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.

The Third Degree: Chapter 4: A hanging in Cell 11 — Crime and cover-up at the county jail

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 Four

A hanging in Cell 11

Crime and cover-up at the county jail

During the Aug. 31, 1932 inquest into the death of Lewis P. Nelan, witness Martin Virant of East Peoria shocked those in attendance with bold accusations that he had been severely beaten by sheriff’s deputies who refused to believe his protestations that he knew nothing of the fight that led to Nelan’s death.

Virant had even shown some of his injuries to the inquest jury. He wanted to continue testifying about the torture he had endured, but because Virant knew nothing of Nelan’s murder, Tazewell County Coroner A. E. Allen sent him back to the county jail, expecting Sheriff J. J. Crosby to release him.

The Sept. 1, 1932 Pekin Daily Times reported, “Virnt (sic) had a bruise on the forehead, there was a little dry blood in the left eyebrow, his right ear was swollen and there was blood about the neck of his shirt. He told the jury he believed some of his ribs had been broken. Whether these injuries were received as Virnt declares, or at some other place and in some other manner, is a question . . . That Virnt had been beaten or in any way abused or mistreated while he had been in custody of the officers for questioning, is vehemently denied by Sheriff Crosby and all members of his force.”

Law enforcement use of torture and violence in order to extract confessions from suspects, or useful information from witnesses who were thought to be less than cooperative, was then an accepted (or at least tolerated) practice commonly known by the euphemism “the third degree.”

Two other witnesses at the Nelan inquest who were not involved in Nelan’s murder, George Genseal and Burton Heller, were released from the Tazewell County Jail on Thursday, Sept. 1. Learning of Virant’s plight, his brother-in-law secured the services of Peoria attorney Victor Michael, who came to Pekin Thursday afternoon and told Crosby that if he did not release Virant he would initiate habeas corpus proceedings. “It was also reported that if Virnt’s release is secured he will be taken before physicians for examination and the X-rays will be taken of his injuries,” the Pekin Daily Times reports.

Crosby granted Michael’s demand and, while Michael and Virant’s relatives waited outside the jail, sent Deputy Charles O. Skinner – whom Virant had named as one of his torturers during his testimony the night before – to let Virant out of jail.

As reported in the Sept. 17, 1932 Peoria Journal, according to Genseal, Skinner came into the jail around 2 p.m., went to the upper cell block and called, “Martin.” Genseal heard no reply, and then heard Skinner say, “The —- has hanged himself.”

Chief Deputy Ernest L. Fleming telephoned Coroner Allen and told him Virant had hanged himself. Allen rushed to the jail. Fleming and Skinner led Allen to Virant’s cell, where Allen found Virant hanging by his belt from the top bar of the cell. Allen cut Virant down and his body was taken into the corridor and resuscitation was attempted without success.

Faced with this sudden and extremely shocking turn of events, the Pekin Daily Times delayed its printing and hastily reworked its Sept. 1 front page so it could run a story along with its Nelan inquest story. The Times announced “VIRNT HANGS SELF IN COUNTY JAIL” – but by the time most Daily Times subscribers got to read those words, investigators were already casting doubt on the sheriff’s department’s account of how Virant had died.

Immediately noticing that Virant’s body displayed none of the signs of a hanging death, and with the memory of Virant’s testimony and injuries from the night before till fresh in his mind, Allen ordered an autopsy by Pekin physicians L. F. Teter and L. R. Clary. The autopsy, conducted Thursday night at Kuecks Funeral Home, found the following, according to the Sept. 17 Peoria Journal:

“Cut over left eye: Extensive evidence of external injuries to the head, chest and body. Cut over left eyebrow, eye badly discolored; internal hemorrhage in rear portion of left eye. Severe bruises back of right ear, extending down the neck. Bruises on back and ribs: one fractured rib on right side. Broken cartilage in right ear. Left eye bruised and discolored. Bruises on top of head. Right side of brain congested, causing concussion. Both shins badly bruised and discolored. Numerous bruises on various portions of the body.”

Virant’s funeral was set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, at Keucks Funeral Home, to be followed by burial in Parkview Cemetery in Peoria. The funeral rites took place as planned, but Allen delayed the burial plans so he could conduct further investigation. At the visitation, Virant’s sister Agnes Franko of Peoria broke down and screamed that her brother “did not hang himself, he was killed!”

