Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Thomas Chick was worried. He owned the Chick Hotel for over 14 years by 1902 and knew trouble when he saw it. It was just a feeling he had about the couple that checked into the hotel in the middle of June. They had been staying at the hotel for over three weeks and the only oddness Thomas had witnessed was that Mrs. Holt always carried a small metal box with her. But there was something about the two that Thomas did not like.

Thomas and his wife Lena had discussed the couple several times over the three weeks. Lena had chatted with Mrs. Holt many times while serving meals. She agreed with her husband that there was something odd about the couple.

Thomas was not surprised when the couple came to him in early July and stated that they did not have the cash to pay the $45 bill. Mr. Holt offered to write a check and give Thomas $20 toward the balance. The couple would settle up once they returned from a trip to Colorado. They explained that a dear friend of Mrs. Holt was very ill and they needed to travel to Colorado to visit. The money would pay their passage to Colorado and they would return to settle the balance of their bill.

Thomas refused the offer and stated he would need the entire bill paid. Holt then offered to leave their luggage behind as collateral. Thomas felt compassion for the desperate couple and their situation but his instincts told him they were not to be trusted. He again refused their offer and the couple returned to their room. Thomas noticed when they exited the hotel but was not alarmed because they carried no luggage.

A few days later, Thomas realized he had not seen the couple for some time. He questioned Lena, and his wife agreed that she had not seen the couple either. Thomas alerted the authorities. The police questioned the other guests and were told that Mrs. Holt had left on the train but Mr. Holt was still in town.

The authorities decided to search the room the Holts had rented. They were surprised to find all of the couple’s belongings placed neatly in the closet. Their surprise grew when they discovered the small metal box that Mrs. Holt always carried with her.

The permission to open the box had also been granted and a policeman was preparing to pry the lid from the top when another officer stopped him. He had noticed some small writing on the box. Their curiosity only deepened when they read, “Graceland Crematory, Chicago, Illinois”. There was also the name “Charles B. Sowerby” and the date, “June 18, 1900”.

The police decided not to open the box. They now had more questions than answers and doubled their efforts to locate the couple. They contacted the authorities in Aurora, Colorado and asked them to detain Mrs. Holt when she arrived on the train. She was met there by the authorities and escorted to the jail. Mr. Holt was found still in Rockford. He was brought to the jail to be questioned.

Chief Bargren questioned T. H. Holt and learned the whole story. The couple was not married as they had claimed and, in fact, Mrs. Holt was really Mrs. Harriet Sowerby. Holt wanted to marry Mrs. Sowerby but could not. Mrs. Sowerby had been married to the man whose ashes were found in their room. Her husband, Charles Sowerby, died two years previously and was the heir of a large estate in England. Mrs. Sowerby was now heir to that estate but would lose the inheritance if she married again.

Mrs. Harriet Sowerby, alias Holt, was able to draw some money from her inheritance while in Colorado. Harriet returned to Rockford where she was reunited with both her professed husband and her real husband’s ashes. Further research revealed that Harriet moved to Denver and remained Mrs. Harriet Sowerby at least until 1939 when the records ceased.

When Chief Bargren inquired why Harriet carried her late husband’s ashes, Mrs. Sowerby stated that Charles had been a good husband and she loved him. There was no mention about Holt’s reaction to this revelation.


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