Mary E. Holland

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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When local farmer John McDougall knocked on the door of Margaret Grippen’s home on April 29, 1909, he couldn’t know that he was about to be swept up in the worst crime ever seen in the small town of Winnebago, Illinois.

Margaret Grippen was a 60-year-old widow and had lived in W1innebago with her husband, Demus for many years. The couple were farmers and when Demus died in 1895, he left Margaret in good financial standing. The newspapers of the day told of Margaret’s fears that something terrible would happen to her. Her house set near the both the railroad line and the interurban line and this caused the old lady concern.

The night that Margaret was murdered there was a fierce spring storm that kept all of her neighbors inside. The heavy rain and almost continuous thunder covered the sounds of her screams as she fought for her life.

Coroner McAllister was shocked at the damage that had been done to the elderly woman. By the condition of her body and the damage done to the inside of her home, he could state that Margaret had fought hard for her life on that stormy night..

The only real clue that was left by the killer was found on a glass chimney from a lantern. The lantern had been set on the floor by Margaret’s body and covered with one of the lady’s shawls in hopes that this would set a fire to the home. But that is not what happened. Some called it divine intervention when they discovered that the shawl had actually smothered the flame of the lantern. When the chimney was examined, authorities found three blood stained fingerprints.

Fingerprinting was just beginning to used in the country at this time. In 1904, one of the country’s only instructors was Detective John Kenneth Ferrier, an inspector at Londan’s New Scotland Yard. Ferrier was traveling the country and during 1904, he was demonstrating the art of fingerprinting at the World’s Fair in St.Louis. Two of his pupils were owners of the Holland Detective Agency in Chicago, Illinois. Phil and his wife Mary attended the Fair and met Ferrier. Fascinated by the science of fingerprinting, Mary decided to join Ferrier for classes.

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This was extremely significant and unusual for this time period. Women were not usually allowed to take part in actual investigations. But Mary Holland was not your typical woman. She would eventually visit London and learn the fingerprint technique called the Henry Classification System. This system used a counting system for the whorls, ridges and loops to identify criminals. Authorities would obtain suspect’s fingerprints along with other identifying features and keep them on file. When a crime was committed and fingerprints were left, the authorities would spend hours comparing the known criminals prints to their samples.

At the time of the Grippen murder, Mary Holland was one of the top fingerprint experts in the country. In 1907, she was hired by the United States Navy as one of the first professional fingerprint trainers. Mary traveled all over the country to teach members of the Military and Police forces how to collect, store and compare fingerprints.

The fact that the authorities reached out to Mary Holland with the evidence from Margaret’s murder speaks to the dedication they had to solve this case. Mary began her work by comparing the collected prints to thousands of already processed fingerprints on file in Chicago.

She worked many long hard hours, bent over the prints with her magnifying glass but could find no match. Mary then sent the fingerprints on to other Police Bureaus in the midwest to see if they had a match in their files.

Mary became completely absorbed by Margaret’s murder and decided that she needed to see the crime scene for herself. Mary had been involved with murders before but she would later state that nothing she had witnessed up to that time could prepare her for the scene that she found in the Grippen home. The entire hallway was smeared with Margaret’s blood from the attack and more had been cast off the iron as the murderer brought it down on Margaret’s face time after time.

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Mary Holland’s next move was to fingerprint the men of first Winnebago and then Rockford. m. She and the men that assisted her, gathered and compared the fingerprints of 1,000 men. The people who knew and loved the elderly victim were only too glad to give up their fingerprints to help catch  the killer.

Unfortunately, though every avenue was explored, the owner of those three bloody fingerprints was never found. Mary Holland worked this case to the best of her ability and the fact that she didn’t solve it, never left her. She would go on to consult with authorities in some of the country’s worst crimes and put many criminals behind bars. This amazing woman who earned herself the name “the most famous woman detective of her time”, would remain haunted by Margaret’s murder. Her greatest fear in all her cases would be that if she did not catch these killers then someone else would die.

Margaret Grippen’s murder has never been solved. Mary E. Holland died on March 27,1915.

 

Copyright © 2022 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

Screams In The Night

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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The police didn’t know what they would find when they arrived at the old building on South Main Street. It was around 1:00 a.m. on October 24, 1972, when they got an anonymous tip that there was screaming coming from the old Capri Theater on South Main Street. The theater was not in use anymore but the upper floors of the three-story building had been converted into apartments.

It was inside one of those apartments that the police found a horrific sight. On the floor just inside the door was a nude body of a young lady. The woman had been beaten so badly that there was a 2 foot puddle of blood surrounding her head. The coroner would later state that her cause of death came from trauma with a weapon (such as an axe or hatchet) that was “wielded by a strong hand”. That weapon had shattered the girl’s skull.

The police did not find very many clues at the apartment. The young woman had some hair clutched in her hand and there were bloody shoe prints leading out of the door and down the stairs.

The police were able to identify the girl quickly as 18-year old Karen Camper. The manager of the apartments recognized the body. He told police that the girl had lived there in the same apartment with her boyfriend for over a year but the couple had moved out weeks before.

Karen had broken off the relationship with that boyfriend, Lawrence Mathis, Jr. She moved back into her parent’s house which was located on nearby Knowlton Street. The police went to break the news to her family. Albert and Mattie Camper were distraught on hearing the news of their daughter’s murder. Albert had to fight back the tears as he tried to give the police the information they needed.

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Albert proudly pointed to the art pieces scattered around the room. “She did all of this herself”. He went on to tell the officers of how impressed Karen’s teachers were with her artwork and grades. Karen attended school at Muldoon High School until it closed in 1970.  She tried Boylan for a time, then transferred to East High School and that seemed a better fit. “They (the teachers) did everything they could to keep her in school. One teacher at East was working to get Karen a scholarship for college.”