On Saturday night, Sept. 3, Allen phoned Chicago criminologist Dr. William D. McNally and explained what Teter and Clary had found in their autopsy. McNally replied, “If the cartilage of Virant’s neck is as described, Virant did not die from hanging.”

That same night, Allen and Teter conducted a second autopsy and concluded that Virant’s death was not due to hanging but to “shock and external violent injuries,” according to the Peoria Journal. McNally also came from Chicago to Pekin on Sept. 5 and did his own thorough examination of Virant’s body, whereupon he concluded: “Martin Virant did not die of strangulation by his own hand. He was terrifically beaten. My opinion is that he died of shock and external violent injuries.”

The Journal reported, “Many witnesses stated that they saw Virant only a few minutes before he surrendered himself to Deputies C. O. Skinner and Hardy Garber in East Peoria on Tuesday afternoon, [Aug. 30], and that he bore no marks of injury.”

Considering the results of the Nelan inquest, Tazewell County State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg now prepared to prosecute John Petje, Edward Hufeld and Frank Keayes Jr. for the murder of Lewis Nelan.

Also, on Monday afternoon, Sept. 5, Dunkelberg swore out a warrant for the arrest of Deputy Skinner for the murder of Martin Virant.

Next week: Deputy Skinner issues denials.

This front page article in the 6 Sept. 1932 Pekin Daily Times announced the arrival of expert criminologist Dr. William D. McNally of Chicago to examine the body of Martin Virant, found hanging in his Tazewell County Jail cell on 1 Sept. 1932. McNally concluded that Virant was already dead before his body was hanged in the cell.

This front page article in the 6 Sept. 1932 Pekin Daily Times announced the arrival of expert criminologist Dr. William D. McNally of Chicago to examine the body of Martin Virant, found hanging in his Tazewell County Jail cell on 1 Sept. 1932. McNally concluded that Virant was already dead before his body was hanged in the cell.

#agnes-franko, #burton-heller, #charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #dr-william-d-mcnally, #edward-hufeld, #frank-keayes, #george-genseal, #john-petje, #l-f-teter, #l-r-clary, #lew-nelan, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree, #victor-michael

Historic Sanborn maps show daily life’s grid

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in January 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

Historic Sanborn maps show daily life’s grid

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

The resources available in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room include an array of vintage maps and atlases of Pekin and other communities in Tazewell County reaching back to the 1860s. Among those maps are three bound collections of Pekin maps that are noticeably different from most other kinds of maps, and that can provide details and information not usually found on a map.

These are the historic insurance or fire maps of Pekin that were prepared by the Sanborn Map Company. The Local History Room’s collection includes three sets of Sanborn maps, from Nov. 1903, Dec. 1909, and Sept. 1925.

The value and usefulness of these historic maps of Pekin are explained by the description included on the maps cataloguing label, which characterizes the Sanborn maps as showing “The Grid of Daily Life.” The label says:

“Sanborn maps are primary sources essential to researchers in history, urban studies, genealogy, architecture, engineering, and countless other disciplines. Originally created for fire departments and risk assessors, they show details such as the outline of each building, construction materials, windows and doors, street names, street and sidewalk widths, property boundaries, building use, water mains, and more.”

The Sanborn Map Company produced this particular sort of map in order to help insurance companies conduct risk assessments on buildings, so fire insurance policies could be suitably crafted. That’s why Sanborn maps include the above listed details. What was originally intended to be useful for risk assessors also proved to be very helpful for municipal fire departments – the information on the maps was often of great help to firemen battling fires, because the maps could tell them what buildings were made out of, or where windows and entrances were located.

With the passing of time, and the construction and demolition of structures in Pekin, the old Sanborn maps now help historians and genealogists to discover the locations of old buildings, or to find out how long a particular structure has been standing, or to learn what a building was used for in the past.

For instance, the Nov. 1903 Sanborn map of Pekin shows the old Zerwekh Building at the corner of Fourth and Elizabeth streets. In those days, as the map indicates, it was the location of a bakery and a Masonic Lodge. Among the fascinating details about the Zerwekh Building that one can learn from this map are that there used to be two bakery ovens beneath the sidewalks along Elizabeth Street, built into the basement foundation on the north of the structure.

Later, the Zerwekh Building became the location of the Pekin Daily Times. The newspaper vacated its building in Aug. 2012, and the former Times Building was demolished this fall. In the process of demolition, several bricked-up passages were noticed in the basement foundation on the north side. Thanks to the Sanborn maps, we know what those “passages” were before they were bricked up by F. F. McNaughton: They were the ovens where Albert Zerwekh and his sons baked their breads, cakes, cookies and pastries.

