Hello and welcome!

Hello and welcome to our visitors! In the summer of 2015 the Pekin Public Library debuted this new weblog spotlighting our Local History Room collection. The weekly “From the Local History Room” column that is published in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times will be posted here. We welcome your comments and questions and research queries.

Following up on ‘Five Points’

NOTE: In April 2016, we discussed the “Five Points” intersection in downtown Pekin and sought an answer to question of when the intersection first got its name. At the time, we were able to determine that the “Five Points” name for the intersection of Court and Broadway must have been well established by 1955, because the 1955 Pekin City directory lists the nearby “Five Point Tavern” (sic) at 623 Court St. But we can safely state that the terminus a quo for the origin of this designation must be well before 1930, as indicated by the headline of an article on the front page of the 8 Sept. 1930 Pekin Daily Times, which says, “2 A.M. Crash Wakens 5 Pts. — Embarrassing Time for Girl.” Below is a microfilmed image of that article. — J.O.

fivepointscrashin1930

 

#court-street, #five-points, #pekin-history, #pekin-streets

The hanging of Albert Wallace

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Three years ago in this column space, in a column entitled “Two generations of tragedy and loss” (Pekin Daily Times, May 18, 2013), we recalled the cold-blooded murder of Mrs. Belle Wallace Bowlby by her brother Albert Wallace, a horrifying crime for which Albert was sentenced to death by hanging.

Wallace’s crime and his execution are notable events in the history of Pekin because his was the last legal hanging in Pekin. As told in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” on Feb. 19, 1895, Belle Wallace Bowlby was shot to death by her brother Albert, who was living with his sister Belle and brother-in-law John Bowlby on the old Wallace homestead in Dillon Township. John and the Bowlbys’ hired man Lawrence Lyman also suffered very serious gunshot wounds in the incident.

What led up to the crime was the death of Belle’s and Albert’s father, Andrew Wallace, who was killed in 1890 by James Connell in self-defense. Andrew left his estate to Belle, which “led to bickering between Mr. and Mrs. Bowlby and Albert Wallace, who made frequent demands for money, and when refused, is said to have made threats against Mr. and Mrs. Bowlby,” Allensworth writes.

Finally, one night Albert took a shotgun and, aiming through a window, fired at John’s head. “Bowlby, whose hand was on his forehead, had several fingers blown off and a number of shot entered his head. Mrs. Bowlby sprang and opened the door, when she was shot in the stomach. Lyman was shot twice in the leg, and was badly burned in the face by the powder,” according to Allensworth. Belle died two days later, while Lyman lost an eye. John eventually recovered and remarried.

After the shooting, Albert borrowed a neighbor’s horse and rode to Pekin, where he surrendered to the sheriff. According to Allensworth, when asked why he was turning himself in, Albert said, “You will find out later.” Allensworth reports that Wallace was convicted of murder on Oct. 28, 1895, and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on March 14, 1896 – the last legal hanging in Pekin. Afterwards, the laws on capital punishment were modified: public executions were outlawed, and executions would take place in state penitentiaries only.

The detail of the 1891 plat map of Dillon Township shows the farmstead of Mrs. Belle Wallace Bowlby in Section 15, bordering on the south bank of the Mackinaw River and identified as the farm of "Mrs. J. G. Bowlby." The 2015 Tazewell County plat book shows that her land is now owned by Malcolm Winkler. The old Wallace residence is marked on this 1891 map in the southwest corner of Section 15 as "Res," just above the Town Hall. Unhappy with his son Albert, Andrew Wallace deliberately cut Albert out of his will and left his farm and most of his property to Albert's youngest sister Belle.

The detail of the 1891 plat map of Dillon Township shows the farmstead of Mrs. Belle Wallace Bowlby in Section 15, bordering on the south bank of the Mackinaw River and identified as the farm of “Mrs. J. G. Bowlby.” The 2015 Tazewell County plat book shows that her land is now owned by Malcolm Winkler. The old Wallace residence is marked on this 1891 map in the southwest corner of Section 15 as “Res,” just above the Town Hall. Unhappy with his son Albert, Andrew Wallace deliberately cut Albert out of his will and left his farm and most of his property to Albert’s youngest sister Belle.

