Saturday, April 20, 2013
AMBUSH OF CONSTABLE SMITH
NORMAN V. KELLY
Three men leaned against a building in Downtown Peoria, Illinois the cool evening of June 12, 1922. Thunder rumbled overhead and there was bright lightening off to the east. Across the street from the sinister men was the old Orpheum Theater where the Buick they were eyeing was parked.
“How about that one…that Buick?”
John Schoor looked at his leader Rolla Spaulding for an answer to his question. They watched the family get out of the car and walk away. “Perfect! Let’s take it.”
The three men all police characters and suspects every time a car came up missing hurried across the street. Two of them acted as lookouts as the third one quickly entered the car, hot wired the ignition and off they went, laughing all the way. Once on the campus of Bradley Polytechnic Harry Folks hopped out of the Buick and took off in a stolen Dodge heading for Easton Road and Sterling, right there by what is now known as Newman Golf Course. Followed by the Buick, the men were soon busy in the darkness stripping down both cars. Only a thin light from a flashlight could be seen in the darkness.
BACK ON DUTY
Constable Arthur T. Smith and his partner Constable Joe Turner had just finished their supper and were back in the patrol car ready for action. They had authority in the City of Peoria and out in the county, a vast area mostly north of the city. These two men were special officers in that they held elected positions. Each year five of them were elected and these two were on their second terms. They were not members of the park district, the city force or the county sheriff’s department…and that of course made them unique.
Meanwhile the Buick owner, N.C. Race, sat in the movie theater enjoying his family and the double feature. Actually his Buick had been stolen once before…which he felt was a once in a lifetime experience. Or so he thought.
Arthur and Joe were old friends and although they competed for the job every year, they supported each other win or lose. “Looks pretty bad out, Joe, bet we have a quiet night.”
“I hope so, Art, I could use one. Ain’t been sleeping too well, the damn sun light I reckon.”
The territory as I mentioned was vast and both men spent most of the evening just driving around. Easton Road skirted what we now call Bradley Park and was really the park districts area. Nobody argued the point, and all the constables got along with the other departments. The constables did not have any radios in their cars, and if they got in trouble they knew they were pretty much on their own. As they rounded the slight curve on Easton they spotted two dark forms pulled off the road.
“Joe we better check this out.”
Turner stayed in the car as Smith snapped on his small flashlight and continued on his way to see what they had seen. I hope it interest you to know that by 1922 there were 10 million flashlights in use.
“Hey…Constable Smith here…what are these cars parked here for?”
Silence. “Hey…hold it…”
In the darkness the gunfire flashes came from the rear seat of the Buick which was parked off the road near the Dodge. The first slug whizzed past Smith, but the second one struck him in the left shoulder. A third shot quickly followed striking the hapless constable in the stomach, the fourth hit him directly in the heart. He crumbled to his knees then fell face forward on to the gravel road. By the time his partner reached him, Constable Arthur Smith was dead.
When Constable Turner heard the first shot his instinct was to duck down below the dash boar. After the final shot he eased his way out of the driver’s side of the car and ducked behind the front fender. Out of the car now his gun drawn he tried to peer into the darkness. “Art…Arthur are you okay?” He heard scurrying footsteps and only then did he chance turning on his flashlight. Furtively he crept forward trying to stay low as he inched along, calling out as he walked. He began to whisper. “Art…Art are you okay?”
As he stood silently the moon popped out, the rain was gone and he stayed in one spot moving his flashlight about. “Art…where are you?”
The moon helped him spot his partner as he ran to his friend lying at the side of the road partially in the weeds along the side of the road. “Arthur!” Turner gently turned his friend over on his back. “My God Arthur…are you hit?”
Constable Smith did not answer.
OTHERS HEAR THE SHOT
Two Park Police officers heard what they thought was a shot…maybe three or more. Officer Charles Esken and his partner jumped in to their old Ford and raced east where they thought the shots had come from. Esken noted that it was 9:18 PM. They raced up, coming to a quick stop as both doors flew open.
Turner waved his flashlight. “It’s Art…he’s been shot.”
“You guys stay here,” Esken said, “I’ll go over to the park pavilion and call it in.” Actually, Esken could not use the phone there and had to go all the way over to Main Street to get help.