But Karen had fallen for an older man and dropped out of high school just months before she would have graduated. Albert told the police that it was like this man controlled Karen’s mind. Karen’s mother stated that it was like she was two different people. Sometimes Karen enjoyed spending time with her family bowling, playing tennis and baking wonderful desserts. And other times, Karen spent time with the older man and made bad choices, doing things her parents never thought she would do. They could not understand the hold this man had on their daughter.

The older man was 27 year old Lawrence Mathis Jr. Karen’s parents didn’t like the fact that he was so much older than their daughter. But against their advice Karen moved into the apartment over the old Capri Theater with Mathis. Mathis was an unemployed painter and the couple struggled to make ends meet. They couldn’t pay their bills and soon began to look for other ways to get money.

In May of 1972, Karen was arrested when she was caught with U.S. Treasury checks that had signatures that had been forged. She entered the Wayne Western Auto store and cashed one of the forged checks. Karen was accompanied by a man but he had taken off running when it was obvious that the cashier was suspicious. Witnesses saw the man toss something into a trash can. When the police searched the can and found 7 more U.S. Treasury checks and 5 identification cards.

When the police found Mathis, they recovered four more checks in his possession during the arrest. Mathis and Karen were supposed to be in Federal Court in Freeport to face those charges before Karen’s murder but failed to show up. Bench warrants had been issued for both Karen and Mathis. The police wondered if that could be a possible motive for Karen’s murder and decided they needed to question Mathis.

It took police 19 hours to find Mathis and bring him in for questioning. He was bound over for a Grand Jury by Judge John Nielsen. The judge made his decision after he heard the statement of a man who was with Karen and Mathis on the night of the murder. This man stated that he dropped Mathis and Karen at the old apartment and was supposed to pick them up an hour later. When the man returned, he heard a scream as he approached the apartment. He knocked on the door and it opened. He didn’t see anything at first because the room was dark. But then he stepped in the room and his feet kicked something. When he looked down, he saw Karen’s naked body on the floor. When asked if he recognized the girl on the floor the man said it was Karen. The attorney then asked what she had on. The man stated, “She didn’t have nothing on her but blood.”

Though Mathis originally claimed he was innocent of the charges against him, in March of 1973, he changed his plea to guilty. Chief Circuit Judge Albert O’Sullivan sentenced Mathis to 20 to 40 years in prison for the murder of Karen Camper.

Assistant State’s Attorney Robert Gemignani laid the case out for the judge and stated that he believed the motive in the murder of Karen might be that Mathis feared that Karen would testify against him in the trial for the forgery charges. Since the checks were U.S. Treasury checks it was a federal case and could carry serious consequences for Mathis. Mathis was given the chance to respond to Gemignani’s statements but he declined.

The pretty, talented, young girl who showed some much potential that her parents were sure she would make her mark on the world was laid to rest in a grave on a small hill in Cedar Bluff Cemetery. Albert would join his daughter in the family plot in 2006.

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Copyright © 2022 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rockford Public Library: 150 Years Of Service

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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The Rockford Public Library is celebrating one hundred-fifty years of service to the Rockford Community this year. This seems like good time to share some of the tales of its history. One of the favorite stories is about the beautifully carved wooden dog that was part of the Rockton Centre Branch for decades.

This work of art was carved in Switzerland over one hundred years ago. It was brought to Rockford by Robert and Nellie Rew. Their story is like many who traveled to Rockford to build a better life.

Robert was born in 1853 in England to Mary Rew. When he was still a child, he came to the United States. Robert’s early history is a little harder to discover than when he became an adult. He would become  a citizen of the United States in 1876.

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Robert met Nellie Goodwin in High School when they both were part of the graduating class of Rockford High School of 1873. Robert went off to college at Northwestern where he studied to become a teacher.

Nellie was born here in Rockford. Her parents were Adelia and Azro Goodwin and they were considered to be pioneers of early Rockford. Azro grew up in poverty and worked very hard to put himself through medical school where he graduated with honors. Azro started his medical career in Clintonville, New York and it was there that he wed Adelia Fields on July 8,1852. They moved to Rockford in 1854 into a home at 726 Jefferson Street. Azro and Adelia quickly became popular in early Rockford’s Society. By 1857, he was the Assistant Health Officer for the city and also maintained a large medical practice.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Azro enlisted as an officer in the 11th Infantry Division and then joined the 108th Division. Azro was appointed the title of Assistant Surgeon for the battlefields. Azro’s regiment was sent to Vicksburg where he was horribly wounded in the stomach. Azro would suffer from this wound the rest of his life.

After the war, he was elected as the Postmaster for Rockford and also served as one of the first members of the Rockford Public Library Board of Trustees. He was part of the group of local doctors that requested a charter for a hospital from the secretary of state of Illinois which was granted December 15, 1883. Rockford’s first hospital, Rockford Memorial, opened in 1885 in the former home of Dr. William H. Fitch on the corners of South Court and Chestnut Streets.

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Azro must have been impressed with Robert’s hard work in school and his dedication to the community. He agreed when Robert requested Nellie’s hand in marriage. The young couple married on October 18, 1879. Robert had worked his way up from a teacher to the principal of West High School by the time of the wedding. The couple settled into Nellie’s childhood home.

They had no children of their own but served the city in other ways. Robert would eventually become a lawyer and built a very successful law firm here. He would serve as a respected member of the Winnebago County Bar for fifty-one years. Robert also served as Rockford’s Mayor from 1917 through 1921. It speaks volumes about Robert’s character that he would run for mayor during such a traumatic time. There must have been many challenges for our city during the war years including building Camp Grant and facing the Spanish Influenza outbreak.

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Nellie was an accomplished young lady in her own right. She was very involved with the rights of women, children and animals. She founded a chapter of the Illinois Humane Society for Winnebago County. Nellie would serve as secretary for the society for over 40 years. She would give presentations to sold out crowds about the places that she and Robert visited in their many travels.

