later when they were released after the armistice in November 1918.


Over 110 men served on the U.S.S. Jacob Jones before December 6, 1917. Rescue ships were able to save forty six men the next morning when they finally arrived. One does not want to even imagine what those men went through on that horribly cold, dark night. Those that survived were reluctant to talk about it. And those that interviewed them for information were horrified to have to make them relive it.

But as horrific as the stories were, they were also filled with pride. Many of the stories were filled with courageous, selfless acts. One such story told of the men who shared what little dry clothing they had with those who were washed over-board with little clothing to protect them. Others worked to lift the men’s spirit by telling jokes or singing songs. In truth, it was a miracle that any of them were alive when the British ships arrived the next morning.

The forty six men were hauled on board the British ships fed and given medical attention. Some had terrible burns and all of them suffered from hypothermia. The survivors were sent home for a time to heal. The majority of them returned to the sea and continued the fight when the war intensified in the spring of 1918.

Simon was killed over a hundred years ago and he was only one of dozens of men and women from Rockford who have served our country. Memorial Day was set aside as a day of remembrance to those who paid the ultimate sacrifices and their families who lost so much. My hope is that by sharing Simon’s story that you will take a moment to remember him and the others as you gather with your friends and families on Monday, May 27.

For information on Memorial Day Services, please visit Veterans Memorial Hall’s website:


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Preserving Winnebago County’s Early History

Originally published in The Rock River Times.


There has been a definite revival in the interest in this region’s history. There is a renewal of pride in our area, including clean ups of neighborhoods and abandoned places.

One of the abandoned places that received some much needed care is the Long Cemetery on Route 2. It is located not far from the intersection of South Main Street and Illinois Highway 2. It sits back behind houses now and access is limited.

A few years ago, there was not much left to see in the fenced off area. Grass and weeds had overtaken the entire place. Vandals had damaged most of the stones and there were only a couple of broken pieces of markers scattered around. In 1986, the fear of vandals damaging the remaining stones caused the township officials agree to remove them. The markers eventually found a new home at the church yard in Midway Village. It seemed that the little family plot had been forgotten along with any history of the people buried there.

But a recent visit to the little burial place showed that the entire plot has received improvements. A fenced-in area has been added and now contains the remaining grave markers of those who were buried there. The Township officials agreed to bring these back to the area. Research done by Find A Grave members Alva Van Houten and family member John J. Long helped reveal the stories of these long forgotten pioneers.


The cemetery received its name from Richard and Margaret Long who came to this area just a few months after Winnebago County was formed in 1836. Richard purchased 300 acres of federal land to build his farm near the Rock River. He would eventually donate 2 acres for the Long Cemetery.

Though records are scarce the first recorded burial was that of one year old Julia Ann Brentner who died on July 22, 1842. Julia Ann was the daughter of George and Julia Ann Brentner.

According to the book, ”The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone Counties” George was born in Germany in 1802. At the young age of 13 years-old, George and his brother, John decided to stowaway on a boat headed for America. They landed in Baltimore in 1815. George would later end up in Virginia where he learned the skill of carpentry. While he was in Virginia, he met and married Julia Ann. The couple later moved to Rockford. George and Julia Ann built a house for the family on South Main Street.

Julia Ann was the only Brentner buried in Long Cemetery. According to one source, she had not even been listed with the rest of her family prior to the discovery of her broken tombstone in 2011. Her oldest brother, George, married one of Richard and Mary’s daughters, Phoebe. George and Phoebe left Rockford for Iowa.

George Brentner and one of Richard and Mary’s sons, John Barret Long, would settle in Iowa. They would be called the founders of Mason City, Iowa. The name was probably chosen because John Long was a Master Mason during this time. George’s father and mother would eventually join the families in Mason City.

Another person buried in Long Cemetery was the grand-daughter of Richard and Mary. She was born to their daughter, Margaret, who married Lonson Corey in December 1838. Lonson would also buy land along South Main Street and the area now known as “Corey’s Bluff” was named for him. Margaret’s obituary claimed she was the third white child born in Winnebago County in 1839. She married George Crawford who is also reported to be buried somewhere in Long. Margaret would be the last person buried in Long Cemetery when she passed away in 1907.

July 2019 5

Two more of Richard’s daughters were also buried there with their parents. Mary, whose small tombstone remains at Long, married Joseph Jewell. The couple had two children before Mary died at just 27 years of age in 1849. Joseph then married Mary’s sister, Sarah Barbary Long. Sarah and Joseph would have 4 children of their own before she passed away in 1862 at the age of 36.