Fifteen minutes later the dark county road was a busy spot with car lights and cops bathing the scene in spotlights and car lights. Later bloodhounds were brought to the scene and Peoria detectives sought to find out exactly what had happened way out there in the boondocks.
Detective Wetly from the city gathered the information on the cars, starting with the licenses plates and did a thorough search of the car’s interiors. Actually there were three cars there, two stolen and one registered in the name of Rolla E. Spaulding. Now there was a man the police knew very well, and from the scene that single clue was just about all the detectives needed. Actually the police were looking for him as a suspect in some burglaries and now they had him for car theft as well. All they had to do was apprehend him. Inside the Buick were four spent shells, and in the Dodge was a box of shells that matched those that had been fired. So the constables had come upon the thieves stripping those two cars and now Constable Smith lay dead. It was going to be a busy time for them finding Spaulding, but they knew a lot about their man…and they meant to capitalize on all of it.
A call went out to round up the usual suspects, a trick the cops pulled off regularly in Peoria, Illinois. The truth was that almost all the bad guys had been identified in Peoria, and one by one they were picked up and questioned. The cops found that by threatening them usually one or more of them were more than happy to tell them all they needed to know. As luck would have it Mr. Spaulding was not caught up in the police net but his pal Henry Folks was among the goons they captured.
Police found him to be a talkative cuss, and they needed all the help they could get.
Coroner Elliot had arrived at the scene and took charge of the constable’s body. He had the body removed to the Boland Mortuary where an autopsy would be performed.
All during the night the police search continued involving all the local departments as well as the sheriff’s department. When the sun came up and the search party retired, suspected killer Rolla Spaulding was nowhere to be found.
THE INVESTIGATION CONTINUES
It was the snitch Henry Folks that first brought up the name of John Schoor, a name the police were also well aware of. They listened with a bit of nonchalance so that Henry did not clam up. Plied with some coffee and donuts, the officer even handed Henry a big cigar. He talked to his ‘buddies’ for over three hours and seemed to enjoy himself. Folks told the police that Schoor was a big buddy of Rolla Spaulding. “Find him and you got Spaulding,” Henry said and late that afternoon, Henry Folks was a free man.
Every man that wore a badge was looking for Schoor but he was nowhere to be found. A few cops were standing at the sergeant’s desk when a man in a rumple suit walked in. He was smiling and carrying a brown paper bag.
“I understand your guys are looking for me?”
That got everyone’s attention rather quickly. “We certainly are Mr. Schoor. Thank you for coming in.”
Four hours later Mr. Schoor had pretty well convinced the detectives that he did not know Rolla Spaulding at all. Skeptics, of course, but they tried as hard as they could to get him to talk about Spaulding but nothing worked. The cops tossed Schoor back in his cell to cool his heels a bit while they kept looking for Rolla Spaulding.
One thing the culprit could not explain to the cop’s satisfaction was his wet clothing and muddy boots. That evening Schoor admitted that he was out in the storm and that he was with Spaulding earlier in the day but that he was not with him out on Easton Road. Of course the police did not believe him but they were making headway…and of course…Schoor was back in his cell.
So the fish were let out of the police net one after the other. Some had given a bit of information here and there, and the others promised to notify the police if they saw Spaulding. The police rarely believed a word they were told but they had time on their hands…so they let them all lose.
The detectives added up what they had. They knew where Henry Folks lived, they had Schoor in jail and they had two guns, the two cars and some empty and loaded shells.
Coroner Elliott gathered everyone he could find connected with the killing and called his hearing to order. The small hearing room was filled to capacity with cops, reporters and witnesses. The local newspapers had not been kind to Constable Turner hinting that he should have done more to protect his partner. The jury even questioned the officer.
“Why didn’t you fire your weapon Constable?”
“Because of our strict procedure that’s why. I was the driver. I was to stay in the car. Also, had I jumped out and turned on my flashlight I could have been an easy target.”
Officer after office followed Turner and then the medical examiner was called to indicate the cause of death. Dr. Maurer told in grim detail how the constable had met his death.
“He was hit by three slugs,” the old physician testified. “The one that hit his heart killed him instantly, maybe before he hit the ground.” He looked over at the jury, “Yep, killed him stone dead.”
