Wednesday, December 9, 2015


“Let’s remember Pearl Harbor,” most Americans at least 78 remember where they were when Pearl Harbor was hit. That song about Pearl Harbor was heard in very early 1942. 

“This Is The Army Mr. Jones,” also a song of 1942. As many as 23,200 men from this area went off to War and hundreds and hundreds of women volunteered for everything from the WAVES to WACS. At least 662 men from this area lost their lives in WW 11. Of course many came back wounded.  It Might surprise you to know that hundreds of divorces were granted in 1946 here in Peoria after the war.  That is a sad statistic I have never heard any so-called historian talk about.  Some other songs we sang during the war were these ditties:

“Bell Bottom Trousers,” (Coat of Navy blue )
“Keep ‘Em  Flying.”
“From The Halls Of Montezuma To The Shores Of Tripoli.”
“Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition.”

WW 11 here in Peoria brought thousands into this area to take the jobs that were here in our factories. Rosie The Riveter…Peoria house wives, did a remarkable job helping our war effort…and got paid less than men to do the same job. There was a song about them that was extremely popular called “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” Now thousands of folks were pouring into Peoria and the draft was on. Songs like “Mom I Miss your apple pie” were among the big hits.

Artie Shaw enlisted with his entire band and a lot of famous movies stars went off to war.  Another song sang by the Andrews sisters was “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company C.”  Here is a song we loved to sing on hayrack rides.   “Good Night Irene,” and Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me.” For dancers the big song was “I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”.  Of course my age group was a bit too young to get too ‘smoochie,’ but we caught on later. 1942 also brought us “Right In The Fuhrer’s Face.”  It was a silly novelty song that we all got a kick out of singing.

“Lilli Marlene,” never really caught on here, but the GI’s liked it while they were in England.  This song was written in the 30’s, and I think it was a German song. We had five USO places operating here in Peoria and one of them was designated’ For Coloreds.’ Sad, but that was who we were here in Peoria.
“I Left My Heart At The Stage Door Canteen” was a major song in 1943. The Stage Door was Huge in New York, but we had things like this in every major city in the United States.  All the live acts that played Peoria featured this song and many other patriotic songs that kept our morale up during those scary times.

“Marriages were UP…Morals were Down.”  That was a phrase we heard here in town.  Many young men about to go overseas married their high school sweet hearts. Sadly as I mentioned when they came back home to Peoria that high school girl had grown up and simply changed her mind about her ‘man.’  ‘Dear John’ letters were popular…or should I say unpopular during the war.
All of the critical Peoria war factories worked three shifts and most of our 242 taverns stayed open twenty to twenty-two hours a day.
A large portion of our army and air force was stationed in England preparing for ‘The Big Push.’  Brits were quoted as saying this:  The Yanks are over sexed, over paid and over here.” Good thing they were there…not only for them but the entire World.

Here is a song we liked: “They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old.” A sad lament from the ladies…most of the men 18-35 were long gone. As for the guys back here in Peoria there were some that the gals would not look at twice at one time…now they were ‘Kings.’

By 1943 there was some good war news but by the then casualties were mounting.  I remember the little flags in the windows. There were three at my house and sadly we saw some of them turn from blue to gold. In fact 662 were lost from this area in that war. Penicillin, a product of Peoria, Illinois was in mass production and saved countless lives.

Iwo Jima was ghastly and here in Peoria I think every household cut out that picture of the American Flag being raised on a mountain top there and put it on the front window.

After D-Day, June 6, 1945 a few new songs were popular. I remember them all.  “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.” And one the ladies loved:  “Wonder When My Baby’s Comin’ Home?”

There were a quite a few songs about Hitler…and at the carnivals we threw baseballs at Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini stuffed targets. We rejoiced in 1945 when we heard Hitler was dead.  Truman announced that Japan had been hit with two Atomic Bombs and we knew that the war was finally going to be over.  My three brothers were going to come home and Peoria let loose with a great parade and party downtown on V. J. Day. I was there for all of it. The World was safe for the moment.

Editor’s Note:  Norm is a Peoria historian.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Long Time Ago

On May 24, 1878 there was a bit of excitement downtown because the old courthouse that was built in 1836 in Peoria, Illinois was being torn down. 

People stood around the perimeter or sat on old chairs or boxes and just watched.  Now there were no bright yellow Caterpillars tearing up the place just men and a few mules and all kinds of tools lay around. But still, there was movement over there and for the older men of Peoria that beat just sitting on a bench telling lies.  There were rumors that there might be treasure of some kind hidden in the walls or a maybe something interesting in the old corner stone that was put in place so many years ago.

One of the workers was along side the building virtually working alone.  A few younger men watched and suddenly they moved up a bit closer.  The man held a bottle in his hand momentarily before he quickly tucked it inside his jacket.  Now that was curious the men thought so they called out to him to show them what he found.  That frightened the worker and off he ran away from the courthouse yard and ran down Jefferson Street with the men chasing after him.  Within a few blocks they gave up but the younger man named Mike Brady was persistent and finally caught up with the fleeing worker.  Witnesses said that the two men talked for a few moments before the worker handed over the whiskey bottle to the Mr. Brady and grabbed the twenty-five dollars he was offered and disappeared.  Triumphantly the new owner of the old whiskey bottle went back to his friends and proudly held the bottle up in the air.  “I got it,” he said, with a huge grin on his face.


