Rockford Brave – Clayton Ingersoll

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

People who knew Clayton lngersoll, or Casey as his friends called him, would describe him as solid and dependable.  They also said that Clayton was very patriotic and felt the need to defend his country when the time came.

Many more people knew of Clayton than actually knew him.  His father was Winthrop Ingersoll, founder of Ingersoll Milling Machine Company and the family was well known in Rockford.  Winthrop and his wife Harriet came to Rockford from Cleveland Ohio in 1891.  Winthrop was a mechanical engineer who had already owned a milling machine company in Ohio.  He saw an opportunity for growth for his company here in Rockford.

Clayton was born in Rockford on May 5, 1896.  He was educated here until he left for Lake Forest Academy in his junior year of High School.  He was enrolled in Cornell College when he decided to leave college to answer the call of duty.  Clayton secured an appointment to the Fort Sheridan Camp for Officers.  He later transferred into an aviation unit.  He learned to fly in Toronto Canada before joining the British Royal Flying Squadron.  Clayton sailed oversees to France in early 1918 after receiving his first lieutenant’s commission.

His family traveled to New York to see Clayton right before he left for France.  They celebrated Clayton’s commission to lieutenant as well as his engagement to Katherine Nelson.  She was the daughter of Frithiof F. Nelson, another well- known Rockford businessman.  The families lived in the same neighbor of National Avenue and were said to be excited about the joining of their families.

The marriage would never take place, however.  On April 26, 1918 Clayton was taking part in a pilot training session in France.  He had accomplished the flight and was descending for his landing when tragedy struck.  He was around 300 feet above the ground when his plane took a nosedive straight down.  There wasn’t enough time to pull the plane from the spiral and it crashed nose first into the ground. 

The Ingersoll’s learned of the death of their son in a telegram.  Devastated by the news, the family asked that Clayton’s body be sent home to Rockford.  They were denied that because of the war and he was buried in a special cemetery in Issoudon, France.  Some of Clayton’s friends that were overseas with him were allowed to attend the service.  They wrote to the Ingersoll’s and told of the “impressive, full military service” that was held in Clayton’s honor. 

Clayton received a Gold Star in a special ceremony held at the Second Congregational Church on September 22, 1918.  Many spoke of Clayton’s good character and his willingness to serve his country even though he knew of the great risk involved. 

Winthrop and Harriet decided to honor their son’s memory by donating a large sum to the Rockford Park District.  The same day that the donations was announced, the Ingersoll’s learned that Clayton’s body had been returned to the United States.

Clayton Ingersoll was finally laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery on November 20, 1918.  It was a private ceremony for family and friends.  The pall bearers were all former aviators.  They met the train and along with a memorial firing squad unit from the Walter R. Craig  American Legion escorted Clayton’s casket to his home and then to Greenwood Cemetery.

Clayton’s parents wanted to honor their son’s memory and because of his family’s position in our community, they chose a way that would benefit Rockford for years to come.  His parents donated over $55,000 to Rockford to build a golf course and park on the west side of Rockford and named it after Clayton.  It would become a lasting legacy. Though some may not know exactly who Ingersoll Golf Course was named after, one only has to step inside the club house and see Clayton’s picture hanging on the wall to know. 

Clayton has been gone for over one hundred years now but the legacy built for our city by those who loved him still continues. 

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Summer Of Fear

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The summer of 1971 was a violent one in Rockford’s history.  It would later be labeled  “The Summer of Fear” by the local newspapers. By summer’s end, there were ten homicides in Rockford, the most for that early in the year in over a decade.  This statistic was made even more chilling by the fact that three of those murders were unsolved during the time and two of them remain that way today.

What made some of these crimes so hard to solve was the fact that they appeared to be completely random acts.  This meant that no one was safe and that fact terrorized the city.  The other staggering fact was that five of them happened within six weeks.

In a news article dated August 22, 1971, the Morning Star described the police’s frustration and the community’s fear.  The random attacks began with the killing of William Shoemaker on July 8, 1971.  The murders that came before were horrifying but a little less frightening because they were committed by people who had a connection to the victims. The random killings that came that summer terrified and ultimately changed this community.

 William Shoemaker was a 44 year old retired Marine.  He was hired as a caretaker and guard at the First Presbyterian Church on North Main Street.  There had been a string of burglaries in churches that year and Shoemaker was hired to watch over the place.  He lived in a small apartment in the building so the arrangement worked for everyone. 

Until July 8, when the church housekeeper found Shoemaker’s beaten and bloodied body. According to the Coroner Collin Sundberg, Shoemaker had been beaten and then strangled with his own belt.  The motive was thought to be a burglary gone bad.  The crime went unsolved until two brothers, James and Charles Pritchett were arrested and convicted of the crime.

The second and third murders of that summer came on July 25th when the bodies of Herman and Mary Kasch were discovered by their neighbor.  Mrs. Herman knew that both Mary and Herman were in their eighties.  She grew concerned when the Kasch’s son called her and asked her to check on the couple.  Mrs. Herman called the police when she found the front door standing open and broken glass on the porch.

Police entered the home and were shocked by what they found inside.  The elderly couple was  found dead.  The condition of the bodies told the police that the couple had struggled with their attackers.  Autopsies would later prove that Herman had been stabbed numerous times and Mary had endured severe blows to her head.  Her facial bones were fractured and there were also wounds to her arms and hands proving she had tried to defend herself.