The story of Wallace’s crime and hanging recently have been featured in the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society’s Monthly, in the Nov. 2016 issue, on pages 1760-64, and the Dec. 2016 issue, on pages 1786-89. These issues are devoted to a reprint of most of the news coverage of Wallace’s hanging in the March 14, 1896 edition of the Pekin Daily Times – an edition that is not available in microfilm form at the Pekin Public Library, for the library’s microfilms of the Daily Times only commence in Oct. 1914.

Unfortunately, the Society’s copy of that newspaper is missing page five, so the conclusion of the Daily Times’ news report is lost. Nevertheless, the extant portion of the newspaper’s report is still extensive, and the reporting is quite detailed not only in its account of Wallace’s hanging but also in its recapitulation of the events leading up to his execution.

This story took up a very large part, if not most, of that day’s paper. In keeping with the usual newspaper style of those days, the editor’s gave the report not only a large, bold headline – “WALLACE HUNG” – but also a series of six subheadlines:

“His Neck Was Broken With a Sickening Thud,” “THE TRAP SPRUNG AT 11:08 A. M.,” “Paid the Penalty on the Gallows For His Sister’s Murder,” “EXECUTION PASSED OFF VERY QUIETLY,” “Grewsome (sic) Spectacle Witnessed by over Two Hundred People,” and “Much Excitement Caused Last Night by His Sudden Illness.”

This drawing of the old Wallace homestead, located about 3 miles south of unincorporated Dillon in Dillon Township, was one of the illustrations of the Pekin Daily Times report on the hanging of murderer Albert Wallace on March 14, 1896. The homestead's former location today has the address of 7860 Delavan Road. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

This drawing of the old Wallace homestead, located about 3 miles south of unincorporated Dillon in Dillon Township, was one of the illustrations of the Pekin Daily Times report on the hanging of murderer Albert Wallace on March 14, 1896. The homestead’s former location today has the address of 7860 Delavan Road. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE TAZEWELL COUNTY GENEALOGICAL & HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Below are excerpts from the Pekin Daily Times’ account that expound upon the background of and motive for Wallace’s cruel and hateful acts. Further excerpts telling of the murder, the trial, Wallace’s appeals of his verdict and sentence, and his hanging will be featured in subsequent columns.

“Governor Altgeld was positive in his decision not to interfere in Wallace’s case. . . He said it was a peculiarly distressing case, owing to the many tragedies that had brought the Wallace family into public notice, fate seeming to pursue it with a relentless fury and remarkably fatality. First a son was instantly killed by the accidental discharge of a gun, while he was hunting, then Andy Wallace, the father, was shot and killed by Connelly, then came the tragic death of Mrs. Belle Bowlby, and last Albert Wallace, expiating a crime on the gallows. Nevertheless the governor said that he could do nothing. . . .”

“[Wallace] had never been satisfied with the action of his father, Andrew Wallace, in willing his fine farm and other property to his sister [Belle]. This was a decision that the old man arrived at a long time before his death, and about the time he quarreled with Albert and bade him leave home forever.

“The chasm separating father and son became wider as Wallace became more and more dissolute in his habits. The other children could not put up with old Wallace’s awful temper, and all but Belle, the murdered woman, left the family roof. She was a very amiable little girl, and when a woman, patiently and without ever a word of complaint, . . . .”

At this point the Daily Times report jumps to page five, but page five is lost.

Next week: Wallace’s crime

#albert-wallace, #andrew-wallace, #gov-john-peter-altgeld, #james-connell, #john-c-bowlby, #lawrence-lyman, #murder-of-belle-wallace-bowlby

The Third Degree: Chapter 13: The Virant trial begins in Petersburg

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.

THE THIRD DEGREE

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Thirteen

The Virant trial begins in Petersburg

In the month following the shocking death of Tazewell County Jail inmate Martin Virant on Sept. 1, 1932, readers of local newspapers saw a deluge of articles and sensational banner headlines announcing each new development in the story.

