The Third Degree: Chapter 25: Aftermath and Epilogue

With this post to our Local History Room weblog, we conclude 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 Twenty-five

Aftermath and Epilogue

Voters finally achieve deputies’ ouster

The failure to convict Deputies Ernest L. Fleming and Charles O. Skinner of Martin Virant’s death provoked abortive attempts during the spring and fall of 1933 to oust Tazewell County Sheriff James J. Crosby and remove his entire force of deputies.

It was no surprise, then, that Crosby decided not to run for re-election in 1934. Crosby had two very good reasons not to run again: in addition to the simmering discontent over the Virant affair, Crosby’s health remained fragile following the nearly fatal heart attack he had suffered in November of 1932. To replace of Crosby, the Tazewell County Democrats put up Lawrence Lancaster, while the Republicans opted for Pekin Chief of Police Ralph C. Goar.

In 1934, voter antipathy toward the Republican Party over the Great Depression was still very strong, and the midterm elections that year would again prove to be a near total rout nationally as well as at the state and local levels. In light of those facts, it is a testament to the intensity of popular dissatisfaction with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department that Goar’s photograph would end up on the front page of the Nov. 7, 1934 Pekin Daily Times under the headline, “ONLY G.O.P WINNER.”

The election of Goar ensured that the county would get a sheriff who would “clean house” and replace the deputies who were seen by many as Crosby’s cronies. Evidently voters did not trust that would happen if they replaced the Democrat Crosby with another Democrat. Goar also had an added advantage with the voters: He was the law enforcement officer who had personally arrested Deputy Skinner and had provided the grand jury with important testimony against him.

Sheriff Goar did not waste any time in getting around to the housecleaning at the Sheriff’s Department – on Dec. 1, 1934, his first day in office, it was out with the old and in with the new.

“Deputy Sheriff Fleming, who is retiring,” reported that day’s Pekin Daily Times, “will move to his residence property at 614 S. Eleventh street and Sheriff-Elect Ralph Goar will move into the jail residence . . . . Goar will assume the duties of sheriff. Elmer Eiler will be the office deputy under Sheriff Goar and Earl H. Whitmore of Pekin and Arthur Puterbaugh of Mackinaw are to be the outside deputies, Mr. Whitmore being the chief deputy. Sheriff Crosby, Deputies Fleming and Skinner will remain in Pekin, but have made no announcement of their future plans . . . .”

Elliff departs, but no comeback for Dunkelberg

The failed prosecutions of Fleming and Skinner, and the unraveling of the case against Petje, also did little to endear voters to Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff, who perhaps wisely did not seek a second term in 1936. Instead, it was a race between Democratic candidate R. L. Russell, a former mayor of Pekin, and former State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg, who had been defeated by Elliff in 1932.

However, Dunkelberg again was defeated at the polls. He would not seek his old office again, but would remain in Pekin, where he was a part of the law firm of Dunkelberg and Rust, located on the second floor of the old Pekin Times building. Dunkelberg died on March 27, 1976, at age 79. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Pekin.

As for Elliff, he also never again sought his former job of state’s attorney. In 1940, he joined the U.S. Department of Justice, returning to his law practice in Pekin in 1947 and becoming an active community leader. He died on Dec. 3, 1993, at age 88, and also is buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

Tazewell County State's Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg lost his bid to regain his office in the 1936 elections. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria

Tazewell County State’s Attorney Louis P. Dunkelberg lost his bid to regain his office in the 1936 elections. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria

Poor health, heart troubles claim Black, Reardon, Allen, and Crosby

Most of the other main players in this drama died much earlier than Dunkelberg and Elliff. After successfully defending Deputies Fleming and Skinner in the Virant manslaughter trial, Jesse Black Jr.’s health failed. Following several months of illness, Black died on Oct. 11, 1935, at age 64. His fellow attorney in the Virant case, William J. Reardon, died of heart trouble on June 27, 1941, the day before his 63rd birthday. Black and Reardon are both buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

After losing his re-election bid in 1932, Tazewell County Coroner Dr. Arthur E. Allen, who investigated the Lewis Nelan and Martin Virant deaths, continued his medical practice in the Green Valley until 1946, when he moved to California. He served as house physician for the Santa Fe Railroad at Los Angeles until suffering a heart attack in March 1961 from which he never fully recovered. He died at age 82 on May 30, 1963, in West Los Angeles, and is buried in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego.

Not quite five years after the end of his single term as Tazewell County Sheriff, James J. Crosby at age 72 succumbed on May 23, 1939, to the heart problems that had plagued him for several years. The Pekin Daily Times published a front page obituary and tribute to Crosby, recalling his many years as a local teacher and school administrator, and respectfully passing over the controversies of his time as sheriff. He is buried in Lakeside Cemetery.