As one can imagine, researching the resting place of people who died so long ago can lead to more questions than answers. The next record is a very good example of that. One set of records states that Conrad LaGrange lived in the Rockford area around 1860. In fact, according to the Census records of 1860, Conrad was Joseph and Sarah Jewell’s neighbor. Conrad enlisted in the army in the fall of 186. He was a private in Company G of the 45th Illinois Infantry Unit. He was killed during the battle at Shiloh in Tennessee on April 7, 1862. Some of the records list Conrad’s burial place as Long Cemetery but others state he was buried at the National Cemetery at Shiloh. His wife Ann is buried in Byron, Illinois where she moved after the war to be with her sons. The website Genealogy Trails lists Long Cemetery as also being called Bitner’s Wood Cemetery. It is this site that lists Conrad LaGrange as buried in Long. Genealogy Trails usually lists cemetery information gathered from the stones in the cemetery. Conrad’s actual burial place remains a mystery.

Some people might not be interested in stories such as these. They might not be saddened by the thought of this little abandoned cemetery slipping away and the history lost to time. But there are some of us who do understand the importance of saving and preserving these little pieces of our county’s history.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

3 Unsolved Murders

Originally published in The Rock River Times.


The three women in the following story had several similarities.  They were all young, they were all white, and they were all murdered.  All three are part of a large club in Rockford that no one ever wants to join.  The unsolved murder club.    

The first of the three murders was discovered at 8:30a.m. on October 25, 1986, at the Kishwaukee Gorge Forest Preserve on Black Hawk Road.  The young woman was found lying in the grass about 40 feet from the gate. A forest preserve employee spotted the woman.   She was completely clothed except she was missing one of her red high heeled shoes.  The body had a single stab wound to her chest.  Authorities thought the woman had been dead about 12 hours and that she had been killed somewhere else.  

The dead girl was later identified as 22-year old Cheryl Griffin. Cheryl had lived her whole life in Rockford.  She had three children and a family who loved her.  But Cheryl had made some bad choices and ran with a rough crowd. She frequented drug houses and was reported to be a prostitute.  

The newspapers ran the story for months, especially when authorities found out that Cheryl was supposed to testify in the attempted murder trial of Michael Hall. Cheryl had witnessed a dispute between Hall and Terry Taylor.  The two men were fighting on the 600 block of Mulberry Street when Hall shot Taylor in the lower abdomen.  According to what Cheryl had shared with investigators, both men were known as pimps and they were fighting over the “proceeds” from the girls that worked the area. The police did not believe the cases were related. Hall was found guilty of the attempted murder and sentenced to 30 years.   

Unfortunately, because of Cheryl’s high risk lifestyle and the fear of what would happen to anyone who helped police, the case went cold fast.  Cheryl was last seen in the 7th Street and 4th Avenue area by two cab drivers who knew her.  No one saw who picked her up.  

While investigating Cheryl’s case, the police had plenty of people to question: associates, friends, and family members.  The people might not have any information that they wanted to share, but at least the police had somewhere to start.  The next case would be very different.  

On October 28, 1990, three men were walking on the west side of Rockford.  They were carrying loaded B B guns and were shooting at different targets in the woods.  They were around the intersection of Cunningham Road and Horace Avenue. The men stumbled on the nude, partially decomposed body of a young woman.  The area was known as a dumping ground for garbage.  There was a lot of debris around but the authorities didn’t know if any of it belonged to the victim.  The medical examiner thought she had been outside for ten days prior to the discovery.  The authorities were able to identify her through her fingerprints.  

Elizabeth was not from Rockford.  She grew up in Dixon, Illinois and left her family to move to Rockford.  The family had no idea where Elizabeth lived, worked or who any of her friends were.  They had not heard from Elizabeth for a while.  Elizabeth died from blunt force trauma to her head and body. The authorities admitted that they needed someone who knew Elizabeth to come forward and give them information.    


The next girl was found a couple of months after Elizabeth.  On January 15, 1991 at 10:00 a.m. a man working for the Rockford Park Cable Company was checking wires behind the Doyle’s Circle K Lounge at the intersection of Sandy Hollow and Alpine Roads.  He found the partially clothed body of Connie Heerdt.  The 30 year old woman had been beaten and strangled to death.    

Connie, like the other two girls in this story had made some bad choices in her life.  She had gotten involved with cocaine and ran with a rough crowd.  But she remained close with her family and was trying to get her life back on track when she was killed.  The last sighting of Connie was at 2:30 in the morning on January 15.  A police officer spotted her walking on 7th Street and 12th Avenue.    

In each of these three cases, the girls lived on the fringe of society.  They had high risk lifestyles that put them in harm’s way.  But they were also someone’s daughter, someone’s sister and in one case, someone’s mother. One of the girl’s family members stated, “No matter how bad her life was, she didn’t deserve to be beat to death and strangled.”   

The authorities want to solve these cases but they need someone to come forward with information.  If you have any information regarding these or any of the cold cases please call.  Winnebago County Sheriff’s Police Detective Bureau 815 319-6400 or email  

You can also call Crimestoppers 815-963-7867.  Crimestoppers will never ask your name and does not have caller ID.   