The police were able to piece together a theory of what they believed happened.  They thought that someone had come into the house while the couple was watching television.  The attacker then ransacked the house looking for money and valuable items. 

While the police were questioning neighbors they learned that just two weeks prior to the murders a man had broken into the Kasch’s home.  A stranger had knocked on the door of the home and Mary answered. The man asked if she would like him to mow their lawn for a small fee.  She declined the offer and the man left.  But he returned a short time later and broke in the door.  He grabbed Mary and put a knife to her throat.  The couple pleaded with the intruder and finally were able to convince him that they had nothing of value to steal.  The couple was shaken by the attack and left to stay with a relative.  They had only been back in their home a few days when the murders occurred.

Neighbors and family members were baffled by the murders and could offer no clue to who might have wanted the couple dead.  Herman had worked as a farm hand all of his life and had lived his life simply.  Mary was Herman’s fourth wife when the couple married in 1962.  

The police questioned the Kasch’s neighbors and every one of them claimed that the elderly couple were kind and generous.  No one had a bad word to say about them and there were no rumors about hidden money or valuables that would attract a break in.  

Police extended their search several blocks and within a week, there was a break in the case.  A fourteen year old boy that lived a few blocks away from the Kaisch’s was arrested for the crime.  The entire community was shocked by the fact that someone so young could commit such a brutal act on the couple.  The teen was convicted of the murders and sentenced to 35-70 years in prison.

Unfortunately, two more murders quickly followed.  Roger Thompson’s body was found just a few blocks away from the Kasch home on the 500 block of Concord Avenue.  The nineteen year old’s bloody body was found by boys playing in an empty lot on August 3,1971.  Roger had been stabbed at least twelve times and his head was badly damaged.  

Roger had moved to Rockford from Los Angeles six weeks prior to his murder to live with his mother and step-father.  He was hoping to get a job at the Chrysler plant.  Roger was described as a “quiet boy, who didn’t get into any trouble.”

The last newspaper article that mentions Roger’s murder was in December of 1976 when Detective Captain Richard Anderson stated that the police “ knew who did it but we can’t prove it.”

That same article also mentioned the murder of Kimberly McMillan in Sunset Park on August 17, 1971.  While the other murders during the summer of 1971 put the community on alert; the murder of this little girl terrified everyone.  People started locking their doors and parent’s became stricter with their children.  The fact that this ten year old was at a supervised park surrounded by dozens of people when she was viciously stabbed in the back was beyond comprehension to everyone.  Another aspect that continues to frighten people today is that this murder was never solved.

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

 

Twelve Mile Grove Cemetery

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Cemeteries have attracted people for as long as they have existed.  Some are drawn to the place because they have a loved one that has been laid to rest there.  Others want to experience the beautiful statues and artwork left as a lasting legacy. 

But there is more to learn from tombs and graves than just names and dates.  Each of the stones represent a life whether cut short or lived to a ripe old age.  There is much to learn by looking closer into the lives of those who lie under the stones. 

This is certainly true of the historic Twelve Mile Grove Cemetery.  This small cemetery is located on Pecatonica Road close to Highway 20.

 The first settlement in this area (Seward Township) was called Vanceburg.  Scattered throughout the grove were log houses and the township consisted of a tavern, stage house, two stores and a blacksmith shop.  The town was built as a stopping place for the stage coaches that traveled from Rockford to Freeport and Galena. Twelve Mile Grove was so named because it was twelve miles from the ford in Rockford.

Newspaper accounts of the settling of the area state that in 1836 a weary band of pioneers was traveling by covered wagon through the area.  They were on their way out west when they wandered into a lovely spot in the grove by what is now Highway 20.  The leader of the group was Joseph Vance.  The settlement that sprang up would bear his name.

Ironically, Joseph would be the first buried in the little cemetery when he passed away on September 11, 1841.

One of the earliest stories of this little cemetery came from a collection of remembrances of old pioneers.   It tells of a tragedy suffered by the Merchant family that once lived in the grove.  It was a very hot night with and the father of the family was trying to get his little ones some relief.  So he moved them onto the floor where it was a little cooler.  The heat brought a fierce thunderstorm that included dangerous lightning.  The lightning struck the chimney, traveled down the stove pipe until it reached all of those sleeping on the floor.  Only the mother and the tiniest baby were left from the family of six.  The lightning was so treacherous, it even killed a basket of puppies that the family dog had delivered just days before.  The four family members were buried in a mass grave.

Then there is the strange story of the lovely Julianna Phelps.  Julianna was the daughter of Mr. J. Phelps who lived in the town of Seward.  She worked and lived in the Kelly home where she was the housekeeper.  On August 11, 1875, Julianna was visiting at the Ostrander home when she fell to the floor and had a seizure.  She was carried back to the Kelly home where she lingered for two hours before passing away.

The Phelps family was heartbroken and in shock that the very healthy twenty year old would die so suddenly. Her funeral and burial in the Twelve Grove Cemetery showed her family how much Julianna was loved and respected in the little community.  Many of their neighbors came to pay their respects for the fallen girl.

Mr. Kelly brought Julianna’s trunk full of her personal things back to her parent’s home a few days after the funeral. Her grief stricken mother decided to go through the items and found an envelope with the word Mother written on it.  At first Mrs. Phelps could not comprehend the words that were written on the letter inside. The newspapers ran the complete letter the next day.