It was on one of these trips to Switzerland that Nellie and Robert purchased the beautiful carved dog. He was displayed on the grand staircase landing in their home on Fifth Street. The area looks very different now than when Nellie and Robert lived there. It was a residential area with carefully tended gardens. In fact, there was once was a park in front of their home.

Nellie later gave the dog to the Rockford Public Library in honor of her father. Nellie died in 1926 and was buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery at the top of the hill. Robert joined her after his death in 1934. Their tombstone reads “Until Day Breaks.”

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After Robert passed away, the home on 5th Street became the Julian Poorman Funeral Home and has served families in Rockford for many years. The house is over a hundred years old now. Most people pass it without ever wondering about the family who lived there.,

The carved dog was displayed at the Main Branch of the Rockford Public Library for well over thirty years. At first, the dog sat on the landing that ascended on both sides of the central lobby. When the library was renovated, places to display the dog were eliminated and it was kept in storage for many years. Eventually, sometime around 1963, it was decided to make Rockton Centre Library Branch his home. Patrons seemed pleased to see him there. Many of them shared the stories of seeing the dog as children and then bringing their own children in to visit him. It is easy to tell the spots that have been worn on the dog’s nose and head from generations of Rockford children petting him.

The dog stayed at Rockton Centre Branch until 2021 when that library closed. It seemed fitting to move this library icon to the beautiful Montague Branch, now the oldest Rockford Public Library location. As Rockford Public Library celebrates its next chapter with the building of a new Main Library, it is comforting that this familiar face will continue to greet the patrons as he has for generations.

 

Copyright © 2022 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Lonely Struggle — Charles Patterson

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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The young man walking through the little cemetery wasn’t the least bit frightened on that chilly November night. Not at first anyway. Britton Thorsen’s father was the Sexton for the Newark Cemetery and he spent many hours there. Britton would later say that he had always found the cemetery to be very peaceful. All that changed as the 17-year-old Britton approached the cemetery’s small building that at times was used as a chapel.

He stopped in his tracks as his brain struggled to comprehend what it saw in the dim light. It was a young man’s body and Clinton could tell that the death was not a natural one. The body was face down and there was a wound in his head. Britton had a good idea of the young man’s identity. Charles F. Patterson had been missing from Beloit College since the previous Wednesday, November 15, 1933. The word of his disappearance had spread all over southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

Charles F. Patterson was 19 years old and a junior at Beloit College. He was a good student and involved in many clubs including sports, photography, and business groups. He belonged to the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. The fraternity was established in 1860, and was the oldest on the Beloit campus. Charles appeared happy and well-adjusted to campus life.  A popular boy, he always seemed surrounded by friends. A fact that was proven when large groups of students showed up to search for him on the several days he was missing.

Charles was seen leaving his fraternity house in the morning of November 15, 1933.  He had a car at the school but left it parked in front of the fraternity house that morning. But this was just the beginning of this mystery. When Charles did not return that evening his friends and fraternity brothers reported him missing to the college President, Irving Maurer.

Charles Follett Patterson graduated in 1931 from New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois.  He worked hard through his high school years and was considered one of the top students from his class. He pledged and was accepted into the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity at Beloit College. It would be these fraternity brothers that would later carry Charles’ coffin to Eaton Chapel where his service would be held.

Friends described Charles as very organized, a deep thinker, and a gentle soul. He had a great work ethic and was very successful in his school work. His parents were very proud of Charles and very touched that he wrote home so often.

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It was Maurer who notified Charles’ parents that he was missing. They lived in Jackson, Michigan with his sister, Jean.  The police began the search immediately but soon, Charles’ family and many friends came to help. Charles had gone to high school in Winnetka, Illinois and still had many friends there. It speaks volumes about this young man’s character that people flocked to help search for him.

All who knew him were baffled first by his disappearance and then by his death. When young Britton found Charles in the Newark Cemetery on that Sunday evening, it really only answered one question, “Where was Charles?”  On the other hand, it led to so many more.

When Charles’ body was recovered, the men who were sent to retrieve his corpse discovered a .22 caliber handgun underneath. The police who were working on the theory that Charles might have met with foul play now changed their minds. Their focus now became on gathering evidence of why Charles would commit suicide. The police met with a lot of resistance to their new theory. The thought that Charles had hurt himself was incomprehensible to everyone who knew him.

When police recovered and later tested the gun, they discovered that it had recently been fired three times. The fatal bullet entered his right temple and exited under his left cheek bone.

Police worked hard to interview the many friends and classmates of the young man. Again, the interviews brought more questions than answers. No one who knew Charles believed that he would ever hurt himself. But one of his teachers stated that during the previous six weeks, Charles seemed quieter and his grades had slipped. His fraternity brothers mentioned that Charles was worried about something but wouldn’t tell them any details. Whatever was worrying Charles didn’t seem that serious to any of his friends.

The police interviews found a couple of men who saw a young man walking on the same afternoon that Charles went missing.  Eric Thorsen worked as the sexton at the Newark Cemetery and was the father of the young man who discovered Charles’ body. Thorsen and another man stated that they spotted a young man walking in the direction of the cemetery. It was 16 miles from Charles’ dorm room to the little cemetery, and the time given by the two men didn’t allow for Charles to walk to the spot he was seen. Police tried to find someone who might have given Charles a ride but no one ever came forward.

Police were hopeful when they realized that there was a house nearby the little cemetery. They hoped to narrow down the time of death. But when they interviewed the family that lived in the house, the mystery once again deepened.  The family had been home during the evening but never heard a shot, let alone three. Police never recovered any evidence of the other two bullets.