This detail from the November 1903 Sanborn map of Pekin shows the block of Elizabeth Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, including (at the top) the old Zerwekh bakery and confectionary that later would serve for many decades as the home of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper.

This detail from the November 1903 Sanborn map of Pekin shows the block of Elizabeth Street between Fourth and Fifth streets, including (at the top) the old Zerwekh bakery and confectionary that later would serve for many decades as the home of the Pekin Daily Times newspaper.

#f-f-mcnaughton, #pekin-daily-times, #preblog-columns, #sanborn-maps, #zerwekh-building

Early Tazewell County crime and punishment

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In his 1879 Tazewell County history, Charles C. Chapman observed – perhaps with his tongue implanted in his cheek – that, “as immaculate and good as the pioneer fathers undoubtedly were, even among them there were wicked and vicious characters.”

Crime called for punishment and incarceration of evildoers, so on June 28, 1828, the county contracted for the building of a jail at Mackinaw (then the county seat), at a cost of $325.75, which was three times what the county had paid for its Mackinaw courthouse. “It was,” Chapman says, “a two-story structure, 16 feet square, made of solid hewn timber, and was one of the strongest and most costly jail building erected by the pioneers throughout Central Illinois. Nevertheless, the very first prisoner incarcerated within its heavy walls took flight the same night. This individual, whose name was William Cowhart, is also noted for being the first horse-thief in Tazewell county.”

After the return of the county seat to Pekin in 1848-49, new county buildings were constructed. The new Tazewell County Jail, “calculated to hold from fifteen to twenty prisoners, was built by the Board of Supervisors of Tazewell County, in 1852, at a cost of $7,000,” says the 1870 Pekin City Directory.

Besides the county jail, the Pekin city police had their own lockup, quaintly known as “the calaboose.” The 1870 City Directory informs us, “The first calaboose was contracted for in November, 1849, John S. Boone being the contractor, and the cost of the building limited to forty-eight dollars. This building remained the city lockup until the summer of 1868, although it was long considered, especially by evil-doers, a noisesome, pestilential nuisance. In the latter years it was destroyed by fire, the incendiary work of some transgressors confined within its walls.”

Not every malefactor ended up in the city calaboose or county jail, of course. The usual penalty would be a fine. Chapman says it was in 1829 that the county received its first fine for a violation of the peace. That was a case in which Isaac Storms had assaulted James Brown. Chapman comments, “For many years the only cases before the justices of the peace were for assault and battery,” showing the “Wild West” character of Pekin and Tazewell County in those days.

Then as now, more serious crimes would lead to imprisonment, and murderers often would find their terms of imprisonment ended at the hangman’s gallows in Pekin’s courthouse square. The first murder indictment in Tazewell County, according to Ben C. Allensworth’s Tazewell County history, was handed down against John Wood, who was sent to prison for four years for killing his own child “by throwing it up against the ceiling.”

The first public execution in Pekin was March 1, 1861. On Oct. 12, 1860, John Ott decided to burglarize George W. Orendorff’s home about four miles southeast of Delavan. George was away on business that day, but finding the mother and her two daughters, Emma, 9, and Ada, 7, at home, Ott cold-heartedly murdered them with an axe. On the day of Ott’s hanging, a carnival atmosphere had formed as about 10,000 people crowded downtown to watch his execution, and three companies of soldiers were brought from Peoria to prevent a lynching.

The 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial says, “Ott, reports indicate, remained calm throughout the entire affair, and just before falling through the trap of the scaffold declared that he alone was guilty of the crime for which he was about to die (a man named Green” – that is, Ott’s cousin Enoch Green – “had been arrested also), that his doom was just, and that he hoped to be forgiven in Heaven, where he hoped to meet those who were there to witness his death. He muttered a prayer as the trap fell; his neck was broken by the fall; but he hung for 19 minutes before being cut down and placed in a coffin.”

Not all hangings resulted from due process of law, however. Perhaps better known than Ott’s execution is the 1869 lynching of William Berry, leader of the Berry Gang, as related in local historian Jim Conover’s book, “Lynch Law.”

