Monday, September 15, 2014


OLIVE’S NIGHT OUT Norman V. Kelly It was a cool spring day in 1947 here in Peoria, Illinois when Olive Baker busied herself cleaning up the kitchen in her rented home over on Parkside. Usually this time of the morning she was off to work at B&W Bottling Company but she had been laid off and found herself bored. She was never much of a woman to remain idle. She decided that she would go answer a couple of job openings she found in the paper. Her husband, Marshall had a good job at Pabst and he encouraged her to take her time finding another job. She agreed, knowing that she was telling him a little white lie. Around ten that morning she was on a bus heading downtown to the Crystal Tap hoping to land a part-time job there as a waitress. The tavern owner told Olive that the job had been filled. Disappointed, she turned to leave when she heard a man call to her. “Might as well have a drink before you leave.” Olive turned to look at the handsome man sitting at the bar. They exchanged smiles, convincing Olive that a drink might just be what she needed. William Dollard and Olive Baker felt at ease with each other as they talked over the job situation and other places that might be looking for help. William was a pleasant man and the two got along very well. Soon the morning turned into lunch at the table and then a bit more drinking. They had a few more drinks, they talked, they danced and the early evening crept up over them. WHERE’S MY SUPPER? Marshall Baker came home from work expecting a pretty face and the aroma of something cooking on the stove. “Olive…honey, I’m home.” No answer so he called out again as he walked through the small house looking for his wife. Marshall made a couple of inquiring telephone calls that did not help. He walked down the block to a local tavern hoping that Olive would be there. No one had seen her. He finished his beer and went on back home. He made a couple more calls, read the evening newspaper, listened to the radio and surprisingly he fell asleep. Mr. Baker was rudely awakened by a loud banging on the door. Marshal jumped up, heart racing. Mr. Baker stood looking out at a man in a dark suit, a police officer stood just behind him. “Sir, is Olive Baker your wife?” BRADLEY PARK Mr. Dollard had a spouse as well, so he was a bit reluctant to make the facts known that led to the death of Mrs. Marshal (Olive) Baker. After leaving downtown the couple went over to the Parkway Tavern, Bernie Shelton’s tavern, to have another drink. From there they drove into Bradley Park, just down from where the tennis courts are now. Situated on the hill was the old Bradley Park Pavilion. Dollard found a secluded spot to park and talk. They were there less than five minutes when the passenger’s side door flew open, terrifying the couple. The dim dome light came on as a man with a colorful bandana over the lower part of his face stuck his right hand inside the car holding a silver-plated .25 caliber pistol. The stunned couple sat staring at the intruder as he said in a rather soft voice. “I need five dollars to go to Chicago.” The robber was a short man, dark hair, with a calm, cool disposition. Dollard recovered and remembers thinking that the demand was pretty reasonable. He assured the bandit as he reached inside his jacket pocket to extract his billfold. As Mr. Dollard handed the five-dollar bill across Mrs. Baker she suddenly screamed out, “Hey, I’m not afraid of you.” The bandit ignored the money as he raised his voice, looking at Olive he said, “Don’t get fresh! I mean business.” Olive then made a fatal mistake. She lunged forward as she reached up, yanking the bandana from the culprit’s face. The small caliber weapon instantly discharged just inches from Olive’s neck. The slug tore into the side of her neck, angling down into her vital organs. She sighed, then slumped sideways towards the driver. The bandit slammed the door and disappeared into the woods. Bill Dollard sat for a moment looking at his companion. “Olive! Olive!” He yelled. There was no response. Bill Dollard started up the car and raced out of the park on his way to the Methodist Emergency Room. A few minutes later Olive Baker was pronounced dead. Of course both Marshal Baker and Bill Dollard came under suspicion from the police. However, after an extensive investigation both were cleared and the case went unsolved. The newspapers called the man the ‘Park Killer.’ I wonder if there is anyone living in Peoria today that remembers Olive Baker? She made a fatal mistake and she paid for it with her life. Editor’s Note: Norm is a local author and historian.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