With the grand jury manslaughter indictments of three Tazewell County deputies in connection with Virant’s death, news coverage slowed down markedly, as the case began to wend its methodical way through the criminal justice system.

That initial flood of news coverage, however, was enough to convince Judge Joseph E. Daily that the accused deputies, Ernest L. Fleming, Charles O. Skinner and Frank Lee, would be unlikely to get a fair and impartial trial in Tazewell County. On Nov. 12, 1932, Daily ruled that the trial of the deputies would have to be moved to Menard County, where the case was expected to go before a judge in February of 1933.

The Pekin Daily Times, which had been following this case in minute detail, continued to provide meticulous coverage of the story even after the change of venue. Daily Times publisher F.F. McNaughton sent one of his reporters, young Miss Mildred Beardsley, to Petersburg to cover the trial for the newspaper. Throughout the course of the trial, Beardsley would offer very lengthy and extensive transcripts of witness testimony as well as occasionally filling in the background with local color and explanation of legal niceties.

The deputies were to be defended by a team of three talented, veteran attorneys: Jesse Black Jr. and William J. Reardon, who represented Fleming and Skinner, and J. M. Powers, who represented Lee. The prosecution team was made up of Menard County State’s Attorney J. W. Smoot, Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff, and East Peoria attorney Noble Y. Dowell, a friend of the Virant family brought on to assist Smoot and Elliff in what was for most of the attorneys probably (and for Elliff, certainly) the greatest case of their careers. Presiding over the trial would be Menard County Circuit Court Judge Guy Williams.

Although the deputies had already been indicted by a Tazewell County grand jury, due to the change of venue they were re-indicted in Menard County on Feb. 13, 1933. At that time, prosecutors agreed to simplify the case by dropping three of the eight counts of manslaughter that each of the deputies had faced in their Tazewell County bills of indictment.

Two days later, the prosecutors disclosed the list of witnesses they intended to call – 25 people, including medical experts, family members and acquaintances of Virant, and several individuals who were inmates of the Tazewell County Jail at the time their fellow inmate Virant was beaten to death.

This detail from the front page of the Feb. 15, 1933 Pekin Daily Times shows the list of witnesses whom the prosecution intended to call during the trial of the Tazewell County Sheriff's deputies accused of beating jail inmate Martin Virant to death.

This detail from the front page of the Feb. 15, 1933 Pekin Daily Times shows the list of witnesses whom the prosecution intended to call during the trial of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies accused of beating jail inmate Martin Virant to death.

On Monday, Feb. 20, 1933, jury selection for the trial got under way – but not before a significant development that morning: the state agreed to drop all charges against Deputy Frank Lee.

“It is understood that Deputy Lee was away from Pekin during much of the time during which the events in controversy took place,” the Pekin Daily Times explained. Evidently the prosecution did not feel it would be possible to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Lee was at the jail during the times when Virant was beaten and hanged to make it appear that he had committed suicide.

Jury selection then proceeded throughout the rest of Monday and concluded on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The jurors chosen were: J. Kennedy Kincaid, farmer, Athens; Robert Fitzgerald, farmer, Sugar Grove; Donald Baugher, general store clerk, Fancy Prairie; Ted Buelter, repairman, Petersburg; Theodore Reinders, hardware merchant, Athens; Otis Harris, farmer, Athens; Roy Corkey, farmer, Petersburg; William Montgomery, farmer, Petersburg; John Gaddie, farmer, Greenview; Henry Market, farmer, Sand Ridge; James Bradley, farmer, Petersburg; and Charles Lockhart Jr., farmer, Greenview.

Over the next 10 days, the 12 jurors would be called upon to hear and consider a long litany of evidence and hours of testimony and arguments both for and against conviction.

After the jury had been sworn in Tuesday, the defense team won a critical victory. Black and Reardon moved that the testimony of Martin Virant at the Lew Nelan inquest be ruled to be inadmissible hearsay.

During his inquest testimony, Virant had shown and described his extensive injuries and had boldly accused Tazewell County deputies of nearly beating him to death. Virant had specifically named Skinner as one of the deputies who had tortured him.