Fleming, Skinner, and Garber summoned to Highest Court

The Daily Times showed similar respect for Fleming, who died at age 81 on March 22, 1955. His obituary notes only that he was “a former Tazewell county sheriff for several terms and a baker here for many years.” He was entombed in Lakeside Mausoleum.

After Sheriff Goar dismissed him from the Sheriff’s Department, Skinner later moved back to East Peoria, where he died at age 54 on June 7, 1938. He is buried in Springdale Cemetery in Peoria. Deputy J. Hardy Garber also left the area after Goar dismissed him. He served in both the Army and Navy during World War II, settling in Des Moines, Iowa, after the war. He died on March 26, 1968, at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Iowa City, and was buried in Glendale Veterans Cemetery in Des Moines.

What of the Nelan defendants?

Of the three defendants in the Nelan case, Edward Hufeld later served in the Army during World War II, returning to East Peoria after the war. He never married, and he died at age 62 at Proctor Hospital in Peoria on March 20, 1965, being buried in Fondulac Cemetery, East Peoria. Frank Keayes Jr. moved to Pekin, dying at age 82, also at Proctor Hospital, on Dec. 26, 1982, also being buried in Fondulac Cemetery.

As for John Petje, following his acquittal on charges of murder, he remained in East Peoria and lived until age 62. On March 26, 1943, the Pekin Daily Times reported on page 2 that “Mr. Tetje (sic) was found yesterday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock hanged by a light cord fastened to a door sill in his house on S. Main Street.” The following day, the Daily Times reported that a coroner’s inquest jury ruled Petje’s death a suicide “while despondent over ill health.”

The reports of Petje’s death do not mention the Nelan case, saying only that Petje was “a prominent East Peoria citizen” without explaining what had made him “prominent.” He is buried in Parkview Cemetery in Peoria, the same cemetery where the family of Martin Virant laid him rest.

APPENDIX AND AUTHOR’S AFTERWORD

The decision to re-tell the scandalous history of the Lew Nelan and Martin Virant killings came about in the late summer or early autumn of 2012, when David Perkins of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society shared with the Pekin Public Library copies of some old Pekin and Peoria newspaper articles and funeral home records pertaining to the Nelan and Virant cases. At first it appeared that the stories could be succinctly reviewed in two or three weekly “From the Local History Room” columns in the Saturday Pekin Daily Times. As I researched these stories, however, it became clear that they needed a much fuller treatment which would call for an extended re-telling in a weekly serial format in the newspaper.

Prior to the publication of the “Third Degree” serial in the Pekin Daily Times in 2012-2013, the deaths of Nelan and Virant had been all but forgotten in Pekin. The late Robert Dubois, during his tenure as Tazewell County Coroner, once told me of the Nelan and Virant cases in a conversation with me around 2003. Dubois, who had read the inquest file on Virant’s death, explained at some length how the evidence and observations at the death scene made obvious that Virant was already dead before he was hanged. Though I found the facts Dubois recounted to be remarkable, I did not commit these details to memory (not even the victims’ names) and soon forgot our conversation, and only remembered that he had talked about it while I was in the process of researching their deaths for the Pekin Public Library’s weekly “From the Local History Room” column.

I doubt very many others in our day besides men such as Coroner Dubois or those with an interest in local history knew of Nelan and Virant and the controversies surrounding their deaths, which were probably all but forgotten in Pekin and Tazewell County prior to 2012. Although the saga frequently was front-page news in 1932-1933, the long and sorrowful story was reduced to a single paragraph on page 69 of the 1949 Pekin Centenary, which included a historical narrative that was mainly researched and written by retired Peoria Journal Star editor Charles Dancey:

“The discovery of the body of Martin Virant, a material witness, in the Tazewell county jail caused a storm which lasted for months. After the inquest there was a near lynching of accused deputies, who were later tried on manslaughter charges that Virant died under the ‘third degree’. Even after their acquittal, there was an effort to impeach the entire sheriff’s office on the part of the Tazewell county board of supervisors.”

That somewhat inaccurate paragraph would later appear in almost identical form in the historical narrative of the 1974 Pekin Sesquicentennial volume, on page 173:

“After a material witness named Martin Virant was found dead in his cell at the Tazewell County Jail, there was a storm of public outrage which nearly resulted in the lynching of some accused deputy sheriffs. (They were subsequently tried for manslaughter on charges that Virant died under the ‘third degree.’) There was an effort to impeach the entire Sheriff’s office by the County Board.”