I have written about quite a few men in Peoria’s past that were impressive and responsible for the remarkable growth of the City of Peoria, Illinois. Some of them went on to fame and fortune leaving Peoria to reach their expansive goals. That was not the case for Dr. Rudolphus Rouse. He was born in New York on July 20, 1793 and found himself a surgeon in the War of 1812. He married early in life and was the father of five daughters and three sons. From New York he settled in Saint Louis to pursue his medical practice. It was there that he heard of the beauty of the central Illinois area and a small trading center that was on the grow. He came here and looked upon the tiny settlement of Peoria which had but seven log cabins and two frame dwellings. The setting of this primitive little place, the beauty of the Illinois River Valley impressed him and he decided to move his family here and Peoria benefited by that decision in so many ways. I want to bring you the story of this young, remarkable doctor and the impact he had on the future of Peoria, Illinois.
There was a physician here before him, but his practice included Chicago all the way to Springfield, so Dr. Rouse was really our first resident physician. Of course folks came and went in and out of Peoria and at that time only forty four souls called the Village of Peoria their home situated within 16 blocks that included a courthouse square. Dr. Rouse was an immediate success and few physicians in the State of Illinois equaled his skills. He proved himself to be an honorable man, public spirited and eager to expand Peoria’s boundaries and his reputation as a qualified, highly trained physician.
On July 18, 1835 Peoria had filed the proper papers to become a town, selecting Dr. Rouse to be on the first board of trustees, serving as its president for six years.
In 1837 Rouse acquired a large piece of property in the heart of the town at Main and Jefferson. He had built on that prominent lot a very large; three-story brick building that would house his offices in the basement and allow for the rental of several office spaces for tenants. It quickly became ‘Rouse Hall,’ and was the dominating piece of property in Peoria for many years. In 1857 he expanded that property to the rear providing Peoria with an entertainment area that was known as Rouse’s Opera Hall. Actually the townspeople consider them separate buildings and businesses, which indeed they were.
Dr. Rouse, along with a few other citizens realized the potential in Peoria. They set about to enhance their businesses and promote the new Town of Peoria, Illinois. Dr. Rouse encouraged other doctors to come to Peoria, including Doctor Frye, Dr. Bartlett and Dr. Dickerson, who later became associated with Dr. Rouse.
Take a look at the type of the physicians that located in Peoria, Illinois during those early years. Of course there was no governing body, or regulations to abide by. I guess you just popped into town and put ‘Out Your Shingle.’ There were Allopaths, Homeopaths, Botanic doctors, and…wait for it, root doctors.
Naturally the highly trained physicians of the time frowned on some of those practices and in 1848, Dr. Rouse and nineteen other doctors formed what would be known as The Peoria Medical Society. Then in 1850 Dr. Rouse presided over a medical convention in Springfield, Illinois which became the Illinois State medical Society.
IT WAS NOT ALL MEDICINE Acquiring real estate seemed to be a hobby with Mrs. Rouse as well as Dr. Rouse. He bought a large area between Adams and Washington Streets, south of Cedar Street which became known as “Rouse Addition.” Mrs. Rouse bought valuable property at Main and Adams Streets. For you older Peorians that was the area that we knew as the Central National Bank. She paid a whopping $87.50 for that very suitable area. Dr. Rouse had a three-story brick business building erected there. A Mercantile library was put in there as well as a dry good store. Folks in Peoria called that “The Rouse Corner.”

In 1888 that building suffered a severe fire, but was quickly repaired and somewhat expanded. By 1893 The Central National Bank moved into the ground floor and obtained a long lease from the Rouse Estate. Most people my age knew of the Central Bank, but certainly nothing about the history behind that piece of property. Finally by 1913 the bank razed the original building and in 1930 a new bank was built on that site. Dr. Rouse was also heavily into the local railroad business, which was sold off to T.P.&W. That railroad eventually was owned by George McNear who was murdered here in Peoria, Illinois. I wrote a story about him and his railroad which is on line called “The Railroad Man.” Dr. Rouse died in 1873, his widow then moved to Philadelphia where she died in 1886. The last of this eminent Pioneer family, Henry and Jennie Rouse, brother and sister, lived at 309 North Perry for many years. The Rouse family plot is located in Springdale Cemetery. Editor’s Note: Norm is a true crime and fiction writer and monthly contributor to several local magazines.