The coroner’s jury reached a verdict of murder and recommended that the police continue their investigation into the person or persons guilty of the constable’s murder. They also suggested that the man be held for murder without bail.
That was easy for them to say since the police were pretty much at a stand still. All they had, and they meant to cling to him was John Schoor. Actually they had nothing on him but until a lawyer stepped up and demanded his release they aimed to hold on to him. Meanwhile all the honors they could bestow on a comrade in arms were being planned for the funeral. Once Smith was buried with honors he slipped into oblivion until a writer in Peoria, Illinois brought his memory back to the City of Peoria. His name was then put on three police monuments In Peoria, Springfield and Washington DC.
TO HONOR CONSTABLE SMITH
The funeral was held in Smith’s home over at 2040 Knoxville in Peoria, Illinois. The constable left behind his widow, Florence and his two children, Willie age 9 and Mary Kathleen age 4. Art’s brother and mother also survived his death. A requiem Mass was held at Saint Bernard and the constable was buried at Saint Mary’s Cemetery. The deceased officer was born in Livingston County in 1887 and was all of 34 when he was killed.
Police turned up the heat by soliciting police departments all over the area in the search for Rolla Spaulding but when all was said and done they did not have their man. A headline in the local newspapers on June 17, 1922 sounded promising: ‘NEW CLUE TO SMITH MURDER.’
Sounds good but it turned out to be shocking more than anything else. It seems Mr. John Tegg had a story to tell so he went directly to the local news reporters. He said he was driving out near the murder scene when he saw the two constables inside the police car with two bob-headed women in the back seat talking to the officers. Wow…this was pretty wild news back in 1922 I can tell you that. Mr. Tegg further stated that “I know Constable Turner very well and I know that one of the men was Turner.” He saw them get out of the car and walk over to a couple of parked cars. “I did not stop because it was none of my business.” Now what were the do-gooders in old Peoria to think of that statement?
Tegg’s statement caused quite an uproar to say the least and the reporters headed for the chief of police to confront him and Constable Turner. Constable Turner held up his hands and shook his head. “There is not a word of truth in it. It is hard to see your friend shot down in cold blood and I swear every word I said at the coroner’s inquest was the truth by all that’s holy. As for the women none of my friends believe that story. It was very dark out there and any witness that said they could see anything…let alone women…is a liar.”
A day later rumors flew, there was a lot of gossip, but most Peorians believed Turner. The newspapers reported that Rolla Spaulding was seen out at El Frisco Beach. Nothing came of that and then the local newspapers sold a few more papers with a story that posed as a question.
PEORIA MURDER WITNESS SLAIN?
Peorians assumed that John Schoor was still in jail but according to the paper maybe his body was found out in the boonies covered with weeds.
It was now July 10, 1922 and the paper tried to keep the exciting murder actively selling papers. Was this just another pitch on their part?
Schoor’s mother told police and the press that her son had been kidnapped one July night by a man named Ray ‘Red’ Keith. She was afraid to call police and she was now certain that the body they found was her son, John Schoor. Police say that the body was found out at Atwater Woods near Havana. So take the poor woman to see the body. Police refused at the time and folks around here were really exasperated. One officer said, “ it was too gruesome” People just shook their heads and waited for the next shoe to fall.
ROLLA SPAULDING CALLING
Deputy Minor took the call. “Hello…this is Rolla Spaulding, I’m back in town.”
Minor waved at some men to quiet them down. He raised his voice. “You say you are Rolla Spaulding?”
“Yes, I’m in town over here at the Jefferson Hotel. You can come over and get me.”
At the hotel a handsome man, dressed to the nines answered the door.
“Are you Deputy Minor?”
“Yes, are you Rolla Spaulding?”
“I am. Do you have a warrant for me?”
“No. We have one but I don’t have it. Do you still want to come with me now?”
And so, Spaulding exchanged the fancy hotel room for a cell in the old county jail. Mr. Pratt, our state’s Attorney, went over to the jail and served the warrant on Spaulding personally.
Spaulding spoke briefly to the press until he was told to shut up by his lawyer.
“They may have found my car out there, but I assure you I had nothing to do with shooting Constable Smith.”