The small group gathered beneath one of the old elm trees as Brady carefully opened the bottle, sniffed its contents then poured a small amount of the whisky in his palm.  That action brought a round of laughter from the men and an angry reaction from the young man.  “It’s just water! Twenty-five dollars for a bottle of water. I’m gonna go find that guy.”

Only then did the young man look at the label.  The label clearly stated that the bottle was from a local distillery and dated 1878.  The trick made the local newspapers and Mike Brady stayed away from the courthouse from then on, according to his ‘friends.’


If there was a peak time for our distilleries and breweries in Peoria before the turn of the century it was probably 1878. There were 14 distilleries in Peoria at that time distilling thousands of gallons of ‘booze’ into bottles and barrels and shipping it ‘Hither and yon,’ as folks used to like to say.  We had a lot of wealthy whiskey and beer Barons here and their product, at least the whiskey was often referred to a ‘High Wines.’  Do you think High Street might have gotten its name from that phrase?  The owners bragged about the high taxes they were paying and that comment was hurled at the do-gooders and anti-whiskey people that were relentless in their attacks on ‘Demon Rum.’  All during the Civil War our local beer and whiskey makers paid well over thirty-five million dollars annually to help support the Union cause, and they were proud of that fact. The local farms in Peoria and surrounding counties virtually lived off the massive tons of grain these distilleries bought, and yet even some of them, especially their wives and church members continued their assault on the liquor industry. Those attacks eventually led to the dreaded Prohibition Era.


In 1878, Valentine Jobst was awarded the contract to build a City Workhouse and promised he could do it for $10,791. I am assuming he was the same Val Jobst that did so many construction jobs around here.  Well, I feel certain it was a relative at least.  The site for the building was at the foot of Grant Street. The workhouse was a unique building and it was built to house people who owed the city money in the form of fines.  They even had an area for women.  To me it was totally unconstitutional but it lasted for over forty years and was never challenged.  The city fathers got tired of having the police officers arrest a person for some kind of violation, having trials and the people simply did not pay the fines.  Now the courts would sentence the man or woman to the workhouse where he or she would work off the fine.  The prisoners were paid fifty cents a day so some of them were incarcerated for up to six months.  Most of the men and women sentenced in booze related charges went in and out of the ‘jail’ for as long as they lived.  They closed the doors the day Prohibition began in 1920.


On June 9, 1878 thousands of people flocked to the river to watch a boating classic called the Mississippi Valley Rowing Association held on the Peoria Lake. Later a grand ball and reception were held with Governor Cullom as the guest of honor. “A hot time in old Peoria, Illinois

Editor’s Note:   Norm is a Peoria Historian and author and monthly contributor to 50 Plus NEWS & VIEWS.



Friday, June 19, 2015

Old Settlers Association

OLD SETTLERS ASSOCIATION NORMAN V. KELLY We have quite a few companies here in town that has been around at least 100 years and many of them are still thriving quite well. During Prohibition for some obvious reasons a lot of local Service Clubs formed and they too are still alive and kicking. Now Peoria became a city in 1845 and one group that began here in Peoria on July 4, 1867 was the Old Settlers Association who had its first meeting and from that brief get together in the Peoria County Courthouse The Old Settlers Association was formed. There were twenty-two original signers of the Constitution they agreed upon that day. However over the months hundred more signed up including the very first original seven men that permanently settled here in our area in 1819 and led by Josiah Fulton. The dues were to be a whopping one dollar a year and for the life of me I cannot see any written proof that they were ever raised. Actually they had a rather long winded title which was The Old Settlers’ Union of Peoria and Vicinity. This group became an association to honor and remember all the citizens who resided here in 1835 the very year that Peoria was incorporated into a Town. Mr. John Hamlin presided and the basic idea was presented to the group of twenty-two men present at the old courthouse. Thus began this remarkable association that built three cabins and a large stone monument as the group began to flourish and continue their long lasting organization that pretty much used the Glen Oak Park as their meeting place. Basically it was an annual picnic, meeting place and annual reunion of old friends that rarely saw each other at all except for the annual picnic they held to renew old friendships and meet new friends. They had a few rules as to who was eligible to become a member. Mainly the applicant had to be of good moral character and was a citizen that had lived in Illinois at least on or before 1935. They further stated that an applicant had to have lived here in Peoria County during the last ten years. The charter members at that first meeting amounted to twenty two members. John Hamlin became its first president and among the group were men that would eventually guide and lead this group for years to come bettering this community as they went along.
c. 1912