Judge Williams granted the defense motion, instructing the prosecution, “You must NOT mention the testimony of Martin Virant at the Nelan inquest.”

The ruling made the state’s task more difficult, but Smoot and Elliff did not think it posed an insurmountable obstacle. Elliff immediately proceeded with his opening statements.

Next week: The state presents its case.

#charles-skinner, #ernest-fleming, #frank-lee, #j-m-powers, #j-w-smoot, #jesse-black, #judge-guy-williams, #judge-joseph-e-daily, #martin-virant, #mildred-beardsley, #nathan-t-elliff, #noble-y-dowell, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon

Maybe JFK, or maybe his doppelganger

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016, was the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The marking of that somber memorial this week provides an opportunity for us to consider a somewhat unusual item that recently was donated to the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

The item in question is a copy of a World War II-era group photograph that was donated to the library by Peter Moreschi of Pekin. The photo, showing eight men who presumably were all U.S. Army soldiers, was taken during the war, and seems to have been taken somewhere in the U.S. or possibly in Europe. Moreschi’s father-in-law Conrad C. Zank (1921-2001) is shown in the back row, second from the left. According to his obituary published in the Pekin Daily Times, Zank served in the Army from 5 Dec. 1942 until 26 Oct. 1945, serving in Iceland and Europe. Moreschi says Zank enlisted or was drafted on 23 Nov. 1942 in Peoria. These dates help to narrow down when the photo was taken.

What makes the photograph unusual is the man squatting in the front row and center, who bears a remarkable resemblance to a younger John F. Kennedy (or perhaps an even closer resemblance to his brother Robert Kennedy). Moreschi says he has consulted with the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, whose staff couldn’t say that Kennedy, who served in the Navy in World War II, would have been at the same time and place as Zank and other Army soldiers during the war years.

This World War II-era photograph shows Conrad C. Zank (1921-2001) of Pekin, in the back row, second from the left. Squatting in the front row is perhaps -- or perhaps not -- a future U.S. president. PHOTO PROVIDED BY PETER MORESCHI

This World War II-era photograph shows Conrad C. Zank (1921-2001) of Pekin, in the back row, second from the left. Squatting in the front row is perhaps — or perhaps not — a future U.S. president. PHOTO PROVIDED BY PETER MORESCHI

It would have been most unusual, albeit not impossible, for a Navy sailor to be in a photograph with Army soldiers. It is well known that Kennedy served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II. He entered the Naval Reserve in Sept. 1941 and was commissioned as an Ensign on Oct. 26, 1941. He was first assigned to the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C., but in Jan. 1942 he was sent to the ONI field office in Charleston, S.C. From July 27 to Sept. 27, 1942, Kennedy was in Chicago for training at the Naval Reserve Officer Training School at Northwestern University.

After that, he volunteered to enter the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center in Melville, R.I. During his training, Kennedy was promoted to lieutenant junior grade on Oct. 10, completing his training on Dec. 2, 1942. This was about the time that Zank entered the U.S. Army in Peoria.

Upon his completion of his torpedo boat training, Kennedy was assigned to Motor Torpedo Squadron Four and became a PT boat instructor in Melville. He had command of the training vessel PT-101 from Dec. 7, 1942, to Feb. 23, 1943. Around that time, Kennedy led PT-101, PT-98, and PT-99 from Melville, R.I., to Jacksonville, Fla. After that, he was assigned to Panama and then sent to the Pacific Theater of the war. On April 24, 1943, Kennedy became the commander of PT-109. On the night of Aug. 1-2, PT-109 was rammed by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri, which cut the boat in half, killing two crewmen instantly. Kennedy’s heroism during this incident, in which he helped to save his surviving crewmen, even towing one of them to safety by clenching the injured man’s life jacket strap in his teeth, earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart.

Kennedy continued as a PT boat commander in the Pacific Theater until Nov. 18, 1943, when he was sent back to the U.S., arriving in early Jan. 1944. He was in Chelsea Naval Hospital, Chelsea, Mass., from May to Dec. 1944, being released from active duty in late 1944. From January to March 1945, Kennedy was in Castle Hot Springs, Ariz. He was honorably discharged from the Naval Reserve on March 1, 1945, and a month later he started a job a special correspondent for Hearst Newspapers in April that year. This was about seven months before Zank completed his World War II service in the U.S. Army.