The next day folks were drawn to the case again by something that was printed in the local newspapers.
“I am going away. I shot Arthur Smith. I had Rolla’s Spaulding’s car. The accident happened at a place near Bradley Park. I got even with the police who beat me up. These are my fingerprints.
Signed: John Schoor.
So…the folks in Peorian thought…this is why Rolla Spaulding surrendered. If that body out there in the weeds was not Schoor then who was it? Aha…the plot thickens.
The answer to all the speculation was allowed to soak in over night. The newspapers had another headline that would surely sell some more papers. They were right.
BODY IS JOHN SCHOOR
Now of course they had no fancy DNA…no real forensics but the police had a skull and some clothing that John’s mother had identified. Hell, that’s all they needed in those days. Later they admitted that the skull was pure white, and that there was a neat hole in the forehead. Police maintained that the teeth were recognized by the mother and that experts also examined the skull.
An article summarized what they had so far. Police had a letter of confession from John Schoor. A skull, teeth and clothing said to belong to John Schoor. They also had some spent and loaded shells. Rolla Spaulding had turned himself in but denied the murder. So what was next?
Police said a farmer out near the cabin where John was found said that a man named Robert Jackson was really Rolla Spaulding.. Both Keith brothers were arrested and they were taking the case to the Grand Jury.
There was a lot of talk around town about Prohibition and the dry agents that tried to enforce the Volstead act. So far, 124 of the 3,500 agents had been killed in the line of duty. I can tell you that here in Peoria the local police department was not part of the Volstead ‘cops,’ and getting a drink here was very easy.
SPAULDING TO FACE TRIAL TOMORROW
So the grand jury indicted Spaulding for murder and as the weeks went by a date and time for his trial was made and the local folks relaxed a bit. Of course a change of venue was requested…but denied. The defense wanted the case out of Peoria County. An appeal was made and folks were irritated to learn that the trial would be held in Toulon, Illinois which was in Stark County. The real shocker came when the judge ruled that it would be tried in 1923. No way…as they would say today. Way someone could reply. 1923 was the year but when?
FEBRUARY 20, 1923
So the big day dawned in beautiful downtown Toulon and the crowds flocked in hoping to get a seat. Many were disappointed as the process to pick a jury continued. In all 52 witnesses were subpoenaed and after the jury was picked, the case began.
It was very quiet in the courtroom as a deputy, carrying a box under his arm, walked over to the prosecutor’s desk and sat it down. All eyes were on that box. Now what on earth was in that box? It sat there for an hour or so before the prosecutor for the People walked over to it. He looked over at the jury, then the judge. Almost in a magic like move he had the stark white skull of John Schoor held out in his right hand! There were audible gasps heard from many spectators as well as the jury.
Quickly he walked over to the jury, skull held high. “This is John Schoor. He was killed so he would remain silent during this trial.”
Objections flew from the defense and the judge was seen…but not heard…banging his gavel on the hard old oak wood bench. The judge demanded a fifteen minute break. The attorney for the people looked satisfied as he plopped in his seat. Being dramatic took some effort.
THE TRIAL CONTINUES
All eyes were fixed on the skull of John Schoor which was admitted into evidence. The judge added another warning for the spectators to remain quite and he nodded for the next witness.
The next day the prosecution rested and as hoped, the defendant Rolla Spaulding took the witness stand in his own defense. He was told by the judge as well that he did not have to testify…but he did.
It was Friday February 23, 1923 when the tall. Handsome man dressed in a beautiful brown suit with matching tie took the stand. He smiled and nodded to the jury as his attorney walked up next to him. They both smiled at each other. Rolla was a nice, kind man, all this told the jury he was just a decent man that was wrongly accused. Listen folks…he will tell you the honest truth. The two old ‘pals’ had a nice, enjoyable conversation about who Rolla really was, and the kind things he had done in his life. Hell…even a few of the jurors smiled at the conversation.
“Did you shoot and kill Constable Smith?”
With a dramatic gesture and a shake of the head, Spaulding replied. “Sir, I did not shoot Constable Smith or any other man.” The defense lawyer looked over at the jury…he smiled, then looked over at the judge. “Your honor the defense rests.”