As we have seen, the few lines in the Centenary and Sesquicentennial volumes omit several important details and really only begin to hint at that “storm which lasted for months.”

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A relic of Pekin’s railroad past

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Now that we’ve completed our series reprinting F. F. McNaughton’s daily dispatches relating the Pekin Kiwanis Club’s weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., in June 1932, it’s an ideal occasion to turn our attention to the mode of transportation by which the Kiwanians got from Pekin to Washington.

The Kiwanis Club members and their families back then were carried to and from the nation’s capital by passenger train. McNaughton mentioned in his editorial columns that they took “the Alton” to Chicago, and then “the B & O” to Washington. “The Alton” was the Chicago & Alton Railroad, while “the B & O” – a name that Monopoly-players will recognize – was the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. In the days before the construction of the interstate highway system, rail was Americans’ preferred method of long-distance cross country travel.

Shown here is an old train schedule for the Chicago & Alton Railroad for Dec. 2, 1923.  The Alton depot in Pekin was located near the intersection of Broadway and 14th streets. A few years ago the depot -- no longer in use after since the rails were pulled up -- was relocated about a quarter-mile further east on Broadway. IMAGE COURTESY OF BOB CARROLL

Shown here is an old train schedule for the Chicago & Alton Railroad for Dec. 2, 1923. The Alton depot in Pekin was located near the intersection of Broadway and 14th streets. A few years ago the depot — no longer in use after since the rails were pulled up — was relocated about a quarter-mile further east on Broadway. IMAGE COURTESY OF BOB CARROLL

Shown here are the old routes of the Chicago & Alton Railroad in December 1923.  IMAGE COURTESY OF BOB CARROLL

Shown here are the old routes of the Chicago & Alton Railroad in December 1923. IMAGE COURTESY OF BOB CARROLL

The Alton Depot in Pekin was often known in town simply as “the Pekin Depot.” It was located near the intersection of Broadway and 14th. Even years after passenger rail travel ended in Pekin and the old tracks were pulled up, the Alton Depot still stood in its place as a reminder of days gone by. When the historic structure was threatened by the construction of a new Walgreens, the depot was preserved for future generations by being relocated about a quarter-mile east on Broadway.

Shown here is the old Pekin depot of the Chicago & Alton Railroad. Photo donated Jan. 2017 by Bob Carroll.

Shown here is the old Pekin depot of the Chicago & Alton Railroad. Photo donated Jan. 2017 by Bob Carroll

The old Alton Depot is historic not only because it served so many travelers leaving from or coming to Pekin over the years (such as the Pekin Kiwanians who toured Washington, D.C., in 1932), but in particular because it was the scene of Pekin’s first presidential campaign whistle stop on Nov. 4, 1932. On that date, President Herbert Hoover, racing at a feverish pace across the country in a valiant but ultimately vain attempt to secure reelection, made a disappointingly quick stop at the Alton Depot. His train was running late that day, so he barely had time to say, “Ladies and gentlemen,” before the train pulled away, making it necessary for several Pekinites to race down the track in order to try to give bouquets of flowers to the First Lady.

for the last few weeks, President Hoover’s whistle stop has been featured in a display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room, along with articles and mementos on President Abraham Lincoln’s Pekin connections and the Pekin visits of Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and Vice President George H. W. Bush. The display will be exhibited through the end of this month.

President Herbert Hoover's campaign whistle stop at the Alton depot in Pekin in 1932 has been featured in a exhibit on Pekin's "presidential" connections that has been on display in the Pekin Public Library's Local History Room this month.

President Herbert Hoover’s campaign whistle stop at the Alton depot in Pekin in 1932 has been featured in a exhibit on Pekin’s “presidential” connections that has been on display in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room this month.

#alton-depot, #b-o-railroad, #chicago-alton-railroad, #f-f-mcnaughton, #herbert-hoover, #kiwanis-trip-to-washington, #pekin-kiwanis-club

Kiwanis trip to D.C.: ‘Here we are, home again’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton used his daily “Editor’s Letter” newspaper column to chronicle the weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., that the Pekin Kiwanis Club and a party of Peoria teachers took in June 1932. The sixth and last of his daily log entries, written in Pekin after their return, was printed on the front page of the June 18 issue.

McNaughton’s trip log entries which we’ve reviewed over the past few weeks can help bring to life what life was like in America during the 1930s, when passenger travel by train was common. In the case of McNaughton’s final log, however, a couple passages in which he makes racially-charged if not racist remarks about African-Americans living in Washington, D.C., also help to remind us of the great changes and progress in attitudes regarding race since those days.