The last legal hanging in Pekin was March 14, 1896. Albert Wallace of Delavan was put to death for murdering his sister and severely wounding his sister’s husband. Showing no remorse, Wallace reportedly said just before his hanging that someday “these people will be sorry for what they are doing.” It is not recorded whether they ever regretted his execution, however.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 "Historical Souvenir" that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse. For a time criminal and civil cases in Tazewell County were heard in this building, which was built in 1839.

William H. Bates reproduced this photograph of the old Tazewell County Courthouse in Tremont for the 1916 “Historical Souvenir” that he published for the dedication of the new courthouse. For a time criminal and civil cases in Tazewell County were heard in this building, which was built in 1839.

#albert-wallace, #calaboose, #isaac-storms, #james-brown, #john-ott, #john-wood, #lynch-law, #mackinaw-courthouse, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county-history, #tazewell-county-jails, #tremont-courthouse, #william-berry, #william-cowhart

The Third Degree: Chapter 3: Martin Virant and the third degree

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 Three

Martin Virant and the third degree

On Aug. 31, 1932, Tazewell County Coroner A. E. Allen held an inquest into the death of Lewis P. Nelan of East Peoria. At the inquest, the coroner’s jury heard testimony that on Aug. 27, Nelan had gone to the East Peoria speakeasy of John Petje, where he and Petje quarreled and fought.

According to the testimony, Petje struck Nelan on the head with an iron bar, knocking him unconscious. Mistakenly believing that Nelan was dead, Petje and his companions, Edward Hufeld and George Genseal, placed Nelan on the tracks in the East Peoria railyards so Nelan would be run over and his death appear to be accidental.

The facts of Nelan’s death were sensational enough – but those who attended his inquest were once more appalled and mortified by the testimony that they heard next.

After the coroner’s jury was presented with the reports of the investigators and the testimony and confessions of Petje, Keayes, Hufeld and Genseal, Coroner Allen called Martin Virant of East Peoria to testify.

Virant, a coal miner, was a lodger living above Petje’s speakeasy. Born Nov. 3, 1895, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the son of George and Rose Virant, he was an Austrian Army veteran of World War I but had become a U.S. citizen. He had a brother and a sister living in Peoria, as well as siblings in Europe.

In a front page story about the Nelan inquest, the Sept. 1, 1932 Pekin Daily Times reported, “According to the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Fleming, Martin Virnt (sic), who was being detained by the sheriff’s office for questioning, was named by Genseal saying that Virnt was present at the time of the fight and was talking to him.

“Virnt was brought from jail by deputy sheriffs, handcuffed. No warrant had been sworn out for him, but he was believed by the officers to have a knowledge of the fatal quarrel. . . .

“He was told by Coroner Allen that he did not have to testify if he did not want to, and asked if he wanted to say anything, to which he answered, ‘Yes.’

“Virnt appeared nervous and disturbed and at this juncture Attorney J. P. St Verny (sic – St. Cerny), altho not retained by Virnt, asked the witness if he had been threatened, Vrnt (sic) replying that he had been.

“Virnt said he was home the night of the fight, that he had talked to Petji during the evening, but that he went to his room and to bed between 9:30 and 10 o’clock. He said he knew nothing of the fight until the next morning.”

To learn why Virant “appeared nervous and disturbed” and who he said had threatened him, we will quote the transcript of Virant’s testimony that was published in full on the front page of the Sept. 6, 1932 Pekin Daily Times and the front page of the Sept. 17, 1932 Peoria Journal.

Virant said, “I’m not afraid to die and I am not afraid to tell the truth. I fight four years in the trenches in the World war in the Austrian army and I see much and I not afraid to die. After the war there was nothing to do there so I decide to try here. But I got too much beating last night I tell you, they pretty nearly kill me!

“Coroner Allen: Who beat you?

“A – One officer and then another.

“Q – Where were you when they beat you?

“A – In the city hall in Pekin. I am not afraid to show the people. I look you in the eye and tell the truth. They push me, hit me in the head and slap me and I think they have broken two ribs.

“(At this point he stood up and started to pull up his shirt to show his body bruises. The coroner advised that this was not necessary.) The witness continues:

“They hit me on the ear (pointing to right ear which was swollen) they hit me on the head (showing blood on shirt).

“Q – Did more than one beat you?

“A – Yes, they beat and shoved me across the room, and Mr. Skinner (pointing to him) knocked me down and kicked me and stepped on my neck.
(Note: Skinner was a big man, more than 6 feet tall and heavy, weighing more than 250 pounds, while Virant was about 5 feet 7, weighing 150 pounds.)