Well, I can tell you the prosecution did not rest and the cross-examination was brutal and bombastic. For over two hours the People’s lawyer went after the defendant, and adding to the assault, put on four rebuttal witnesses. Finally, an exhausted prosecutor rested the State’s case. Next would be the closing arguments. In early evening the jury had the case. Was he found guilty or not guilty?
SPAULDING GUILTY, SAYS JURY
Life in prison was the sentence and Spaulding was taken back to the county Jail in Peoria, Illinois. He did not leave immediately for the Illinois State Prison because he faced another trial over in Havana, Illinois. But since this is about Constable Smith let’s stop here with
the satisfaction that he paid for the murder of one of our finest constables. As I mentioned his name is now on the memorials in Peoria, Springfield, and Washington DC. I also included his story in my book OFFICER DOWN.
Editor’s note: Norm is a Peoria historian and author. He welcomes your comments.
MURDER IN THE HEARTLAND
NORMAN V. KELLY
Bradley sophomore and navy veteran Flavel Feugersang along with the radio in his new, 1947 Pontiac as he cruised the downtown streets of Peoria, Illinois. It was December 3, 1947 and Flavel had always considered himself to be a lucky guy, with a pretty girlfriend, a new car, a wealthy father and home safely from the war. Folks were scurrying about under the bright Christmas lights, enjoying the mild December evening. Flavel stopped his car at a red light on Adams Street. Suddenly his passenger door swung open! A man in a navy pea coat stuck his head inside. “Could you take me to the airport?”
Mavis Bishop stood outside the Pere Marquette Hotel anxiously waiting for Flavel to pick her up. She returned to the hotel to make several telephone calls to his friends and his mother. Finally, her father picked her up and took her over to the Feuger home. Together they waited…worried and cried. Sadly they would never see their beloved Flavel alive again.
Mr. Feuger and his wife arrived at police headquarters early that December 4, 1947. The next stop was Bradley University and Flavel’s fraternity house. Within hours a massive search was organized that involved volunteer groups from every walk of life. For five days they searched, but still no sign of Flavel Feuger. While the fear mounted, police concentrated on finding the Pontiac. A Bradley student found it parked downtown and the police swarmed over it. Inside the glove compartment they found a crumpled cap bearing the printed name of Norma Weber.
WANTED: Herman Weber
After extensive talks with Mrs. Weber, the police put out an all points bulletin for Herman Weber. He was soon located in Conroy, Texas and Peoria detectives drove down there to bring him back. On the way home, Weber confessed to the killing of Flavel Feuger. The problem was he told three different stories, telling the police that Feuger’s body was probably in Saint Louis by now. The local newspaper issued EXTRAS about the news creating the biggest excitement since the Thompson murder case in 1935. It appeared that the police had their killer but where was Flavel Feuger’s body? Mavis Bishop and the distraught Feuger family prayed for help.
HELP COMES AT THE WRIGHT TIME
Basking in the limelight in his jail cell, Herman Weber enjoyed telling the police one lie after the other. The police web picked up several of Weber’s friends and his wife. The detectives zeroed in on Fred Wright, and his tip finally got the police on the right track. Police, along with about forty Bradley students headed down toward Dixon Mounds where they found the body of Feuger in a frozen pond. Flavel Feuger’s death had been caused by .25 caliber slugs to the head and chest, and was dead when he was tossed in the water.
Once the coroner held the inquest Weber was indicted for kidnapping, car theft, murder and a count of rape upon the lady from whom he had stolen the gun that killed Flavel Feuger. Like so many other criminals in Peoria, Weber was just the guy next door, a war veteran, good neighbor and a friendly man and a veteran Sailor just like Flavel. He told police the shooting was an accident and the stealing of the Pontiac was just something he did for a living. It was that simple.
On February 3, 1948 the hottest ticket in town was at the courthouse for the murder trial of Herman Weber. Like the Thompson trial in 1935 crowds flocked to the courthouse trying to be part of the excitement. Hundreds were turned away. The trial lasted five days and the jury took very little time finding Weber guilty on all counts and recommending the death penalty. Shortly after the verdict newsboys flooded the streets, all yelling the same headline. “GUILTY DOOMED TO DIE.” Weber testified on his own behalf, telling the jury that the confessions were coerced and that a man named Crawley was the real killer.