Friday, August 29, 2014


I do a lot of fun lectures on the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition here in Peoria, Illinois. When I tell folks that we would not have had any fun without the help of our friends up in Canada, skeptical eyes are on me. Of course my point is simple enough, what the hell would Prohibition and the Roaring 20’s have been without BOOZE? And…my children…where did we get all that Booze? Well, believe me it came from CANADA.
My audiences tend to be on the elderly side, and of course they are all experts on Peoria history. After all, their grandfather’s told them all they needed to know about Peoria. Problem is most of what they know is just ‘Grandfather’s Stories.’ Which were mostly myths mixed with a lot of flat out, uneducated guesses.
The truth is that all the TV and old movies about Prohibition were strictly entertainment. Which is what they should have been, especially the Al Capone gangster stories and of course Elliot Ness as well. Believe me, when I tell you the amount of whiskey, gin and beer made here in the United States in all the bathtubs and all the stills amounted to but a “Thimble full, in the over all picture.”
Many parts of Canada were dry when the great Noble Experiment became the law of the land on January 16, 1920. When the leaders up there looked down on the thirsty United States they sprung into action. Suddenly the distilleries were opened up and many brand new ones were built. The government allowed good old Canadian booze of all descriptions to be exported. The gates opened up and during the thirteen years of Prohibition hundreds of millions of gallons of good old booze found its way to every nook and cranny of the United States.
People used every contraption, including walking, to get to Canada to buy America’s favorite product, beside drugs. Of course organized Crime was handed the best opportunity they had ever had to get rich, and believe me they were experts at bringing booze back here. Quickly they owned what amounted to small navies and the flow of booze was incredible. They used small boats to take it to ‘Mother Ships’ anchored just outside of our three- mile-limit, and they got richer than King Midas. Think of it, this booze was coming in here so fast that there was quickly an excess of the product. All that booze was trucked and stored and the warehouses became targets for the gangsters with their Thompson Machine guns. Of course, that is the story you all know up in Chicago area and the Al Capone type gangsters of the great United States. Well, why go to Canada and spend money on booze when all they had to do was kill each other to get it? In fact during the thirteen-years of Prohibition 701 died violent deaths in the Chicago area, including many innocent folks. During that same time 79 died here and 98% of them were domestic murders and had nothing to do with booze or bootleggers.
Resorts opened up in Canada, like a town named Govenlock, just across the border from Montana. Hundreds of little ‘Vegas’ towns got filthy rich off ‘Dry Americans.” The enforcement was a joke and the only idiots that thought things were wonderful in America were the pathetic Temperance folks. The narrow-minded do-gooders led by Wayne Bidwell Wheeler was the most powerful man in the history of the United States.
Actually I am a Peoria historian and the real fun was had here in Peoria, Illinois. One day I could get into a bit of that. Or…you could come over to Bradley and listen to my four lectures in April…but that would require some effort. Sorry I brought it up. If I had my choice I would have loved to have been in Peoria from 1920 through 1946. I was born here in 1932, and too young to get in on the action. I can tell you it was one hell of a great time in bawdy, wide-open Peoria, Illinois. Long Live Peoria and Canada and of course…Booze, in moderation…of course. Editor’s Note: Norm is a local author & historian.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Part Two
“Big John McCrea,” that’s what folks called him, a huge Negro that lived in a shack down by the river’s edge in Peoria, Illinois. It was a hot evening, June 23, 1903, right after supper, that a group of three police officers set out to catch the men that were stealing coal off the box cars parked near the bridge. The officers spread out, with Detective William ‘Searchlight’ Murphy taking the lead. He soon came upon three men standing atop a coal car pitching coal chunks to the ground. He quickly confronted them and before his two fellow officers were on the scene three shots rang out in the darkness.
Detective Murphy was on the ground, his revolver still in his hand. The officers took into custody two of the men, but the third one, deemed the shooter, John McCrea, had escaped. He was a well-know police character and within the hour police had surrounded his shack, taken him and a pistol into custody, and reported to headquarters that Detective Murphy was dead.
Once the word of Murphy’s death spread through the taverns an ugly mob surrounded the City Hall, the very one that is standing in downtown Peoria to this day. As the alcohol fueled mob began to demand that the killer of Murphy be turned over to them, the mayor ordered all the lights turned off. The fire department and all the police officers were called to the station and the chaos was indescribable. During all of the screaming and yelling, two detectives snuck McCrea out the rear door and onto a waiting train that whisked him safely off to Galesburg. It was an hour later that three men from the mob were allowed to search the small holding area and the county jail. John McCrea, accused killer of their beloved Detective Murphy was gone!
Downtown Peoria was packed with people and over at the courthouse square there was standing room only. Inside the courthouse the trial room was already full, and a couple hundred people roamed the hallways hoping to get in to see ‘The Big Show.’ Bailiffs’ were yelling potential jurors’ names out and herding the men into the jury room. Others, not on the list, volunteered to be among the summoned, but they were carefully and politely rebuffed.
Finally there seemed to be some law and order, and with the courtroom packed, Judge Green entered the courtroom as everyone stood. He stood there a moment surveying the scene before he was heard to say, “Okay! Let’s get this jury picked.”
Mr. W.V. Teth was the State’s Attorney and for the defense, were two fine lawyers that had been assigned the case by Judge Green. On September 25, 1903 the jury was in the juror’s box, the lawyers were ready, and the eager spectators could hardly contain themselves. Finally, they would witness the conviction of the man that had killed thirty-seven year old Detective Murphy. They understood the process, all nice and legal like, but in the end they were certain that Big John McCrea would end up dangling from a rope. For them it was truly as simple as that.