Lake at Glen Oak Park c. 1912
As the group grew into a more sociable, a more party-like group turned the one day a year into a day that thousands of folks looked forward to. Naturally the ladies took over the food aspect of the picnic as all kinds of competitive games were formed and in the early evening ‘Old Fashioned Dances’ were held as the day long activities kept every one happily busy. The original meeting place was where the zoo area is located today and just down the road was the small lake that still exists to this day. Horse drawn teams were parked among the shade trees, and folks came from all over the State of Illinois for the festival. The old men would get situated under the trees, talking of farming and the Civil War which was still a topic of interest. As the years changed our history there was always some major topic to discuses while the children played and the wives gathered to make sure there was plenty of food for everyone. Beginning in the early 1930’s yet another Abe Lincoln replica cabin was dedicated. They built it as closely to the original plans as possible. The cabin was to replicate the birth cabin of Mr. Lincoln, and all the labor and supplies were donated within the group itself: many of the members belonged to most of the local unions. From Stone cutters, carpenters and experts of all kind they worked together to build the cabin that drew folks from all over the State of Illinois to marvel at the workmanship and to discuss the popular Civil War President. For you that may have forgotten, the original cabin of Abe’s birth was in Hodgenville, Kentucky, circa 1809. On this day in 1930 past president of the Old Settlers, Historian and early Settler, Ernest East gave the dedication speech. I believe that the third and final cabin was dedicated on August 1, 1959. Each new cabin was begun with the demolition of the previous cabin as it grew old and unsafe. The builders stuck pretty much to the original plan, building the cabin seventeen feet long by thirteen feet and eleven logs high. The roof was shingle, which they called ‘Shakes.’ There was the front door, five foot eight and a space hone out for the fireplace. There was one two foot square window with the rest of the walls having no open spaces at all. Unlike Lincoln’s home, which had a dirt floor, the Settlers made the floor from gravel and a smooth concrete surface. As far as I can ascertain the three cabins were built during 1893, 1927 and finally in 1959. THE STONE MONUMENT Way back in 1812 President John A Bush suggested that the Old Settlers build a Stone Monument very close to the cabin and a discussion about the monument went on for several years. Sadly most of the men that originally planned the monument died and it was not until October 9, 1930 that the first stone was put into place and the shaft was not competed until November 15, 1930, On December 5, 1930 the Old Settlers Stone Monument was finally completed and dedicated. The site of the old cabin and the fresh new monument was a tourist attraction for decades and was even refurbished in the 1980’s. All the stones, in some cases boulders were collected from many Townships n the area. In all Just over 15,000 were part of the monument while thousands more were used for the foundation. The old monument can still be seen inside the ZOO compound over at Glen Oak Park. I have not seen it in years but it is still there. I wonder if it’s worth restoring? I used to know a lot of members of the Old Settlers group but sadly most of them are no longer with us. It certainly is part of Peoria’s history and I could have written 5,000 words about it, but magazine space is limited. At one time it was the oldest man made monument we had and it drew thousands of folks to the park over the years. Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian, Author and true-crime writer. Norm is a monthly contributor to ASO.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I was born here in Peoria in 1932 and thought that I would tell you what was going on here in our old river city. Prohibition was still going on, but by now it was old hat, and our soft drink parlors were all most nonexistent. Through the thirteen years of Prohibition Peoria managed to have all the whiskey they could possibly drink. The Great Depression was hurting many Peorians and life was not very easy here for many people. However, some folks made a lot of money during Prohibition and the depression so I called these two things the ‘Destructive Duo.’ When I was born I was the ninth child, wow, can you imagine that? How we got fed and housed is still a mystery to me. The good news, or rumor, or just plain hope was the FDR would repeal Prohibition and our mighty distilleries and breweries would open up and bring jobs back to Peoria, Illinois. History soon revealed that to be true. By 1935 Hiram Walker opened the largest distillery in the world here, and we were on our way back to the top. The jobs the building of that distillery created was like a gift from Heaven, I can assure you of that.
The local taverns were mostly out of the Soft Drink Parlor business and beginning to come to life as saloons and taverns. By April of 1933 they were open and by December of 1933 whiskey was being made and sold here just like in the ‘Good Old Days.’ Peoria was back on top and since gambling had gotten a very strong hold on downtown Peoria, Illinois, especially during Prohibition. It became much more entrenched in our local culture and of course grew as money began to jingle in a lot of pockets with the new jobs in the revised and revitalized ‘booze business.’
In early 1930 Peoria had a rash of kidnappings, mainly of rich gambling guys, but ‘gangsters’ also kidnapped Dr. Parker who was a Peoria dentist, and not a very wealthy one at all. His disappearance upset a lot of Peorians because of his occupation, you know, a dentist. We were used to trouble between the gamblers and the thugs, but the professional men and women had been pretty safe throughout our history. Kidnappings and bombings and threats of violence belonged among the local hoodlums. The kidnappers kept the good doctor for 18 days and all during that time the folks in Peoria were talking about Dr. Parker and expecting him to “Turn up dead or drowned in the river.” Not true: he simply walked back home across the bridge from East Peoria to Peoria. Later a jury convicted 12 people, including some family members and most of them from East Peoria, Illinois. A few of them were sentenced to forty-five years. It sure put a dent in the myth that gangsters were behind all the Peoria kidnappings.
Radio was our saving grace here In Peoria, Illinois with so many great shows, including comedy, mystery and a lot of folks like George and Gracie Allen and Peorians ‘Fibber McGee and Molly and Charles Correll. All those folks became household names later on in their careers. Music kept a lot of Peorians going, and dancing was very popular in Peoria. Songs like, Night and Day, I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, How Deep is The Ocean, Tiger Rag, 42nd. Street, and You Are getting To Be A Habit With me. Boogie Woogie was in and folks were dancing the “Big Apple” Peorians lit their ‘Fags’ with a ZIPPO lighter and eating MOUNDS, a popular candy bar. Open cars and touring cars were in and you could buy a Hupmobile for $795.00.
Chief Coy a local celebrity and strongman entertained the folks downtown by pulling automobiles along the streets by his teeth and tearing thick telephones books in half with his bare hands. The Annual Fall Festival was in Peoria and an estimated 60,000 people attended the festivities. The unfinished Cedar Street Bridge is attracting folks with suicide on their minds and is dubbed ‘Lover’s Leap.’ There are some folks in town that are very depressed, jobless and with little hope. Here is just a sample of one that the local newspapers wrote about a man that shot himself to death. Mr. Allen left a note telling folks that he was just tired of the way things were going here in town.
Homer Ahrends is our new mayor, nothing really happened while he was in as far as the city went, but it still was a great time to have lived here. Later, Ahrends would step off the curb into the street and was hit by a car. The driver of the car was a member of the city council. Billy Sunday is in town telling his followers what a great success Prohibition has been. Most people laugh out loud when they heard his idiotic statements. Over a one month period Peorians are scared to death of bombs that have been going off around town. The sheriff tells folks that it is “Just a scare tactic among gamblers and local thugs and no one will be injured.” He was right. Income Tax passed in Illinois here in October of 1932 and of course folks griped to high heaven, but the truth is that very few people had a job that paid them enough to worry very much about ‘income’ taxes. Lucky Strike has a big ad in the local newspapers telling folks that they have a filter that will stop all impurities from entering the smoker’s lungs. So…at least we had that going for us.
President Hoover makes a stop here in Peoria and thousands rushed down to greet him. All the hopes, prayers and rumors helped Roosevelt become President and it looks like most of Peoria rejoices in that fact. They are certain that FDR will appeal Prohibition. They were right and In April 1932 beer is the first to get back into production, less alcohol, but it helps and by December of 1933 good old Peoria whiskey back. Hiram Walker announced that they will build the largest distillery here in Peoria, Illinois and on July 4, 1935, 70,000 people visited the open house and Peoria is back on its feet once again. In 1932 Bradley Park is opened and soon Bradley Golf Course is named Newman Golf Course. Over on Sheridan Road they were building Buehler Home and life iwas good here in good old Peoria, Illinois. I stayed in diapers from April 24, 1932, until WW 11 began, but that is a different story for another time. Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian and author and a monthly contributor to ADVENTURE SPORTS OUTDDORS.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