Could there have been any stretches of time when Zank and Kennedy were in the same place? Perhaps, even though it would be unlikely for someone in the Naval Reserve to pose in a photo with a group of Army soldiers. However, next to nothing is known of where Zank was during his years of service. It’s most likely that the man in Moreschi’s photo isn’t JFK, but a JFK doppelganger.

Anyone who can help identify “JFK” and the other men in the photo may contact the Pekin Public Library at (309) 347-7111.

#conrad-c-zank, #jfk-doppelganger, #john-f-kennedy, #peter-moreschi, #pt-109, #world-war-ii

The Third Degree: Chapter 12: The Virant manslaughter trial is moved

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.

THE THIRD DEGREE

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Twelve

The Virant manslaughter trial is moved

Election Day in 1932 was historic, dealing an overwhelming victory to the Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his party, and ushering in the era of “the New Deal” which was to bring about a revolution in the scope and power of the federal government and its relationship with the American people.

But the outcome of the national election also had an immediate effect on local affairs in Tazewell County, where Republican office holders were swept out by the Democratic tidal wave. That included two incumbents: the coroner, Dr. A. E. Allen, and the state’s attorney, Louis P. Dunkelberg, both of whom had sought a third term in office.

Dunkelberg was ousted by Nathan T. Elliff, a young and comparatively inexperienced Pekin attorney. As Elliff prepared to assume his duties, the Pekin Daily Times (Dec. 3, 1932) offered a brief farewell tribute to Dunkelberg, and welcomed Elliff as one who “has already shown much ability in his chosen profession. Thruout the county he is well favorably known. The public has confidence in him and knows that the office of states attorney will be in good hands and that faithful and conscientious service will be rendered . . . .”

Despite the Daily Times’ optimism, Dunkelberg’s replacement by someone much less experienced did not necessarily bode well for the prosecution of Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputies Ernest L. Fleming, Charles O. Skinner and Frank Lee, who had been indicted for manslaughter in the beating death of jail inmate Martin Virant. Unsurprisingly, Elliff’s fellow Democrats Fleming, Skinner and Lee had quietly worked for Dunkelberg’s defeat.

Meanwhile the deputies’ boss, Sheriff James J. Crosby, was in a fight for his life – not his political life, however, for he was only in the middle of his four-year term and therefore not up for re-election, but his very life. Stricken down by a severe heart attack two days before Election Day, Crosby was moved to Methodist Hospital in Peoria on Nov. 7.

In the follow week, the Pekin Daily Times published almost daily updates on Sheriff Crosby’s health. His condition was very grave, and at one point it was feared that his death was very near, but he rebounded and eventually was able to resume his duties.

While Crosby was hospitalized and at death’s door, the sister of Martin Virant, Agnes Franko, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the sheriff on Thursday, Nov. 10. Franko sought $10,000 in damages, a hefty sum in those days.

Then on Saturday, Nov. 12, Circuit Court Judge Joseph E. Daily issued his ruling on the motion seeking a change of venue for the manslaughter trial of Fleming, Skinner and Lee. Their attorneys, Jesse Black and William J. Reardon, had argued that the unusual publicity given to this case by local newspapers, especially the Pekin Daily Times, had made it impossible for their clients to obtain a fair trial in Tazewell County.

In defense of its news coverage, on Nov. 2 Daily Times publisher F.F. McNaughton had reprinted an editorial from the Peoria Transcript, which declared that if the deputies are guilty of killing Virant, local newspapers “will be glad to endure criticism for having condemned the officers and the system which led to his death.

“The deputies are entitled to fair trials. They were officers of the law, and their task was not easy. Nevertheless, this newspaper, at least, is proud that it has been vigilant in behalf of the public interest and protestant in the face of the possibility of official cruelty.”

Even so, Judge Daily agreed with attorneys Black and Reardon, announcing that the trial would be moved to Petersburg, county seat of Menard County.

