Preserving Winnebago County’s Early History

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

3 Unsolved Murders

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

 

Allan Pinkerton’s In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

 

 

 

Ghost Of Oscar Olson

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Shattered Dreams – The David Benjamin Family

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Into Thin Air

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

When Everett Hawley said goodbye to his wife Etha on February 19, 1976, they had no way of knowing that the day would not go according to plan. Everett usually spent part of his day with his business partner, Clarence Owens. The two men worked together for years buying and selling real estate. Everett owned the company and the two friends would spend their time driving the back roads of northern Illinois looking for farms to buy and sell. Everett told his wife that he would return around 5:00p.m. The 70-year old Etha was struggling with medical issues and Everett usually helped out with the meals and chores. Everett was 72 in 1976 and blessed with relatively good health. The couple had been married for 47 years and Everett was from all accounts, completely devoted to his wife.

On that Thursday morning, Clarence picked Everett at his Stockton home up in his newly painted car. The 1966 Chevrolet Impala had been painted bright gold and Clarence was excited to show it off. The two men were headed to Pecatonica where they planned to attend a political rally at the American Legion. James Thompson was hoping to be elected for governor of Illinois that year and the two men were curious about a candidate who would add the little town of Pecatonica as a campaign stop.

American Legion Hall where Hawley and Owens were seen attending a polical rally = author’s collection

After the rally, the men walked over to one of their regular stops, Rocky’s Café for a piece of pie and some coffee. They lingered there a while before heading to Clarence’s son’s house. Clarence wanted to show him the new paint job, too.

Clarence’s son was not home but the men spoke briefly with Clarence’s daughter –in-law. The two men mentioned that they were going to stop at a local auction on their way to an appraisal appointment. The two men loved to visit auctions and always had cash on hand just in case they saw a good bargain. The auctioneer at the Borgmann’s farm auction would state later that he saw Everett walk up the drive-way while Clarence waited in the car. He also mentioned that both men were dressed in their usual attire of business suits. Since the February day was unusually warm, they had light over coats instead of their heavier jackets. The auctioneer would be the last person that could be verified to have seen the two men. After they drove away from the Borgmann Farm, Everett and Clarence seemed to disappear into thin air.

This case would quickly become the most baffling mystery that anyone could remember. The police were contacted the next morning by the families when the men hadn’t returned home. The authorities tried to reassure the families that the men probably had been involved in a car accident or some other scenario that incapacitated their car. They fully expected to find the men, probably embarrassed, but unharmed. The authorities began their search following the routes that the men were known to use.

Their theories changed rapidly as the case unfolded and no clues were found. Both men had families; Everett had one son and Clarence had three, including one who served as a police officer. They quickly became a driving force for an expanded search. It reached record numbers as various departments from different jurisdictions worked together to organize the search. The Civil Defense units joined the authorities to bring in man power to help with the ground search. They also arranged five airplanes to help scan the many miles of roadways between the men’s homes and where they were last seen.

The authorities expanded their proposed scenario of an accident to include the men either running away or being victims of foul play. They looked into every aspect of the men’s lives to see if someone would have a motive to harm either of them.

They were left with an impression of men who were hard working and dedicated to their families. Many of the people interviewed were upset by the thought that either of these men would abandon their families. They spoke of Clarence’s love of his sons and Everett’s dedication to his son and Etha.

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Everett Hawley

The authorities also learned that men were popular with the farmers and the auctioneers they conducted business with. They had no known enemies and no one could think of a motive for their disappearance. Though the authorities worked the case from many angles, they were left with no avenues to explore.

Etha Hawley died shortly after the first year anniversary of her husband’s disappearance. Some of their family members and friends, who were still hoping that Everett was alive, lost that hope after her funeral. They believed that he would have returned for his beloved wife’s funeral.