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events



Allan Pinkerton’s In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.


Most people in this area have heard about the famous detective from Chicago, Allan Pinkerton. He is considered to be America’s first Private Detective. Pinkerton was born in 1819 in Scotland where his father, William worked as a policeman. Allan was only nine years when his father was killed by a prisoner. The death of his father forced Allan into work as a boy to help support his family.

Allan was very active in the political and social justices of the time and was asked to become a Cook County Deputy in the late 1840’s. He soon earned a reputation as an honest and tough lawman. Early in his career he became involved in a case that was resolved on the streets of Rockford.

In 1852, a man named Albert Blinn was living with his family in Jackson, Michigan. His wife, Huldah came from a respected family in the area. The couple married on January 1, 1846. By February of 1852, they had a son Edwin who was 3 years old and a daughter, Ellen who was 2.

Albert owned and operated a tavern for a living. Though Huldah helped as much as she could, raising a young family plus managing the business proved too much for the young couple. Albert hired a man named Swift to assist him. Later, people would speculate whether Swift led Albert astray or it was the other way around. But soon the men would become partners in crime.

Blinn had two young sisters working for him; one was 14 years old and the other 16 years old. They were invited to live with the family and helped out in the house as well as the tavern. Blinn soon became enamored by the girls and set out to seduce them. He filled their heads with stories of lavish dresses, travels to exciting cities, and promises of a better life. According to the newspapers of the day, the girls shared these details with their closest friends.

The girls were described as good girls with unsullied reputations prior to meeting Blinn. Later the sisters shared that they resisted Blinn but told no one of his advances. This would prove to be sad mistake on their part. Blinn eventually grew tired of waiting and forced the girls into a compromising situation. Blinn kept them quiet by threatening to tell their family that it was the girls who seduced him.

Blinn must have become concerned that his secret would be revealed because he decided to kidnap the girls and take them where no one knew them. He enlisted the help of Swift to carry out his plan. Blinn took Huldah and the children for an extended visit with her family. While Blinn was delivering his family, Swift took the girls and headed west. When they reunited, Blinn headed north with the older girl while Swift headed toward Chicago.

Meanwhile the girls’ family was desperately searching for them. They believed that Blinn treated their daughters like they were his own. They questioned the girls’ friends and were devastated to learn of Blinn’s real intentions. The girls’ older brother began his search for the girls in Chicago. He enlisted the help of the Cook County Sheriff Green Arnold and Allan Pinkerton who was a detective on the force by this time. Pinkerton had gained quite a reputation for his skill at tracking missing persons.

Blinn, using a different name rode into Rockford with the older of the sisters. In an act that showed the blackness of his soul (as the papers put it), he had decided to use the young girl to make some quick cash. He had started to look for clients and the news traveled quickly to Pinkerton and Sheriff Arnold. They set out for Rockford immediately. The newspapers made a big deal that usually the Rockford citizens handle these delicate matters on their own.


Apparently, Rockford’s townsfolk would give the less desired citizens “a new suit and a quick ride”. This was a nice way to say that they would tar and feather certain men and give them a ride (or drag them) out of town on a wagon.

Pinkerton arrived in Rockford and quickly found Blinn. He forced Blinn to send a message to Swift with instructions to make his way to Rockford. Before escorting Blinn to the jail, Pinkerton warned him that he was armed. Despite the warning, Blinn broke away from Pinkerton, punched him in the face and began to run. Pinkerton fired a warning shot into the air and Blinn turned to him and shouted, “Shoot and be d____d.”

Pinkerton fired again and the ball slammed into Blinn’s back between his shoulder blades before coming to rest inside one of his lungs. Blinn staggered on for a few yards before he fell. He begged Pinkerton not to fire again before passing out.

Swift arrived in Rockford and was quickly apprehended. Sheriff Arnold and Pinkerton left Blinn in the custody of the Winnebago County Sheriff P.B. Johnson before they returned to Chicago. The men joined the family in thanking Sheriff Johnson and his men for assisting in the quick arrest. Papers in several states carried the story along with sharing the gratitude toward Rockford for the authorities’ assistance.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending though. The oldest girl was quite ill by the time her brother got her home. Apparently, she was pregnant and Blinn forced her to take some medicine that would cause a miscarriage. She became ill from the medicine and died shortly after the reunion with her family. The newspapers showed a great amount of respect for the family by keeping the girl’s identities secret.

Blinn was severely injured by the bullet fired by Pinkerton. Doctors and authorities did not expect him to live and they must have been surprised when Blinn escaped a few days after his arrest. Authorities in the immediate area were put on high alert but the last sighting of Blinn occurred in April of 1852. He attempted to get treatment at the Charity Hospital in St. Louis. The doctors at the hospital grew suspicious of the man and reported him to the authorities. By the time they arrived, the man was long gone. Further research for Blinn in newspapers or other records has not revealed any other information.