By the end of September, 1903, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder and recommended death by hanging. As the fall turned in to winter all hopes of a new trial or a governor’s pardon were gone and the date of execution was set for December 11, 1903.
The fifty witnesses stood looking up at Big John as he said aloud, “I am an innocent man and ready to meet my demand.” The shroud was put over his face, and the noose adjusted. “Farewell my friends,” some heard the man speak just before he plunged to his death. John was buried in Potter’s Field, in an unmarked grave.
Charles Otis Botts was a self appointed ladies man, and used every woman that was foolish enough to fall for his boyish charms. In Peoria Heights, his fiancĂ©e supposedly shot her self over him, and a local coroner’s jury tried to hold him accountable, but the proof of murder was just not there. He moved on with other women, finally marrying Artie Slagel. Abuse was Bott’s middle name and Artie was his abusive target. He was under a peace bond when the landlady found Artie Slagle dead with a blue scarf wrapped around her neck. Of course Charles Botts was nowhere to be seen and a massive manhunt filled the streets, saloons and bordellos of Peoria, Illinois.
Local newspapers zeroed in on this murder case, and their favorite witness was the landlady. She told them that the room she rented to the Botts was locked so she put up a ladder and looked through the transom and saw poor Artie lying on her bed, strangled apparently by the blue scarf. ‘Was it Uxorcide?’ Newspapers screamed the headlines, sending its readers to the dictionary. Meanwhile Otis Botts was hiding out in a dive near the river, and spending his nights inside the brothels spending what little money he had. Soon, a tip came to the police and Botts was arrested and whisked away in a horse drawn police wagon.
Just days before the trial here is what one of the newspaper editors said of Charles Otis Botts. “This uexordest is not only a degenerative, malignant fiend, he is a monster in human form.” Think that kind of talk tinged the jury pool a bit?
MARCH 25, 1905
The ‘fiend’s trial began with the usual onslaught of spectators battling to get into the courthouse. Once the jury was picked the State wasted little time parading witness after witness in front of the jury, from the coroner to the star witness, the landlady. During it all Botts seemed bored; he yawned, drew pictures and put his head on the table appearing to have fallen asleep.
Surprisingly he was called as a witness in his own defense, and the excitement almost boiled over in the packed courtroom. He did quite well for an uneducated man, and finally in defiance he looked at the jury and said, “I did not kill that girl, I loved her.”
In the end the jury saw through to Botts for what he really was, a heartless manipulator and killer. He was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. He was moved to cell number 39, Peoria Counties’ version of death row. There he too was given the privilege of watching his gallows being built right outside his cage.
JUNE 15, 1905
Like the killers before him his presence brought visitors until the sheriff had to restrict the numbers. The sheriff’s invited guest gathered around on the third and first floor waiting for the execution to begin. Good old soft-hearted Botts was heard to say, “I hope God in his goodness and love will have mercy on me.”
What came after those words horrified the witnesses because the killer’s feet were actually resting on the floor! Quickly a deputy reached over with both hands and pulled the dangling body up high enough for Botts to strangle in the air. Moments later all the witnesses but two and the officials were gone. After what seemed like an eternity the doctors pronounced Charles Otis Botts dead. It was the opinion of most folks in Peoria that Botts got just exactly what he deserved.
Out west at the edge of Peoria County shots were heard aboard a dilapidated houseboat. Witnesses came running and saw a man they knew, Edward Clefford running from the boat with a shotgun in his hand. Soon he was the center of a huge manhunt that later centered within the city limits of Peoria, Illinois. Three days later the police had young Edward Clefford in custody.
As did killers before him, Clefford sought refuge in our saloons and whorehouses, paying money from the almost $700.00 he stole from his father. Police had evidence that three members of the Clefford family had gotten that money in a robbery. When police took Edward into custody he still had $540.00 in his pockets.
Peorians were shocked when they heard that Clefford and a friend had escaped the county jail. Truth is, Clefford did not make it and police moved him to a more secure cell. He was arraigned, charged with murder and the judge quickly set his trial for Thanksgiving week, and jurors were reluctant to serve. Yet the excitement of a murder trial was a hot ticket in those days and soon the courthouse was packed. Once the trial began folks were convinced that this would be, to use our phrase of today, a slam dunk. This kid was obviously guilty of shooting his father so get on with it.
I can sum up the tenor of the trial by quoting the state’s attorney. “This defendant is a despicable, uncaring young man that shot his father in cold blood for a few dollars and some gold pieces. He is a fiend, this devil in human form.” The defense attorney objected to the word, ‘Devil.’
After the jury was given the case some folks hung around the courtroom expecting the jury to come back in less than an hour. Truth is it was twenty hours of deliberation before the jury announced a guilty verdict for Edward Clefford.
By now I bet you folks have caught on that for some people killers are fascinating. Especially to women if the killer is young, as was Edward. They came to see him, they flirted with him and responded with smiles and jokes and seemed to be enjoying all the attention. Edward also received a reprieve and that caused a lot of excitement in town, I can tell you that.
But, on December 20, 1907 and by then Edward had a girlfriend named Nora Rawley, one of the women that had visited frequently, Edward was up early. He appeared to be exhilarated as he walked around. “I guess they are going to hang me until I am dead’rn hell.” He was right. Among his last words were, “Dearest Jesus have mercy upon me.” Thirteen minutes later he was pronounced dead. I know that for certain because there were five doctors that checked his heart. Imagine that. “He was the coolest and most calm man I ever met.” Said the sheriff. Too bad he had to hang before anyone said anything good about him. Editor’s Note: Don’t miss the next issue of ADVENTURE OUTDOOR SPORTS when Norm will conclude his stories of the men executed in Peoria, Illinois. Norm welcomes your comments, and reminds us that these are very short versions of those executions found in “Until You Are Dead. “