In one of the last articles written about the case in 2005, the reporter spoke of a theory that had circulated about the case. In May of 1976, Fred Lickel, a cashier clerk from a farm auction had been kidnapped after the sale was finished. William Exline from Rockford had taken the cashier hostage and stolen the money collected from the sale (reportedly $85,000 in cash and checks). Exline forced the man at gunpoint to drive his company car away from the farm in Monroe, Wisconsin. The man was unharmed but badly shaken when Exline dropped him by the side of the road. Exline was later questioned about the incident after a tip was called into the Green County Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department involved the FBI because Exline crossed state lines during the commission of the crime. Though Exline denied any involvement with the kidnapping, the cashier’s company car was found on the property of a campground that was owned by Exline near New Milford. Exline would later be convicted to ten years in prison for the crime.

Map from newspaper showing last know locations for the missing men

The newspaper article emphasized the similarities between the Monroe case and the disappearance of Owens and Hawley. During the research for this story, this author interviewed others who shared the belief that these two cases were related. The authorities involved in the 1976 kidnapping case also noted the similarities but no arrests were ever made.

In fact, no clues or crime scene has ever been found in the case. There was never any activity in either of the men’s bank accounts or any other indication that they left their families willingly. Clarence’s shiny, gold car was never found. The case is now 43 years old and hasn’t been mentioned in the newspapers for a while now. The authorities assigned to this case have long since retired or passed away themselves. Some granted interviews stating that this was one of the cases that continued to haunt them long after they retired. It was inconceivable that these two men could disappear without a trace or without someone coming forward with a tip. They spoke of failing both of these families by not being able to return their loved ones or at least give them the comfort of knowing of what happened to Clarence and Everett on that February day.

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

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Battle Of Stillman’s Run

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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Memorial Day was set aside to remember and honor those men and women who have died during their service to the United States Military.  It became an official holiday in 1868.  This area has always been filled with many men and women who joined the fight to protect this country in our times of need.  Even before Illinois became a state, we had those who have bravely stood up when the call went out.

Some of those brave men fought in one of the first recorded battles in this area in 1832 during what would become known as the Black Hawk War.  Some of the men involved have names that most would recognize including two that would become presidents, Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln.

Black Hawk was a leader of the Sauk tribe in the early 1800’s.  He joined the British during the War of 1812 after they made promises to protect the Native Americans land if they helped defeat the Americans. Unfortunately for the Native Americans, the British lost that war and retreated, leaving them to face the consequences.

Black Hawk’s tribe had been using the Rock River Valley for generations.  They usually summered in the Rock River Valley and grew corn and other crops before heading across the Mississippi into Iowa for the winter.  But that all changed in 1804 when some members of the Fox tribe met with William Henry Harrison and signed a treaty that turned over millions of acres of Native American land to the government.  Black Hawk was infuriated by this act and though he eventually signed the treaties, he never trusted that the white man would honor them. 

When Black Hawk’s tribe returned to their summer home in 1831 at the mouth of the Rock River (down around Rock Island, Illinois) they were met with an unpleasant surprise.  White settlers had disregarded the boundaries set up by the treaties and claimed the land for themselves.

The settlers grew uneasy with the Native Americans return and called for action by Governor John Reynolds.  He ordered the army to round up a militia of volunteers to protect the area for the settlers.  By the time the regiment arrived in the area, Black Hawk had moved his people back across the Mississippi.  The militia hoped to deter the tribe from returning by burning their village.

Black Hawk’s people tried to live off the land in Iowa but his people were struggling for food.  He felt he had no choice but to return to Illinois where he knew they could grow the crops they would need to make it through the winter.  He rounded up 700 warriors and tried to recruit other tribes to stand with him.  Historians point out that they don’t believe Black Hawk really wanted a war because he also brought women and children. 

The white settlers were even more frightened with their return and once again Reynolds called for volunteers.  This time over 1,800 men signed up.  These men, joined by the regular army all met at Dixon’s Ferry (the current day Dixon.)

Two brigades (totally about 275 men) under the command of Major Isaiah Stillman left to search the area called Old Man’s Creek the site of the present day Stillman’s Valley.  They set out on May 13, 1832 hoping to meet up with the Native Americans and convince them to return to Iowa.  Historians who have studied this mission say that the leaders of these brigades made two tactical errors.  One, was the camp was set up with their backs to the creek and the second was that they brought a lot of whiskey.  Some of the men’s hatred for the Native Americans had been fueled by that liquor.  They incited others with stories of women and children butchered and mutilated by the “savages”.   