                                              “Mother – I die because I am tired of living.  Kiss the children goodbye for me.
                                              I would like to see you once more, but no – I die tonight.  When you get this I shall be
                                              dead.  Goodbye forever – Julianna.”

When the awful truth dawned on Mrs. Phelps she and her husband shared their suspicions with the town doctor, Halsey S. Clark.  Together they made the painful decision to exhume Julianna’s body.  Her stomach was removed and sent to Rockford. 

The only way to prove that Julianna had taken poison in that day was to take a portion of her stomach contents and feed them to a stray cat.  The cat began to convulse and vomit much in the way that Julianna herself had. 

Julianna was reburied in the quiet little grove.  Though her manner of death was revealed to her family, Julianna took the reason for her suicide to her grave.

Cemeteries contain many such secrets.  Some stories were once well known but with the passage of time, have been forgotten.  The stones some broken and some with the words scrubbed away by wind and time.  But these people and their stories will never be forgotten.  There will always be curious visitors who will look beyond the stones to uncover their stories.

Perhaps local historian Charles A. Church said it best in his book, “History of Rockford and Winnebago County.” 

                                                “Love that survives the tomb has been called the purest kind of attribute
                                                to the soul.  This love finds expression in the monuments erected over the
                                                graves of the dead.  Our cemeteries have been made more beautiful by the
                                                cultivation of the artistic sense, and by a deeper realization of the truth that
                                                death is but the doorway.”

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Mysterious Death Of Henry J. Lacks

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

There are many mysteries contained in the following story.  For instance, it is not known how long the body had been lying there before someone saw it on June 22, 1944.  People would later state that they had noticed the man stretched out on North Alpine Road as early as 7:00 a.m.  But no one reported it to police until 11:45 when Ed Belin finally called the body in. The others would claim they thought the man was drunk and sleeping it off beside the road.

Police did not even know if Ed was the only one to touch the body after it was dumped.  The coroner said that the condition of the body indicated that it had been moved at least once several hours after death.  The man’s body was lying face down in a ditch on the west side of Alpine road.  It was obvious to the first responders that the man was deceased.  He had a large hole in the side of his head and his clothes were soaked in blood.   His pockets had been turned out as if someone had gone through them looking for something.  When they turned the man over, they discovered an exit wound.

Though there was no wallet, the authorities did find a engraved pen and pencil set with the name Henry J. Lacks etched on the front.  They were grateful for a place to start their investigation.  It wasn’t long before they found a car registered to Henry J. Lacks on Crosby Street just a couple of blocks down from his parent’s house.

They also found Henry’s wife, Agnes.  Agnes was known to police because she had been married to Deputy Sheriff Sam Rotello before he was killed while on duty in 1936.  Agnes and Henry had been married since May 1939.  She had no idea how Henry had ended up dead in a ditch.  Agnes told them that Henry always wore a diamond and sapphire ring.  It was missing though his watch was still on him.   Agnes stated that Henry had feared for his life since early June, though she could offer no reason for this.

As their investigation continued the mysteries about Henry deepened.  Henry’s main job appeared to be as an insurance salesman, a job he worked for over 25 years.  He also worked at a war plant or at least he had until June 7 when he failed to show up for work.  He never even returned to collect his paycheck.  Henry also worked at the Nylint Tool Company and was an accomplished pianist.

The police initially arrested Henry’s wife, though it was mentioned that this was possibly done as a way to convince Agnes to talk.  It was obvious something had spooked Henry and they thought that maybe Agnes knew what it was. 

Agnes was reluctant to share their personal matters with the police.  The couple had a rather unorthodox marriage.  Henry spent most nights at his parent’s house on Crosby Street.  Agnes went out with other couples to parties.  That’s where she had been the night Henry was killed.  Henry told her he had appointments and wouldn’t be home until late.  Agnes assumed he was dining out with an insurance client. 

Agnes had Henry drop her off at a friend’s house where she stayed for a party.  After the party, friends took her out for coffee and she accepted a ride home from a woman that shared the couple’s apartment at around 4:00 a.m.  When they arrived at home, she saw a man who she assumed was her husband walk across the porch and enter a car that resembled Henry’s.  The man drove away and that was the last time she ever saw her husband.

Police didn’t think the man that Agnes saw was Henry.  They knew his car was parked on Crosby Street before 4:00 a.m.  The coroner put his death before that time as well. 

The police leaned on Agnes hard, giving her two polygraph tests.  They thought she knew more than she was telling them.  Agnes finally revealed that when she went into the apartment on the morning that Henry died, the place had been ransacked.  Obviously, someone was looking for something.  But she knew they didn’t find it.  Henry kept all of their important papers and jewelry in his safe deposit box at the bank.  

As police worked the case they developed several theories about Henry’s death. The first angle they developed focused on Henry’s home country.  Henry had been born in Germany in 1900 and moved to the United States in 1910.  According to his co-workers, Henry really admired Hitler and his regime.  This was a dangerous time to be spouting that philosophy.  In fact, one of the men that Henry met on the last day of his life was actually an undercover F.B.I. agent.  It seems the government wanted to know just how much Henry admired Hitler.  Police wondered if Henry’s willingness to spread his ideas about Hitler drew the wrong attention.

The other theory that the police worked dealt with the gambling that was prevalent in Rockford during this time.  Different gangs were running card games and even horse betting.  The police knew that Henry spent a lot of time in the night clubs. They questioned co-workers, the few friends that Henry had, and even family members about Henry’s gambling. They checked into his accounts, and using the tip from Agnes, they searched his safe deposit box.