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On The Strings Of Time


Older Peorians like to brag about old time Peoria, which makes a local historian like me very happy. We have the oldest Santa Claus Parade, the oldest baseball league, the longest linear park and were at one time the alcohol capital of the world. As a historian I have touted these and many other things about this great river city town. My books and stories concentrated on the bawdy, gambling downtown life to the Vaudevillians during the Prohibition days right on through the Tumultuous Thirties. During the forties we were a bawdy, lusty, gambling town and our reputation as a wide-open river town was well deserved. Things calmed down in the fifties culminating in Peoria being named an All American City. Way back in 1882 we had one of the top five most beautiful Grand Opera Houses in America and we were proud of what it meant to Peoria, Illinois. I wrote a lot about the famous people that came to Peoria over the years to entertain and enlighten us but I must admit that I left out one very major aspect of our culture and that was The Peoria Symphony Orchestra. The impact of this group on our citizens can not be exaggerated and I am embarrassed that I over looked it. Frankly the stories of madams, gambling, murders, mayhem and gangsters got a lot more attention than Strauss, Tchaikovsky or Bach. THE MUSIC BEGINS It was 1898 in Peoria during the decade of The ‘Gay Nineties,’ when the Symphony got its start as The Bradley Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Harold Plowe. Peoria was a busy, bustling city with a population of close to 41,000 people and by 1915 the orchestra evolved into The Peoria Symphony Orchestra when our population was estimated at 71,900. Now I am not trying to sell you on the idea that all of Peoria flocked to these concerts but a small group of people were dedicated to the idea that Peoria needed a symphony orchestra. So, on July 26, 1916, the Bradley Orchestra was incorporated into The Peoria Symphony Orchestra. The original Charter explained exactly what the goal was. “The broadening and the uplifting of the musical taste of the general public in the vicinity of Peoria, Illinois.” Those early dreamers, guided at first by Harold Plowe, 1819-1916 and continuing through to Margaret Getz in 1995 to this very day have kept that goal in mind as they battled to keep their beloved dream alive and flourishing. They played a lot of venues in their time from the Majestic Theater, Bradley University, weddings in churches, Manual High School, The Shrine and our new and modern Civic Center. The orchestra gladly played in outdoor venues like Sylvan park, and popular gatherings in town like the May Fest. Each year they put on fall and spring concerts and the symphony began to gain followers and things looked pretty rosy for them. Now these musicians pretty much were self-supporting, owning the instruments, and buying the fancy clothing that made them sparkle on stage. They had no symphony salary to help them operate. But they were making progress and had at least 60 musicians that believed in what they were doing. Then sadly in 1916 the YMCA had a devastating fire which destroyed all of the orchestra’s records and most of the instruments of the fledgling orchestra. It was that same year, 4-7-1916 that a new charter was formed. A NEW ERA The secret was out! The Peoria Symphony was not a money maker and boldly the programs that were handed out to the patrons clearly indicated that they needed the public’s help to finance the future programs. Happily they got that support. In the late 1920’s with the help of a group called the Peoria Civic Orchestra and later The Peoria Musical Club a concerted effort to raise funds gave the orchestra a new lease on life. There was even talk about asking the people of Peoria to support the group through taxes of some kind. The truth is as time went on without the magnificent support of the Women’s Guild or the Peoria Symphony Guild there would be no Peoria Symphony today. Without the tireless, dedicated work of those ladies, well, there were a ‘handful of men,’ that helped.’ But it was women that took it upon themselves to finance the Symphony Orchestra and give it some financial stability. They came along as a major force by 1951. The Guild went to the public in so many ways, so many fundraisers with one question in mind. “Won’t you the public contribute to this worthy cause?” Eventually they had 100 members but they set out to make Peorians aware of what they were doing and asking for a whopping $2.00 to join. The first check they handed the Symphony leaders was $600.00. By now they were a formidable force and the second check they handed over was for $4,000 a substantial sum indeed. The accomplishments of this amazing group are legendary and they are hard at work to this very day. A book the length of Gone with the Wind could be written about The Guild and their dedication and support to the Peoria Symphony Orchestra. As I mentioned this piece is just a thumbnail sketch of the amazing history of the Symphony. Our own Jerry Kline wrote a definitive history of this group titled A Century Of Music which is available in our library. Jerry credits Mariesta Dodge Howard Bloom who wrote The Song That Didn’t Die for his history of the Symphony, 1898-1958. So here it is 2014 and The Peoria Symphony Orchestra is alive and well and beckons you to put on something other than sweats and an old ball cap and come on down to the Civic Center and taste the sweet music that they make and have been making for 116 years. There is a whole new musical world waiting for most of us and you can check them out at or call for information and tickets at 309 671-1096. I bet you would look great in a jacket and tie or a pretty evening dress. “I mean it ain’t gonna kill ya’ now is it?” Editor’s note: Norm is a true crime writer and Peoria Historian. He has written 12 books and hundreds of articles about his hometown, Peoria, Illinois and welcomes your comments and questions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Choo Choo Ch'Boogie