Charles’ funeral was hosted by Eaton Chapel at Beloit College. His heartbroken parents, Charles and Emma and his sister Jean, attended the service. They found some comfort in the fact that over 500 students came to pay their respects. Many of the students approached the family and spoke of the things they admired about Charles.  Things like the fact that he was a hard worker, a good role model for the underclassmen, and that he had accomplished so much in his short life. But no one could tell them what they really needed to hear. No one could answer the question that they needed answered. They left shortly after the ceremony.

There were so many questions left unanswered when Charles died. The mystery of this young man’s death will remain forever unsolved.

Beloit College President Maurer spoke eloquently at Charles’ funeral and put it much better than this author could ever hope to express.

“ Into the dark tragedy of his sudden death and into the forces which played upon him so swiftly in the last few days of his life we cannot enter. Here we find ourselves baffled
by the inscrutability which cloaks the human soul. God knows-we simply bow in sorrow
at the thought of the lonely struggle into which this talented, able, promising life was
was hurried.”

 

 

Copyright © 2022 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Mysterious Ghost Ship of Lake Michigan

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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The Holiday Season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is often referred to as “The Most Wonderful Time of Year”.  But others point out that there is something beyond the colorful lights and tinsel that can make this time of the year seem eerie and dark.  The shorter days and much longer nights leave a lot more time for the bumps in the night to make us wonder if something else is lurking just beyond the flickering lights. In fact, many cultures share ghost stories during their Winter Celebrations.

During this time of year, friends and families gather to celebrate the season with certain traditions.  One of the most enduring traditions involves hauling an evergreen tree into the house and decorating it with lights, ornaments, and garland. While it is very easy these days to find these trees, it wasn’t always the case, especially in the bigger cities like Milwaukee or Chicago.

Most folks purchased their tree from wholesalers or local store. These vendors were supplied the trees by local shipping businesses.  These men loaded their ships with freshly cut trees from the upper parts of Michigan and Wisconsin and then sailed down the coast of Lake Michigan to deliver them to the vendors.  It was a dangerous business with the severity of the storms that would blow in without warning to the lake. These ships were called “Christmas Tree Ships” and during the years between late 1870’s and 1920’s, they brought thousands of the trees to this area.

One family that became famous for delivering these trees were the Shuenemanns.  There were three brothers in the family and they began to transport trees in 1876.  They ran this business even after one brother, August was killed during the November run in 1898.  Herman Schuenemann had to put his grief aside that season and he brought two loads of trees down that year. By this time, Herman had three children of his own to support and took on the responsibility of August’s wife and children.

The Shuenemann families lived in Chicago close to the Clark Street docks and knew that many folks couldn’t afford a tree.  They decided that they would sell the trees directly to the folks in the area.  In order to keep their overhead low, they sold these trees right off the boat.  They decorated it with Christmas lights and guaranteed the lowest prices.  A lot of the people that lived in the area stated that the Christmas Season started when the Schuenemann ship sailed up to the dock.  Herman was always known to give a few trees away to the families that couldn’t afford to pay for one.  Herman earned such a good reputation for his generosity, that he was given the nickname “Captain Christmas”.

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In 1910, Herman bought a share of the 124 foot long schooner named the Rouse Simmons. The schooner was built in 1868 and had been used for hauling lumber for its whole life. Herman was proud to be the captain of this ship that had created a good reputation for over 25 years of sailing the Great Lakes.  By 1912, the Rouse Simmons was beginning to show her age and many speculated that she might not be sea worthy any longer. That year the storms had been particularly brutal and roared in earlier than other years.  Some of the Christmas Tree ships had decided that it was too risky to make the run that year.

This made Herman even more determined to make the run.  The wagons carrying the trees from the local farms came to the dock and were unloaded.  They stacked the evergreens into every available space until over 5,000 trees were jammed onboard.  The Rouse Simmons sat low in the water and Herman cast a worried eye to the ominous clouds that were moving in.  Though some of the crew thought they should wait out the storm, Herman knew that this would be the last sail of the season.  He decided to head out and hoped that he could outrun the storm.

Unfortunately, the storm slammed into the ship shortly after it left the safety of the port.  The 60 mile an hour winds drove the icy rain down on the deck of the Rouse Simmons.  Soon the trees stacked on board were covered with snow and ice.  The weight of the trees pushed the already overloaded Rouse Simmons deeper into the water.

The ship was seen by the Life Saving Station at Sturgeon Bay.  They reported that the ship was flying its distress flags and was struggling with the large waves that were now breaking over her bow.  All of the Life Saving Stations were on high alert because of the gale.  The Two Rivers Station had a power boat that was sent to spot the Rouse Simmons.   The ship was spotted only once for a brief moment.  Later reported to look more like a block of ice than a ship, those that witnessed her felt there was little chance for the ship to survive the storm.  It was the last time the Rouse Simmons would be spotted for over 60 years.

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By December 13th, all hope was gone when frozen Christmas trees began to wash up on the shores of the Lake.  A tree decorated with black ribbon was placed along the bridge at Clark Street where the Rouse Simmons would normally dock.

Later, a bottle was washed up by Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  The message inside read, “Friday..everybody goodbye. I guess we are all through. During the night the small boat was washed overboard.  Leaking bad.  Invald and Steve lost too.  God help us.  Herman Schuenemann.”

Herman’s wife Barbara and her two daughters would continue his legacy by shipping the trees on trains and then selling them off a rented ship.  They continued to sell trees on the Clark Street Bridge until Barbara’s death in 1933.  The daughters later opened a store on North Lasalle Street to sell trees and other Christmas decorations.

The Great Lakes held onto the secret of what had happened to the Rouse Simmons until October 30, 1971 when scuba diver Kent Bellrichard from Milwaukee stumbled unto the wreck by accident.  The ship lay in 165 feet of water about twelve miles northeast of Two Rivers.  After close examination it was discovered that the wheel had been damaged when the mizzenmast driver boom, which was the support for the main sail, snapped and crashed in to the wheel, damaging it.  The Rouse Simmons was completely at the mercy of the storm and unable to steer to safety.  The Christmas trees still lined it decks.  One of the trees was later stood on the front as a memorial to the men who died onboard.