“Judge Daily said that he had considered the case very carefully, taking the affidavits which had been presented by counsel for both the state and the defense to his home and going over them leisurely and with care and he was of the opinion that the defendants had established their fear that they might not get a fair and impartial trial in this county.

“In considering what county the case should be sent to he had made inquiry and investigation in to the circulation of Peoria, Bloomington and Pekin papers in the county and he had found the circulation very small in Menard county. One Peoria paper has 13 subscribers in the county and another has but two, the court learned.”

The trial was expected to be delayed until February of 1933, “as the next term of circuit court convenes there the first Monday in that month,” the Daily Times reported on the front page of its edition of Nov. 26, 1932.

Next week: The Virant trial begins in Petersburg.

#agnes-franko, #charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #ernest-fleming, #f-f-mcnaughton, #frank-lee, #jesse-black, #judge-joseph-e-daily, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #nathan-t-elliff, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon

The Third Degree: Chapter 11: The deputies prepare their defense

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we continue our series on a pair of sensational deaths that occurred in Pekin, Illinois, during the Prohibition Era. The Local History Room columns in this series, entitled “The Third Degree,” originally ran in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times from Sept. 15, 2012, to March 2, 2013.

THE THIRD DEGREE

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Eleven

The deputies prepare their defense

Even prior to the manslaughter indictments of Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies Ernest L. Fleming, Charles O. Skinner and Frank Lee for the “third degree” beating death of jail inmate Martin Virant, the deputies and their attorneys, Jesse Black and W. J. Reardon, had already begun to plot out their defense strategy.

Black gave a hint of that strategy when he issued a broadside attack against Tazewell County Coroner Arthur E. Allen in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in early September, accusing Allen of inflaming the public against his clients and boasting that the deputies would be exonerated.

On Oct. 24, 1932, Black and Reardon filed a motion for a change of venue. Their motion was expected, because Virant’s murder was one of the most sensational crimes in Tazewell County’s history, and inevitably had dominated the front pages of all the newspapers in the Pekin area for almost the entire month of September 1932.

Judge Joseph E. Daily heard arguments for and against the motion at the Tazewell County Courthouse on Oct. 31.

“In the first exhibit offered by Attorney Black,” reported that day’s Pekin Daily Times, “was a front page of an issue of the Pekin Daily Times, which paper the court was again reminded, had a wide circulation thruout Tazewell county, containing articles relating to Virant’s death, which the attorney contended tended to create a prejudice against the defendants, and also containing alleged testimony which would not be admitted by a court of record.”

Judge Daily took the matter under advisement, saying he would not issue his decision until Nov. 12. Not just the gravity of the case, but also the fast-approaching general election, gave him a good reason to delay ruling on the question. In the autumn of 1932, the Great Depression was in full swing, and incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover was facing a formidable challenge from Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt.

But while action on the case paused in the courtrooms, the accused deputies continued efforts in their own defense. While their attorneys had charge of legal strategy, the deputies opted for an unorthodox and somewhat cynical angle of counterattack: taking their cause into the political ring, the deputies quietly but determinedly campaigned for the defeat at the polls of Coroner Allen and State’s Attorney Louis Dunkelberg.

In the case of Allen, their campaigning for his defeat seems to have been simply out of spite. If Allen were defeated by his Democratic challenger Dr. Nelson A. Wright Jr., it would have little if any effect on their prosecution or on their chances of conviction or acquittal.

The electoral defeat of Dunkelberg, however, would very likely deal the prosecution a very serious setback. Then nearing the completion of his second four-year term in office, Dunkelberg was an experienced and accomplished prosecutor, and it was he who had filed the charges in the Virant case and had midwifed the case through the grand jury.

His Democratic challenger was Nathan T. Elliff, a young barrister working in the law office of his father, Pekin attorney John T. Elliff. In fact, he was a mere 23 years old and had only been an attorney for four years, passing the bar at the tender age of 19. The contrast between the legal and prosecutorial experience of Dunkelberg and Elliff almost could not have been greater.

