Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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