Shortly after the disappearance of the Christmas Tree Ship, rumors began to spread amongst the sailors on Lake Michigan.  Many of them told stories of spotting the doomed schooner, still covered in ice, laboring low in the water as she made her way toward home.

Other stories came not from sailors but from folks who lived on the shore of Lake Michigan.  One woman, Joyce Phippen was interviewed by Rochelle Pennington for her book, The Historic Christmas Tree Ship.  Phippen swore she had witnessed the ship twice: once at dusk and another time during the night.  She described the ship as seeming to float above the water, still heavily covered in ice and emerging from a heavy mist.

None of the crew of the Rouse Simmons was ever recovered.  Herman’s wallet was brought up in a fisherman’s net from the bottom of the lake in 1923.  It was wrapped in oilskin which protected it contents.  Inside were business cards, an expense sheet, and an article about the Christmas tree ship and Captain Santa.

The Schuenemann family’s legacy of supplying Christmas trees to everyone whether they could afford to pay or not continues even to this day.  The US Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw brings a load of trees from northern Michigan to hand out to families who otherwise would not have a tree for their celebrations.

The storm of 1912 was reported as one of the worst up to that time on the Great Lakes.  Many lives were lost during that storm.  But the story of the Rouse Simmons is still shared today. Some say it is due to the sacrifice of Herman and the other men who died trying to bring joy to folks for the holiday.  Others say it is due to the women in Herman’s family who carried on his legacy.  Still others say that it is due to the sightings of the ice ladened ship that continue even today.

 

Photographs are from Schoolcraft County Historical Society.

Copyright © 2022 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Ice Cold Betrayal

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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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.

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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.

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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.

George_M_x425

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.

McConaughy_Family_02_x600

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

The Mysterious Death of Theodore Lakoff

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Lakoff

Theodore Lakoff had dreams like many who came from far away to call Rockford their home. He traveled from his home country of Bulgaria to Liverpool England in 1911. He was only 18 years old when he stepped off the passenger ship, Baltic in the New York harbor.

Theodore traveled to Chicago and was living there in 1913. He would spend the next several years working a variety of jobs and moving around quite a bit before settling in New Diggins, Wisconsin. One article mentioned that the young man worked at several Supper Clubs in Wisconsin before arriving in the Roscoe area in 1930.

Theodore operated his own roadhouse resort on North 2nd Street from 1930 to the beginning of 1931. The resort was long suspected of hosting illegal operations from serving alcohol (this was during Prohibition), to gambling and girls. Theodore also used several different names by early 1930. Tony Evanoff must have been a favorite. It appears in the newspaper articles as often as Theodore Lakoff.

On Saturday, January 3, 1931, Theodore had a full house. People were still celebrating the New Year and the card games were in full swing as well as the liquor sales. George Farmer from Beloit would later testify that he was one of the last to leave just after midnight. Theodore lived at the resort and he followed the stragglers outside to wish everyone a Happy New Year before heading back inside.

On Sunday, Ted Manley showed up for an appointment with Theodore at around 10:00 a.m. He thought it strange that the doors were still locked. He knocked but Theodore did not answer. Manley decided to check in with Theodore’s manager, Charles Smith to see if he knew of the man’s location. Smith was so startled to hear that the doors of the resort were still locked that he decided to accompany Manley back to the roadhouse.

They later stated that they both had an eerie feeling as they unlocked the door and stepped inside. This feeling grew as they made their way to the back portion of the place where Theodore was known to sleep on a couch. That is exactly where they found him. Theodore was curled up on the couch with his hands under his head. Or what was left of his head.

It wasn’t long before Sheriff William C. Bell and Coroner Walter Julian arrived. They theorized that whoever killed Theodore had hid in the roadhouse sometime during the evening’s festivities. The assailant waited in the dark until Theodore was asleep before he crept from his hiding spot and fired the gun into the top of Theordore’s head. The shot killed him instantly.

A thorough search was made but only deepened the mystery for the authorities. Theodore’s wallet was laying on the floor completely empty. Witnesses from the night before stated that Theodore had around $100.00 in the wallet. But the search proved that there was a lot more money on hand that was not taken. They believed the wallet was only emptied to make it appear that robbery was the motive for the shooting.

Of course, being a resort owner during the turbulent years of Prohibition opened the possible motives up tremendously. There were often rival gangs that used strong arm tactics to convince the owners to purchase their liquor from their particular stock. Authorities focused on this theory pretty quickly.

But after questioning several of Theodore’s closest friends, they began to change their minds. These friends told of a young woman who was giving Theodore some trouble. Viola Hunsficker may have only been 20 years old at the time of Theodore’s murder but she had earned the reputation of being very street smart. Viola had worked for Theodore at the roadhouse for a short time. But something must have happened between Theodore and the young woman. The witnesses told the authorities that Viola was extorting money from Theodore. They heard horrible arguments between the two and stated that Theodore had stated he wasn’t going to pay her any more money.

When Viola was picked up by the Sheriff’s deputies and her apartment searched, they found two guns. One of them was Theodore’s gun that many people had seen him carry. The other gun was of the same caliber of the weapon that was used in the murder. Viola stated she had never seen the guns before. Sheriff Bell arrested the young woman but continued to question acquaintances of the slain man.

Bell also sent the slug retrieved from Theodore and the gun found in Viola’s possession to Chicago. The results came back after two weeks. They did not match and Viola was released.

As the police delved into Theodore’s personal life they were astonished to find 5 other women who were under the impression that they were Theordore’s only girlfriend. Some of these women also had boyfriends and even husband’s that added to the potential motives for wanting Theodore dead.