This final log entry here follows:

*****

YOO-HOO!

Well, here we are, home again. Two autoloads of friends met the boys and me at Bloomington, the grandparents from Texas having arrived while we were away. They had the best linen out at home and a three-course dinner waiting so the comedown from those dining car meals would not be too great, but at that we missed the finger bowls! However, we didn’t miss a swim in the greatest little pool this side of that one at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

And did we need that swim, after two days and a night on a train, taking the dust and cinders as they came. I could lean over and shake my head and hear the cinders fall.

If you insist on the truth, I slept better on those improvised beds Thursday night than I did last night at home in my own bed. Why? Because of that gale. Wasn’t that some blow at 12:20 last night?

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Speaking of blows, we had one plan blow up. Our special was making such a good time westward bound that at Garrett, Ind., we got the consent of the dispatcher to roll right into the Grand Central station at Chicago 15 minutes early. We were to leave Chicago at 3 o’clock from the Union Depot, hooked onto the rear of the Lincoln Limited.

So we decided to parade up State street in Chicago during the 1 ¾ hours we had to wait. We found a piece of carboard (sic), and with a red lipstick and some blue ink we made a red, white, and blue banner. Art Kriegsman had furnished us a clan call the first night out – a loud, long drawn out “Yoo-Hoo,” pronounced, “You-Who.” Wherever a Tazewellite saw another in Washington, even if it was clean across the Capitol grounds, he would shout “Yoo-Hoo,” and the “Yoo-Hoos” that came from the hotel windows at 2 a. m. made the nights merry. So for the Chicago parade, we arranged that if anybody got lost, he was to start shouting “Yoo-Hoo” at the top of his lungs, which was to be the signal for all the rest of the Yoo-Hoos to rush to his rescue.

The minute we reached Chicago, we swung from the coaches to start our parade, when trainmen ran to halt us, telling us that instead of trailing us home on the Lincoln Limited, they were sending us along in a few minutes as a special. So Chicago missed a bigger parade than they had all during the G. O. P. convention – not to mention the “Yoo-Hoos” they missed.

Speaking of Art Kriegsman, there were 184 on the train besides Art and they are all for Art. He made the beds for the ladies, he carried drinks to the aged, he Yoo-Hooed for the weak lunged, and he made fun for everybody.

The most hilarious moment of the trip came at 3 o’clock yesterday morning. Art, sitting two seats away, saw Mrs. Arends rousing from a troubled sleep. Quickly Art put on some ugly spectacles and slipped into his mouth some hideous protruding teeth. Mrs. Arends, half awake, saw Art and thought she was having a nightmare. Shaking herself, she looked again and thought it was somebody whose false teeth were falling out; or maybe a fiend had gotten onto the train. At this moment, Art drew a cup of water and started toward Mrs. Arends with it.

“I don’t want anything. I don’t want ANYTHING! I DON’T WANT ANYTHING!” Mrs. Arends screamed till everybody in the car were sitting up, sharing her terror. Whereupon Art took his teeth out, emitted a loud “Yoo-Hoo” and moved on to the next car. There he found the crowd was trying to locate a dying calf which was bawling piteously. It turned out to be a hidden device that Bill Janssen had found in an oddity shop in Washington. You must hear that calf bawl; and if you’ll drop a penny in the tin cup, Art will Yoo-Hoo for you.

The crowd insisted on signing a Round Robin to be presented to the Kiwanis club, thanking them for the trip and expressing their amazement that so much could be given for $36. Really, everybody seemed to feel that they got their money’s worth.

At the end of this column, is a vote that I took on the homeward train of the things that folks liked best on the trip. Frances Towle followed me up with a vote on what folks were most disappointed in.

You will notice that the White House was an easy winner in the disappointment vote. This was, I think, because the President did not shake hands with us. They have had to tighten down on many things in Washington the last week because of the thousands of bonus marchers in the city. They were everywhere – hundreds upon hundreds of them. We even had to get a special permit thru Mr. Hull’s office to get into the bureau of engraving. So Mr. Hoover is not shaking hands just now. In fact, he and Mrs. Hoover were listening over the radio to his renomination at Chicago while we were wandering thru the famous east room, green, blue and red rooms, etc.

From the number of things that somebody gave first place, you will realize how different are human interests. Evidently the boys and I missed the second most interesting thing on the trip – the Annapolis Naval Academy. I wanted, too, to see the Cathedral where Wilson is buried. Of one thing I am glad – that is that Attorney Prettyman decided to extend the trip the extra day. The crowd wants the Kiwanis club to get up another such trip.