“Q – What did they say to you?

“A – Nobody said a word, no nothing.

“Q – Did you fight the officers?

“A – No. Somebody kick me and somebody slap me.

“Q – They were trying to make you talk?

“A – I cannot talk and they call me a damn liar and then they knock me down. They kick me again. I am ashamed for the American people. I tell you it is a shame for the City of Pekin – a shame to treat anybody like that. I am a foreigner but I have my citizen’s papers and I am citizen of America and I think I have as much right as you fellows as American people.”

Virant wanted to continue testifying about the torture he had endured at the hands of Deputy Charles O. Skinner and Deputy Ernest L. Fleming, but because Allen concluded that Virant knew nothing about Nelan’s murder, he sent Virant back to the county jail, expecting Sheriff James J. Crosby to release him.

Skinner and Deputy Hardy Garber took Virant back to the jail, placing him in Cell 11.

The next day, Virant was found dead in his cell – hanging by his own belt strap.

Next week: A hanging in Cell 11 — Crime and Cover-up at the County Jail.

This excerpt from Martin Virant's testimony at the inquest into the death of Lew Nelan was published in the Tuesday, Sept. 6, 1932 Pekin Daily Times.

This excerpt from Martin Virant’s testimony at the inquest into the death of Lew Nelan was published in the Tuesday, Sept. 6, 1932 Pekin Daily Times.

#charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #edward-hufeld, #ernest-fleming, #george-genseal, #hardy-garber, #j-p-st-cerny, #john-petje, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree

Scandal: The Failure of the Teis Smith Bank

Here’s a chance to read again one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in August 2014 before the launch of this blog . . .

Scandal: The Failure of the Teis Smith Bank

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In its account of the organization of Pekin’s first banking institutions, the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, pages 33-34, provides the following paragraph about a bank that popularly was known among the residents of Pekin as “the Smith Bank”:

“At about the same time that the first National Bank was organized [i.e., about the end of the Civil War], the Teis Smith banking firm was founded. The bank was located in the same block as the Smith wagon works, but it was conducted as a distinct and separate business. An interesting note in conjunction with the story of this operation is that upon the death in 1890 of Fred Smith, the senior partner who had taken over after his brother Teis died in 1870, Habbe Velde of the T. & H. Smith Company, Henry Block and John Schipper of the Schipper and Block dry goods establishment, and E. F. Unland of the Smith Hippen grain company (all of which are substantial businesses of old-time Pekin) stepped in as full partners to assure that the credit of the bank would not suffer greatly from his death.”

The 1949 Pekin Centenary, page 25, offers just a single sentence on the founding of this bank:

“That year [i.e., 1866] the Smith bank was established at 331 Court street, the First National bank at 304 Court street, . . . .”

“Pekin: A Pictorial History” (1998, 2004) has even less to say about the bank – just a single reference on page 92 to the fact that Teis Smith “also had interests in banking and railroads.”

Teis Smith, his brothers and other relatives were the founders of several prominent businesses in Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s, including a bank located at 331 Court St. This lithograph of Teis Smith was printed in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County.

Teis Smith, his brothers and other relatives were the founders of several prominent businesses in Pekin in the mid- to late 1800s, including a bank located at 331 Court St. This lithograph of Teis Smith was printed in the 1873 Atlas Map of Tazewell County.

Relying only on these brief notices in the standard works on Pekin’s history, one would never even be able to imagine the catastrophic circumstances surrounding the closing of the Smith Bank.

After operating for 40 years, the bank suddenly closed its doors on April 2, 1906, and the firm was then liquidated. When shareholders and depositors learned the reasons why the bank had closed, however, they went to the state’s attorney, who filed charges of embezzlement against the bank partners.

The story of that embezzlement trial – characterized in the Peoria Star’s contemporary reports as “the most sensational and deplorable affair that has ever come under the notice of Tazewell County residents” – is told in James A. Velde’s historical essay, “A Sensational Criminal Trial in Central Illinois,” a copy of which is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection.