Herman Weber stayed in the Peoria County Jail for a few days more before he was taken to Joliet where he would be held on death row. Once all of his appeals were lost the exact date of his execution was set. After seeing a few family members and a priest, Herman Weber was led from his holding cell to the electric chair, the same one that had executed Peorian Gerald Thompson in 1935. It was a few minutes after midnight when the lights dimmed three times, indicating that the killer of Flavel Feuger had been put to death. Weber was the tenth and last person from Peoria County to be executed for murder. Eight of those killers were executed here in Peoria by hanging. Thompson and Weber, both Peorians, were executed in our state prison in Joliet, Illinois. What a terrible waste of lives for these two young men, both war veterans who had their entire lives ahead of them. You can read the book UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD, available in the Peoria Public Library.
Editor’s Note: Got a comment or question for Norm? firstname.lastname@example.org
A SHELTON CHRONICLE
NORMAN V. KELLY
There are a lot gangster fans in East Peoria and Peoria so I often bring up our pet gangster during my speaking engagements and writings. Bernie Shelton was here in Peoria from 1941 until his murder on July 28, 1948. His gangster reputation may have been warranted in Southern Illinois, but believe me, he was no gangster here in Peoria, Illinois. When I think of gangsters I think of Al Capone and men of his ilk, Shelton was just a pug, a thug, an uneducated ex-convict. I laugh out loud when I read that he ‘took over gambling’ in Peoria. What a joke. When Bernie came here Peoria had 242 taverns, most of them, including our nine casinos had one form of gambling or the other. Peoria did not require some outsider telling our folks how to gamble, that’s for sure. The major gambling places were owned by wealthy, and in some cases, powerful men. Had they wanted to get rid of Shelton they would have done just exactly that…‘One way or the other.’
The Sheltons were gamblers, hustlers and intimidators who liked the reputation of being ‘gangsters,’ especially Bernie. As an ex-con he could never own a liquor license here, so he had a small financial investment in a dive called the Red Onion, and another dump near city hall, called the Palace Club. Carl Shelton and Bernie had a legit business in the Shelton Amusement Company that leased jukeboxes and gambling paraphernalia. Of course they were involved in gambling, as were hundreds of other people during WW 11. I tried every way possible to track their ‘gangster activities’ in Peoria, but to no avail. We had a lot of really bad guys in our town over the years, and the Sheltons were actually pretty tame in comparison. Also, I want to point out that in September of 1946 gambling ceased in Peoria, Illinois. Of course the slot machines still thrived, but Peorians never called the ‘slots’ real gambling. Bernie and Carl promptly moved out of the city to the Parkway Tavern on Farmington Road, across from Hunts.
On the warm evening of May 30, 1948, Ray Walker, a friend of Bernie’s, got into a fight with a man named James Murphy Jr. Murphy won that fight and Walker drove down the street to summon John Kelly and Bernie Shelton. They stopped Murphy as he was driving out of the parking lot. A fight ensued, Murphy was pistol whipped, and shots were fired into the air. Mr. A. L. Hunt witnessed all this. When he and G. Sitton walked over to see
what was going on, Kelly stuck a gun to Hunt’s ear and marched him back across the street. “Mind your own business.”
County Deputies Aaron and Francis arrived and battled with Kelly and Shelton inside the tavern. Shelton was injured in the fracas and both landed in jail over night. Later, the two ex-cons were charged with seven felonies and it looked like their gambling days were over.
On July 28, 1948, Bernie left the side door at the Parkway Tavern to take his black Buick for an oil change. Cotton Ronitis was with him. “Wait, Bernie, I left my cigarettes inside.” Cotton heard what sounded like a shot and found Shelton on all fours in the driveway. The shot came from an unseen gunman in a wooded pathway that led to Saint Joseph’s cemetery. Believe it or not Mr. Hunt was a witness to that scene as well. Ace ambulance took Bernie to Saint Francis and on the way Shelton yelled at the driver. “Watch that green car, watch out for it.” Bernie Shelton died forty-minutes later in the emergency room.
