The Third Degree: Chapter 10: Six indictments in September 1932

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.


By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Ten

Six indictments in September 1932

On Friday night, Sept. 16, 1932, the Tazewell County grand jury completed its inquiry into the shocking murder of Martin Virant at the Tazewell County Jail and the cover-up of his death, which deputies had tried to make look like a suicide.

The next day, newspaper front pages throughout central Illinois announced the grand jury’s decision.

3 PEKIN DEPUTIES INDICTED,” declared the Peoria Journal, with the subheadline, “Fleming, Lee and Skinner held for manslaughter in jail death of Virant who had been beaten.” (The Sept. 17 Peoria Journal devoted more than half of its front page to the story of the indictments.)

HOLD 3 FOR DEATH OF MARTIN VIRANT,” announced the Pekin Daily Times, with the subheadline, “Manslaughter indictments against Skinner, Lee and Fleming; all furnish bonds.”

The Daily Times reported, “The Tazewell county September grand jury, in a partial report to Judge John M. Niehaus in the circuit court this morning shortly after 11 o’clock, returned indictments against Deputy Sheriffs C. O. Skinner, E. L. Fleming, and Frank Lee, special agent of the Chicago & Northwestern railway, who also holds a deputy sheriff’s commission, charging them with manslaughter in connection with the death of Martin Virant, East Peoria miner who was found hanging in his cell in the Tazewell county jail on the afternoon of September 1. The report to the court was made by D. M. Shivlar (sic), of Delavan, foreman of the grand jury.”

These photographs of Tazewell County Sheriff's Deputies Ernest Fleming and Charles Skinner were published in the 17 Sept. 1932 Peoria Journal following their indictment on murder charges in the beating death of Tazewell County Jail inmate Martin Virant.

These photographs of Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputies Ernest Fleming and Charles Skinner were published in the 17 Sept. 1932 Peoria Journal following their indictment on murder charges in the beating death of Tazewell County Jail inmate Martin Virant.

Soon after the indictments were handed down, the three accused deputies appeared in court with their attorneys, and each posted $10,000 bond and were released. Tazewell County Sheriff James J. Crosby immediately returned them to active duty. “Sheriff Crosby says that he sees no reason why the deputies under indictment should be dispensed with and they are still on duty at the sheriff’s office,” the Sept. 19 Pekin Daily Times reported.

The sensational nature of these events was increased even further by the fact that one of the deputies was a former sheriff of Tazewell County. According to the Journal, “Ernest L. Fleming was a former resident of Delavan. He was elected sheriff of Tazewell county about six years ago. Two years ago, when J. J. Crosby, present sheriff, was elected to that office, Fleming was made first deputy under Sheriff Crosby.”

As for Skinner, he was a former East Peoria police officer and was appointed deputy by Crosby in 1930. Lee, however, had only been a deputy for about a year or so. “More than a week ago he left his activities in the vicinity of Pekin, and it is said that he has been stationed in the vicinity of Benld, Ill., the southern terminus of the Chicago & Northwestern railway.”

All three deputies pleaded not guilty when they appeared before Judge Niehaus on Monday, Sept. 26. Given the unusual publicity surrounding the discovery and investigation of Martin Virant’s death, “Counsel for the defendants, Jesse Black and W. J. Reardon are expected to ask for a change of venue when the case comes to trial, to some other county,” the Sept. 23, 1932 Pekin Daily Times reported.

Meanwhile, the grand jury reconvened on Monday, Sept. 19, and took up the related case of the murder of Lewis P. Nelan, who was beaten and then left on railroad tracks in East Peoria to be run over. Virant had been brought in for questioning as a possible witness to Nelan’s death.

As in the Virant case, the grand jury spent a few days on Nelan’s murder. On Saturday, Sept. 24, the September Tazewell County grand jury completed its work. That afternoon, the Pekin Daily Times announced: “Indict Three For Lew Nelan Murder . . .

