Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Deadly Triangle



 The year was l982, for you folks that were here in Peoria, Illinois at that
time you probably remember the phrase “Turn out the lights when you
leave.” They were talking about Peoria, our hometown, and it only got worse.
Jobs were hard to come by and many of us lost ours during that down period
in Peoria’s History.

 I remember when I first got wind of the story I am about to tell you. It
was the middle of January, l982, a typical winter’s day here, and after
lunch I walked down by the river. Truth is I never walk anywhere, I
ran, coming to a stop down by the Cedar Street Bridge. What caught
my attention were the seven or eight police cars that had gathered there
near the edge of the river. I also saw a rescue vehicle from the fire
department and a couple of media cars. Being nosey, I slowly walked up

as close as I could to see what in the hell was going on.

 Nobody paid any attention to me and since I saw no yellow crime scene
tape I kept going. I saw four men all dressed in black diving gear, and
as they walked toward the river, I heard a man say “if what the Peoria
Police Department wants is down there we’ll find it.” I later found out
that that man was Sergeant John Ronan who headed the elite group of
divers from Detroit, Michigan. The Peoria authorities had asked them
to come here to look for a body that apparently was missing somewhere
out there in the dark, murky Illinois River. The media swarmed around
the spokesman as he looked out at the river. “Truth is it could be right

out there or in the Mississippi by now.”

For two days the divers went about their grim task, slithering along the
muddy, ice-laden waters to no avail. So far, who the body was or why

the police thought it was there was unknown to the folks in Peoria.


 As the title of this piece implies, this is a love story, bizarre, unbelievable

and horrible, but nonetheless it is a love story. In this case, there were 
two women both in love with the same man. Throughout history that

has spelled trouble and it certainly was no different in this case. 

 Linda Firebaugh, a thirty-year-old woman that had a ten-year-old daughter

living with her was running a business out of her home over on
Fredonia Avenue called The Valley of the Dolls Escort Service. The
police had their own version of what that business really was, so they
knew about Linda and had often encountered her in one capacity of the


 The other woman in this drama was Paula Shaw also known as

Paula Anderson, age 25. The police later told the press that Paula had
worked for Firebaugh way back when she was a younger woman, and
the two were apparently friends as well. At the time this story unfolded,
Paula was living over on Third Street with the man in this story,
Charles “Hassan” Taylor. He was a thirty-three-year-old man from

Chicago who was on parole for shooting a man in a tavern brawl.

 So mix these three, two women in love with Taylor, let it stew a bit, and
then duck. Paula and Linda had clashed a bit over Taylor, Paula telling
Linda to leave ‘her man alone, and stay out of their lives’. Of course
that did not work, so Paula made up her mind one night to bring all this
to a head. She asked Taylor to come over to her house and bring Linda
with her. She called Taylor right back and told him to bring Linda
Firebaugh over to her brother’s home there at 1015 Butler. Her
brother Joel was in jail at the present time on a traffic problem and the

house was empty.

 Moments after Taylor delivered Linda the two rivals got into a shouting
match. Charles Taylor then grabbed Linda’s arm jerking her toward
the stairs that led to the basement. She screamed and struggled, but he
managed to get her down to the furnace area. He then took a pair of
handcuffs from his pocket, snapped one loop over a steam pipe and the
other on to Linda’s slender wrist. He then walked back up stairs, turned

the light off at the top of the steps and slammed the door shut.


 Firebaugh’s relatives reported her missing, and the police appealed

through the media to help them find her. The last time she was seen
according to investigators was the night of January 19, l982 when she
left her home to meet a man over at the Holiday Inn in East Peoria,

Illinois. Police never found that man, nor did they run down any other 
leads that sounded promising. Their investigation did lead to several people that knew Linda very 
well, including Taylor and Shaw. 

 About that time Joel Shaw got out of jail and when he got home he reported a

few things different in his house there on Butler. A mattress was found
in the basement and some of the bricks down there were missing. Police
found dirt on the floor and what amounted to the appearance of blood

on the floor and walls. Interesting…very interesting.


 Police decided to take Charles Taylor and Paula Shaw into custody. 
They questioned them at length about their relationship with Linda 
and their business relationship as well. The state’s attorney

soon got into the act and charged the two with housebreaking and
kidnapping. Later they added aggravated kidnapping. Authorities held
them both until the SA managed to get a $100,000.00 bond on their
heads, which pretty much guaranteed that they would remain behind
bars. Of course what the SA really wanted to do was charge the two
with the murder of Linda Firebaugh, but where was the body? What

proof did they have that the lady was dead, or had been murdered?