We may also wonder whether or not, in quietly opposing Dunkelberg’s re-election, the deputies may have wanted to create a feeling of gratitude or debt in the mind of the little experienced and untested Elliff. Did they hope to influence how, or whether, Elliff would proceed with their case?

No matter how quiet their campaign, though, the family of the murder victim eventually got wind of what the deputies had been doing. Just before Election Day, the family of Martin Virant took out a last-minute political advertisement in the Nov. 7, 1932 Pekin Daily Times, entitled, “A WORD FROM THE BROTHER AND SISTER OF MARTIN VIRANT, DECEASED,” and signed, “Frank Virant, Mrs. Agnes Franko.”

Upon learning that the deputies accused of beating jail inmate Martin Virant to death were working to help defeat the county prosecutor and coroner in the polling booth, Virant's family published a note in the Pekin Daily Times just before Election Day urging voters to re-elect Louis P. Dunkelberg and Dr. Arthur E. Allen.

Upon learning that the deputies accused of beating jail inmate Martin Virant to death were working to help defeat the county prosecutor and coroner in the polling booth, Virant’s family published a note in the Pekin Daily Times just before Election Day urging voters to re-elect Louis P. Dunkelberg and Dr. Arthur E. Allen.

“We have just found that the deputy sheriffs who are now being prosecuted for our brother Martin’s death are going around trying to get their close friends to vote against Dr. Allen and States Attorney Dunkelberg. They think that if Dr. Allen and Mr. Dunkelberg are defeated it will help them a lot in their trial.

“We want the people to know that Dr. Allen and Mr. Dunkelberg did all in their power to investigate Martin’s death and it was through their work that the truth was given to the people. We have been helping them in every way, and we want the people of Tazewell County to know that we want them elected again so that they can go on with Martin’s case. If there is any justice in Tazewell County, Dr. Allen and Mr. Dunkelberg will get the votes of all honest Americans who want to see us and our brother, Martin, get a square deal.”

Their last-minute appeal, however, was in vain. Although initial election returns looked promising for Allen – the Daily Times on Nov. 7 even incorrectly predicted, “Coroner A. E. Allen Will Be Re-Elected” – nevertheless both he and Dunkelberg were swept away by the Democratic tsunami that swept the Republican Party out of power almost everywhere in the country, from the top of the ticket to the bottom.

Since most voters blamed the Republicans for the Great Depression, the accused deputies may have had no need to lend their support to Wright and Elliff – voter antipathy for Republicans that year was so strong that the Democrats probably could have run almost anyone against Allen and Dunkelberg and been assured of victory.

Next week: The Virant manslaughter trial is moved.

#agnes-franko, #charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #ernest-fleming, #frank-lee, #frank-virant, #jesse-black, #john-t-elliff, #judge-joseph-e-daily, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #nathan-t-elliff, #nelson-a-wright, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon

Two generations of tragedy and loss

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published on 18 May 2013 before the launch of this blog . . .

Two generations of tragedy and loss

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This weekend, the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society will conduct a cemetery walk remembering victims of the July 5, 1918, Columbia riverboat disaster. The cemetery walk will be from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, May 19 (with a rain date of Sunday, June 2), at Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin, where most of the 57 Pekin residents who died in the wreck of the Columbia are buried.

Local interest in the Columbia disaster was renewed last year with the publication of Ken Zurski’s “The Wreck of the Columbia,” the first book-length treatment of this tragic event that brought grief to a great number of families in Pekin and the surrounding areas. Eighty-seven people drowned when the Columbia struck a sandbar and collapsed and sank near Wesley City (Creve Coeur).

In his book, Zurski tells the stories of several of the victims and survivors, and of some who avoided falling victim to the disaster through unforeseen circumstances that prevented them from going on the fatal cruise. Among the stories not told in Zurski’s book is that of a Columbia victim named Hazel Marie Bowlby, who was 21 when she died.