Here’s the vote on what the folk liked best:

Mt. Vernon … 43
Naval Academy … 36
Lincoln Memorial … 19
Capitol building … 12
Congress in action … 10
New museum … 6
Washington’s monument … 5
Bureau of engraving … 1
Old museum … 3
Pan-American building … 2
Congressional library … 2
White House … 2
Robert E. Lee’s home … 3
Arlington cemetery … 4
Flag parade … 1
Art gallery … 2
Allegheny mountains … 1
Eats … 1
Cathedral … 1
Zoo … 1
Monastery … 1
Ford theater … 1
Associations on train … 1

Quite a few could not make up their minds, and some of them (women) wanted to change their minds after they had first voted. They would!

Now here is Miss Towle’s list of disappointments:

White House … 42
Hotel … 15
Not seeing President … 6
Beds on train … 6
Pan-American building … 5
Ford theater … 5
Congressional library … 4
Bureau of engraving … 3
Harper’s Ferry … 3
Ladies’ clothes (museum) … 1
Pittsburgh … 1
Lighting on train … 1
Shopping district … 1
Too many Negroes … 1
Foreign legations … 1
Location of hotel … 1
G. A. R. building … 1
Red Cross building … 1
Not seeing cherry trees … 1
Train sickness … 1
Poor Annapolis guide … 1
Narrow streets … 1
Mountains … 1
Switching at Chicago … 1
Mt. Vernon … 1
Not seeing Old Ironsides … 1
Monument … 1
Free afternoon … 1
Not seeing mint … 1

It might be explained that there is no mint in Washington; and that Ironsides could be seen from the top of the Washington monument. Concerning the Negroes, I really wonder if they are going to take Washington over. It is a shame they ever started Washington so far to one edge of the nation. It ought to be out closer to the common run of folk. But it looks like it is there to stay. They are building constantly – are building now. There is vastly more to see now than there was 10 years ago. There will be more 10 years later; and if the Kiwanis club decides to put on another tour to Washington 10 years from now, I believe every person who was on this trip will advise you to take it in. Certainly I do.

#art-kriegsman, #f-f-mcnaughton, #frances-towle, #herbert-hoover, #kiwanis-trip-to-washington, #mrs-arends, #pekin-kiwanis-club, #racism

The Third Degree: Chapter 24: A sudden ending to John Petje’s murder trial

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 Twenty-four

A sudden ending to John Petje’s murder trial

After months of delays followed by an unusually slow jury selection process, the murder trial of East Peoria speakeasy operator John Petje finally got under way on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1933.

On Friday morning, Dec. 8, it all came screeching to a very sudden halt.

Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff called two witnesses to the stand that morning: William Peters, brakeman for the C. and I. M. railroad, and Engineer W. S. Kirkwood. Peters and Kirkwood operated the train that ran over Lew Nelan in the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 28, 1932.

Nelan, along with two of Petje’s acquaintances, Frank Keayes Jr. and Edward Hufeld, had been drinking at Petje’s speakeasy on Saturday night. At the coroner’s inquest into Nelan’s death, Keayes and Hufeld testified that Petje and Nelan had fought, and that Petje struck Nelan on the head with an iron bar. According to their inquest testimony, thinking Nelan was dead, the three men took Nelan’s body to the railroad tracks nearby so he would be run over.

The testimony of Keayes and Hufeld would be crucial in establishing that Petje was guilty of Nelan’s murder. However, according to the Pekin Daily Times, after Petje’s attorney, James P. St. Cerny, had concluded his cross-examination of Engineer Kirkwood around 10 a.m., “Attorneys St. Cerney (sic) and P. A. D’Arcy and State’s Attorney Elliff gathered in front of the judge and they had written into the court’s records certain facts as to why the state did not call in Frank Keayes Jr. and Edward Hufelt (sic) as witnesses.”

Judge Joseph E. Daily then questioned Keayes as to where he was on the evening of Aug. 27, 1932.

Keayes replied, “I refuse to testify.”

Judge Daily asked him why he refused, and Keayes replied, “I might incriminate myself,” availing himself of his constitutional right against self-incrimination guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

Next, the judge called Hufeld and asked him the same two questions, and Hufeld responded in the same words that Keayes had used.

Judge Daily dismissed Hufeld, and then, turning to the jury, instructed the jurors to return a directed verdict of “not guilty.”

With Keayes and Hufeld “taking the Fifth,” the state could not tie Petje to Nelan’s death. “Trial of the case developed that the state had little direct testimony and the court instructions to find the defendant not guilty came as little surprise to those who had been following the trial,” the Pekin Daily Times explained.