Authorities were surprised to learn that Henry didn’t gamble at all.  In fact, it was Agnes that spent time at the poker tables.  She lost big and Henry scrambled to cover what she owed.  But Henry had finally had enough.  According to his family, Henry went to the gambling dens and threatened the owners that unless they stopped taking money from his wife, he would tell everything he knew to the police.  But Henry left no evidence of what he might have known.  He had cleaned out the safe deposit box and his bank account.  If he had any hard evidence to share with the police, it was never found. 

Henry J. Lack’s murder was never solved.  His family buried him in St. Mary’s Cemetery and by August 1944, Agnes left Rockford.  Stories put her in California but researched has failed to find her there.  The local newspapers compared Henry’s murder to the 1937 unsolved murder of bookie operator, Charles Kolb and ran articles on the anniversary until 1959 when those too stopped.

Gambling in Rockford was curbed because of Henry’s death, at least for a while. Slot machines were confiscated and poker games were stopped or at least better hidden.  But the investigators never found the solution they searched for and the mystery of who killed Henry J. Lacks was never solved.

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Sins Of The Father

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

When that day was over, Frank Barris would claim that he was not in his right mind on June 20, 1933. That morning Frank spoke on the phone to a young woman named Anna Trenary.   The conversation did not go as Frank had hoped.  When Frank hung up the phone, it was the last thing he would claim to remember for hours.

Frank left work early and returned to his house.  He grabbed his handgun that he had purchased a month before.  Later, Frank would state that he brought the gun in order to use it on himself in front of Anna.  He stated,“She took away everything that was beautiful in my life.”

Frank journeyed to Anna’s small house at 1511 West State Street.  Anna was having lunch with her 15-year-old son and a boarder, Vernon Morgan.  She sat with her back to the door and was just raising a sandwich to her lips when Frank burst through the door.  He fired the .44 caliber gun at her.  The bullet tore through her arm and exited through her chest.  Anna was dead before she hit the floor.

Across town at Frank’s home another scene was taking place.  18-year-old Eddie Barris was very worried about his father.  Frank had been acting peculiar and speaking of Anna almost constantly.  Eddie knew his father had left work early that June day.  Eddie stopped at the house and his concerns grew when he realized that his father and his gun were missing.  Eddie was joined by his younger sister Lucille and they raced to Anna’s home.  Unfortunately, they arrived too late to stop the horrible scenario their father had put into motion.

When police arrived, Frank sobbed as he poured out the whole story to the bewildered men on the drive to headquarters. Frank told the police that he had been living a lie.  He confessed to the police that he had been having an affair with Anna Trenary for almost 18 months.  His wife, Sophie had no clue about her husband’s affair.  

The policemen tried to make sense of the convoluted story that came pouring out of Frank.  Anna Trenary worked as a nurse for a local physician.  Frank and Sophie’s daughter, Lucille needed at home care and Anna was assigned the job.  No one could foresee the far reaching consequences that the decision would bring. 

Anna was such a great nurse that it wasn’t long before the 16 year old Lucille was back on her feet.  Anna would often visit her former client to check on her progress even after Lucille was released from her care.  It was during these visits that Frank and Sophie got to know the young nurse.  They would often share dinner and a glass of wine.  It wasn’t long before Anna started to bring her son along for the visits and the families grew even closer. 

Frank became obsessed with the 36-year-old beauty.  Before long, he was dipping into the family’s savings to pay for gifts for Anna.  By June of 1933, Frank came to the end of his money and he could feel Anna slipping away.   Whether it was the fear that his family would find out about the affair, the money, or Anna’s rejection, something inside Frank snapped.

Frank was convicted of the murder of Anna Trenary and sentenced to life in prison at Joliet, Illinois.  He would die there while serving his time.  Sophie divorced Frank and the family moved on with their lives.

By 1942, Frank’s son Eddie was married with two young children of his own.  He had recently been promoted to manager for the A & P store on West State Street.  But the darkness that had reached out to claim his father was not finished yet.  Eddie was under tremendous pressure with the new job and he started to have a drink in the evening to relax. Before long, one drink turned into more until Eddie began to lose control.  This caused problems in his marriage and by August, Eddie’s wife Ellen decided to leave. 

On August 13, 1942, the couple was dividing the household goods.  Ellen’s sister and mother were helping her pack.  Eddie brought two men along to load the truck.  Eddie asked to speak to Ellen in the kitchen.  He wanted one more chance to fix things.  When she refused, Eddie had the same reaction as her father had years before.  He pulled a gun and began to fire at Ellen.  Ellen’s sister and mother came running to her rescue.  Eddie fired at them as well, striking them both.  

Thinking that he had killed all three women, Eddie ran from the apartment and into the street. It was there that Eddie shot himself in the abdomen.  Then he drew a knife from his pants and drove the 4 inch blade into his chest.  He collapsed on the street.

Police were able to quickly piece together the scene from the many people who witnessed the attack.  Ellen and her mother, Dora were on the brink of death.  It was considered a miracle that the couple’s two little children had not been hit by the bullets flying around.  

Eddie was very close to death.  He had missed his heart but had lost a lot of blood.  But against all odds, all three women and Eddie recovered.  Eddie was arrested for the assault but Ellen’s family showed concerned and forgiveness toward Eddie.  They agreed to a plea bargain to grant Eddie a light sentence.  He was convicted of a misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon with intent to do great bodily harm.  Eddie was sentenced to one year at Vandalia Correctional Center. 