 Once in jail, her rights explained to her, Paula Shaw began leaking to the
police the bizarre story of the missing Linda Firebaugh. The police
indicated that she talked plenty but what she said was primarily lies.
The blame was put upon Taylor, and the police decided that since they
had them both in custody they would not jump to any early conclusions.
Slowly that process worked in getting at the truth. Of course what the
SA wanted was the body, the corpus delicti. Literally in Latin this
means “the body of the crime.” It does not mean the actual body or
corpse. But if they could not produce the body of Linda how would they
prove their case? The SA can try a person for murder even without a

body, but it sure as hell complicates matters.

 After careful study of the statements Paula Shaw had given
investigators the state’s attorney decided to charge her with two counts
of murder and two counts of kidnapping. Taylor was not charged with
murder and his two charges remained as they were. Linda was taken
before a judge and her bail bond was set at a half million dollars,

Taylor’s stayed at his initial $100,00.00. 

 The SA’s office was going to have to rely on the February 9 and 
February 15 statements they had from Paula Shaw to convict her. The 
statements gave conflicting stories, so the reliability of them would be a major

question for the jury to decide. Still the SA had to proceed even though
the body of Linda Firebaugh was still missing, but they felt that they
knew exactly what had happened to it. All the SA had to do was
convince the jury that the woman was dead, and that Paula had not only
killed Linda Firebaugh she had also managed to conceal or discard the



 All the details would come out in the trial, but the police did allow some

of the information they had gathered to reach the media. First, they
found blood on the walls and the basement floor of Shaw’s brother’s
home. Her brother certainly had absolutely nothing to do with the
murder and in fact was a victim as well because shortly after he got out
of jail the uninsured house was destroyed by fire. A victim of arson he
was now out of his house and home. Police suggested the missing bricks
were used to weight the garbage bags down when the dismembered
body of Linda Firebaugh was tossed in the Illinois River, explaining the

presence of the Detroit divers.

 What the authorities learned about the last days of Linda’s life was even
more shocking. Remember Linda was attached to a pole down in the
basement of Paula’s brother’s house. After two days of her horrible
ordeal Linda managed to get lose from the cuffs making her escape
through the basement window and away she ran to a nearby neighbor
for help. Seconds after she got to the house Taylor and Shaw barged in
behind her demanding to know where Linda was. Taylor then went to
the bedroom where she was hiding and dragged her out kicking and
screaming back to the home on Butler. What kind of help did she get

from the people she begged for help? None!

 More damaging evidence was obtained when police got their hands on
the blue jump suit that Linda had worn the day she was abducted and
chained to the steam pipe over there on Butler. There was no doubt that

the SA would be faced with a circumstantial evidence case but he was 
confident he had enough to convince a jury. It was time to bring this

case to a trial, let the people decide. There, the minute details would be

laid out in a sensible, chronological order and justice would be served.



 So with that sobriquet attached the trial began that warm day in May,

l982. It was one of those hot tickets trials that few trials in Peoria managed 
to be, after all it had the right ‘stuff,’ a love triangle, murder,

dismemberment, and Intrigue, all the ingredients of a macabre horror
movie. It caught the imagination of the people that read about it, and

some of them meant to be in the audience to hear it all first-hand.

 For the People were State’s Attorney John Barra and his assistant Darilynn 
Knauss. Paula Shaw was represented by Michael Brandt, a competent

local lawyer. In the opening arguments the jury and spectators knew
they were in for some horrific details as Barra outlined the last terrorfilled
days of the victim, Linda Firebaugh. That was all right with them,

they didn’t come to be told a bedtime story.

 The People would rely almost solely on the very statements that police
took from the defendant wherein she described the treatment given to
Linda before and after she was axed to death. According to Kimberly
Bentley, one of the first witnesses, Paula had worked as a prostitute for
Firebaugh and that Paula loved Charles Taylor. The evidence then went
on to show that both women loved this ‘Hassan,’ Taylor and that the
relationship between the old friends had grown hostile. Barra quickly
admitted to the jury that the body of Linda Firebaugh had never been
found, and that the People’s case would rely on the statement of the

defendant and corroborating evidence.