Black Hawk saw the men march into the valley and set up camp.  He was severely outnumbered and he had to know that a battle with the better armed soldiers would be futile.  Black Hawk later told the story of the battle in his autobiography, “Black Hawk: An Autobiography”.  He stated that he knew that the White Men were fierce fighters who were deadly aims with their rifles.  He stated that he was shocked when he realized that some of the men were drunk.

Black Hawk sent four unarmed braves bearing a white flag in toward the militia encampment.  After the devastating result of this day, some men would claim that the whole Black Hawk War could have avoided except for the actions of a few of the men.  Those men, whether spurred on by the whiskey or by the horror stories, opened fire on the four braves, killing two immediately.  Black Hawk saw what was happening and moved forward to protect his men.

Black Hawk’s warriors knew they were outnumbered and that they needed to make their small band of 40 seem like much more.  They rode into the grove of willows whooping and slamming their tomahawks into the trees.  Some even made death moans to make it seem like many of the white men were being killed.

This created chaos in the encampment.  Soldiers and volunteers alike broke camp, cutting their horse’s bridles free as they leaped on their backs.  The scene of the battle spread out over the once quiet area for miles as the brigades struggled to out run the attack.

Captain John Adams saw the panicked men flee and called for his men to stand with him.  Some of the men from his regiment fell into line next to him.  These men fired on the warriors slowing down their attack long enough to allow the retreating men to escape. 

The retreating men were so frightened that they didn’t slow their horses until they had ridden all the way back to Dixon Ferry.  Some didn’t stop until they reached their own homes, one made it all the way to Galena before stopping.  Those that returned to Dixon Ferry reported the attack and another brigade, this one including Abraham Lincoln quickly left for the battle scene. 

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The reinforcement brigade quickly turned into a funeral brigade.  By the time they reached hill top, they could see bodies.  Captain Adams and eight of his men lay on the hill top.  All of them had been horribly mutilated.  All of the men on the hill were buried in one mass grave.  Three others were found in the surrounding area and buried where they fell.   One man’s grave located many years later and he was reburied with his fellow soldiers at the top of the hill.  The other two have been searched for but so far have eluded discovery. 

One witness to the battle shared a very moving story.  A young soldier named Corporal James Milton was riding his horse to protect some of the men who were trying to escape.  James noticed one older militia member struggling to keep up with the others.  This man had been running away but became completely exhausted.  James slid from his saddle and gave his horse to the man.  The funeral brigade came upon James’ body next to the dead bodies of two Native Americans.  James had been mutilated, his head scalped.

The other men that died that day:

Captain John G. Adams
Private Tyrus M. Childs
Private James Doty
Private Joseph Draper
Corporal Bird W. Ellis
Private James B. Farris
Private David Kreeps
Private Zadoc Mendinall
Gideon Munson
Private Major Isaac Perkins
Sgt. John Walters

The hill was soon given the name “Massacre Hill” and the story of what happened there faded in people’s memories.  The land was owned by Dr. E. P Allen until 1899 when he decided to sell it.  The county realizing what would be lost, purchased the land to set aside for a monument to the men who died there. In 1902, a 50 foot monument was finally built to honor those men who died that day. 

There is no monument to the Native Americans who were also lost that day.  But I think that Abraham Lincoln’s words that were sent to Lydia Bixby (a widow who lost five sons in the Civil War) are fitting for all who have lost family members during any battle since this country began.

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”
–Nov. 21, 1864

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Darkness

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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The Little Spring Creek winds its way through Whiteside County near the small town of Coleta.  The creek has been drawing people to its banks for many years.  The area once hosted hay rides through the woods along the creek for families to enjoy.  

When three teenage boys began their hike alongside the Little Spring Creek on April 15, 1995, they were probably hoping to find something exciting in the woods.  They had no way of knowing that their hike would begin a story that is still unsolved 24 years later.