The Daily Times went on to say, “A previous partial report had been made to the court and in the final report this afternoon the following indictments were returned:

“John Petji (sic), Edward Hufeld and Frank Keayes Jr., charged with the death of Lewis Nelan, indicted on charges of murder.” Petje posted 10 percent of a $15,000 bond on Monday, Sept. 26, and was released pending trial. Hufeld’s bond was set at the same amount, and he posted bail on Saturday, Oct. 8.

Following the initial avalanche of front page stories and banner headlines during most of the month of September, reports on the Nelan and Virant murders became infrequent as the cases proceeded steadily through the courts. The next noteworthy development came on Oct. 19, 1932, when attorneys for the three indicted deputies gave notice of their intention to move for a change of venue.

The attorneys filed their motion for a change of venue on Oct. 24, and the Pekin Daily Times reported on the change of venue hearing on the front page of the Oct. 31 edition, with a story headlined, “Too Many Read Times, Argues Lawyer, For Deputies to Get Fair Trial In Tazewell Co.”

Next week: The deputies prepare their defense.

#charles-skinner, #edward-hufeld, #ernest-fleming, #frank-keayes, #frank-lee, #jesse-black, #john-petje, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #sheriff-james-j-crosby, #the-third-degree, #william-reardon

Memories of Pekin’s Mexican War veterans

Here’s a chance to read again a somewhat revised version of one of our old Local History Room columns, first published in June 2012 before the launch of this blog . . .

Memories of Pekin’s Mexican War veterans

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Following last week’s column on the Black Hawk War, and with Veteran’s Day coming up next week, let’s spotlight a few items in the Pekin Public Library’s local history room collection that can help us learn something of the role Pekin residents played in another conflict from earlier in our history – the Mexican War (1846-1848), a conflict between the United States and Mexico that led to the U.S.’s acquisition of vast areas of the Southwest.

Previously, this column has recalled the story of the old church bell of Pekin’s Methodist church, which soldiers from Pekin had looted from a Catholic convent or monastery in Veracruz, Mexico. Upon their return to Pekin, the soldiers presented the convent bell to trustees of the Methodist church. The Methodists made use of it until the need arose for a new church, which was built in 1867. At that time, the bell was sold to St. Joseph’s Parish and was installed in the tower of the Catholic church, where it remained until the construction of a new church in 1904.

According to Charles C. Chapman’s 1879 “History of Tazewell County,” the soldiers who took the bell from Mexico and donated it to the Methodist church were Samuel Rhoads, Frank L. Rhoads, William Tinney and John M. Gill, all members of Pekin’s own Company G of the 4th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. (As previously noted in this column, “Uncle Bill” Tinney later became a hotel operator, police magistrate and justice of the peace in Pekin, as well as Tazewell County Sheriff.) Other trophies of war seized by Company G included the wooden leg of Mexican Gen. Santa Ana, which Gill brought back to Pekin and later donated to the State of Illinois – it is still displayed in Springfield.

Later, a Pekin World War I veteran named Lanson H. Pratt (1872-1939) was inspired to research and write a book about the Mexican War and Company G. Pratt apparently never finished his book and his manuscript has been lost, but in researching the book he gathered several old photographs and engravings which were inherited by his nephew, Edward Neumann of Delavan. Mr. Neumann graciously supplied the Pekin Public Library with copies of his uncle’s photos and engravings.

In his notes, Pratt identified his photos and engravings as portraits of Pvt. Frank L. Rhoads, Sgt. John M. Gill, 2nd Lt. William A. Tinney, Pvt. Thomas B. Briggs, Pvt. Abraham Waldon, Col. Edward D. Baker, Gen. James Shields (Illinois Brigade), Major Thomas L. Harris, and two portraits of “1st Sgt.” Samuel Rhoads (who became a member of the Pekin Methodist church choir after returning from the war). Also among Pratt’s collection is a photo of the old convent bell.