I think it was July 31, 1948. I was sixteen at the time, when I stood way off to the side as they buried Shelton at the Parkview Cemetery. I was impressed with the well-dressed people and all the fancy cars. Once everyone left it took little time for souvenir hunters to take every last flower off the grave.
I have written a lot about gambling, crime and bawdiness in Peoria, and I can tell you, Bernie Shelton is always in the middle of those talks and stories. Truth is he was barely a bit player in the over all scheme of things here in town. Here are some financial facts from his probated will. I was told many times that he probably had a ‘couple of million stashed somewhere.’ I always found that to be funny, gangster fans hate facts.
Shelton’s Assets: A total of $56,199.00, and that included $33,022.18 in real estate value. He had $14,892.22 in cash with claims of 16,444.32 against his estate.
I have lectured over thirty years about Peoria and its ‘State of mind.’ Mayor Woodruff understood Peorians, and he was elected eleven times. He molded this town into what it became. Personally I think it was one of the greatest little river towns in America’s history, and Bernie Shelton was just a tiny part of it.
Editor’s Note: Norm welcomes comments or questions. email@example.com
WE CALLED HER ‘MOLDY MARY’
NORMAN V. KELLY
Calling Mary Hunt Moldy Mary does not sound very complimentary to me, but that is what Peorians lovingly called our local hero. Mary was a Bacteriologist working here at our Ag Lab, officially referred to as the United States Department Of Agriculture before and during the crucial years when Penicillin was being developed as a mass product. When I first heard of it as a ten-year old kid in 1942, I understood that this new miracle medicine was Peoria’s own. Of course, that was not true, but Chamber of Commerce people like to brag about their city, and so folks here in Peoria just claimed it as our own. The real beginning of Penicillin started by accident way back in 1928 in England by Doctor Alexander Fleming, but hey, you can look him up on your own computer.
Peoria, Illinois had a very active agriculture department here and since it was located in the center of a vast agriculture area, we were picked by the powers that be to research this Air Bourne Bacteria referred to as Penicillium Notatem by Dr. Fleming. The great man actually visited the lab here and believe me it was a newsworthy subject way back then. Even then it was talked about as a ‘miracle drug,’ and with WW11 just beginning to produce American casualties in large numbers, it was a priority item within the medical community and The United States Government. Folks in Peoria were proud to hear that such an important project was being carried on right here in patriotic Peoria, Illinois.
That is where Mary Hunt came into the picture. Not only was she part of the research team she used her shopping skills to find the perfect piece of produce to further the research. She was a well-known, somewhat mysterious person as she went in and out of stores all over Peoria, testing fruit, vegetables and meats. Now the folks that encountered her had no idea what she was really doing, except shopping. One local lady told reporters, “I just thought she was just a frugal, careful housewife, picking the best possible foods for her family. I guess I was wrong about that.” The managers were often asked about ‘moldy fruit’ which they were reluctant to disclose, but Mary’s gentle persuasion won them over. Finally, she picked up what she considered the perfect cantaloupe, noting a slight mold forming on the navel. Mary was quoted as saying that when she picked up this particular cantaloupe she knew she had hit pay dirt. “I remember when I got that Texas cantaloupe it proved to be ‘The One!” The lab labeled the cantaloupe ‘Mold Number 72.” That was when folks started calling the shopper ‘Moldy Mary.’ Mary had the honor of cutting off the mold and preparing it for the research. “After I cut off the mold I passed the cantaloupe around to my fellow workers to eat. They thought it tasted very sweet, and they loved the golden color.”
Her boss, Doctor Andrew Moyer then put the mold into a vat of corn steep liquor, which was part of a by product of corn starch that was normally just dumped into the Illinois River. Later Doctor Coghill announced that this was the turning point in all of the research. That concoction “Increased the yield 20 times and no other lab in the United States used this product.” And so, as folks like to say, “The rest is history,” and Peoria and its famous lab played a major role in getting this important bacteria killer out to our troops by mass producing the life saving drug.
From Peoria the news spread around the world and labs began to mass produce Penicillin. Fifteen large pharmaceutical companies got into the act producing an amazing 14,000 pounds of penicillin for battlefield wounds and infections. Later on the now famous product was in the hands of civilian hospitals around the world, saving countless lives. The production became so efficient that Penicillin became available in 2,100 hospitals all over the United States as well as selected sites in Europe. If you would like to learn more or check out the plaques on the walls of our lab at 1815 N. University they will welcome you.