The authorities developed many other theories in the days following Theodore’s death and followed many leads. They always believed that whoever had killed Theodore was probably close to him. But like several other killings during Prohibition, Theodore’s murder was never solved. He was buried in the Eastlawn Cemetery in Beloit.

 

Copyright © 2021 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

A Scary Personal Paranormal Encounter At Tinker Swiss Cottage

This article is written by Dean Thompson from Ghost Head Soup and Kathi Kresol from Haunted Rockford.  It describes an encounter that was experienced by the both of them at a public Paranormal Investigation at the Tinker Swiss Cottage hosted by Samantha Hochmann.

 

Dean Thompson:

In the new normal “feeling chills” could be a sign you have COVID, or in the paranormal field it means something else, but similarly sinister.

That’s how the evening began for Kathi Kresol from Haunted Rockford, along with three members of Ghost Head Soup, and Psychic Medium Sara, as they began their first public investigation session.

“I felt a chill behind me.” Kathi Kresol said.

The thirty or more people in attendance that evening broke apart into three smaller groups. Kathi and I remained in the barn with our first group. A small team from Indiana, stated that when Kathi announced that she had felt something he panned his video camera over in her direction.

“I know a lot of the paranormal themed television shows claim orbs could be dust and stuff, but while I panned my video over to you, I was surprised to see a pretty bright orb.” The investigator explained. He stated that the orb had circled Kathi and went into the chair next to her.

 

Kathi Kresol: 

I have been hosting these Paranormal Events in the Rockford area for 17 years now.  We offer these Ghost Investigations so folks can join in with an actual Investigation team.  They can use the equipment and see what a real investigation feels like.

We spilt the participants into three groups so that there are smaller groups.  Samantha, Sara and I usually sit in on the sessions in different areas.  For this particular event, I was stationed in the barn with Dean.

Dean begins the session by explaining  the equipment that we will be using for that session.  Then we turn out the lights. I need to make something very clear before I go on with this story.  I have worked with Sara Bowker for 15 years now.  She is the psychic pne and I rely heavily on her impressions. .  I sometimes get feelings but rarely do I get details.  I was just settling into my chair when I got the coldest feeling on my back.  And when I closed my eyes- I saw one of the scariest things I had experienced in a long time.  I could clearly picture a young lady -possibly a teenager or a little older.  She wore a long white gown that appeared to be wet.  She had dark, long hair but had her head down and I couldn’t see her face.  She looked for lack of a better description- like the little girl from the movie, “The Ring”.

 

Dean Thompson:

“I got Cold Chills!”

As the first session completed, Kathi ran and grabbed Sara over to the barn. Some whispering took place as a worried Kathi was not sure what to think about this vision she was receiving. Later we would learn what the “whispering” was all about.

The second team came in and the room changed. It became darker, but playful, people started to hear a meow sound though their devices.

“I can use a laser pointer and really get that cat going.” I casually announced.

While all the cat and mouse games were being played, Kathi and Sara sat in the backroom with their hands on their heads. They would join in the cat hunt briefly but the concern of chills still kept Kathi’s mind preoccupied.

 

Kathi Kresol:

I did run to get Sara.  I just knew that she usually could tell me what was happening.  Only this time, she couldn’t.  Sara could sense the girl but this spirit did not want to communicate- AT ALL!  This made it so much scarier to me.  Sara can usually figure out what the spirit wants to say and helps them by communicating.  But this girl just lingered there.

 

Dean Thompson:

The final session was now entering the room, which included a quartet of women who were eager to start a dowsing rod session. After several Tinker Family related questions, the rods started to move without notice.

“Okay who asked a question?” Megan said.

Megan was in charge of the rods and felt a secret question was asked.

“There’s somebody different tonight, that’s here.” Kathi stated. “That’s why Sara is sitting next to me.”

This is when Kathi started to not whisper and spoke aloud about her vision.

Divine Inspiration is a means for the supernatural world to reveal information into certain people. The person receiving the communication would experience a “creative desire” which would explain what Kathi was feeling this evening.

She described the cold chill, and seeing a girl, who was wearing a wet gown, dark hair covering her face, but nothing else was coming though. Sara was next to her the entire time and was not receiving any such contact with this young girl.

“I was just wondering if she is still here.” Kathi said

As the dowsing rods continued Kathi had mentioned a few key details regarding the thoughts. She stated that the girl was not part of the Tinker Family. That she was somebody new here tonight. The words drowning and car were mentioned from the women with the dowsing rod.

“Did someone bring her with them?” One of four quartet asked.

This is when I started to wonder if my previous days research had anything to do with this new entity. I was researching the Forest City Knitting company of Rockford and had discovered some gruesome deaths that had taken place.

“Is your name Emma?” I asked

Sara stated that she also got an Emma in the first session in the red room of the main building.

“Is your name Amy?” I asked

Oddly, one of the four quartet was named Amy.

My own Divine inspirations started to pull forward. I thought that the girl couldn’t remember her name, but after listening to the audio I felt that maybe she was able to validate one of the girls present that night.

“I think I know who the girl is.” I spoke up.

On May 18th 1909, which is a week away from me writing this, the Newspaper article headline read: GIRL SWEPT UNDER TRAIN TO DEATH.

Miss Alma Johnson, aged 26, an employee of the Forest City Knitting company, Rockford, was killed instantly Saturday night by being run into by a St. Paul passenger train due in Rockford at 6 o’clock.

At the time Miss Johnson met her death she was in company with three young women friends on their way to the East Side station of the Illinois Central railway company, at which place one of the young women was to purchase a ticket for Sweden, for which place she intended leaving Sunday.

This is why it took to the third session of the evening to discover the Spirit of Alma Johnson. She waited for the Megan and her three friends to come and speak to her.

