It was January 1,1884 and George realized he had been wrong. He thought this day would be easier than the past few. But as he stood by the coffin, he knew that this day would be the hardest. Today was the day that he would bury his young wife. George was glad that they had traveled from their home in Osceola, Nebraska to bring her back to Rochelle. George looked around the room and was struck by the thought that it was good to be surrounded by all these people who also loved his wife.
But Catherine was easy to love. The year that they had since their wedding had been amazing. They left Rochelle shortly after the wedding to create a life in the small town of Osceloa. She was so supportive and a hard worker. Even when they found out they were expecting, she didn’t slow down.
And when little Joseph was born on November 19, 1893, the young couple was so happy. Even when the doctor took George aside to warn him that there were some complications that could turn severe, he didn’t worry. But that all changed quickly.
George stood as everyone came to pay their respects. One of the last to approach was a man that George was surprised to see. His name was J. N. D. Shinkel and George thought he was in Chicago, going to school to be a doctor. Newt (as Catherine called him) was once a close friend of Catherine’s. In fact, their families had hoped that Catherine and Newt might be more than friends. But luckily for George, that didn’t happen.
Newt shook George’s hand and then moved on to Catherine’s parents. Martha and Joseph were both devastated by their daughter’s death. Shinkel shook Joseph’s hand and then moved away.
The blizzard that folks said was on the way arrived in earnest by the time the family left the cemetery. George was glad to arrive back to the house where he had left his newborn son. Little Joseph was all George had left of Catherine now.
Later George would say that it didn’t surprise him that he dreamed of Catherine that night. But it did surprise him that it would disturb him so much. Catherine kept calling to him in the dream. It seemed that she was lost and afraid and needed George to find her. It was the first of many disturbing dreams.
The day after the funeral the rumors made it to the family. Friends and family were passing along stories of bodies of the freshly dead being ripped right out the ground. The bodies were used by the medical schools in Chicago for the students. George didn’t give it much thought at first. He made his way to the cemetery to visit with Catherine, trying to find some peace.
George didn’t see any disturbances in the deep snow that fell during the storm that hit the day Catherine was buried. But he just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right. And every night he woke with the sound of Catherine’s pleas hanging in the air.
Finally, George couldn’t take it any longer. He approached Joseph with his fears and found that he, too had been having nightmares about his daughter. The men decided to hire a detective and went to speak to the sexton at the cemetery. The sexton called the grave digger into his office to discuss whether he had seen anything odd at the cemetery. The grave digger offered to check his tools and was back quickly with the strange news that his tools had been used and returned dirty, which was not how he left them.
George, Joseph, and the detective convinced the sexton to grant permission to open Catherine’s grave. The group gathered by the mound to conduct their horrible business. At first, there was no indication that anything was out of the ordinary. But as the digger neared the coffin, there were clues that George was correct. They found Catherine’s funeral shroud in the dirt about a foot above the coffin. Even with this clue, they were all shocked when the coffin was exposed. The entire top of the head area of the coffin had been smashed in by force and Catherine’s body was gone.
The authorities told the family that it must have happened the very day Catherine was buried. The blizzard would have offered perfect cover, making it impossible for anyone to see the evil deed that was committed that night.
The authorities also felt that the body snatchers must have been to the funeral since they knew exactly where to find the snow covered grave and the tools that they borrowed from the shed. The family refused to believe that anyone who knew Catherine could be so heartless.
But they did believe the police that whoever took Catherine away would make their way to Chicago. There were 5 Medical Colleges in Chicago during this time and the men swore to visit every single one of them. It had been so many days that the detective warned them that this trip might not end the way they wanted.
It was at the Chicago Homeopathic Medical College that their quest finally ended. The detectives had been correct when they warned the family, that this might not end the way the family hoped. In the seven days that it took to locate Catherine, the students had worked on her. The damage to her face and head was extensive and her father wept when he saw her.
The somber group returned to Rochelle where Catherine was once again buried in her family’s plot in the little cemetery. George later said it was the first time he had slept in a very long time.
But unfortunately, George’s peace would once again be disturbed. The story soon broke that the authorities had two men in custody. It shook the entire community when one of the men turned out to be Catherine’s childhood friend, Newt Shinkel. His accomplice was another medical student named Waterman. The trial just about tore Rochelle apart and the judge granted a change of venue for the defendants. The trial was held in Rockford and though the prosecutors felt they had a strong case, the men on the jury disagreed. Both men were acquitted but were soon arrested for another case of grave robbing, this time in Sycamore. There had been 5 cases of grave robbing found in small towns all over the area. The two men had gotten a break in Rockford, but their luck finally ran out in Sycamore.
Waterman was put on trial first and found guilty. He was sentenced to a year in prison. Newt Shinkel was out on bail when the news reached him. He swore that he would never stand trial for the charges against him. Newt Shinkel jumped bail and ran. He would never stand trial for the other cases.
Newt Shinkel and Waterman returned to medical school and became doctors. Shinkel was never convicted in a court of law of body snatching but he could never run awayfrom what his former neighbors and friends knew to be true. He became the black sheep of his family and the newspapers of the day all talked of the awful character of the man who once had so much potential.
Catherine was laid to rest in the Craft family plot. George remarried and when he died in 1931, he too returned to Rochelle. He was buried next to his own family a few rows away from Catherine.
When Shinkel died over twenty years after the incident with Catherine, the papers didn’t talk of all the people that he helped as a doctor. They all mentioned the fact that he had been accused of betraying a family who once thought the best of him. The papers mentioned that when Shinkel broke into Catherine’s coffin that he broke the heart of the community that had embraced him as one of their own. It is ironic that while Shinkel thought he had left no trace of his horrible crime, the impact of that crime out lasted any good that he might have accomplished. He too is buried in the cemetery in Rochelle.
Copyright © 2021 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events