I stumbled upon this song on You Tube and immediately it took me back to Peoria in August of 1946. That was a big year for me and the City of Peoria, Illinois. In May of 1946, defying all odds, I actually made it out of grade school and was heading for high school in September. I lived in El Vista and most of the kids before me went to Peoria High, but I decided to go to Woodruff. Usually I just did what I was told. I can hear my mother laughing at that statement. Wow! Fourteen years old, now what? Well, all my brothers were back from the war along with 23,000 others, minus the 662 that would not come back. During 1946 Peoria had three so-called gangland style murders, and a lot of folks in other cities thought we were a gangster town. Girls were on the minds of me and my friends and music was big for us during the war and of course 1946. The song that is the title of this piece had a lively ‘boogie woogie’ beat written by four people, one of them I remember was a guy named Horton. It was a major hit and was number one on ‘some charts’ as they used to say. Quite a few groups recorded it but I think the one by Louis Jordan was the one we loved. Young guys are always shy and most of the time the gals danced by themselves as we stood and gawked trying to some how get the nerve to actually step out there and dance with a (gulp) girl! Heroes are made not born. I really started out to tell you about trains and look where I am. But trains were big in Peoria, Illinois and we spent a lot of time downtown around the tracks and begging to sit in one of the cabooses. Most of the engineers showed us the trains and if we were reasonably under control would let us step up to one of the amazing ‘Iron Horse’ Locomotives. I loved the cabooses and to this day I feel the same way. Peoria. Illinois was a real railroad hub. I think we had fourteen or fifteen different Railroad companies that came in and out of Peoria, Illinois. I am old but even I was not around when the first ‘Iron Horse’ came into town from Chicago, Illinois. The entire town and folks from far and wide showed up ‘Hootin’ and a Hollerin’ at 10 p.m that chilly night of November 27, 1854. Trains were a part of Peoria’s phenomenal growth along with the booze and the beer. That mournful whistle at night far off somewhere still excites a lot of folks young and old. As kids I can tell you that we spent a lot of time and effort trying to catch a ride on freight trains. We would make it up to Radnor Lake and take our fishing poles to fish and play in the water waiting for one of those big black engines to come chugging in for water and coal. Once we heard her coming we would run to the water tower, or whatever they called it and line the track waving at the engineer as he pulled the big monster to a stop. Now some of the guys on the train did nothing but yell at us to get the hell off the tracks but some of them were a lot nicer. A few allowed us to stand under that big water pipe, the one they used to water those engines, and I can tell you it was a treat. I realize now that he had control of the flow of the water. At least I think that’s what he did, because sometimes a huge flood of water came out of those things. “Now you boys stay off the track and if I catch you jumping into the box cars or the caboose, I’ll have you arrested.” We stared at him. “Did you hear me?” We were all smiles and nodding heads as we lied through our teeth. Now that scared us…or so the man thought, heck we didn’t fool him. After all we had played that game many times before. Once that old train started choo chooing down the track we ran behind it or along side of it trying to stay hidden. Now many of us failed to catch a ride but the faster idiots like me seemed to always get on board. We then rode along until the train had to slow way down to make the turn north and off we would jump. Sometimes we stayed on for a mile or so and then had to make that long trek back. But as always we were the heroes of the day according to our friends and believe me we never even considered the fact that what we were doing could easily get us killed or maimed. Five years later most of us went off to the Korean War. Editor’s Note: Norm is a local True Crime Author and Peoria Historian.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


                                         By: Norman V. Kelly


On a warm April 23, 1983, Armanda Kay Burns was preparing to leave work over at Methodist Hospital in Peoria, Illinois. Armanda was the nightshift supervisor in the housekeeping department and a busy lady indeed. She stood talking to her relief person when she saw a familiar face. Kay walked over and spoke to Willie Enoch, brother of one of her employees. They talked a moment or two before Kay said good night and walked out with Willie. The time was a little after 11:30 p.m. when the two friends left the hospital for the short walk over to Kay’s basement apartment in a two-story apartment building. The two talked as they walked, and to the casual observer they appeared just to be another couple heading home.


Kay and Willie were not a couple. Police later learned that Willie had wanted to talk to Kay about his brother and complained that Kay was going to fire him. Willie had a different version of what the two talked about. They arrived at the apartment after Kay unlocked the door and the two entered. A few minutes after they arrived a violent scuffle broke out between Burns and Enoch resulting in a horrible death for Armanda Kay Burns.


                                   A  GRISLY DISCOVERY


Outside that basement apartment over at 109 NE Glen Oak, Kay’s boyfriend, Derrick Proctor was walking toward the building. He often met her there after work and it was now nearing midnight. Mr. Proctor knocked on the door and waited…he knocked again. Frustrated, Derrick walked over to Methodist to see if Kay had been detained for some reason. He saw by her time card that she had checked out so he walked back to Kay’s apartment. About 100 feet from the door he saw a figure coming out of the basement apartment.


             “I stopped to light a cigarette and then started walking

               To Kay’s apartment when I heard the door open. I was

               Pretty close now and I said, ‘damn, Kay what took you

               so long?’

               I seen a man comes out and I asked the guy if Kay was

               down there and he said, ‘yeah, she’s down there.’”


The guy took off running and Proctor ran after him, they crossed Main Street and the man, a small man with a beard ran into the medical college’s land and disappeared. Remember, that’s when Big John’s BBQ was there next to UICOMP, that’s the Illinois Medical School. Proctor recalled Willie Enoch, remembering that he had come to Kay’s apartment one night asking to use her telephone.


Back at the apartment, Proctor banged on the door trying to get Kay to answer. He went over to security at the hospital and together they returned to Kay’s apartment. Police were then called and Officer Ledbetter and the security guard finally gained access to the Burns’ apartment. What they saw stopped them in their tracks, burning an image on their brains that they would never forget for the rest of their lives.


                               THE  CORONER’S  PHYSICIAN


Let’s jump ahead and let the ever professional Dr. Immesoete describe for you in medical terms what the two officers saw that night that they had to force their way in to Armanda Kay Burns’ apartment. Keep in mind he was giving testimony at the inquest over the body of the victim and it is out of chronological sequence.


April 24, 1983.


The body is that of a black woman, five foot six, one hundred sixteen pounds. Multiple lacerations and stab wounds of the entire body, head to feet. There is a 2.6-inch laceration of the neck and a “Y” shaped slice across the trachea. The stab disrupts all the structures in the front of the neck.


There is a five-inch laceration of the neck and esophagus. A five-inch slash across the head and nares as well as multiple stab-wounds about the shoulder. There are fifteen slashes that just pierce the skin.