This is how Velde explains the failure of the Smith Bank:

“After partner Frederick Smith, a younger brother of Teis, died in a railroad wreck in 1890, the wagon and plow companies were separately incorporated in Illinois to avoid the complications in settling a deceased partner’s interest. But the bank was not incorporated, perhaps because of a feared government interference in an incorporated bank. The bank partners were thus left with their personal unlimited liability for all the bank’s debts . . . Near the mid-1890s the three enterprises were adversely affected by nation-wide difficult economic conditions, including bank panics and years of business depression. There came a time when the payrolls and other expenses of the wagon and plow companies were financed by borrowings from the Smith Bank, whose managers and partners were officers and stockholders of the two corporations. When the loans became delinquent in large amounts, the corporations issued shares of capital stock in payment of the loans. This practice, since the stock had no market, depleted the bank’s liquid assets and led to its closing on April 2, 1906.”

On May 24, 1906, four of the six bank partners were indicted in Tazewell County Circuit Court for embezzlement, under an 1879 Illinois law that made it illegal for a banker to accept deposits when his banking company is insolvent. The four indicted partners were Dietrich Conrad Smith, youngest brother of Teis Smith, who was the bank’s president and vice president of Pekin Plow Company; Conrad Luppen, bank cashier; Ernest F. Unland, president of Smith, Hippen & Company; and Henry C. Block, president of Schipper & Block department store.

The case was prosecutors by State’s Attorney Charles Schaefer, owner of the land that came to be known as Schaeferville and later a Tazewell County judge, and Judge Jesse Black, who later successfully defended the Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputies accused of torturing jail inmate Martin Virant to death in 1932.

The criminal prosecution stretched through the rest of 1906. Unfortunately, the issues of the Pekin Daily Times from that year are lost, but the indictment and trial proceedings were reported extensively in the Peoria Star (one of the predecessors of today’s Peoria Journal Star). The Star’s reports were usually sensationalistic and incendiary, often transgressing into libelous attacks on the personal character and even physical appearance of the defendants. During the course of the trial, as Velde shows, evidence was presented showing that the bankers had fraudulently been using depositors’ money to keep their troubled wagon and plow businesses afloat.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty against all four defendants on Dec. 15, 1906. However, defense attorneys almost immediately appealed the verdict and asked for a new trial, arguing that the conviction was not in accordance with a 1903 amendment to the 1879 statute under which the bankers had been indicted. In the end, both the trial’s judge, Leslie D. Puterbaugh, and State’s Attorney Schaefer agreed that the indictment had been a mistake, because the 1903 amendment had made it virtually impossible to obtain a conviction in a case such as the failure of the Smith Bank. The conviction was then set aside. Schaefer moved to have the indictment dismissed on April 15, 1907, and Judge Puterbaugh granted the motion.

With no attempt to disguise the dismayed at the overturning of the guilty verdict, the Peoria Star wrapped up its coverage of the affair with the comment, “Although the cases were stricken from the records, the memory of the wrecking of the Teis Smith and Company Bank by those behind it will linger for years to come.”

#charles-schaefer, #conrad-luppen, #e-f-unland, #fred-smith, #habbe-velde, #jesse-black, #leslie-puterbaugh, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #schaeferville, #schipper-and-block, #smith-wagon-company, #teis-smith, #teis-smith-bank

Tracing a house’s history in Tazewell County

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

In June 2013, this column offered some guidance on how to use old Pekin city directories to trace the history of a specific address in Pekin. As we saw, old city directories are an essential resources for family historians and other researchers, because the information in the directories makes it possible to reconstruct the succession of occupants at a particular location.

However, city directories cannot tell who may have owned a particular property at any given time, nor when a house was built, nor when and to whom it may have been sold. Those who wish to obtain that information will be able to find much of that information in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, but a lot of the most important information they seek will be found at the Tazewell County Record of Deeds Office.

Old Pekin city directories are just one of many resources on which researchers must rely to reconstruct the history of a house in Pekin.

Old Pekin city directories are just one of many resources on which researchers must rely to reconstruct the history of a house in Pekin.

We can, nevertheless, offer some guidance and pointers on how to go about tracing the history of a house in Tazewell County. In fact, just last year, in Dec. 2015, Carol Dorward of Washington, Ill., prepared something of a “cheat sheet” (well, a series of three sheets) for the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society. The TCGHS has given the Pekin Public Library a copy of Dorward’s article, entitled, “To Find the History of a House in Tazewell County, Illinois . . .” This column will summarize Dorward’s instructions and tips.

Dorward recommends three reference works on this general subject: Historic Midwest Houses, University of Chicago Press, 1977, by John Drury; House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home, Golden Hill Press, 1989, by Sarah B. Light; and A Field Guide to American Houses, Alfred A. Knopf, 1990, by Virginia and Lee McAlester.