Miss Alma Johnson, Alma Englund, Amanda Larson and Alvina Rosander were on their way to Seventh street and it was when the quartet had reached the cross-tracks that they were run down.

I quickly noticed that each of the four girl’s names began and ended with the letter A.

The train was a trifle late but was running at a slow speed and was not going over the regulation speed. The girls had cleared the track it was thought and Miss Johnson’s clothing must have become caught in a part of the engine and she was drawn under the wheels for the other girls were unharmed and all seemed to be at about the same distance from the track.

Earlier Kathi had mentioned that the girl was drenched in a gown and her hair was covering her face. The description of the way Alma was killed is pretty graphic, but would explain why her spirit would remember her name and would appear to Kathi the way that she did.

Miss Johnson was drawn under the engine and the top part of her head was cut off, the left hand cut off just above the wrist and the right foot was severed from the leg just above the ankle.

Keep in mind that Robert Tinker had also lost a foot when he was caught under a train and dragged.

The remains of the body was thrown about ten feet from the right of way and the train was stopped within a double car length of the place where the mishap occurred.

As I read Alma’s story for the first time, I was a little alarmed at the nature of the description, however without these facts, Kathi and I would never had been able to validate young Alma’s story.

 

Kathi Kresol

I don’t pretend to understand how the ghost thing works- Dean’s thoughts on Divine Inspiration are as good as any I guess.  But I am not entirely convinced that this girl is the Alma in the story.   Sara validated that Alma was there for Dean and I could tell Sara could communicate with her to get a little more of her story.

My research into Alma’s story showed that Alma was born on January 15, 1882, making her around 27 old when she suffered her horrible accident. She was born in Boros in Vastergotland, Sweden.  She still had family back in Sweden, though one brother did live nearby in Shirland.  She moved to America about six years prior to her death. She lived in a boarding house at 245 Catherine Street and was hosted by the Swan Sanden family.  They held her funeral in their home before carrying her body to the Scandinavian Cemetery.

But since the girl I experienced never spoke, never raised her head or tried to communicate other than the picture of her in my head- I cannot say for certain that it was Alma.  I have researched many stories from Rockford’s past.  Some were ghost stories, some were horrible murders.  Some were the stories of the young women who have thrown themselves into the Rock River that is very near the Tinker Swiss Cottage.

I have spent many years telling these stories trying to be the one who  makes sure these people are remembered. I have visited where they were killed or where their bodies were recovered or where their family buried them.  I always hope that  by telling their stories, that it might bring them some sort of peace.  Sara and Samantha help me by talking to them to let them know what we try to do.  The spirit could have been Alma- but it also could have been someone else.  Maybe it is this thought that made me so frightened during this actual investigation. Maybe I was feeling  her fear.  It was all very unsettling.

Like I said before, I have been doing this a long time.   I always take precautions before we do any of our events.  I pray and ask for protection.  I have traveled all over the United States visiting haunted locations and have had some truly frightening experiences.  But this time was completely different.

Sara, Samantha and I know that sometimes it takes a few times for certain spirits to feel comfortable enough with us to tell their stories.  I am posting this on the Haunted Rockford website and will post it on our Facebook page.  I sincerely hope tha it was Alma and that by telling her story – that Dean and I can help her move on.  And if it wasn’t Alma, then we will find that out too.- with the help of Sara, Megan (who was the one with the dowsing rods that night) and Samanatha.  But I will stick close to Sara and Samanatha at the next investigation – just in case I start to sense that horrible, frightening feeling again.

 

 

Copyright © 2021 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Tragedy In The Sky – John Wallace Blair

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

blimp

Today the Goodyear blimp is well known, especially to sports fans.  According to their website the airships fly over events like the Daytona 500, PGA Championships, and the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Goodyear built its first balloon in 1912 and started its production in America when the U.S. Navy ordered nine airiships.  SInce the hangar hadn’t been completed in Akron, Ohio, the production took place in a Chicago amusement park building.

After World War I, Goodyear built the airships for its own use. These blimps were mainly used for advertising and marketing for the Goodyear Company and soon the airships were spotted all over the United States.  The first, “Pony” was built in 1919.  The dirigibles traveled from city to city, offering fifteen minute rides for a few dollars per person.

Rockford had several visits from these dirigibles during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s.  The Register Star featured a great picture of the airship “Vigilante” that was taken from a plane flown by Fred Machesney. The airship visits were a huge draw for the folks in Rockford and the surrounding area.

In the early 1930’s Goodyear was unveiling a new generation of dirigibles.  The “Vigilante” was one of the first built of these airships.  Unfortunately, the Vigilante crashed in November of 1931.   The gondola car and fins were used in the production of a new airship, the  “Columbia”.  The airship was written about in dozens of newspapers.  One article described the dirigible as 144 foot long and stated that it cost $65,000 to build. It also mentioned that it  had walnut woodwork and leather chairs. It carried six passengers and it flew at an amazing 60 miles per hour.

One of Rockford’s own was hired as the Chief Mechanic for the “Columbia”. John Wallace Blair had only lived in Rockford for a couple of years.  He and his wife Betty married in 1926. John worked as an auto mechanic and a driver for the Blue Line Transfer Company during his time in Rockford.  John’s brother, Roland was hired at the same time as a pilot.

John must have thought it was the chance of a lifetime when he was hired by Good Year.  As Chief Mechanic for the “Columbia” John would be in charge of maintenance for the dirigible. He would also be riding in the airship.  John and Betty left Rockford to begin their new life in New York.

The “Columbia’s” christening ceremony was scheduled for July 14, 1931 at the Goodyear-Zeppelin Airlock near Akron Municipal Airport. The people in Akron welcomed the new airship with a 200 piece band and a huge chorus.  The Vice President of the Goodyear Fred M. Harpham’s wife broke a bottle over the cabin.  The bottle contained liquid air instead of champaign.  Mrs. Harpham was joined by other executive’s wives for the first flight.