On a cold and peaceful Sunday Morning, December 23, 1917 folks in downtown Peoria, Illinois were in a joyful spirit as they left the churches and window shopped as they strolled by the decorated stores. There was talk of a white Christmas and although most of the stores were closed, the restaurants and hotels were quite busy. Over at the Jefferson Hotel, Edward Strause stood with two other men talking before he turned and walked out of the hotel. He was headed for the State Trust and Savings Bank on Jefferson Street next to the hotel. He seemed to be in a happy mood as he spoke to folks on his way to the bank. Just slightly ahead of Mr. Strause was Berne Mead who said goodbye to his friends over at the Creve Coeur Club, heading for the bank just minutes ahead of Ed Strause. No one saw them enter the bank but what went on in that bank between those two prominent business men brought them to the attention of the entire population of Peoria, Illinois which was about 71,000 in 1917. In fact they would be the center of attention for the next three years and beyond, drawing folks from all over the area to Peoria, Illinois and the Peoria County Courthouse and the one in Bloomington as well. Two friends stood in front of the bank there at Jeffersonand Liberty Streets talking, later they would remember it was just going on noon when they heard a shot coming from within the bank. Alarmed they hurried over to the glass door of the bank and peered in; it was at that time that they distinctly heard the moan of man obviously in pain. Both of the men banged on the door but heard nothing further. Other people stopped to see what was going which attracted other passersby. Over at City Hall where the police were headquartered a lady driving an electric car pulled up in front of the police station and told an officer she thought the bank was being robbed. Moments later Detective Couch pulled up in front of the bank got out and with gun in hand demanded the crowd move out of his way. Detective Couch banged on the door and peered inside the bank. At the moment two shots rang out and immediately the folks around the door moved back to the curb, some of the ladies screaming as they took cover. Couch used the butt of his revolver to knock on the door, preparing to break the window with his gun to enter the bank. He saw a man walking toward him inside the bank as the crowd began to gather again behind the brave detective. The door opened!
Detective Couch moved quickly forward blocking the open door and slipped inside closing the door behind him. Couch looked at the man, “What’s the trouble here?” The man, whom Couch recognized as the president of the bank, was Edgar A. Strause! “I had trouble with one of my men, He shot at me first.” Together the two men walked to the interior of the bank. As they got near one of the teller’s cage the officer saw the body of a man lying in a pool of blood, his head resting up against the cage. “What’s this?” Couch said, pointing his gun at the body. “Oh, I had trouble with one of my men. He shot at me first.” It was then that the officer realized that the man was in some kind of nervous shock and would later describe in detail how Strause looked and what he said. Those words spoken to the first officer on the scene would be the last words that Strause was ever quoted as saying, and the ordeal ahead for him was just beginning. Within three days President Edward A. Strause would be forced to resign his lofty position and find himself in a situation that no person that had ever known him could possibly have imagined.
Outside a huge crowd had gathered and as more police arrived, an officer was placed to guard the door, allowing only physicians and officials to enter the bank. The word had spread like wild fire and once the local newspaper photographers and reporters arrived the place was up for grabs. More police were called when some of the folks in the crowd began to fear that somehow the bank was in financial trouble and they wanted their money now. All hell was breaking loose, and more officers and firemen were called to handle what looked like to police was about to become a riot. A special edition from The Evening Star hit the streets later and it was sold by screaming men and boys yelling ‘EXTRA! EXTRA! The headline: “PEORIA ASTOUNDED AT TRAGEDY WHICH COST THE LIFE OF BERNE M. MEAD.
The folks in Peoria, Illinois were still buzzing about the murder of the bank cashier, Berne Mead, by the bank’s President Edgar Strause of the State Bank and Savings. Now, on December 26, 1917 it appeared that most of the townsfolk were either in the courthouse or milling around outside. All of them hoped to get into the coroner’s inquest but space was very limited. Even some of the reporters and photographers were waiting out on the courthouse steps. Inside, there were at least twenty-four witnesses that the coroner wanted to talk to, and the excitement was still running high over this shocking murder. Edgar Strause was sitting in the chief’s office over at the city hall, while the victim Berne M. Mead’s body was being held in a vault out at Springdale Cemetery. He would be buried the next day in Chillicothe, Illinois.
Coroner Elliott stood behind his desk watching the crowd: with a wave of his hand, the bailiff closed the door and the coroner banged his gavel. Coroner Elliott called his first witness and for three days they came and went one after the other. The question in everyone’s mind that heard about this killing was simply ‘Why?’ Murders in Peoria were typically domestic or in connection with a robbery certainly not between to prominent businessmen. Theories were rampant, but the newspapers were always ready and willing to tell the reader far more than what they actually knew. Mr. Strause was the president and Mead was the cashier. Meade held more of the stock shares than anyone and he felt he should be the president…not Strause. On that Sunday morning the two met and Strause asked for Mead’s resignation. Mead went a bit berserk and the two men fought, Meade fired the first shot at Strause and the president fired his own weapon striking Mr. Mead in the mouth and through the eye, killing him. Clearly a case of self defense. It was that simple…or so the newspaper editors said.
Strause hired two local lawyers and they tried to intervene in the hearing whenever they could, but the coroner kept a strong grip on them. As the witnesses told their stories the real story of what went on inside that bank was never clearly presented. After all, there was only one person who knew what really happened and he was not at the inquest. After three days the coroner’s jury handed its verdict to Coroner Elliot. The reporters almost knocked down the folks standing out side the coroner’s room when the verdict was read. They had a story to write and the whole town wanted to read it.
December 28, 1917 Peoria Evening Star
Young men in a dozen areas of the city were racing around selling the newspapers the moment they had a bundle of them in their arms. Most folks would get the paper at their homes, but they bought a copy anyway. EDGAR A. STRAUSE HELD WITHOUT BAIL FOR MURDER OF CASHIER BERNE M. MEAD!
Murder? Most Peorians had followed every word of the coroner’s Inquest daily for three days. To them and most folks at the courthouse the evidence sounded like self defense to them, so the word ‘murder’ pretty much surprised them all. Less than a half-hour after the verdict Strause was in hand cuffs and on his way to the Peoria County Jail. He went through the booking procedures, was required to take a shower and outfitted with the clothes of a county jail prisoner. Another shocker was that the jury recommended that he be held without bail until his trial. That gave the folks in Peoria something to talk about and as it turned out the Mead and Strause shocking story would be in their minds for over two years.
On a beautiful day in May in 1918 Edgar Strause sat in the Peoria Courthouse with his two attorneys waiting for the trial of the decade to began. The place was packed and hundreds stood outside, unable to get inside. It had been a terrific struggle to pick the jury and everyone was anxious to get things started. When the trial ended the defendant was found guilty of murder and sentenced to twenty-five years in the State Prison. The Supreme Court over turned that verdict and remanded it to Peoria for another trial. The second trial was held in Bloomington, Illinois and the jury was dead locked. A third trial was held there and again the jury was deadlocked.
So, three trials, at the cost of $40,000, and countless hours of wasted time and what was the result? Zero! I hope before this summer is over that I can put on my blog the entire story, since we are limited here by space restraints. Mr. Strause stayed here in Peoria and remained the owner of five cigar stores. He died here on November 2, 1935 and was never tried again for the murder of Berne Mead. I know you, dear reader, have a hundred questions which I could answer, but it will have to be another time and in another place. Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian, author and monthly contributor to NEWS and VIEWS.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