Dorward says the first step is the create a listing of persons who owned the property. As we said above, this isn’t the same thing as a listing of persons who lived at the property. “To acquire this information,” Dorward says, “you will need to go to the Tazewell County Court House. (The staff at the courthouse will not do the research for you, but they can assist you in getting started in the right direction.)”

To begin making a listing of owners, you will need the legal description of the property. If you have either the property tax identification number (found on the property tax statement), you may visit the Assessments & Board of Review Office in Room 410 of the McKenzie Building in downtown Pekin (just east of the courthouse), or go online to http://il-tazewell-assessor.governmax.com/propertymax/rover30.asp?sid=115B5C5051F643AE838EB2D5AE48471E and conduct a search at that website. Sometimes the legal description provides a date for when a residence was built or when additions were completed. You may take the legal description to the County Recorder of Deeds Office in Room 124 of the McKenzie Building for a listing of the property owners.

Dorward also provides an explanation of the coding used in property tax identification numbers. Dorward’s sample coding for a parcel of land in Washington, Ill., is 02-02-24-125-004. She deciphers the coding as follows:

“The first set of digits represents the township survey. (For Washington, it is 02-02-.) The next set of digits will range from one to 36 and represents the section of land. The first number in the fourth set of digits represents the quarter section of land (100 = NW ¼ ; 200 = NE ¼ ; 300 = SW ¼  and 400 = SE ¼ ) with the last digit(s) being the block number. The last set of digits is the parcel number.”

Dorward also says that you’ll need to know the subdivision in which the property lays. The legal includes the township number, range number, and prime meridian. Atlases and platbooks of Tazewell County are available in the Local History Room that will enable you to figure out the township and range numbers. For a map of the prime meridian divisions of Illinois, go online to http://genealogytrails.com/ill/schuyler/ILMeridiansandBaselines.html .

Some important terms that Dorward explains:

Deed Record – refers only to the parcel of land, not to buildings on the parcel. “However, transfers of property in the title can indicate when a house was built and/or major additions/remodeling was completed,” Dorward writes.

Abstract of Title – “a record created by a private company which searches deed records and proves the chain of title which establishes that a property being purchased is held free and clear. The Abstract of Title is often held by an earlier purchaser. Today, more often, this method has been replaced by Title Insurance.”

Once you’ve got a list of the property owners, you’ll need to search the microfilms of the Pekin Daily Times in the library’s Local History Room to find publications of assessments. Using the legal description and owners’ names, you can find how much the owners paid in property taxes through the years. “A significant increase in a tax payment may suggest the initial construction, an addition to the property, and/or remodeling,” says Dorward.

To tell the full story of a house will require doing genealogical research on the occupants. This is where city directories will be of great help, along with census records, books on local history, newspaper obituaries and advertisements. “Learning about the families that lived in the home may provide clues to the activities that took place in the home,” Dorward says. Those activities could include weddings and parties, meetings of clubs and social organizations, or even visits from famous or prominent individuals.

Genealogical research will also help to determine how the property was passed from owner to owner. Sometimes a house stayed in the family for generations, or sometimes might pass to a relative or a friend, or a friend of a relative.

Another helpful resource are the old Sanborn fire insurance maps of Pekin. The Local History Room collection includes Sanborn maps from three different years, and the TCGHS has a fourth. Sanborn maps give the uses and the outlines of buildings, as well as brief descriptions of building materials used for a house. Comparison of the maps can help determine when a particular structure was standing, or when it was remodeled or replaced.

Dorward offers one final tip: sometimes old newspapers in the 1890s and early 1900s published reports on building construction, usually in December or January. The Pekin Daily Times microfilms in the Local History Room only start in 1914, but the TCGHS has microfilms of newspapers from those decades, and the Local History Room has microfilms of the Green Valley Banner from that period.

#house-history, #pekin-city-directories, #pekin-history, #tazewell-county-history

The Third Degree: Chapter 2: A fatal brawl at Petje’s speakeasy

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we revisit a 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 Two

A fatal brawl at Petje’s speakeasy

Early in the morning of Sunday, Aug. 28, 1932, Lewis P. Nelan was run over by a train in the East Peoria railroad yards. But evidence and eyewitness reports indicated that Nelan had not been hit while crossing the tracks, nor had he passed out on the tracks. So, how did his body get there, and how did he get those head injuries, the telltale signs of a beating?