A large thirty (30) inch slash to the lower third of the sternum and

extending to the pubic bone. Multiple serrated wounds, done in a swaying motion or fashion. There are large lacerations to the chest and stomach, with cuts to the liver.


There are true wire marks encircling both wrists where the wrists were

tied behind her back. Swabs were taken no evidence of semen. The

abdominal cavity is exposed. This person died of exsanguination due to a ruptured superior vena cava due to stab wounds of the left back.


                                      THE  CALL  GOES  OUT


Like all crime scenes that are observed by the average person the activity seems to be chaotic and never-ending. In Kay’s apartment the investigators worked through the night. When the apartment was finally sealed off and a crime scene warning was in place the officers left. With them they took everything they could get their hands on from blood to fibers. All of the evidence was bagged and marked and recorded. Everything was then sent off to the forensic laboratory to be analyzed for future use as evidence in some future trial. The officers found evidence of a struggle in the apartment with blood scattered about the small apartment, but mainly in the bedroom. Kay had been gagged with a piece of torn sheet and bound by wire coat- hangers.


April 24, 1983 dawned as only early spring can, but by then, the case against Willie Enoch had grown substantially. Eyewitnesses came forward to tell police that they had seen Willie and Kay leave the hospital together. Other witnesses told the police that they had seen them walking together very near her apartment. Mr. Proctor’s statement to the police had Enoch coming out of Kay’s apartment. Later the lab results would match hairs and fingerprints to the only person the police considered a suspect at the time…Willie Enoch. Of course they checked out Proctor and other acquaintances of Ms. Burns, but the finger pointed at Enoch.


Willie Enoch was arrested without incident, read his rights, and incarcerated in the Peoria County jail for safekeeping. The SA was now in the picture and charges were brought against the suspect and a public defender was assigned. Bail was denied, not that he could have raised it anyway.


During all this, Armanda Kay Burns, born July 22, 1958, murdered 4-23-83 was buried. As I mentioned before, except for the people that loved her, Kay was soon forgotten. The spotlight was now on her killer, Willie Enoch, and it would stay there for some time to come.


The detectives were still working on the case tying up loose ends. It is always a break when the murder weapon is found and police concentrated on that very clue. The knife that the killer had used was found where he dropped it on the road leading up to the medical School. The blood and fingerprints found at the crime scene were analyzed by the crime lab with positive results. Police had their killer as far as they were concerned and the state’s attorney agreed. The case would now be put on the criminal trial schedule, with the SA seeking the death penalty. It would be the first death penalty case since the State of Illinois revised the death penalty in 1977.


                                A  CAPITAL  MURDER  TRIAL


Mark Rose was the court-appointed attorney for Willie Enoch as the parties met at the Peoria County Courthouse on November 11, 1983. This was a ‘hot ticket’ trial, as popular trials are referred to. The sheer brutality of the murder is enough to incite interest, and it did.


Seventy-nine prospective jurors were called and both sides knew exactly the type juror they were looking for. The defense rejected 30 prospects and the State refused 18. Finally, the jurors were in their seats, the alternates chosen, and the case against Willie Enoch, alleged killer of Armanda Kay Burns was about to start. There was a man’s life at stake here and both sides wanted to get it right.


                                    READY  YOUR  HONOR


Willie Enoch was a small man, strongly built, and known by police as an ex convict. He came to Peoria a few months before the death of Ms. Burns, coming down from Chicago, Illinois. His birth date was listed as 2-11-24 on the police report, and as far as was known he was not employed. Willie’s mother and grandmother painted him as a ‘religious and caring person.’ Enoch’s mother told the jury that Willie was the oldest of ten children and that he had been without a father from the time he was two years of age.


Louise, Willie’s girlfriend was a key witness at the trial, and on Friday she entered the courtroom. She spoke in a low, almost inaudible voice as the jury leaned forward to hear. Her head down, her hands in front of her eyes, she struggled to answer.

                  “He told me he murdered Amanda Kay Burns.”

She shared her Warner Homes apartment with Willie Enoch and told the jury that she had a young son.


                 “Willie told me that he had just killed Kay Burns, then

                  told me that he cut her throat out.”


That got everyone’s attention and as Louise struggled with what she was saying the courtroom was still and all eyes were on the witness.


                  “Willie told me that she was crazy about cocaine

                    and that he was pretending he had some. Once inside

                    he walked up behind her and cut her throat. I asked

                    him did anybody see him. He said ‘her boyfriend was

                    coming in but he didn’t recognize me.’”


Haltingly she carried on as the prosecutor continued to bring out this devastating evidence against the defendant


                    “Why did he kill her?”


“He said it had something to do with the Disciple Gang and his

brother, Bobby. He said Kay was trying to get his brother fired.”


She then testified that Willie handed her $l43.00 which she assumed he had taken from Armanda Burns. She told the jury that Willie often carried one of her kitchen knives in a paper sheath. In tears she admitted that after she heard Willie confess the murder that she felt like killing herself.


                                THE  TRIAL  CONTINUES


Witness by witness the case against Enoch grew, including the lab people who with their exhibits tightened the noose against the defendant. Dozens of photographs were submitted as exhibits and ordered into evidence by the judge. By the time the coroner’s physician testified the horror of the crime had unfolded before the stunned jurors and spectators alike. During the doctor’s testimony, Mrs. Burns gasped, causing a stir. The judge

looked out to where the poor lady was sitting.