Blinn’s wife, Huldah was only 21 when Blinn deserted her at her parent’s house. Huldah continued to live with her parents until she married Gilbert Parmeter sometime after 1870.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events





Ghost Of Oscar Olson

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.


When Oscar Olson died in December of 1910, many Swedish friends and family mourned the young man. Oscar was well known and liked by the Rockford’s close knit Swedish Community. He was a carpenter by trade and from all accounts quite a good one. 

Oscar went to Minnesota in the fall of 1910 to visit an uncle. He stayed six weeks or so before traveling to the Northern woods of Wisconsin. It was just before Christmas when the news reached Rockford that young Oscar had been struck and killed by a train in Minneapolis.

Though, as one can imagine, identification was made nearly impossible by the nature of the accident, someone identified Oscar and he was buried there in the local cemetery. The news of Oscar’s accident was reported in the paper and also wrote up in the Tribunen, a weekly Swedish paper. Many of the Swedes in Rockford had subscriptions to the Tribunen so the news made its way from Minneapolis quite quickly. The articles were quite lengthy about the accident so no one had any reason to doubt the stories.

So when rumors started to swirl that Oscar was seen walking around in Rockford, it made the good folks of Rockford very confused. Some even reported that the young man had returned from the grave. Though some of the most respectable Swedes would not listen to these stories they soon spread throughout the city. 

By April 21, 1911 the truth was finally revealed. Oscar though reported dead and buried in the little cemetery outside of Minneapolis was alive and well. It seemed that it was a simple case of mistaken identity. 

Oscar Olson’s relatives knew that he was in Wisconsin but couldn’t verify that fact immediately. Eventually Oscar was shown copies of the newspapers reporting his demise. It seemed that Oscar possessed a great sense of humor about the whole thing. He decided to return to Rockford and clear up the misunderstanding in person. He got quite a laugh about people’s reactions when he showed up on their doorstep!

Oscar later expressed surprise that some people took so much convincing before they would believe that he was really alive. It was much easier for his neighbors to believe that his ghost was wandering the streets of Rockford!



Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Shattered Dreams – The David Benjamin Family

Originally published in The Rock River Times.


David Benjamin and his wife, Frances were much like everyone else that settled in the early town of Guilford, Illinois.  Their parents moved here to make a better life for their families. Both families made their living by farming. When David and Frances took their wedding vows on March 19, 1861, they must have believed that their lives would mirror their parents.  The birth of their son, Charlie in December of 1861 was celebrated by both of the families.

But 1861 was a turbulent time for our country and the Civil War, though fought many miles from Rockford, would invade on David and Frances’ dreams for their family.

On August 15, 1862 David was 23-years old and he enlisted in the 74th Illinois Infantry here in Rockford.  His enlistment papers describe him as 5’ 11” with brown hair and blue eyes.  One can only imagine what was going through David’s thoughts as he said goodbye to Frances and Charlie. 

After training, David’s regiment was sent to Nashville, Tennessee to serve under General Grant.  Grant chose William Stark Rosecrans to lead the regiment along with several others.

At the end of 1862, Rosecrans would be the commander of the Army of the Cumberland after Grant sent him to replace Don Carlos Buell.  They were sent in to halt Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee advance. The Battle of Stone’s River was fierce and the casualties were many.  The battle raged for five days with the most intense fighting from December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863. 

The battle would later be second only to Gettysburg for its high casualty percentage. The National Park Service’s website about the battle claims that 24,000 men from the original 81,000 that fought that day were casualties.  The page also lists the rate of several other major battles. Gettysburg had a 31% casualty rate and Stones River was 29%. 

Rosecrans would be considered the victor of the battle but at a heavy cost.  David Benjamin was one of the casualties. The records only list that David died on February 10, 1863 from wounds he received in the battle.  David was buried in the cemetery at Stone’s River Cemetery.

Frances must have been devastated at the loss of her young husband.  She now faced raising her son on her own as she tried to hold on to the farm that she and David had built.  Frances was fortunate to have her family so close. Her father and brothers would help work the land while her mother and sisters pitched in with the house and the care of Charlie.  She would hold on to the dream that she and David had for their family.

But fate would step in once again.  Little Charlie had taken ill and though everyone around her was hopeful, Frances was filled with fear.  Those fears were realized on May 10, 1963 when Charlie died. 

Frances’ heart broke for the second time in 3 short months.  It was a blow from which Frances would not recover. She died on March 9, 1864 and was buried next to her son at Greenwood Cemetery.  Though David was buried many miles away on Tennessee, he is listed on the tombstone for Frances and Charlie.

All that is left of the hopes and dreams of this family is the obelisk shaped tombstone that Frances’ family had built for them.



Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events