The 1870 Pekin City Directory’s history of Pekin mentions the convent bell on page 24, but does not name the soldiers who seized it and brought it back to Pekin. The directory also includes a muster roll of the members of Company G on page 23, naming Tinney as “2d Lieutenant,” Gill as “1st Sgt.” and Samuel Rhoads as “3rd Sgt.,” and listing Privates “Franklin Rhoads,” “Thomas B. Briggs,” “Abraham Waldron.”

According to the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial, Company G had been organized in Pekin under Capt. Edward Jones, an attorney, whose name heads the 1870 directory’s muster roll. “On the 7th day of June, 1847,” the directory says, “Company ‘G’ of the Fourth Illinois volunteers in the Mexican war, returned to Pekin, after one year’s service under General Scott. They were mustered in at Alton in June of the previous year, and formed a part of the regiment commanded by Col. Edward Baker, referred to elsewhere. The entire company survived the campaign except Lieutenant Leonard A. Knott, who died of yellow fever on board ship while crossing the Gulf of Mexico homeward bound.”

Knott had been a Trustee on the Pekin Town Board – Pekin was not to become a city for another two years.

Of the soldiers and officers whose images had been collected by Lanson Pratt, Baker, Shields and Harris were from Illinois but did not come from Pekin and did not belong to Company G. Chapman’s Tazewell County history briefly mentions them on page 124:

“Other bright names from Illinois that shine as stars in this war are those of Shields, Baker, Harris and Coffee, which are indissolubly connected with the glorious capture of Vera Cruz and the not less famous storming of Cerro Gordo. In this latter action, when, after the valiant Gen. Shields had been placed hors de combat, the command of his force, consisting of three regiments, devolved upon Col. Baker. This officer, with his men, stormed with unheard-of prowess the last stronghold of the Mexicans, sweeping everything before them.”

Shields, who once fought a duel with Abraham Lincoln, would later fight “Stonewall” Jackson during the Civil War and was the only Union general ever to defeat Jackson in battle. He was featured at the Old State Capitol in Springfield as the Civil War “General of the Month” for June 2012.

A final note on the old convent bell: What became of it after 1904 is unclear. Local historian William H. Bates said in his 1916 “Souvenir of Early and Notable Events” that, “The bell is still in possession of St. Joseph’s Society,” and the 1949 Pekin Centenary said only that it is “now no longer in use.” A May 16, 1978 Pekin Daily Times article says it was stored for a while in the church attic at St. Joseph’s Parish, and Mr. Neumann says the parish had talked of donating it to the State of Illinois. The 1978 Pekin Times article only says that “its current location could not be determined.”

#convent-bell, #frank-rhoads, #gen-james-shields, #john-gill, #mexican-war, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #samuel-rhoads, #santa-anas-leg, #uncle-bill-tinney

The Third Degree: Chapter 9: The coroner’s jury issues its verdict

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.


By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Chapter Nine

The coroner’s jury issues its verdict

On Thursday, Sept. 15, 1932, a Tazewell County Coroner’s jury concluded its work and issued its verdict in one of the most shocking and sensational deaths in the county’s history. Two days later, the grand jury indicted three men in connection with that death.

The grand jury had convened Monday, Sept. 12, and the first case Tazewell County State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg brought before them was the death of Martin Virant of East Peoria, whose dead body had been hanged in the Tazewell County Jail on Sept. 1 after he had succumbed to severe injuries he had suffered at the hands of county deputies while he was in their custody. The deputies thought Virant witnessed the Aug. 28 murder of Lew Nelan, and tortured Virant because they did not believe his statement that he didn’t find out about Nelan’s murder until the following morning.