Elliff’s attempted prosecution of Petje had followed a similar course as, and had collapsed in much the same way that, his prosecution of Sheriff’s Deputies Ernest Fleming and Charles Skinner had.

In the case of Martin Virant’s death, Elliff dropped the charges against Deputy Frank Lee and then went on to lose the case when he and his fellow prosecutors were unable to tie Fleming and Skinner to Virant’s beating and hanging.

In the case of Nelan’s death, Elliff dropped the charges against Keayes and Hufeld and then lost the case when he had no way to link Petje to Nelan’s beating and the dumping of his body on the track.

Tazewell County’s residents had now seen the unraveling of the prosecutions in the cases of two related, very sensational homicides, along with fruitless attempts to oust the county sheriff and his deputies.

These events helped to create a general sense of great dissatisfaction with the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office, and a debilitating loss of confidence in both elected offices.

This inevitably would have notable political repercussions.

Next week: Aftermath and epilogue.

After months of delays followed by an unusually slow jury selection process, the murder trial of East Peoria speakeasy operator John Petje finally got under way on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1933. On Friday morning, Dec. 8, however, as reported on the front page of that day's Pekin Daily Times, it all came screeching to a very sudden halt.

After months of delays followed by an unusually slow jury selection process, the murder trial of East Peoria speakeasy operator John Petje finally got under way on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1933. On Friday morning, Dec. 8, however, as reported on the front page of that day’s Pekin Daily Times, it all came screeching to a very sudden halt.

#edward-hufeld, #frank-keayes, #j-p-st-cerny, #john-petje, #judge-joseph-e-daily, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #nathan-t-elliff, #p-a-darcy, #the-third-degree, #w-s-kirkwood, #william-peters

Kiwanis trip to D.C.: ‘Full of interesting scenery’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton used his daily “Editor’s Letter” newspaper column to chronicle the weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., that the Pekin Kiwanis Club and a party of Peoria teachers took in June 1932. The fifth of his daily log entries, a letter written from Washington, D.C., was printed on the front page of the June 17 issue. This log entry follows below:

*****

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday night

Say, we’re so full of interesting scenery we’re dizzy tonight.

In five big busses in a caravan today we’ve been doing the countryside.

Couldn’t get in the house this a. m. – such a crowd of bonus men here.

But we went over to the senate with the bonus army overflow and heard a red hot catch-as-catch can debate between the eloquent young Hoosier, Senator Robinson, and unruffled Senator Reed of Pennsylvania on a veterans’ bill.

One of my boys whispered to ask me if they ever got into a fist fight.

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

At the museum we saw a locomotive over 10 years old and the very first autos, built 30 years ago; also stage coaches, early rail boats, and the like.

Oh, I must not forget the main thing in the old museum – Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis. The boys looked long at that.

Then to the new museum to see Roosevelt’s animals. But we didn’t stay long there, because it does not compare with Field’s museum in Chicago.

This entire afternoon we’ve been traveling. Stopped at General Robert E. Lee’s home; Arlington cemetery; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; Alexandria, the gorgeous Lincoln Memorial and Mt. Vernon.

I’ve just asked the boys what they enjoyed the most today. Two of them pick Washington’s home. The other picks the debate in the senate.

Tomorrow we’ll climb the Washington monument. That’s where our binocs will come in best.

A busy forenoon tomorrow ends with a visit at the White House.

We know President Hoover is home because his flag was flying when we came by a bit ago.

Speaking of flying flags, we certainly saw them last night. Two hours of them as that flag day parade marched by with floats, Indians, drum corps, cowboys, crack bands, stage coaches, pretty girls as statues, Negro bands that sure made music, and hundreds of bonus marchers.

I wish we had time to run out to the ocean for a swim tomorrow, but I don’t see how we can figure it in.

P.S. – Tell Harry Herbig to save us a good swim in the pool. We’ll need it when we get home. Also tell Ceil if she’s not too busy to drift over to Bloomington to meet us at 5:40 Friday night.

#f-f-mcnaughton, #harry-herbig, #herbert-hoover, #kiwanis-trip-to-washington, #pekin-kiwanis-club

The Third Degree: Chapter 23: The Nelan murder case finally goes to trial

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 Twenty-three

The Nelan murder case finally goes to trial

In the autumn of 1933, more than a year after the gruesome death of Lewis P. Nelan of East Peoria, Tazewell County State’s Attorney Nathan T. Elliff took action to bring Nelan’s killers to trial.

Nelan had gotten into a drunken brawl with East Peoria speakeasy operator John Petje, who struck Nelan on the head with a metal pipe and knocked him unconscious. Believing that Nelan was dead, Petje and his accomplices Frank Keayes Jr. and Edward Hufeld tried to cover up what had happened by carrying Nelan to the nearby railroad tracks so he would be run over.