When Eddie finished serving his sentence, he joined the U. S. Army to serve in World War II.  He remarried and died at 41 years old in Madison, Wisconsin. One can only hope that the terrible legacy that Frank committed and Eddie attempted ended with them.

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Strange Case Of Dr. Floyd Leach

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

There was a point in Floyd Leach’s life when he must have felt that he led a charmed life.  He really had it all.  His wife was smart, beautiful and her family was financially well to do.  Her family came from Austria where they were considered nobility.  Floyd had met Alice at Northwestern University where he was studying to be a doctor.  He was charmed in that too.  That degree led him from a distinguished time as a Doctor the Medical Corps during World War I where he earned many medals to a prestigious dental practice. 

The time during the war was difficult for his family, of course.  Alice’s family fought for the Central Powers alongside Germany and Bulgaria while Floyd’s family was loyal to the Allied Powers.  Looking back these were the first cracks in the life Floyd was creating.

Floyd and Alice settled in Chicago and had two children.  Their son Campbell, was born in 1913 and their daughter Betty was born in 1916.  By 1926, the family lived in Hollywood California and Floyd was living the dream of a life he always wanted.  His career as a “dentist to the stars” made it possible for him to rub elbows with some of the biggest names in the Hollywood Motion Picture Colony as the newspapers later called it.  But the cracks that had started in his marriage during the war kept deepening.

Alice became an invalid during 1915, shortly before the birth of her daughter.  Facts are vague now but during the trials that took place in the late 1920’s alluded to an attack by Floyd that caused Alice to become paralyzed.  She would be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

It later struck some as ironic that Floyd, who moved in the circles of famous actors and actresses seemed to be playing a part himself.  But the cracks in his perfect world became chasms in 1927 and Floyd fled.  He left behind his flourishing dental practice, his beautiful home, his wife and his children.

Floyd’s family lived in this area and it was here that he came.  He settled in Rockford and opened a new dental practice in the Blackhawk Building at the corner of West State and Wyman Streets.  His life here was definitely a step down for Floyd.  He went from a beautiful home in California to a three room shack located on North Second Street.  Floyd was trying to rebuild his life and he made friends with the local veterans.  He decorated his little cottage with his war medals and pictures of his new found friends. 

Those same friends were shocked when news started to spread about Floyd’s odd behaviors.  He was seen at all hours of the night downtown by his new office.  Floyd would wander the downtown area and spend the early hours of the mornings in several all-night diners.  He often fought with neighbors and caused scenes with his anger.

Those same friends grew very concerned when they woke on the morning of December 9, 1929 to headlines speaking of their friends arrest in the murder of a popular high school teacher.  Cordelia Gummersheimer was found dead in her bed by friends on December 8, 1929. 

Floyd was arrested when police went to question him about his whereabouts during Sunday night.  Authorities knew that the Floyd had been seen often in the vicinity of Cordelia’s apartment.  His office was located not far from the place and he was seen sitting in his car facing the back of the building the day of the murder.

The police had reports of Floyd’s strange behavior and were shocked when they finally caught up with him the day after the murder.  Floyd’s car contained the bodies of several dead cats and dogs.  When they searched his cottage, they found even more dead animals.  He even had a dead mouse in the pocket of the suit he wore to work that day.

The authorities questioned the dentist about this bizarre find.  He stated that he was interested in taxidermy and was making a fur rug from the pelts of the dead animals.  When they mentioned the mouse that they found in his pocket, Floyd said he carried because it felt nice.

Floyd was arrested and held for a few days and the local veterans grew afraid for him.  They were afraid that Floyd who was obviously not in his right mind would stand no chance if the police decided to pin the horrible murder on himd.  Emotions ran high in the town and Cordelia’s friends, colleagues, students and their parents all were demanding that the police find the killer of the young teacher.

Floyd’s friends banded together and got him released based on the fact that there was no evidence that tied Floyd to the murder.  The police couldn’t even prove that the two knew each other.  The courts agreed and freed Floyd.

Floyd’s friends saved him from the police but they couldn’t protect him from himself.  The scandal of his arrest and the stories of his strange behavior caused his dental practice to suffer and Floyd’s drinking increased.  Authorities from California finally were able to get Floyd extradited back to California to face trial for the abandonment of his family.   Floyd reacted badly during the trial and the court was astonished when Floyd stated that he shouldn’t have to support his family.   Alice’s family tried to have Floyd declared insane but the courts didn’t agree with that diagnosis.  The judge felt sorry for Floyd but had no choice but to put him in jail.  The judge stated that maybe some time in San Quentin would change his mind about his family.  Floyd Leach arrived there in 1932. 

Captain Floyd Dewitt Leach was buried in 1941 in Los Angeles National Cemetery.  The murder of Cordelia Gummersheimer was never solved.

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Mysterious Deaths Of Ann Bergman And Chico Martinez

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Ann Bergman and her roommate Rachel had decided to stay at their little apartment on School Street for the evening on August 7, 1962.  At least that was the plan before someone knocked on the door.  As soon as Rachel saw who it was, she knew their quiet night at home was over.  Ann’s boyfriend, 32-year-old Octavio (Chico) Martinez stood at the door, flashing his great smile.  That smile had won 18-year-old Ann over as soon as she saw it a few months ago.  