While the grand jury considered the Virant case, Tazewell County Coroner A. E. Allen conducted a two-day inquest into his death. On the first day of the inquest, the coroner’s jury heard testimony from several witnesses which established that Virant had no injuries when he was taken to jail. Virant’s sister and brother-in-law also told the jury that Virant feared Deputy Charles O. Skinner would beat or kill him when Skinner took him in for “questioning.” At the Nelan inquest, Virant had named Skinner as one of the deputies who beat him.

The former Kuecks-Woolsey Funeral Home on Capitol Street (now the local of the Tazewell County Justice Center) is shown in this 1966 photograph. The inquests into the deaths of Lew Nelan and Martin Virant took place here in 1932.

The former Kuecks-Woolsey Funeral Home on Capitol Street (now the local of the Tazewell County Justice Center) is shown in this 1966 photograph. The inquests into the deaths of Lew Nelan and Martin Virant took place here in 1932.

Most of the second day of the inquest was taken up with the presentation of the findings of the two Pekin doctors who had conducted two separate autopsies on Virant’s body, and with the testimony of expert Chicago criminologist Dr. William D. McNally, whom Allen had called in to do his own examinations and investigation.

All three specialists agreed that Virant did not die of hanging, but was already dead when someone at the jail used Virant’s belt to hang his body in his cell. They determined that Virant died of extensive, severe injuries he had suffered in a beating.

“From my findings at this autopsy,” McNally told the coroner’s jury, “this man should have been in a hospital instead of a jail. . . From the injuries that I found were quite extensive, he had received a horrible beating.”

Also testifying at the inquest that day was George Genseal, a suspect in the Nelan case who was brought to the county jail a day before Virant (Genseal was later released when it was found he was not involved in Nelan’s death). Genseal said Virant made no complaints of any injuries when Virant first arrived. Skinner later came for Virant and took him away for awhile.

According to Genseal, upon his return Tuesday night, Skinner told Genseal, “Talk to this damn fool so we can take his finger prints, or we’ll send him to Washington, D.C., first and then send him back to the old country where he belongs.”

After Skinner left, Virant told Genseal, “They hurt my head.”

“I told him to come over closer to the bars and let me feel his head. I felt a bump [at] the back of his ear. Then Martin said he thought he had some ribs broken. I wanted to feel and he couldn’t stand for me to touch them.”

Genseal also said Virant told him that all of the deputies on duty “had taken turns” at beating him, “but that Skinner had done most of it.” When Genseal asked him why he wouldn’t let them take his fingerprints, Virant became hysterical. “He said that they had nearly killed him now and if he let them take his fingerprints they would probably kill him altogether,” Genseal said.

On Wednesday, according to Genseal, Virant told Deputy Ernest L. Fleming that he wanted a doctor and wanted to phone his sister in Peoria. Neither request was granted. Genseal said he heard no words or sounds from Virant’s cell that night or on Thursday morning.

On Thursday afternoon around 2 p.m., Genseal said, Skinner came to the cell block and called to Martin. “Then he immediately said, ‘That ____ has hung himself.’ Then he fumbled around for about five or 10 minutes at the cell door.”

Neither Skinner nor Fleming made any move to cut Virant down or initiate resuscitation attempts. Instead, Fleming called the coroner, and it was the coroner who cut Virant down and personally began attempts to revive him. Coroner Allen, testifying as a witness at the inquest, said, “I said that in view of the circumstances that has (sic) already attended this man’s confinement in the jail here, all possible efforts should be made to revive him.”

The inquest was still under way when the Pekin Daily Times went to press on Sept. 15, 1932. The banner headline of that edition was, “MCNALLY IS BEFORE CORONER’S JURY.” But not long after going to press, the coroner’s jury returned with its verdict. The Daily Times then hastily put out an “extra” edition (which rapidly sold out) with the blazing headlines:


Their verdict was that he died at the jail “from injuries and shock, resulting from external violence inflicted by others than himself, while in the custody of the sheriff of Tazewell county.

“We recommend that Deputy Sheriff C. O. Skinner be held to await the action of the grand jury, now in session. We further recommend that the grand jury make thoro investigation of the implication of other parties unknown to this jury.”