Nelan’s death on Aug. 28, 1932, had been overshadowed by the far more scandalous and sensational death of Nelan’s acquaintance Martin Virant, who had been brought in for questioning as a potential witness to Nelan’s death and then savagely beaten while in custody at the Tazewell County Jail.

The furor over Virant’s death and the attempt to prosecute three of the deputies believed responsible was the focus of attention throughout the fall of 1932 and the winter and spring of 1932-33. After the deputies were acquitted on March 5, 1932, groups of Tazewell County citizens made attempts to oust Sheriff James J. Crosby and his deputies, but by September it was evident that the only recourse for outraged citizens was to wait until the end of Crosby’s term in office in 1934.

With the Virant controversy subsiding, Nelan’s murder returned to center stage – and also returned to the pages of the Pekin Daily Times. On Oct. 10, 1933, the Daily Times published a summary of upcoming cases on the jury calendar, noting that, “The most important case on the calendar is that of Petji (sic), Keayes and Hufeldt (sic), charged with the murder of Lewis Nelan of East Peoria. State’s Attorney Elliff says he will make an effort to have this case come to trial, but it may go over to a later term.”

The trial once more was delayed, this time until the December jury calendar. On Dec. 2, the Daily Times reported that the Nelan case was the first on the calendar, and on Monday, Dec. 4, the newspaper ran a front page story headlined, “Trial of Lewis Nelan Murder Case Starts Tuesday Morning.”

That story reported on a very important development in the case: Elliff had decided to drop all charges against Keayes and Hufeld.

The Times reported, “When the case of John Petje, Frank Keayes and Edward Hufelt (sic) . . . was called in the circuit court this morning, P. A. D’Arcy, counsel for Keayes and Hufelt, withdrew from the case. He had been appointed by the court to defend Keayes and Hufelt. Following the withdrawal of Attorney D’Arcy, Attorney J. P. St. Cerny, counsel for Petje, moved the court to grant a continuance.”

Rather than accept yet another continuance in this case that had already been delayed a year and three months, Elliff moved to have the case against Keayes and Hufeld dismissed. Judge Joseph E. Daily granted the motion and then set the trial for the following day.

Though he had avoided further delay in the case, Elliff’s decision was likely to make the task of prosecuting Petje much more difficult. As the Times explained, the state was “in possession of alleged confessions by Keayes and Hufelt (sic), but these cannot be introduced as evidence against Petje, it is claimed, because he was not present when they were made.”

Jury selection got under way at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 5, but the process was unusually slow-going. Only four jurors were approved that day: Harold Ruth, Tremont, laborer; P. A. Barnes, Hopedale, garage proprietor; Carl Ary, Green Valley, truck driver; Irvan Kunkel, Pekin, mechanic.

The next day seven jurors were accepted: H.R. Clayton, Cincinnati Township, laborer; R. D. VanNattan, Pekin, laborer; Clark Braden, Morton, machinist; Orin Aupperle, Morton, farmer; Albert Herman, Tremont, merchant; and David Hasty, Mackinaw, painter.

The 12th and final juror was finally approved around 10 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7 – Edward Erxleben, Pekin, unemployed. Elliff and St. Cerny then made their opening statements, and the state began to call its witnesses at 11:30 a.m.

The first witness was Hubert G. Brown, special agent for the C. & I. M. railroad, who had assisted with the investigation of Nelan’s deaths. It was Brown who had found Nelan’s hat near a rear door of Petje’s speakeasy very soon after Nelan’s body was run over on the P. & P. U. railroad tracks in East Peoria.

However, Brown’s memory was much the worse after the 15-month delay since Nelan’s death, and when Petje’s attorney, James P. St. Cerny, showed him the hat, Brown said he couldn’t be sure it was the one he’d found. Similarly, Mary Peckenpaugh, who had identified the hat as Nelan’s during the initial investigation, told the court she wasn’t positive the hat shown in court was Nelan’s.

Tazewell County Coroner Arthur E. Allen, shown in this 1928 photograph, was a key figure in the investigations and criminal prosecutions pertaining to the 1932 deaths of Lewis P. Nelan and Martin Virant. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria

Tazewell County Coroner Arthur E. Allen, shown in this 1928 photograph, was a key figure in the investigations and criminal prosecutions pertaining to the 1932 deaths of Lewis P. Nelan and Martin Virant. Photo by Konisek, Feb. 26, 1928, Peoria

The state next called Dr. L. F. Teter, who had conducted the autopsy on Nelan’s body, and former Tazewell County Coroner Dr. A. E. Allen, who had headed the death investigation. Teter and Allen testified that the injuries to Nelan’s head were not caused by the train that ran over him, but had been caused by a blunt instrument. The blow to his head was not enough to cause death, they also testified.