WHO KILLED DAVID GIBBS? By NORMAN V. KELLY Eureka, Illinois is a nice little town that has a college with ties to President Ronald Regan. It is a quiet place, pleasant and a friendly place to raise a family. It has one of those old courthouses that dominates the center of the town, giving it a typical small town look. Sheriff Quentin ( Jim) Durst was a part of Eureka and Woodford County for a long time and he was among the best they ever had. When he got the call about a body out in Spring Bay Township he went to the scene immediately. What he saw shocked the old veteran into non-stop action. He stayed with the case for seventeen hours until he had the culprits right where he wanted them. That of course, was inside his Woodford County Jail… right where they belonged. Actually, the events that led to the murder of young David Gibbs began at the Colonial Cove, a restaurant in Peoria, Illinois. It was a cold December 13, 1964, when five teenagers met at the Cove, deciding to cruise around in a 1953 Chevrolet. The subject was always girls and the goal was always to score something to drink, beer, whiskey…anything. David hardly knew the other four guys and deciding to chauffer them around was a big mistake…a fatal one to be exact. The truth is that the four boys already had a bottle and David protested their drinking in his mom’s car. That did not set well and as the evening drive continued the boys tormented David with comments, flicking his ear and a punch or two. In the scuffles in the back seat one of the teens received a cut hand from the broken bottle. David agreed to take him over to the Methodist Hospital. When they left one of the boys stole a bottle of ether. The verbal and physical abuse continued until David announced, “If you want the car you can have it.” From that moment on David Gibbs was on a fast track to death. Reluctantly, and out of fear, David agreed to take the passengers over to Spring Bay where he hoped to get rid of them for good. ACROSS THE RIVER Up in an area of Upper Spring Bay Road, the teens were out of control. David was forced to pull over to the side of the road after a brutal attack from the guys in the rear seat. Once he stopped he was pulled into the back seat where they took turns smashing him with their fists and feet. The attack continued as one vicious kick after the other forced David to fight his way out of the car. He landed on the roadway where all four of the boys continued to pummel him in every way imaginable. David laid bleeding, moaning and pleading to be left alone. One of the young men settled the argument by smashing him over the head repeatedly with a fence post.
The murdering foursome then stood over David trying to decide what to do with him. “Let’s run over his head with the car,” one of them suggested. An argument ensued, ending in the final agreement to run over both his legs, which is exactly what they did. After the deed was done they picked up David’s body and carried it to the side of the road and rolled it over and over where it came to rest in a ditch. That proved to be a major mistake for them, because that was within the jurisdiction of Sheriff Durst of Woodford County. The young, ruthless killers now had the problem of getting rid of the car. They decided to simply push it down an embankment that caused it to roll into some small trees. That was another mistake because an alert witness saw them, and that was the beginning of the end for the teenage killers of David Gibbs.