 Police Detective Charles Cannon was then sworn in and his testimony
included reading the statements he had taken from the defendant. The
first statement was February 9, 1982 and in that statement Paula told
the officers that she had watched and gagged as Taylor decapitated and
dismembered the body of Linda Firebaugh. The officer then switched
statements and reading from his notes, he told the jury that on

February 15, 1982, the defendant changed her tune. 

 The detective said that Paula wanted to get the story straight, so the 
officer took her second statement as evidence. He then told the jury 
that Paula confessed that it was she, not Taylor, that had wielded the 
axe and killed Linda Firebaugh. Another officer, Sammy Hoskins took 
the stand to discuss the second confession. Shaw said that Taylor telephoned 
her and told her to meet him at the house over on Butler. Shaw said in her 
statement that Taylor had brought along Linda and that he had taken her to 
the basement where he handcuffed her to a steam or ceiling pipe. 

 The couple stayed there that night, but in the morning they went over to 
Third Street to make sure that Linda’s ten-year-old got to school. Paula then 
said “I told Linda that if she could get the cuffs off to run as fast as she could 
because neither of us knew what Hassan was doing.” Later the evidence showed 
that Linda had escaped by getting out of the cuffs and crawling out of the window. 
Linda then ran to a nearby neighbor’s house and gained admittance. “Linda asked 
me why Taylor was holding her and I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m just as scared as

you are,’” Paula then told the police in her statement that “Hassan is mad at me 
and blames me for letting you escape.”

 The officer continued reading the statement to the jury. She said that it
was Thursday night when Taylor killed Firebaugh. “He ordered me
down in the basement with an axe and ordered me to kill Linda. I

started to shake and couldn’t do it. I brought the axe up, but when it came down 
it hit the floor.” The officer glanced up then continued “Linda screamed and Taylor

grabbed the axe. That’s when Linda yelled ‘No, Hassan, please don’t. This isn’t
necessary.’ Hassan then held her head down with his foot and took her

head off.” 

 A multitude of expressions were on the faces of the jury and the spectators as the 
real horror of the murder was read into evidence. The statements would become 
exhibits and go with the jury to read during deliberations. If the defense could not 
come up with something dramatic to overcome them then Paula Shaw was doomed 
that first day of her trial. 

 Now the jury would hear that the February 15th. statement was the

‘real’ truth and that most of what Paula told the police on the ninth of
February was false. They shifted a bit forward hoping to finally know
the truth. Who killed Linda Firebaugh, this Hassan Taylor or the

defendant Paula Shaw?

 When Taylor brought Linda to the house on Butler, according to
Shaw’s second statement, it was she, Shaw that told Taylor to take her
to the basement since she was screaming and Shaw was afraid it would
alert the neighbors. Shaw then talked with Linda alone in the basement
telling her that she loved Hassan and that all she wanted was for Linda
to leave them alone. The next morning, a Thursday, Paula Shaw told
Taylor to bring her the fire-axe that she kept in the kitchen and to find
some garbage bags. Taylor did what he was told to do.

 The officer told the jury that Linda had made up her mind what to do

about Linda Firebaugh. “ Paula told me that Linda was a threat to
Hassan, and she didn’t want anything or any person to harm him.” The
officer looked over at the judge, then continuing, she said “Paula said
she hit Linda in the neck with the axe ‘one, two, three times I guess.’
“She told me that after the head came off, she chopped her hands off,
then her feet.” The audience murmured bringing a stern look from the
judge but he did not use his gavel. This was stunning evidence, horrific
and graphic indeed. The officer paused, took a deep breath, then said
“She said the axe was going all over the place; she could hardly control
it. She could not control the axe any longer and that is when she called
Taylor. Taylor was upset with her and told her that the job had to be

finished, so he did the rest of it.”

 Defense attorney Brandt attacked Hoskin’s testimony pointing out to
the jury that the officer had told a different story to the grand jury.
 “Isn’t the reason you didn’t take a written statement
 then and tell the grand jury is because you did not
 believe the story yourself?”
Officer Hoskins shook her head “No, that’s incorrect.” Evidence was
then put forward that the outfit Linda Firebaugh was wearing at the
time of her disappearance was found at the defendant’s residence on

Third Street. 

 Along with the outfit, Linda’s purse and rings were discovered as well.