It was obvious to Rachel that Ann was smitten with Chico but she wasn’t sure that he return the affection.  Rachel knew he liked Ann, but she also realized that he saw other girls.  Ann believed that Chico would marry her and take her to Mexico for their honeymoon.  That was what Chico had promised Ann.  But for that hot August night, it was dancing that Chico wanted.  He and Ann were so good that they won several local dance contests.  Chico mentioned the Town Hall Tavern on West State Street was having a dance contest that August evening.  It wasn’t long before Ann had changed for a night on the town.  Rachel just shook her head as she watched her beautiful friend dance out the door.  She had no way of knowing that it would be the last time she would ever see Ann alive.

Ann and Chico were a big hit at the tavern.  They won the first place prize of a pink bottle of champagne.  Witnesses would testify later that the happy couple left at 12:50 a.m. on what was now Wednesday, August 8.  Chico’s car was parked about a block away from the tavern.  

The phone call came in to the Police Department at 1:20a.m.  It was a from a truck driver, John Stannard who spotted a man’s body on a part of Belt Line Road close to the Kishwaukee intersection.  Police arrived within a few minutes to find a bullet ridden body of a man on the side of the road.  He had been shot once in the shoulder and twice in the left chest.  The bullets pierced his heart.  He had other damage to his body and one of his shoes was scuffed up.  

Police quickly identified Chico Martinez and realized that he had been accompanied by a young lady that evening.  The frantic search for Ann Bergman began.  The police followed the trail left by both Chico and Ann until they could account for their whereabouts except for a seven minute window.  It was during this seven minutes that the couple was forced into a vehicle and driven toward the outskirts of town.  Police believed that Chico had panicked and a struggle took place during which he was shot.  They thought that Chico’s foot might have gotten caught when he attempted to jump from the vehicle.  The driver stopped the car and the shooter put two more rounds into his body before jumping back into the vehicle to make his getaway.  

Police believed that young Ann had been a witness to Chico’s killing.  They also guessed that she would not be found alive.  It took seven agonizing days for the theory to be proven correct.  Ann’s family and friends searched everywhere for her.  They hoped that she had gotten away from the men who had so brutally killed Chico and was hiding somewhere, too afraid to come forward. 

The weather on the evening of August 14 was pleasant and Richard Boehm of Byron was taking his five children for a walk down the road by his home.  It was 8:15 when Richard walked along Highway 72 on the east side of the river and spotted something in the long grass.  As he walked closer, he was horrified to see a foot sticking up in the long grass.  Unfortunately for the police, the story broke before they had the chance to notify Ann’s family.  Her parents and four younger brothers discovered the horrible truth when news anchor Bruce Richardson interrupted the show they were watching on the television with an announcement of the police finding Ann’s body.  It was a moment that would haunt both the police and the family for a long time.

The coroner conducted the autopsy under a tent placed over the spot where they found Ann’s body.  She had suffered damage to her body including a shattered shoulder.  She had been shot once through the heart.  Police thought that Ann had died the same night as Chico.  They believed that they had been killed at the same time and for some reason, they loaded Ann back into the car and drove on Kiskwaukee Road until they dropped her body in those bushes.  The authorities presented this theory to the family in hopes that it gave them some relief that Ann was not terrorized before she was killed.  The thought of her riding in that car after witnessing Chico shot and knowing that she was next was too much for the family to bear.  

The newspapers ran this story many times over the years.  They even offered a $5,000 reward.  But the money was never claimed.  Police searched for years for a motive to these killings.  The only thing they came up with is that perhaps Chico’s play boy ways caused someone to want him dead.  Unfortunately, Ann was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

These murders have been cold for a long time.  The mystery of their deaths haunted the entire community.  Chico left behind two young children who grew up without their father.  Ann’s parents died without ever knowing who killed their beautiful daughter.  Her four brothers spoke often of their family motto, “You aren’t dead unless you are forgotten.” 

 

 

Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Unbelievable Courage

Alma Anderson spent the early morning of June 18, 1957 as she often did.  Her son, LaVerne and his wife Lucille had joined Alma and her husband Eric for breakfast before leaving for work that day.  The family lived next door to each other on Oakes Avenue.  People would later testify how close the family was. 

The four had spent time in the breezeway drinking coffee and sharing the newspaper.  Eric was sent back upstairs to change because the other three didn’t like the suit he had chosen to wear.  The men left for work around 9:30a.m.  The two women decided to spend some time weeding the flowers beds that surrounded the elder Andersons’ home. 

Lucille returned to her home shortly after 10:00 a.m.  She was just beginning her house work when she heard a horrendous explosion and was knocked to the floor. 

Mrs. Aaron Johnson lived in the house on the other side of Alma’s.  That morning she was sitting in her living room sewing.  When the blast occurred it blew out thirteen windows in her house and broke all the glass in a china hutch near where she was sitting.  The glass caused numerous cuts on Mrs. Johnson and she was unable to hear for a few minutes after the explosion. 

Both Lucille and Mrs. Johnson raced outside to see what could have caused the loud eruption.  Lucille was horrified to see the damage at the back of the Anderson home.  She ran toward the home to locate her mother-in-law.  Lucille would later state that she could not even comprehend the scene that greeted her.

Alma Anderson lay on the ground in the midst of the damage.  She had been horribly maimed and was gasping for breath.  Lucille was soon joined by others from the neighborhood and they tried to keep calm while they waited for help to arrive.

Alma was rushed to Swedish American Hospital where the doctors gave little hope for survival.  She was rushed into surgery as the police gathered at the scene of the blast.