Next week: Six indictments in September 1932.

#charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #dr-william-d-mcnally, #ernest-fleming, #george-genseal, #lew-nelan, #louis-dunkelberg, #martin-virant, #the-third-degree

Cubs win takes World Series to seven games – in 1945

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

A dramatic Cubs victory in Game 6 of the World Series sets up a final showdown in Game 7. That wasn’t just the scenario this month in Cleveland, Ohio. It was also what happened 71 years ago, on Oct. 8, 1945, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the last time the Chicago Cubs had played in the World Series. But instead of going on to victory in Game 7 like the Cubs did this year, in 1945’s Game 6 the Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers 8-7 in a 12-inning game, but lost Game 7 the next day 9-3 – as it happens, the same score by which the Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians in 2016’s Game 6.

This detail from the Oct. 9, 1945 Pekin Daily Times shows a portion of a report on pivotal Game 6 of the 1945 World Series by the newspaper's sports editor Dick Stolley, age 17. In that game, the Chicago Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers 8-7 in 12 innings, extending the series to seven games -- but the Cubs were defeated 9-3 in Game 7.

This detail from the Oct. 9, 1945 Pekin Daily Times shows a portion of a report on pivotal Game 6 of the 1945 World Series by the newspaper’s sports editor Dick Stolley, age 17. In that game, the Chicago Cubs beat the Detroit Tigers 8-7 in 12 innings, extending the series to seven games — but the Cubs were defeated 9-3 in Game 7.

1945’s Game 6 drew such interest in Tazewell County that F. F. McNaughton, publisher of the Pekin Daily Times, agreed to send his sports editor, 17-year-old Richard Stolley, to Wrigley Field to report on the game. The Daily Times had never sent a correspondent to a World Series game before. Stolley – who would later go on to a stellar career in journalism, obtaining the crucial Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s assassination for LIFE magazine and founding People magazine – had his report published on page 7 of the Tuesday, Oct. 9, 1945 edition of the Pekin Daily Times, where it was printed under the headline, “As Seen on the Sports Scene, By Dick Stolley.” Here is how Stolley told the story of Game 6 of the 1945 World Series:

Forty-one thousand, seven hundred eight shivering baseball fans from all over the United States, including this writer, yesterday jammed their way into Wrigley Field at 12:30 p.m. for the sixth and possible deciding game of the 1945 World Series.

And before they had left, three hours and 28 minutes later, each baseball follower vowed he wouldn’t have missed that game even if the temperature had been at sub-zero level.

Mass hysteria

The Detroit Tigers, by virtue of their 8-4 victory on Sunday, had the Chicago Cubs one up. It was do or die for the club that’s been the pride of the Windy City all season long. And they did.

It took the Cubs 12 length innings to accomplish the job, evening the series at three games apiece, but a whistling double off Stan Hack’s educated bat broke up the ball game with one run in the last of the 12th.

Meanwhile, those 41,708 fans bordered on the edge of mass hysteria.

The situation was this: Frank Secory, pinch hitting for Shortstop Len Merullo, lined out a single and arrived at first base in plenty of time.

Cub Manager Charley Grimm sent in Billy Schuster to run the bases for Secory. Detroit pitcher, and incidentally the fifth used in the game by the Tigers, Diz Trout, struck out Cub hurler Hank Borowy, making it two outs.

Then Stan Hack, ancient third baseman who had made three singles in five previous times at bat, teed off on one of Diz’ pitches and blasted the ball deep into left field.

The ball took a crazy bounce when it hit the ground, and the Detroit left fielder, Hank Greenburg, was left empty-handed. By the time the infield received the ball, Hack was on second and the speedy Schuster had galloped across home plate for the winning run 8-7.

The crowd was on its feet the minute Hack met the ball, and when Schuster crossed the last base, we thought the stands would crumble under the deafening roar.