In August 1931, the “Columbia” traveled to the home base at the Holmes Airport in the Jackson Heights in Queens, New York.  The airship ran as a sight seeing service.  People paid $3.00 for a 15 minute flight around New York City.

On February 13, 1932, John was with the pilot Prescott Dixon flying over Long Island.  The wind was bad that day with gusts over 40 miles per hour.  The airship was being tossed around and the pilot struggled to keep control.  John and Prescott tried to keep control of the dirigible as the wind pushed it toward the ground. The men’s efforts became frantic when they noticed they were approaching electrical wires and a large gas tank.

John Blair suggested that they should “rip the ship”. This was a defensive measure that called for the mechanic to grab a rip cord and yank it.  The cord was attached to the top of the airship.  When the cord was pulled, it would tear the section open and allow gas to escape.  This move would lower the airship quickly to the ground without (hopefully) putting the men in danger.  The major problem with this maneuver was that the rip cord was just beyond the gondola.

John reached for the rip cord. Just as he touched the rope, the wind surged and the large bag rolled. The rope wrapped around John’s arm and pulled him from the gondola. Time seemed to stand still as the rope caught and held.  A full minute passed then the rope broke and John’s body fell many feet before smashing into the ground.  John never knew that he had been successful in causing the “Columbia” to fall to the earth before it ran into the wires, saving the craft from catching fire and the pilot from certain death.

crashed blimp

Thousands of people had gathered to see the “Columbia” in action. Almost all of them watched as the horrible tragedy played out in front of their eyes. The newspapers stated that there was an audible gasp from the crowd when John’s body slipped from the gondola.  John’s body was found 100 feet from the wreckage of the airship.

John’s brother, Roland accompanied John’s wife Betty and John’s body back to Rockford for burial.  Betty returned to Rockford to live and eventually married again.

 

Copyright © 2021 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Hidden Wounds – Charles Schultz

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

 

On Friday, May 11, 1877, Winnebago County would experience one of the worst disasters it had suffered up to that time.  While constructing a new courthouse, the time came to lower the new dome onto the limestone walls.  The men were all in place as they lowered the elaborate piece onto the walls. Folks in town had been fascinated with the whole process and they lined the streets.  Suddenly, there was a loud cracking sound.  No one could believe it when the walls began to crumble under the weight of the dome.

Men and limestone blocks tumbled everywhere. Towns folk worked together for days to dig out men both alive and dead.  Newspapers from those days were filled with the graphic descriptions of the wounds suffered by the men.

They laid the bodies of the dead on the lawn and rushed the injured to the City Hotel where they were treated by the doctors gathered there.  One of the injured men was Charles Schultz.  He had serious injuries including a bad head wound.  His friends and family all said that he must be the luckiest man they knew.

Though Charles’ wounds healed quickly, his wife Elizabeth grew worried about him.  There was something different about Charles after the accident. The news articles through the years gave clues to these changes.  Charles was arrested numerous times for drinking, for fighting, and for disturbing the peace.

The drinking and violence increased until finally in 1884, the decision came that something must be done with Charles.  There must have been an incident with the family because it was given as the reason for his “confinement”.  Authorities were concerned about Charles’ hurting someone, especially his family members.  The correlation between personality changes and brain injuries was years away.  But it was easy to see that Charles had changed after his accident.  The people who knew Charles before the accident no longer referred to him as lucky.

Charles was escorted to the Winnebago County Poor Farm and Hospital on North Main Street.  He was confined to a wooden cage in the basement area.  It was an area used only for the most “demented” patients.

John Atkinson was the Superintendent of the Poor Farm in 1884.  He had held the position since 1876.  It was a prosperous time for the Poor Farm. Atkinson had earned the reputation of a kind, patient keeper.  But the treatment of the insane was archaic during this time and consisted more of confinement than treatment.  In the daytime during warm weather the inmates were confined in large wooden cages outside.  They were brought inside and locked in large wooden cages during inclement weather and during the night.

Superintendent Atkinson’s day began early and by 5:00a.m. on May 12, 1884 he began his rounds of waking the inmates.  He worked his way from the top floor where most of the residents were just there because of their financial situations. He saved the basement patients for last.  Atkinson unlocked the main door and began to make his way to the first cage which housed Charles Schultz.  Atkinson was surprised to see Charles standing by the cell door.  The fact that Charles did not move when Atkinson greeted him alarmed the superintendent.  He rushed back to his office for the keys to the cells.

When he opened the door to Charles’ cell it was obvious why he hadn’t answered.  Charles had a noose made from cloth wrapped around his neck. His beard had hidden this fact from Atkinson at first.  Lifting his beard, Atkinson saw the black bands that proved his fear to be true.

Atkinson backed out of the cell and called the coroner.  Coroner McCaughey arrived in short order.  Schultz’s body had been cut down by Atkinson and his assistant.  They laid him on a small bed inside his cage.

McCaughey would later testify that Schultz must have planned his suicide from the day he arrived.  He ripped strips from the bedding.  Then Charles took the time to weave these strips together to form a rope.  When confronted with the fact that it was too thick to fit through the small opening above the door, Charles had removed a piece of wire from his mattress.  He used this to attach the woven rope to the doorway.  Charles then placed the noose around his neck, climbed on his bed and hurled himself from the bed.  One of his feet was still on the bed when Atkinson cut him down.

The headlines from the day carried the story under the head line “Schultz Shuffles off this Earthly Coil with a Coil of Rope.”  Charles was laid to rest in the Poor House Cemetery.  His wife Elizabeth married again and stayed in the area with her new husband.  One can only hope that she and Charles’ children remembered their father the way he was before the horrible accident that changed his life and theirs forever.

 

 

Copyright © 2021 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events