As for Mary Hunt, she never quite got the honors and awards that went to some of the doctors at the lab, but she did get herself a husband. Miss Mary Hunt became Mrs. Steven and as of 1980, was said to be in Chicago or Sedona, Arizona. I doubt it, but I hope she is alive and well and still remembers our little old town of Peoria, Illinois.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a local author and historian and welcomes your comments. firstname.lastname@example.org
PEORIA’S HOUSE OF CORRECTION
NORMAN V. KELLY
Way back in ancient history here in Peoria, Illinois, authorities had exactly the same problems local authorities are having today. The more I delve into our history the more I find this to be true. I thought I would take you back to 1878 by telling you a little bit about what was going on here in the river city.
The distilling business was at its peak here with 14 distilleries going full blast along our riverbanks. Peoria’s population was growing and families were coming here in record numbers.
Of course all that booze and all those people presented major problems for our small police force, and as it is today, there were budget constraints. A major problem was the homeless. Of course they were not called that way back then, but they created the same problems for Peoria then as they do now. A decision was made to build a House of Correction to control these vagrants, floaters and local imbibers, as these men were called. Of course they were referring to alcoholics that roamed the streets, but again they were not called that in 1878.
Contractor Valentine Jobst agreed to build the building for $10,791.00 at the foot of Grant Street, a place known locally as Plum Point. Routinely police would round these men up and take them in front of a judge where they were fined and released. Of course they never paid the fines and were back in the streets within a couple of hours. Does all that sound familiar? And like to day, the final costs were much higher than the initial estimate. The city spent $18,000 on the land, building and a large brickyard. Here the men would be put in cells, allowed to work in the brickyards, and given fifty cents a day for their effort. Of course the city took what was owed it, leaving the inmate sober but back on the street. But, that was the solution and that ‘Work House’ as it was known here in town lasted until 1920.
It might be interesting to know that they closed that building after Prohibition began.
The Work House, during its 41 years of existence housed some strange and often dangerous inmates. The newspapers often referred to these prisoners as “Paregoric fiends and opium addicts.” The habitual repeaters were called the “Bungeroo Gang.” These men were routinely sentenced to fourteen days to six months. Many of them spent an awful lot of their lives in this Correction House, coming and going over the years.
Once the correction center was opened and the city controlled it Peoria County paid forty-five cents a day per county prisoner to Peoria to house them. The city worked these men every day but Sunday and certainly benefited from their daily labors. Older Peorians will remember that the city had a lot of brick streets, embedded with streetcar tracks. The prisoners from the Work House made the bricks and were often seen working on the streets as well. The fifty cents they got a day was applied to the amount they owed in fines. Once they made enough to satisfy the fines they were back out doing exactly what they did to get them incarcerated in the first place. I think it is safe to refer to that as a vicious circle…you think?
As I mentioned this system of discipline stayed in place for four decades. You would think that someone would have raised the question of ‘slave labor’ or constitutionality, but apparently not. The city had a problem, its leaders decided on a course of action, and that was it. Once the buildings closed an Isolation Hospital was established. One of the other buildings was made into an incinerator plant, and a U.S. fleet of boats used the other vacant building along the Illinois River.
Shortly after the Work House was opened a women’s section of the prison was opened and was generally fully occupied. Adjacent to the correction center was the Lakeview Baseball Stadium where prisoners on good behavior were allowed to watch the baseball games. The grandstand would hold 700 people and opened on July 9, 1878 to standing room only crowds.
Another significant date in Peoria’s history was October 28, 1878 when four Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis arrived in Peoria, Illinois to found the Saint Francis Hospital.
It is amazing to me how the City of Peoria, Illinois grew from a village to a city in 1845 to become a gem along the Illinois River. We had around 1,900 people when we became a city and by the time 1940 rolled around we had just over 105,000 living within the 9.3 square miles of our city limits. A city that has beckoned and welcomed its visitors from far and wide, always content to be called a small town within the great heart of Illinois.
Editor’s note: Norm is a local historian and author of 12 books about Peoria’s rich history.
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