           “I clearly understand why this is upsetting you but a capital

             murder case must be done without emotion.”


The lab evidence convinced most jurors rather quickly that the man they had before them was the man that had killed Amanda Burns. Hairs that were similar to Willie Enoch’s hair were found in the sheets, socks and scattered around the apartment of the victim. Evidence from two other women that Enoch had attacked them with knives was also allowed to be heard by the jury.


From the opening argument until the closing argument, the trial continued to go against Willie Enoch. There was little doubt which way the jury was thinking, and no surprise that they took little time deciding his fate.


On Tuesday, November 23, 1983, the jury was given the case. Four hours later the jury found Enoch guilty of three counts of murder and guilty on the charge of rape. He was acquitted on armed robbery and a murder count that was tied to the armed robbery charge.


                               AND  THE  SENTENCE  IS


A rousing post-trial sentencing hearing was heard, Judge Courson said

that Willie Enoch had “a willful wanton disregard for life.” After both sides had their say, Judge Courson pronounced sentence on the defendant, Willie Enoch. Enoch would die by lethal injection on February 7, 1984.


We all know that there is an automatic appeal on capital cases, so Willlie certainly would not die on that date, but the sentence was in the books.

Willie made a few statements of his own during the hearing.


                    “The jury conviction doesn’t prove that I

                      am guilty. I don’t fear death the Lord is my

                      salvation. Who should I fear?”


                    “What is it you want to gain by imposing

                      the death penalty? You are not going to gain



                    “I don’t have any hatred in my heart but if you

                      think taking my life helps you I don’t have no

                      fear of nobody. I don’t have a fear of death

                      because my father has prepared a place for me.


                      Before the death penalty was imposed, Enoch’s

                      attorney said “destroying Enoch’s life will in

                      no way resurrect Armanda Burns.”


                      Enoch added “if you grant me a death penalty

                      I would like State’s Attorney John Barra to

                      shoot the injection.”


                                 THAT  SHOULD  END  IT


We all know better than to think that a death sentence ends anything.

Our legal system is set up to protect the innocent and of course the guilty have a right to take advantage of the system. History has shown that innocent men have ended up on death row, so the appeal process continues.


Willie popped up in the Journal Star a few times and each time another appeal of some kind was either filed or granted. As the horror of a murder fades, the personality of the killer seems to drive the publicity. In Willie’s case a well-known lawyer from Chicago who was active in anti-death penalty cases got interested in Willie Enoch. Not Armanda Kay Burns, the victim, but Willie Enoch the convicted killer. The movement to save Willie from the lethal injection grew, and off they went.


DNA, DNA the chant went up, and a new appeal was filed stating that the wrong man was on death row. All the defense needed was to get its own DNA test of that bloody T-shirt and they would prove Willie did not kill Kay Burns.                  


I doubt if anyone in town knew as much about this case as the Journal Star’s Phil Luciano. Old murder cases fade away rapidly, but he reported the results of appeals and followed the antics of the Chicago lawyers.


“DNA testing called for by the defense will point to the real killer. They

think it was the boyfriend, Proctor. Startling new evidence that never saw the light of day will be revealed.”


State’s Attorney Lyons, who was not in office at the time of the trial had a different idea about the DNA push.


“Much ado…desperate ado about nothing. They’re banging pots and pans that’s all.”


Mr. Lyons went on to remind us that these Chicago people have been Enoch’s lawyer since 1989 but did not use the DNA ploy until 1998.


1-19-2000: Willie is still alive, Armanda is still in her grave, and the DNA results came back, pointing the guilty finger at… you guessed it, Willie Enoch.

So Enoch’s demand for genetic testing DNA backfired. So now what?

The Attorney General of Illinois handled the DNA demand and now that the results are in one would think that all avenues have been sealed as far as appeals go.


“If the courts worked half as hard to oppose sentences as they do to prevent them the public would have more faith in the legal system”. That’s our favorite SA speaking again.


“The view I take is from Armanda Burns. I stand at her grave in the proverbial sense because she could not speak then and she cannot speak now. The clock ticks slowly.”


About the results of the DNA, Lyons said, “well the results are in,

Willie was there, no one else, just him. The results showed that Enoch was there so what does that tell you about his innocence?”


                       CLOSE  THE  BOOKS  ON  WILLIE ENOCH


A new date was set for the execution of the killer of Armanda Burns.

Willie told guards that he was looking forward to flying in the helicopter that would take him down to Southern Illinois for his lethal injection. But that would never be. He would not only never get his ride in a helicopter, he would never feel the needle from the injection.


On June 11, 2003 Willie Enoch suffered an apparent heart attack and died on a stretcher on the way to the prison infirmary.


                “The Lord is going to take me if that is his wish.

                  This prison life is nothing but misery”.


I wonder what the people who loved Armanda Kay Burns would say to that?


Jed Stone the activist lawyer for Willie Enoch said ‘I guess Willie cheated                                               

the hangman this morning. More importantly he cheated us out of the chance to provide compelling evidence for a court somewhere that Enoch was innocent.’


With that comment I think it is time to close the book on Willie Enoch.