Several other witnesses were called to the stand that day, including Tazewell County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles O. Skinner, one of the deputies who had been acquitted of manslaughter charges in connection with the “third degree” torture death of Martin Virant. Skinner told the jurors of his part in the investigation of Nelan’s death that had led to the arrests and indictment of Petje, Keayes and Hufeld.

Court was dismissed at 4:15 p.m., and the trial recessed until Friday morning.

Next week: A sudden ending to Petje’s trial.

#charles-skinner, #coroner-arthur-e-allen, #edward-hufeld, #frank-keayes, #hubert-brown, #j-p-st-cerny, #john-petje, #judge-joseph-e-daily, #l-f-teter, #lew-nelan, #martin-virant, #mary-peckenpaugh, #nathan-t-elliff, #p-a-darcy, #the-third-degree

Kiwanis trip to D.C.: ‘She saw her husband die.’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton used his daily “Editor’s Letter” newspaper column to chronicle the weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., that the Pekin Kiwanis Club and a party of Peoria teachers took in June 1932. The fourth of his daily log entries, a letter written from Washington, D.C., was printed on the front page of the June 16 issue. This log entry, which tells of how the Kiwanis tourists came to witness the shocking death of a Congressman on the floor of the House of Representatives, follows below:

*****

Tuesday night
Washington, D.C.

What a thrill the youngsters particularly are having tonight.

Under a brilliant moon we are in the resplendent city of Washington, called “the fair flower of the republic.”

One must see this city to appreciate it, and he must see it again if he has not seen it recently.

As I write this we are looking a quarter mile across the Union Depot plaza to the capitol – there the lights just then were turned on to flood the dome.

In the streets beneath are thousands of autos, threading these diagonally platted streets.

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

Pekin Daily Times owner and publisher F. F. McNaughton in 1979. PHOTO FROM LOCAL HISTORY ROOM COLLECTION

We got separated from the gang for a half day this p. m. My youngest lad, Dean, is a poor auto rider. That mountain climb not only got him upset, but the other two boys also. Joe couldn’t eat his breakfast. John ate his but he had to leave the dinner after each course and throw it up.

So I decided not to risk them on the long ride across Maryland to [microfilm damaged] to the hotel, jumped into tubs to clean up and hotfooted it across the plaza to the house to listen to the debate on the bonus. You’ve probably read in tonight’s Times what happened. Rep. Eslick of Tennessee dropped dead while making a speech for the bonus.

The house immediately was adjourned. Mrs. Eslick was in the gallery. She saw her husband die.

So we went over to the senate and saw Vice-President Curtis and some of the best known senators in action, then they too adjourned out of respect for Rep. Eslick.

We then dropped in at Congressman Hull’s office and were received with every courtesy. I think I’ll be dropping back in there to write my letter to you tomorrow. It takes me too long to write by long hand.

There, the boys say I must be going.

There’s a huge parade on tonight. Washington’s great annual flag day parade. We can hear the bands coming up Pennsylvanian avenue now.

After that we’re going to the Fox theater then call it a day – and what a day!

P.S. It is plenty cool here tonight.

Pekin Kiwanis Club tourists witnessed the death of Congressman Edward E. Eslick of Tennessee, who was felled by a massive heart attack on June 15, 1932, on the floor of the House of Representatives while he was delivering an impassioned speech in favor of a bill that would allow World War I veterans who were suffering due to the Great Depression to cash in their service bonus certificates early. Eslick's death was reported on page 4, column 2, of the June 15 Pekin Daily Times, and also was commented on by Times publisher F. F. McNaughton in a letter he wrote from Washington, D.C., that was published June 16.

Pekin Kiwanis Club tourists witnessed the death of Congressman Edward E. Eslick of Tennessee, who was felled by a massive heart attack on June 15, 1932, on the floor of the House of Representatives while he was delivering an impassioned speech in favor of a bill that would allow World War I veterans who were suffering due to the Great Depression to cash in their service bonus certificates early. Eslick’s death was reported on page 4, column 2, of the June 15 Pekin Daily Times, and also was commented on by Times publisher F. F. McNaughton in a letter he wrote from Washington, D.C., that was published June 16.

#dean-mcnaughton, #eslicks-sudden-death, #f-f-mcnaughton, #john-t-mcnaughton, #kiwanis-trip-to-washington, #pekin-kiwanis-club, #vice-president-charles-curtis