Bentley, a teen-ager was a witness and she told the jury that she saw
Shaw wearing one of Firebaugh’s rings. The jury also heard that the
blue jumpsuit belonging to Linda was offered as a gift to Shaw’s

mother. The trial would continue after lunch, the jury already had a lot of 
evidence to mull over…all of it bad for the defendant.


 Mr. Brandt looked over at the jury. “Where is the body? The police

couldn’t find it. Professional divers couldn’t find it. Where is the body?” 
If the jury believed Firebaugh was murdered, fine, but his client certainly did 
not kill her.

 “I would suggest to you the evidence we have heard
 all points in one direction only…Charles ‘Hassan’ Taylor
 was the killer, not Paula.”

 Brandt then went on to tell the jury that Taylor was on parole for
shooting a man in a barroom fight and the center of a bizarre love
triangle with the two women. He then got a bit more specific, calling

Taylor a “psychopathic, psychotic maniac.” He then went on to tell the jury that 
Firebaugh’s captivity in the basement was some sort of perverse game the trio was

playing. The defense told the jury that even if his client was involved in

disposing of the body it was after the murder and she wasn’t liable.

 The People, through assistant Darilynn Knauss countered with “It was
Linda Firebaugh’s last day of life and Paula Shaw decided what she was
going to do and how to get Firebaugh out of her life forever.” She then
went on to ask the jury “Not to let a confessed murderer walk out the doors
of the courtroom, the same doors Linda Firebaugh will never walk through.”

 State’s Attorney John Barra had the last word calling the slaying a

“Senseless, bizarre and inhumane crime.” He approached the jury,
turned and looked over at the defendant. He dismissed those that thought just
because Shaw had no criminal record that she was incapable of such a crime.
“What kind of lady would be involved in holding a person hostage? What

kind of lady would have gone on with life after this brutal event as if nothing had 
happened? What kind of lady would have taken the very last outfit Linda Firebaugh 
wore, planning to give it to her mother as a present?” He was back at his table now 
looking over at the jury, gesturing. “What kind of lady could have worn one of the 
victim’s rings even before the blood had a chance to dry? What kind of lady? 
No kind of lady, because Paula Shaw is not a lady, she’s a murderer.” He went on 
to remind the jury that “They tied her up to a pole just like livestock and they 
butchered her like beef cattle.”


 The six-man, six-woman jury deliberated almost nine hours before they brought back 
their verdict of guilty to the two counts of murder,aggravated kidnapping and kidnapping.

The defendant, head down, stood as Judge Peter J. Paolucci read the first verdict. By 
the time he had gotten around to the two murder charges the defendant was sobbing 
audibly, her head on her lawyer’s shoulder. The defense attorney told the reporters that he 
would appeal, adding, “What we have here is a missing person, and Linda Firebaugh hasn’t

even been missing four months.”


 If Paula Shaw had something to cry about when the jury convicted her of murdering 
Linda Firebaugh the sentencing she received must have been utterly devastating. 
Judge Peter Paolucci sentenced the defendant to 85-years in the state penitentiary. 
Describing the grisly axe murder of Firebaugh as “Hideously cruel and an atrocity,” 
the Third District Appellate Court affirmed the verdict of the lower court. It was 
August 2, 1983 when the SA’s office heard the good news. The court also upheld the 
85-year sentence the lower court had handed down and indicated that they found no 
reversible errors during the trial.

 A clear motive for the murder was never established although some
evidence existed that Taylor wanted to go into the prostitution business
with Shaw and a cab driver. Killing Firebaugh cut down on the


 Charles “Hassan” Taylor had his day in court up in Rock Island, Illinois and 
the same judge sentenced him to a total of thirty years for his part in the murder. Taylor 
was convicted for residential burglary and kidnapping. The judge described Taylor as 
being beyond rehabilitation noting eight felony and misdemeanor convictions in the

past fifteen years.

You might be happy to hear that a judge sentenced the neighbor over on Butler to 
2 years for obstructing justice in this case. Remember he was the neighbor Linda ran to for help but got none. I won’t mention his name, surely he understands what a terrible mistake he made…I


Shaw went to Dwight Correctional Center, where she died of lung cancer in early 1996 at age 38.
Taylor, meantime, went to Illinois River Correctional Center near Canton. He was released in late 1996.

Today Charles Taylor is currently incarcerated at the Dixon Correctional Center. He's serving
a 9 year sentence for burglary. That conviction was in Cook County. He's due to be released
December 1, 2017.