 The first call went to the East Peoria police from Eugene Norman and Robert Rohmann who told the police that they had seen a body lying along side Upper Spring Bay Road. The two men then led police officers to the scene. The police looked down at the body of a young teenager, who was wearing cowboy boots, and a ripped T-shirt. There were multiple wounds about the body and head. Right next to the body was a broken fencepost that had obviously been used in the attack and murder of the young man. The evidence clearly showed that the body had been dragged and rolled to its final resting place. A determination was made leading to a call to Sheriff Durst. The game was afoot. Dozens upon dozens of photographs were made as the sheriff and his deputies combed the murder scene. While at the site a call came in indicating that the 1953 Chevrolet had been found. Deputies discovered two license plates inside the car. That led them to Maxine Crews and a V. Frost. Officers gathered everything they could find within the car along with a traffic ticket made out to David Gibbs, and a license applied for receipt. It was clear to the sheriff that this was the car David Gibbs had in his possession just before he was murdered.


 The young killers, meantime, were hoofing it away from the murder scene, ending up at a gas station. The attendant questioned one of the boys about blood on his hands, but did not call police. The foursome managed to get a ride and by the time the 1953 Chevrolet was towed away, they were all at home. Did they know if David Gibbs was dead…did they care?

 Multiple calls came into the police departments and the sheriff’s office sending police cars racing around talking to several witnesses. The two men that police were interested were the men that had given the boys a ride home from the gas station. They talked to a witness that had seen the car being pushed and within a short time Sheriff Durst was knocking on the door of a lady that he knew personally. He stunned the woman when he said, “I have a warrant for the arrest of your son, Carl.” Mrs. Welchman woke her son up with the shocking news, and watched as Sheriff Durst and his deputies took him into custody. One down…how many more to go?

 Sheriff Durst had spent the night talking to police in East Peoria, Peoria, and the Peoria County Sheriff’s office as well. Over in Peoria, officers were rounding up two young men, namely Waters and Peddicord. Across the river in Creve Coeur, Illinois, officers took the final young man into custody. The final count before the night was over were Welchman, Waters, Peddicord and Taylor, all now resting in the Woodford County Jail.