As reported in the Sept. 1, 1932 edition of the Pekin Free Press, faced with this suspicious death, “Deputy Sheriffs E. L. Fleming, C. O. Skinner, J. H. Garber and Frank Lee followed the leads which indicated that Nelan’s body had been placed in the railroad yards after death and by Tuesday [Aug. 30] had established the fact that Nelan had been killed in a fight which took place at John Petji’s speakeasy, 416 Main street, East Peoria. They arrested Petji, who is 45 years of age, Ed Hufeld, 29, George Geansel (sic — Genseal), 40, and Frank Keayes, Jr., 32.”

However, after hearing all the testimony and considering the autopsy results, the coroner’s jury found that Nelan was not, in fact, killed in that fight. Their verdict, reported on the Sept. 1 front page of the Pekin Daily Times, reads:

“We the jury find from the evidence that Lewis P. Nelan came to his death from injuries received when he was run over by a C. and A. engine in the P. and P. U. railroad yards at East Peoria on Aug. 28, 1932 between the hours of 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.

“We further believe from the evidence that said Lewis Nelan was struck on the head with an iron bar by John Petji and was placed on the P. and P. U. railroad track while unconscious by John Petji, Edward Hufeld and Frank Keayes Jr., for the purpose of covering up their crime, they thinking that said Lewis Nelan was dead from the injuries received when struck with the iron bar.

“We further recommend that said John Petji, Edward Huffeld (sic) and Frank Keayes Jr., be held to await the action of the grand jury on the charge of murder.”

(Note: In these accounts, Petje’s surname is sometimes spelled Petji and Petzi, but “Petje” is the usual, and apparently correct, spelling.)

The investigation of Nelan’s death had led the deputies to Petje after they found Nelan’s hat, which had holes in it indicating the wearer had been struck, lying on the ground just six to eight feet from the Petji’s speakeasy. Mrs. Peckenpaugh, Nelan’s landlady, told the deputies that the holes were not in the hat when Nelan had left home on Saturday.

The deputies then brought in Petje, Keayes, Genseal and Hufeld for questioning, along with Burton Heller, 20, of Peoria, and an East Peoria resident named Martin Virant, 37.

“Genseal was with Keayes, Hufeld and Nelan, but left the scene and had no part in the fight or disposition of Nelan’s body,” the Daily Times reported. After the fight, Heller had “taken Keayes and Hufeld to Peoria in his car, simply as a matter of accommodation and he knew nothing about the fight or other incidents connected with it.” Genseal and Heller were released Thursday morning following the Nelan inquest.

Petje admitted to deputies that on Saturday he let in Keayes, Genseal, Hufeld and Nelan, and “they had several drinks,” but he denied there was a fight. However, as reported in the Sept. 1, 1932 Pekin Daily Times, Keayes, Hufeld and Genseal told the investigators that “Nelan and Petji quarreled and Nelan was put out. Petji followed Nelan outside and the row was continued. Petji struck Nelan several times with his fist then picked up an iron bar and struck him over the head, Nelan falling to the ground.

“Hufeld said, ‘He is Dead.’

“John [Petje] then said, ‘Take him on the railroad track and an engine will run over him and they won’t know how he was killed. Don’t tell anybody.”

Petje, Keayes and Hufeld took Nelan’s body to the railroad track, after which they went back to Petje’s speakeasy and had more drinks. Keayes and Hufeld then headed to Peoria with Heller. The fight reportedly took place around 1 to 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 28.

After the coroner’s jury was presented with the reports of the investigators and the testimony and confessions of Petje, Keayes, Hufeld and Genseal, Tazewell County Coroner A. E. Allen called Martin Virant to testify.

What Virant had to say was at least as disturbing and troubling as anything the coroner’s jury had yet heard that day.

Next week: Virant’s shocking testimony.

East Peoria map from 1929 atlas

The location of John Petje’s speakeasy and the railyards where Lew Nelan was beaten and dumped on the tracks to be run over on Aug. 28, 1932, is shown in this detail from a 1929 map of East Peoria reprinted in “The Heritage Collection Illustrated Atlas: Combined 1910 & 1929 Atlases of Tazewell County, Illinois.” Petje’s speakeasy was in a building, long since demolished, located near the northeast corner of South Main and Center streets.

#charles-skinner, #ed-hufeld, #ernest-fleming, #frank-keayes, #frank-lee, #george-genseal, #hardy-garber, #john-petje, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #the-third-degree