The boys were hiking along the bank and came to a part of the creek where tree branches had built up.  They spotted what appeared to be a leg in the water.  At first, they believed it to be part of a plastic mannequin, so one of the boys decided to check.  One can only imagine his horror when he discovered it was flesh and bone.   The boys raced to Milledgeville to report the gruesome find.

Police descended on the area and 18 hours after the first discovery, they had found the other leg, two arms and a torso.  The body had been mutilated and at first, police could not identify whether it was a male or female.  State pathologists were called to help.

The sleepy little town of Coleta was soon over run with police and visitors who flocked to glimpse where the body was discovered.  The town population was only 150 at the time but police later stated that at least another 150 people came to see the location on the Sunday following the discovery.

Almost a week after the initial parts were discovered the authorities finally found the victim’s head.  It was inside a plastic bag and weighted down by rocks in 4 feet of water.  Though badly decomposed, the police were hopeful that identification could be made.  Whiteside County Sheriff Roger Schipper was quoted in the paper, “This was a very disturbed person-someone very angry –and by doing this they thought they wouldn’t get caught.”  Schipper believed that the victim had been killed somewhere else and dumped into the fast moving creek.  The creek’s current was running so quickly at the time that the body could have been transported for miles.

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He also had a theory that whoever had killed Kimberly knew the area of Little Spring Creek well.

Authorities agreed stating that the area was remote and that “most people from Rockford would never even know it (the creek) was here.”

Whiteside County Coroner Joe McDonald autopsied the body and noticed that the victim had received major dental work.  He was hopeful that the distinctive work, including a ceramic tooth would help identify the victim.  McDonald was unable to find the cause of death because of the advanced state of decomposition and the mutilation to the body.

The body was soon identified as 27 year old Kimberly Mabry.  Her family had reported her missing from Rockford in September 1994. Because of Kimberly’s life style the family did not realize she had been missing until September 23.  The last time anyone could remember seeing Kimberly was around September 1.

Kimberly once had the promise of a brighter future far away from where bad decisions and circumstances beyond her control led her.  She had graduated from high school, spent two years at Rock Valley College and had dreams of opening her own design and marketing business.  Friends spoke of her amazing natural artistic talent.  They also spoke of her love for her young son.

Somewhere along the line, Kimberly’s world became dark.  She struggled with a chronic painful diagnosis of lupus which caused her to become depressed. She lost her dreams of building her own business and worked as a go-go dancer at Dancer’s Lounge on 7th Street. Then Kimberly lost custody of her little boy.  Friends and family said she spoke often of getting him back. 

Kimberly was last seen as she left an appointment on September 1.  She seemed very anxious and afraid on that day.  By the time police received the missing persons report over three weeks had passed.  That is a lot of time to make up in a case like this.  Police officers interviewed friends and family to establish when she was last seen.  They even took the unorthodox approach of appealing to the people who frequented the seedier establishments in the city. They questioned dancers, prostitutes, drug dealers and even the homeless people trying to get someone to come forward who might have seen something.  But the case went cold early on. 

Police haven’t given up on the case and Kimberly’s name appears on several websites for cases of unsolved murders and missing people.  One only has to visit one of these websites to see how daunting the task of solving her murder has been.  Hundreds of names fill each website and it is heart wrenching to see the victims faces and read their stories knowing that their families will never receive the justice they deserve.

But hopefully Kimberly’s family can take some small comfort that authorities were able to find her and bring her home.  She was buried next to family in Scandinavian Cemetery.

Twenty four years have passed since those three boys went for their hike on that remote creek miles away from Rockford.  Authorities still remain hopeful that maybe someone who knows something about Kimberly’s case will step forward.  They ask that anyone with any information please contact Whiteside County Sheriff’s Lt. John Booker at 815-772-4044 or email him at jbooker@whiteside.org

Those wishing to remain anonymous can call Crimestoppers at 815-625-7867.