The authorities were under the assumption that the explosion had been caused by a gas leak in the home so the Central Illinois Electric and Gas Company sent investigators to look over the debris.  They were joined by local firemen and as they sifted through the debris they came to a chilling conclusion. 

The explosion had been deliberately caused by a handmade bomb.  Police Chief Thomas P. Boustead soon arrived to take control of the scene that was now being labeled a deliberate attempt of murder.  The findings at the scene changed everything and soon the family members were being questioned about their activities on that morning. 

Eric felt he knew who might have planned the attack.  He had served as a First Ward City Alderman for over 25 years and was well-known to the authorities.  Eric felt the bomb was left for him in retaliation of his role in a city dispute.  He became entangled in a fight with the old bureau of sanitation.  The companies involved had been plagued with labor disputes for years and the city decided that it needed to take action.  Eric was a vital part of the group that voted that to terminate the existing contracts and hire a private firm for garbage collection.  He truly believed that the companies that lost the city’s business held him personally responsible.

The authorities must have agreed because they placed Eric and LaVerne in police protection.  They had police guards for weeks after the bombing.

Alma’s wounds were devastating and the fact that she didn’t die immediately from the blast was considered to be a miracle.  Her right arm and leg had been so damaged that the doctors needed to amputate them.  She also lost the sight in her right eye and at first it was feared that she would be blind in the left.  Her face and chest were punctured in numerous places from the metal debris that had blown up with the blast.

Investigators were working hard at the scene to gather the evidence to show exactly what had transpired at the Anderson home that morning.  The door that the bomb had been placed at was very seldom used and they didn’t know why Alma would have been at the door.  Lucille felt that Alma was walking around checking the flower beds around the home when she came upon the box.

It was later determined that the bomb had been placed in an old tackle box.  It contained at least two sticks of dynamite but was probably more and had two different times of batteries for detonation.  The investigators theorized that it was set to go off if anyone moved it.  They could tell from her injuries that Alma had bent down to pick up the box and this protected her lower chest and abdomen from the blast.  This probably saved her life.  Wood from the home and pieces of Alma’s flesh were found over forty feet away.

Alma was on the brink of death for quite a while before the doctors offered any hope.  But slowly, she began to show signs of healing.  Alma thought she had suffered a stroke and had no memory of the blast.  Though this frustrated the police, most people thought it was a blessing.

Alma amazed everyone around her with her determination and positive attitude about the injuries.  Doctors were astonished by her recovery.  They called it “miraculous” and took no credit for it.  They gave the credit to Alma who had and undefeatable spirit and will to live.  When Alma was finally released on August 7, 1957, the staff of the hospital threw her a party. 

Alma went on to impress everyone who heard her story.  She didn’t let her new disabilities stop her from living a full life.  Though Alma was sixty one years old and had to learn how to do even the simplest tasks differently, she never gave up. 

Eric continued to work for our city and in September 1957, he received an award for his dedication to the Faust Landmark.  The $6,000.00 he was awarded was spent on some of the medical bills that the couple were required to pay from Alma’s injuries.  He was humbled by the generous award and stated, “I never expected this.  Just your friendship is enough.”

Eric passed away on September 16, 1969.  Alma lived to be eighty four years old and died on November 24, 1979. They both are buried at the Scandinavian Cemetery.

Though a $15,000 reward was offered for tips leading to the arrest of the bomber, no one was ever arrested for this horrendous crime.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Horrors Of War

Andersonville Prison.  That phrase conjures up horrible images of men living in conditions beyond comprehension.  It was notorious even back when it opened.  Any man who was taken prisoner feared being sent there.  Word had spread about the conditions that turned strong men into walking skeletons.

The prison’s official name was Camp Sumter and it was located near Andersonville, Georgia.  It opened in February 1864 and ran for fourteen months.  It was built to house Union prisoners after the Northern forces moved closer to the prison located in Richmond, Virginia. None of the prisoner of war camps on either side had adequate food or housing for the men taken prisoner but Andersonville was the worst.  There wasn’t even enough food for the Confederate men assigned there as guards.

The camp was originally intended to house 10,000 men but within a few months over three times that number lived behind those walls.  During the time it was opened over 45,000 men were imprisoned there.   

The creek that ran through the camp soon became fouled with human waste and disease was rampant.  Men struggled every day with hunger, parasites, disease, and guards.  They also feared each other.  Desperate men banded together to form groups called “Raiders”.  These men would attack other prisoners and steal food, blankets, clothing, and any money that they possessed.

The commander of Andersonville was Captain Henry Wirz during the entire time it was opened  until it closed in April 1865.  He was arrested after the war ended and put on trial for his horrendous treatment of the prisoners.  Wirz was convicted and sentenced to death.  He was executed in Washington, D.C on November 10, 1865.

A lot of the men that died were buried in mass graves and records for the others were vey unorganized. One prisoner who was asked to assist with the record keeping was Dorwent Atwater.  He feared that the Confederates would try to cover up the amounts of men that were dying on a daily basis so he turned one set of records in and hid another set.  This was used to paint a more accurate portrayal of life and death in the camp.

After the war ended a National Cemetery was created.  There are 13, 714 men buried there.  921 of them are marked “unknown”.  In the grave marked number 747 was a young man named Oscar Rogers.