The photograph of Hazel Marie Bowlby was taken the winter before she drowned in the wreck of the Columbia. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE'S GRANDDAUGHTER

The photograph of Hazel Marie Bowlby was taken the winter before she drowned in the wreck of the Columbia. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE’S GRANDDAUGHTER

In January, Hazel’s relatives supplied the Pekin Daily Times with copies of old photographs of Hazel, along with a copy of a letter that Hazel wrote to her sister about a year before the disaster. Copies of the photographs and letter have been forwarded to the Pekin Public Library to be added to the library’s Local History Room collection.

Hazel, born in 1897, was a daughter of John C. and Susie Wertz Bowlby. She had an older sister named Lucille and a younger brother named Elmer. “She was my grandmother’s only sister,” said Gayla Erlenbusch, Lucille’s granddaughter.

Shown are (back row) Lucille Bowlby and Hazel Marie Bowlby, and (front row) Susie Wertz Bowlby, Elmer Bowlby, and John C. Bowlby. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE'S GRANDDAUGHTER

Shown are (back row) Lucille Bowlby and Hazel Marie Bowlby, and (front row) Susie Wertz Bowlby, Elmer Bowlby, and John C. Bowlby. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE’S GRANDDAUGHTER

From the copy of the letter that Hazel’s relatives have supplied, we know that in the summer of 1917 Hazel worked for the Pekin Daily Times – writing to her sister Lucille, Hazel typed the letter on stationery bearing the newspaper’s letterhead, and mailed it in a Pekin Daily Times printed envelope. In her letter, Hazel says she may need to borrow $5 from Lucille, and indicates dissatisfaction that the Times’ general manager and managing editor Charles Utter had not given her any raises in pay.

Erlenbusch said that her grandmother Lucille could have ended up as one of the Columbia’s victims along with her sister, if it weren’t for a sisterly spat.

“Hazel and her sister were both supposed to go, but they got into an argument. Apparently they both wanted to wear the same blouse. So my grandmother got mad and decided to stay home,” Erlenbusch said. Hazel went alone, the last time any of her family saw her alive.

Hazel was one of the many victims who had been on the boat’s dance floor. Her body was one of the last to be recovered, according to Erlenbusch. “My great-grandparents sent my grandmother to identify her,” she said. Hazel was buried in Green Valley Cemetery.

Lucille Bowlby stands at the grave of her sister Hazel the day of her funeral, at Green Valley Cemetery. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE'S GRANDDAUGHTER

Lucille Bowlby stands at the grave of her sister Hazel the day of her funeral, at Green Valley Cemetery. PHOTO PROVIDED BY GAYLA ERLENBUSCH, LUCILLE’S GRANDDAUGHTER

We can well imagine how painful Hazel’s death was to her loved ones, but it must have been especially hard on her father, John C. Bowlby, as it was the second time death had shockingly struck someone close to him.

As told in Ben C. Allensworth’s 1905 “History of Tazewell County,” on Feb. 19, 1895, John’s first wife Belle Wallace Bowlby was shot to death by her own brother Albert Wallace, who was living with his sister and brother-in-law on the old Wallace homestead in Dillon Township. John and the Bowlbys’ hired man Lawrence Lyman also suffered very serious gunshot wounds in the incident.

What led up to the crime was the death of Belle’s and Albert’s father, Andrew Wallace, who was killed in 1890 by James Connell in self-defense. Andrew left his estate to Belle, which “led to bickering between Mr. and Mrs. Bowlby and Albert Wallace, who made frequent demands for money, and when refused, is said to have made threats against Mr. and Mrs. Bowlby,” Allensworth writes.

Finally, one night Albert took a shotgun and, aiming through a window, fired at John’s head. “Bowlby, whose hand was on his forehead, had several fingers blown off and a number of shot entered his head. Mrs. Bowlby sprang and opened the door, when she was shot in the stomach. Lyman was shot twice in the leg, and was badly burned in the face by the powder,” according to Allensworth. Belle died two days later, while Lyman lost an eye. John eventually recovered and remarried.

After the shooting, Albert borrowed a neighbor’s horse and rode to Pekin, where he surrendered to the sheriff. Asking why he was turning himself in, he said, “You will find out later.” He was convicted of murder on Oct. 28, 1895, and sentenced to death by hanging. He was executed on March 14, 1896 – the last legal hanging in Pekin.

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