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Swept Away, The Ilsley Family

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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Susan Ilsley was very concerned on the evening of June 3, 1858.  The torrential rains that started to fall around 5:00 p.m. that day were still raging by 10:00 p.m.  She knew her husband Horatio was also worried though of course, he didn’t show it.  As a pastor, he was always the first to calm everyone else’s fears. 

 The couple considered themselves lucky to live in a two story home made from brick.  It was the fact that it was built right on the banks of the North Kinninick Creek that had them concerned.  Horatio had discussed his fears about the family’s safety with Susan and the couple made plans to spend the night with friends that lived up the road further from the creek.  But two of their neighbors stopped in for a chat and mentioned that creek had actually dropped a few inches.  The men calmed Horatio’s fears and continued on to their own homes.

The couple made the decision to remain in their home and wait out the storm.  They gathered their family into the living room for evening prayers.  Horatio began by giving thanks for the safe return home of their oldest son Horatio Junior.  The 17-year old had a job at a bank in Milwaukee and was home for the first time in almost a year.  Horatio also asked God for protection for the members of his congregation that lived in the houses nearest the waterways.

The Ilsley’s were from Maine originally but moved to Dixon first before settling in Roscoe.  Reverend Ilsley was a pastor at the Congregational Church in Roscoe and well liked in the little community.  He was 48 years old in 1858.  Horatio told many that knew him that he felt very blessed.  He had his wonderful Susan and the children were all very bright and healthy.  Horatio had impressed many of his congregation with his generosity, his faith and his courage.  He had suffered a severe accident that would have killed a lesser man.  The fact that one of his legs was amputated due to the accident didn’t seem to slow him down at all.  

As the rain continued to fall that stormy June evening, Horatio couldn’t know that upstream from his little house a bad situation was about to turn deadly.  When the railroad was put in, the company formed a culvert over a creek by building up the bank.  The water had backed up in the creek to form a lake that continued to grow as the rain fell.  Eventually the culvert gave way taking one hundred and fifty feet of the bank with it.  This caused a great wave of water to crash down the creek, overflowing its banks and grabbing debris in its wake.

Susan put the children to bed right before the culvert broke.  Horatio was down in his study when he heard the first roar.  He had no idea the culvert had broken and was confused to what the sound was at first.  He was standing in the hallway when the wall of the back of the house began to crumble.  The last sound he heard was his wife’s scream.

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The water hit the house with such an impact it wiped the house from its foundation and carried it down stream.  The water tumbled the house over and over, crushing it and sweeping the debris along with it.  Horatio felt himself swept up by the water and knew instantly what happened.  His last thought before losing consciousness was to turn his and his family’s lives to God’s will.

Horatio woke later and found himself still in the raging waters.  There was debris from several houses tangled up with trees and brush along the banks.  Horatio was able to grab one of the tree branches as he was swept by. 

He would cling to that tree for two hours before being rescued.  A group of his neighbors spotted him in the tree.  They tied a rope to one brave man who swam to save Horatio.  Horatio’s strength failed just as the man reached him and he dropped from the branch.  The man almost lost his own life as he scrambled to save Horatio. Later Horatio would state that he wished the man had failed in his rescue.

Horatio lost his entire family that night.  All eight of his children and his wife were carried away by the rushing waters. His family of four girls and four boys ranging from the oldest, Horatio who was 17 to baby Charles who was just 6 months old, were gone. Susan and the children are buried together in the Roscoe Cemetery on the other side of town from where the house once stood.  The site of all the small white tombstones next to the memorial gives one pause, especially when one notices that they contain the same death date.

Horatio left the area and returned to Maine. He married a woman named Ellen and had a daughter named Henrietta.  According to his obituary from 1890, Horatio never lost his faith in God and remained “warm hearted, and a good minister.”   

 

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

Murder Victim’s Family Stuggles On

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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Forty one years ago, on September 27, 1977, 17-year old Louise Betts was dropped off near a shopping mall by her mother, Nancy.  No one would ever see Louise alive again.  When Louise didn’t come home, her parents called the police to report her missing.  They could have no idea that the odyssey that began that day would continue for the rest of their lives. 