Editor’s Note: Norm is a local historian and well-known author of books and
articles about Peoria’s bawdy past. More details in his book MURDER IN YOUR
OWN BACKYARD, available in our library.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Murder In Our City Hall



 It was Thursday morning October 29, 1936 down on the first floor of The Peoria City Hall when the drama that would shake up the folks in Peoria, Illinois really began. At least that is what the readers of the Evening Star thought when they picked up the evening paper from their front door stoop.

 Truth is it began three years earlier with divorce proceedings over at the courthouse.  Like all marriages there are ups and downs but lately it seemed the marriage of David and Wilma Roe had a lot more downs than it did ups.  They began their marriage living over at 511 Millman just two blocks from where my grandmother’s house stood and still stands today.  The neighbors certainly were aware of the squabbles going on but so far no police had been called.  The divorce got as far as a first meeting with a judge but the decree was never signed and life went on.  It culminated in the office of the chief of police on October 29, 1936 and would end that same afternoon on the third floor of the city hall. It was the talk of the town and the headlines screamed out as the downtown paperboys sold their EXTRAS all over town.

 It seems that Wilma Roe had written a letter to Chief Fred Nussbaum and he had arranged a meeting with the couple in his office before they went to their scheduled meeting with Mrs. Smith of the Family Welfare Association up on the third floor.  The truth is that office had already taken two of the children to a home within its organization for safe keeping.  The oldest daughter, Donna had accompanied her parents on the fateful day of October 29, and she was one very upset young girl of six years old. Her two sisters, Shelia, age 5 and Janet age 2 would probably soon be joined by Donna the way things were going so far. Chief Nussbaum read the letter from Mrs. Roe out loud so her husband could understand that Wilma not only wanted a divorce, she also told the chief that she was afraid of her husband and that he had threatened to kill her.

 It was a tense scene inside the chief’s office and terrified little Donna could hear the loud voices out in the waiting room where she sat, wide eyed and scared out of her wits. Finally, the meeting ended and a truce seemed to have been worked out.  Wilma left the office with her daughter to head to the Welfare Office and David told his wife that he would see her in Mrs. Smith’s office.

 Winifred Smith, an accomplished and experienced social worker sat at her desk listening to the couple, first one then the other. The battle raged back and forth and after an hour or so, she had made some progress.  She also separated David and Wilma then brought them back together. She made a telephone call to Elizabeth Geisel the executive secretary and as she waited Dave sat in the council chambers alone. After talking to Mrs. Geisel a lunch break was decided upon and around one in the afternoon they met once again.

 Mrs. Smith would later relate to the local newspaper reporters that Mrs. Roe was ‘Mortally afraid of her husband.’ David had made it clear how he felt about the matter when Mrs. Smith had written down his quote which she shared with the newspaper reporters. “My wife ran off with my very own brother. I don’t care about that she can have him. All I want is my oldest daughter.”

 Mrs. Smith separated the couple again and waited for Mrs. Geisel to come back.  Mrs. Smith went to fetch David but saw him coming back on his own. Mrs. Roe screamed and started to run.  As she passed David he reached out to stop her and as he did so he pulled a .32 revolver from inside his jacket and fired point blank into the side of his wife’s head. She fell instantly to the floor fatally wounded.  By then Mrs. Geisel walked up to David Roe and as he looked up at her David fired his weapon at Mrs. Smith.

 In all Mr. Roe had fired four shots, but Mrs. Smith had not been hit.  In a quick move David Roe pointed the gun at his temple and fired. He fell dead upon the floor next to his wife. By then Donna stood among the adults looking down at her dead parents as their blood began to spread over the tile floor. Pandemonium followed as every police officer in the building and terrified office worker seemed to appear from nowhere.  Dr. Wilbur Weinkauf, of the Health Department pronounced the couple dead.

 The coroner’s inquest was held to a packed courthouse room and all the details were pretty much covered. Of course the jury ruled the case a murder/suicide and over the months the story slipped away. As in all the other cases there are more details but space prevents their being printed here. I left this story with sadness for The Roe family and especially Donna.  I hope the kids managed to live fruitful lives after such a personal tragedy struck them so early in lie.

Editor’s Note: Norm is a monthly contributor to News and Views, a Historian, Author and some of his stories are on line.  This Story is for norm’s friend Stacy. Contact Norm anytime at .