 I think most folks would agree that that was a pretty good night’s work. It was a testament to what police departments can do when they work together. Maxine Crews, David’s mother worked as a telephone operator and had arranged for David to pick up his sister Mary Jo, but he never showed up. She worried about that because David was reliable and prompt when it came to doing things for his mother. When she got the horrible news, she asked her daughter to identify David’s body. Her brother’s body was taken to a funeral home in Metamora where pathologist, Dr. Silverstein did an autopsy.
THE CORONER’S INQUEST Coroner’s inquests are not trials, or civil actions, they are held to determine how the deceased died…murder, suicide or by natural causes. The inquest was held in front of six jurors in Eureka, Illinois. Dr. Silverstein told the jury that the body of David Gibbs looked to be about sixteen years old. The doctor indicated that David had met his death by multiple abrasions, bruises, and blunt force trauma to the head. To the horrified jury and audience he described the blackened eyes, bloody face and deep lacerations he found on the young man’s body. He continued to discuss the terrible leg injuries and that some of the injuries came after David Gibbs was dead. It was a shocking, horrific testimony that some people told reporters they would never forget. The jury was handed fourteen gruesome photos that stunned some of them, leaving them visibly upset. Once all of the police evidence was submitted, the coroner charged the jury to reach a verdict. Their verdict was death by homicide and recommended that the process of the law continue. Sheriff Durst was right on top of that and in less than seventeen hours he had the culprits in his cells. It would be up to the state’s attorney from now on. Coroner LeLand Morgan thanked the citizens for their service and adjourned the hearing. THE GRAND JURY Over in Eureka in their old, elegant courthouse, the secret grand jury met, but in a small town, secrets don’t last long. The state’s attorney presents the evidence to the grand jury and they decide if an indictment is in order. Sheriff Durst and his people were called upon to tell the jury just exactly what his office had to warrant a true bill to indict. This is no trial, the defense has no place in the process, and the jury is spoon-fed the information by the state’s attorney. Durst had taken court reporter statements from the four young men, and of course, the state’s attorney hoped to use these statements against the defendants during the upcoming trial. I think I will give you a few lines of all four of those statements to give you an idea what the grand jurors heard. They are basically excerpts, but they give you a good idea of what went on out there on that cold, December night in 1964. GARY PEDDICORD: My name is Gary Peddicord, 721 Madison, Peoria, Illinois. I am nineteen and finished the ninth grade. Gary then went on to describe how he met David Gibbs and how he happened to be in the car. He then explained how all five of the young men were in the car and how they ended up over in Spring Bay. GARY PEDDICORD: David was pulled into the back seat where the guys continued beating him. I pulled over and got out of the car as they beat him. Waters told us we would all have to hit him if we were all in on it. I hit him once. Bob Taylor got a branch and started hitting him with it. They made me do it too. Bob Taylor and Welchman drug him off to the side of the road. They then threw him in the gully. DAVID WATERS: My name is David Waters, and I live on 802 S. Western in Peoria, Illinois. I was down at the Cove and me and Carl was drinking. David Gibbs was driving and we went with him. All of us headed out to Spring Bay. We were all a little drunk except the guy driving. We were talking about raping girls and he ( the driver) smarted off and we got into an argument and started fighting with him. He fought back and when he stopped the car and when he got out of the car we jumped on him and started fighting with him. I got that post and started hitting someone with it. ROBERT DUANE TAYLOR: My name is Robert Taylor, I am sixteen and live at 136 Gerber Court in Creve Coeur. Dave Gibbs picked us up at the Cove. He was going to give us the car, then walk home, and report the car stolen. When we were out on a country road to drop him off, Carl started hitting him. Dave Walters hit him too then they took him out of the car and started beating him. After that we took him and put him in a ditch. CARL WELCHMAN: My name is Carl Welchman, age seventeen and live at RR One, Spring Bay. We were in the car and Peddicord hit David with his fists and took his glasses off. After we stopped the car they pulled him out of the car and started hitting him with their fists. The four of us kicked him and tore his shirt off. We played with him for awhile, just beating him around. We got a stick and started beating him with it; we really were not planning on killing him. When Peddicord got a stick he just went out of his mind. We talked about running over his head with the car. We ran over his legs. I think you have read enough, believe me; the actual quoted details are even worse. At any rate the grand jury spent little time deliberating before they indicted these vicious thugs. Just think of what you just read. This was a senseless murder of a young man and for what? The pain it caused the families of all of these boys is impossible to measure and will never end. THE LEGAL PROCESS By December 16, 1964 the four young men had been properly charged with the murder of David Gibbs and paraded before cameras and newspaper reporters. Their combined arraignment at the Woodford County Courthouse brought throngs of spectators, leaving many standing outside in the cold. The defendants were handcuffed to each other, and strung out like fish on a line. One cameraman got too close and a scuffle ensued, causing even more chaos. Judge Dan Dailey appointed Sam Harrod to the defendants that could not afford a lawyer, while Peorian Harry Sonnemaker was the other defense attorney. The first bit of business was to try and quash the signed confessions. A battle royal ensued and after several very heated hearings the judge made a final ruling to allow the confessions to stand. If you were in Eureka at the time perhaps