It was the longest game in Series’ history, and the fans enjoyed every minute of it.

Series records fall

World Series shorts: Before yesterday’s action-jammed series even was over, six World Series records had either been tied or shattered.

The total receipts for the first six contests was $1,388,277, including $100,000 in radio receipts. That cracked a previous all-time high of $1,322,328.21 set in 1940 during the Detroit-Cincinnati series. The total take for the single game yesterday was $204,453 . . .

Both clubs employed 19 players in the 12-inning game, and thereby broke an old mark of 18, set by the 1936 Giants. The grand total of 38 used buried the old Giants-Senators record of 29, also in ’36. The Cubs and Tigers combined have used more players in the series than ever before, and Detroit has set a similar individual mark, 25 . . .

Yesterday’s battle-royal lasted 34 minutes longer than the lengthiest series struggle hitherto recorded. The new time is 3:28, the old 2:54, established by the Yankees and Dodgers in 1941 . . .

The Cubs sent in the 11th pinch hitter, and the old Giants record of 9 set in 1923, was erased from the books . . .

Other not so essential records were the most times at bat mark for Detroit, 49; most times at bat, one player in a game, Mayo, York and Pafko, six, tying the old mark; and a tying mark of nine pitchers used in the game by the clubs.

Flag bedecked field

Wrigley Field was all dressed up in its Sunday-go-to-meeting garb for the special event. Flags of all the United Nations fluttered atop the bleachers, and bunting was draped everywhere.

At first, Stan Hack was credited with a single and an error by the official scorers, but so much objection to that decision was heard from the 400 sports writers who jammed the press section, that they reversed themselves.

The ball evidently took a last-minute weird bounce, and Hank Greenberg never had a chance to snag it.
Claude Passeau, veteran right-hander for the Cubs, who started yesterday’s game, had the nail of his middle finger torn off by a hot line driver by Jimmy Outlaw, Detroit third baseman.

He returned after the accident, but soon was taken out of the game.

Charles Grimm, the bouncing manager of the Cubs, stole part of the show with his antics while coaching at third. When the Cubs were scoring two runs in the seventh in the inning that gave them a temporary 7-3 lead, Jolly Cholly staged an impromptu dance on third base.

He kicked his legs about, sang, and clapped his hands, and though not acting particularly bright, was entertaining himself. His strategy was working out better yesterday.

It really backfired on him in Sunday’s encounter. But for two consecutive games now, Cubs pitchers had intentionally passed a batter to fill the bases and have a better chance to trap runners, and then lost control and walked the next batsman, forcing in a run.

Hy Vandenberg did it Sunday, and Passeau was the guilty party yesterday.

Scalpers still scalp

Hank Borowy, who was credited with the victory yesterday, started Sunday’s game. He likes to be in “hot water” but found it a little scalding and had to be taken out.

Then a parade of four Cubs pitchers started, but Chicago lost nevertheless.

Big Hank Greenberg parked a homer over the left field wall and tied the two teams at 7-all in yesterday’s melee, making his second round-tripped of the series. Handsome Hank clouted out three consecutive doubles in the Sabbath victory, and scored three runs.

Despite the multitudes of uniformed police in and around Wrigley Field, scalping still exists. We were walking around to the pass gate when a little rat-faced individual sidled up to us, pulled up his coat collar, and asked us in a whisper, “Got your ticket, Bud?”

In addition to Charley Grimm and the ball game, one of the means of Series fun comes when a foul ball is tipped into the stands.

Conservative-looking gentleman look like young kids as they make mad leaps for the ball. Out of the hectic scramble comes one fellow, all smiles, with the ball in his hand, and he quickly pops it into his pocket. One young man hung around home plate during batting practice and before he left he’d collected at least three of the coveted trophies.

#1945-world-series, #chicago-cubs, #cleveland-indians, #detroit-tigers, #pekin-daily-times, #richard-stolley, #world-series-game-6