The authorities filed a missing person report and followed up with a few of Louise many friends.  Louise was a popular senior at Harlem High School that year.   But at this time in our city’s past, 100 to 150 people were reported every month.  Most of these missing people were found alive and safe.  The police received reports that Louise was spotted at a local party and even seen in Texas were her grand-parents lived.

Sadly, those sightings were incorrect. 

Art Hyland was 62 years old in 1978 and he owned a farm not far from the intersection of Spring Brook and Paulson Roads.  Hyland was stunned when he discovered a skeleton in his field on March 30, 1978.   Newspaper articles form the day of the discovery quoted Hyland.  “After I saw something yellow in the field, I investigated and found the body.  It really shook me up.”  Hyland went on to say that Louise’s body had probably been covered up by snow.

When the police were summoned to Hyland’s property they found a bundle of clothing with identification inside.   The long search for Louise had come to an end.

Though Louise’s body had been found in Boone County, the Rockford police department quickly became involved.  Within a few days, they had a suspect for Louise’s murder in custody.  He was Curtis J. Brownell, a 23-year-old who was married and the father of two children.  An anonymous tip had led authorities to Brownell.  Brownell was also wanted for the kidnap and rape of a pregnant woman that occurred on January 31, 1978.  This crime had taken place only a half a mile from where Louise’s body was located. 

The victim from that crime reported that she was at a laundry mat in the Rural Street Shopping center when Brownell entered.  He was there a few minutes before he approached her.  He hit her in the head with a pistol, forced her into his vehicle and headed to Paulson Road.  After assaulting the woman, Brownell pushed her out of the car.   The woman was helpless as Brownell then ran over the lower half of her body.  Miraculously, the snow cushioned the young woman’s body and she was able to flee toward safety at a nearby house.

Brownell later confessed to both crimes.  When speaking of the crime against Louise, Brownell said that he thought she might still alive when he left her lying in that field.  The feeling grew when nothing was reported.  Brownell stated that he was terrified at first but when the body wasn’t found, he began to think he might have gotten away with it.  He told authorities he had even driven out to the location with his young daughter in the car to check the area.

When the Louise was found, he knew that it was all over.  He confessed to his reverend and then his wife. 

During his trial, other victims came forward and it became all too clear that Brownell had all the makings of what we would now call a serial rapist and killer.

Curtis Brownell was found guilty of the murder of Louise Betts in a Boone County Courthouse on September 14, 1978.   One psychiatrist that testified stated that Curtis J. Brownell “could not identify with the human race.”

Brownell was sentenced to die in the electric chair on October 9, 1978. 

But that’s not what happened.  Brownell’s attorneys appealed and he was eventually sentenced   to 200 to 600 years in prison.   Now, because of the way the laws worked back then, Brownell is eligible for parole.  He has been up for parole 14 times at this point.  Every one of those times, the survivors, the prosecutors and the remaining family members of Louise have attended the parole hearings. 

Louise’s parents are both gone now, but her siblings have taken over their parent’s mission to keep Brownell locked away.  They have been able to keep the case in the public’s eye for all these years.  But it does take a toll. They have shared that it is like opening a wound and losing Louise all over again.

The family can’t do it alone and they are very grateful to the Winnebago and Boone County State’s Attorneys who have gone with them to these hearings.

This week on February 13, Curtis J. Brownell will appeal to the parole board for the 15th time.  Winnebago County State’s Attorney, Marilyn Hite Ross and Boone County State’s Attorney Tricia Smith plan to attend this year’s hearing and ask that people in both counties sign the petition to deny that parole.  There is some concern that because he has served over 40 years of his sentenced, that he will be released.

Gary Betts, Louise brother was quoted in a recent article.  ” It’s one thing to know the family is passionate, but to see the community involved also makes a profound statement to (parole board members),”  .

Rockford has come through already with over 6,000 people signing the online petition.  But there is still time to add to that number. 

You can find links by googling Brownell’s name or visit the following: https://www.change.org/p/illinois-prisoner-review-board-oppose-the-parole-of-inmate-curtis-brownell-convicted-of-murder-and-attempt-murder

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events