Oscar’s family lived in New Milford at the time the Civil War began in 1861.  Though the reason that compelled the young man to join the fighting has been lost to time, records show that he signed up in September, 1862.  New Milford’s quota for recruits was 80 men. Over 139 men from the town signed up.  

By September 1862, the romantic notion of war had been replaced with the stories of true horror.  So Oscar Rogers would have known what exactly he was signing up for when he joined that month.  He was assigned to Company A 12th Cavalry Unit.  This regiment would fight in some of the bloodiest battles including Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Antietam.  

Research did not reveal exactly when Oscar was taken prisoner. But his name appears in Atwater’s records.  Oscar Rogers died on April 26, 1864 from starvation and dysentery.  He was originally buried in the cemetery at the prison.  But his body was retrieved by his family and brought home to rest with his parents in the New Milford Cemetery.  His tombstone reads:

Oscar Rogers
Co. A 12th IL Cavalry
Died Prisoner of War at Andersonville, Ga.
April 26,1864
Aged 30 years

Next to Oscar’s tombstone is the stone of his sister, Fannie.  She married Dr.James Rosecrance and together they built a house to use as a clinic to assist veterans after the war.  Later, they would focus more on housing young children who were orphaned.  When Fannie died in 1916, the house became the Rosecrance Memorial Home for Children.  Their legacy has continued and spread to help individuals with substance abuse and behavioral health services.  

Oscar Rogers, like so many other men and women from Winnebago County, did not hesitate to step forward when his country needed him. His family turned their grief outward to help other veterans when they returned wounded from the battlefields.  Their story of sacrifice and dedication to help other veterans and their families is only one of the thousands of men and women from this county who have served their country.  

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

A Christmas Tragedy

December 22, 1905 started out bright and chilly.  Mr. Enderle was walking down South Main Street shortly after 6:00a.m., when he noticed a man staggering into the Harbough’s Restaurant.  Enderle thought he recognized the man so he pushed open the door.  He found a man that he considered to be a close friend on the floor covered in blood.  

Enderle was shocked by the condition of his friend, Gottlieb Arnold.  Gottlieb operated a tavern near the intersection of South Main and Green Streets.  When Enderle questioned Gottlieb, he stated, “My God, I have been shot.”  

Gottlieb also told Enderle that he was putting money into the cash register when a man stepped from behind the ice chest.  The man said, “Hold up your hands,” before he opened fire.

Enderle agreed to go back to the tavern to check on the money.  As he pushed open the swinging doors, he found another injured man on the floor.  Enderle knew that the authorities had already been called so he locked up the money that still sat on the bar.  Later it would be determined that only $30.00 was taken.

The other injured man was David Fuller, another friend of Gottlieb’s.  Both of the injured men were rushed to Rockford Hospital for treatment.  Fuller would live for several months before finally passing away from his wounds.  Gottlieb was taken into surgery but the bullet had ripped through his liver, completely destroying it.  There was nothing the doctors could do to save him.

This crime shocked the entire town for many reasons.  Gottlieb Arnold was a well-known and respected business owner.  He was also known to be a kind, generous man who served his community through the Germania Society and the Bar Tenders Union.  Gottlieb was fair to his employees and customers.  But he was best known to be a wonderful family man.  He had a lovely wife Annie and four children that were under the age of nine.

Another shocking element of this crime was how close it was to Christmas.  Everyone who knew Gottlieb knew that the Christmas season was his favorite time of year.  He was especially excited that year because he found the perfect presents for his family.  Gottlieb had purchased some beautiful dolls for his girls and rocking horses for the boys.  

Gottlieb told everyone who came into the bar about the presents he had purchased. He even kept the presents at the bar just to ensure that the children did not find them.  It was these presents that would catapult this story into the headlines of all the local papers.  

Authorities were searching the tavern for clues and collecting evidence when they found the stash of presents that Gottlieb had hidden.  It was common practice to collect, register and then store all the evidence from a crime scene but this was a special case.  The men that were charged with the task decided not to confiscate the toys that they found in the tavern.  

Gottlieb’s funeral was hosted on Christmas Eve at the Arnold house on Charles Street.  Family and friends escorted Gottlieb’s body to its final resting place at Cedar Bluff Cemetery.   When the family returned to the house afterwards, several officers came to pay their respects and to drop off the presents for the family.  Later, Gottlieb’s widow would state that the officers’ gesture meant more than they could ever know.

It would be some of those same officers who would attempt to get justice for the murder of Gottlieb.  It took over eight months but they finally arrested someone for the crime in August of 1906. Stone Boyce was a drifter from South Carolina who had been suspected of several crimes.  He was arrested when he was identified by one of the witnesses of Gottlieb’s murder as the man he had seen running from the tavern that morning.  Unfortunately, there was not enough evidence to prosecute Boyce for the murder of Gottlieb Arnold and he was released.

Some townspeople thought that justice still prevailed a few months later when the word came that Stone Boyce had been killed while attacking a woman back in South Carolina.  The woman’s husband heard the screams and grabbed his gun when he ran to rescue her.

Though Gottlieb’s tavern was closed because of his murder, his wife Annie would eventually open a grocery store and bakery on Crosby Street in Rockford.  Annie would live to be ninety four years old and was laid to rest by Gottlieb’s side in Cedar Bluff Cemetery when she died in 1966.

According to her friends and family, Annie never forgot the kindness of the Rockford Police Officers who helped get Gottlieb’s presents to his children.  Their selfless act made that dark Christmas of 1905 a little brighter for her family.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events