you heard a huge, collective sigh at that ruling. Folks in Peoria, Pekin, Creve Coeur and the counties were looking forward to a major trial right there in that old venerable courthouse in Eureka, Illinois. Perhaps a question popped into your head? What about a change of venue since the local newspapers had a field day, wouldn’t that tarnish a jury? Well, the judge agreed and set the trial for Christian County, a hundred miles away in a town called Taylorville, Illinois. So, 1964 gave way to 1965 as the defendants languished in their cells in Woodford County. They were allowed visitors; they wrote letters, made a few phone calls and of course ate three good meals a day. As for poor David Gibbs, he was still dead and buried in Lewistown, Illinois. I have written at least 300 stories about murder and I can tell you this one thing for sure. Except for the victim’s loved ones, the murder victim is soon forgotten, as the media lights shine on the killer or killers. That is a fact that is so very sad, but so very true. THE TRIAL The trial was to proceed on March 21, 1965, and as the date neared excitement was rekindled not only here in our area, but in Taylorville as well. A large juror pool was notified and the courthouse came alive. This was a major murder case, and that meant a lot of preparations were underway. Many visitors were expected, and the folks in Taylorville meant to make the most of it. Prior to the trial date, defense lawyers were busy filing motions, subpoenaing witnesses and making plans. The defense had a total of four lawyers by now and the State of Illinois would be represented by Special Assistant Ackerman. He battled each and every motion and throughout it all, the judge refused to relent, confirming that the confessions would be heard by the jury. That was devastating news for the defense, and they seemed to be backing down in their bluffing and pre-trial rhetoric.
Excitement built as the folks crowded into the Christian County Courthouse, excited and eager to be part of a murder trial with four young defendants. The jury commission room was over crowded with potential jurors, the defendants and their lawyers were all present, and the judge was ready to proceed. Then something very unexpected happened that brought disappointment for all the folks eagerly awaiting the trial. First it started as a rumor then the official word came rather quickly. There would be no trial! Shortly before the trial was to begin, all four of the defendants, through their respective lawyers had decided to change their pleas from not guilty to GUILTY! It was indeed stunning news. Potential spectators and jurors alike walked about talking among themselves. “You mean it’s over?’ was pretty much the theme of their conversations. Slowly, one by one, and in groups the massive crowd drifted away. The prisoners were taken back to Woodford County and their respective cells. The big show was over. Now what? The reporters rushed off to file their ‘Non-story,’ and the camera crews turned off their bright lights and went back to their TV stations. Taylorville’s fifteen minutes of fame was over. THE SENTENCING On a promising spring day, March 26, 1965, the defendants would be sentenced by the judge in Woodford County. He had schedule a full-blown hearing allowing anyone who wanted to speak to be heard. The defense would plead for leniency and the state’s attorney would ask that the maximum sentence be given to those four young killers. Again the place was packed with citizens, friends, relatives and victims alike. The atmosphere was full of tension, and officials were very alert for potential problems. Judge Daniel Daley listened as a member of the defense team made his plea: “Your honor, please leave something for their future. They are not wild animals. They are four boys in a gang that committed a crime.” The People: “I think the facts will justify the extreme penalty if the court desires. These defendants acted like wild animals and society has no alternative than to treat them like wild animals. I recommend a sentence of sixty-years.” SAM HARROD: This is a classical study in juvenile crime. They consumed a fifth of whiskey. Not one of them alone would have committed this crime. The court is aware of the impact of a gang. They are not wild animals they are four boys that drank in a gang and committed a heinous crime. With boys of this age the court cannot deny all hope to return to society.” Judge Daily then commented on the lawyer’s comments before he announced his decision. He told them that he would not impose the death penalty and that he would give them a chance for possible rehabilitation so that they might one day return to be members of the community. Judge Daily sentenced the three oldest defendants to thirty to sixty years in the state penitentiary at Menard, Illinois. Taylor was then turned over to the Illinois Youth Commission. The judge looked over at Taylor, “The court has a right to bring you back when you are seventeen and again when you are twenty-one for further action.” THE FOLLOWING YEARS Sadly, we all know where David Gibbs is, that will never change. We hear of closure in cases like this…but I know from research that that never really comes for the victims. As for the defendants they served a lot less than you may think. That information is available on your computer…I have no interest in it. I will tell you a little bit more about David Waters.
December 6, 1970, police are called to the home of Betty Waters, David’s mother. Seems he had beaten her with a broomstick, asking her, “Does that hurt?” He was arrested.
Later, in a Kansas prison, David Waters, now age 54, was dying of hepatitis. He was in jail in connection with the murder of Madlyn O’Hair, a well know atheist, if you recall. Police from Peoria went there to talk to him about the murder of Billy A. King here in 1984. Police decided to grant him immunity since he was going to die there in jail. David Waters convinced the police that he did indeed kill Billy King. Back here in Peoria, Illinois, in April of 2002, Billy King’s sister told reporters: “We heard that on the street here…we knew that all along.”
Rest in peace David Gibbs. Editor’s Note: This story is an abridged version from Norm’s book MURDER IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD. Norm welcomes your comments: