Monday, November 24, 2014


One of America's Great Lingering Mysteries..

On this date in 1971, one of the most famous disappearances in the annals of American crime took place in thin air between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington when a man since identified only as “D.B. Cooper” parachuted to an unknown fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and an ongoing FBI investigation, Cooper has never been found or even identified. The case remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history. Hundreds of leads have been pursued over the years but no real evidence about Cooper’s whereabouts or identity have ever surfaced. In addition, the bulk of the ransom money that he received has never been found. Its whereabouts – like the true identity of D.B. Cooper – remains unknown. 

The skyjacking began mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving eve, November 24, 1971, at Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon. A man carrying a black attaché case approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines. He identified himself as "Dan Cooper" and purchased a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip to Seattle, Washington. Cooper boarded the aircraft and took a seat. He then lit a cigarette and ordered a bourbon and soda. Onboard eyewitnesses recalled a man in his mid-forties, between 5 feet 10 inches and 6 feet tall. He wore a black lightweight raincoat, loafers, a dark suit, a neatly pressed white collared shirt, a black necktie, and a mother of pearl tie pin.

Flight 305, approximately one-third full, took off on schedule at 2:50 pm, local time. Cooper passed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jumpseat attached to the aft stair door. Schaffner, assuming the note contained a lonely businessman's phone number, dropped it unopened into her purse. Cooper leaned toward her and whispered very politely, "Miss, you'd better look at that note. I have a bomb."

She looked at the note, printed in near, all-capital letters. It noted again that Cooper had a bomb and asked her to sit next to him. She asked to see the bomb. Cooper cracked open his briefcase long enough for her to glimpse eight red cylinders attached to wires, coated with red insulation, and a large cylindrical battery. After closing the briefcase, he dictated his demands: $200,000 in "negotiable American currency"; four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival. Schaffner gave Cooper's instructions to the cockpit; when she returned he was wearing dark sunglasses.

Flight 305's pilot, William Scott, contacted Seattle-Tacoma Airport air traffic control, which informed local and Federal authorities. The 36 other passengers were informed that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed because of a "minor mechanical difficulty." Northwest Orient's president, Donald Nyrop, authorized payment of the ransom, and ordered all employees to cooperate fully with the hijacker. The aircraft circled Puget Sound for approximately two hours to allow Seattle police and the FBI time to collect Cooper’s parachutes and ransom money.

Schaffner recalled that Cooper appeared to be familiar with the local terrain; at one point, he remarked, "Looks like Tacoma down there," as the aircraft flew above it. He also mentioned, correctly, that McChord Air Force Base was only a 20-minute drive from Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Schaffner described him as calm, polite, and well-spoken, not at all consistent with the stereotypes (enraged, hardened criminals or "take-me-to-Cuba" political dissidents) popularly associated with air piracy at the time. Tina Mucklow, another flight attendant, agreed. "He wasn't nervous," she told investigators later. "He seemed rather nice. He was never cruel or nasty. He was thoughtful and calm all the time." He ordered a second bourbon and water, paid his drink tab (and insisted Schaffner keep the change), and offered to request meals for the flight crew during the stop in Seattle.

He was the most polite criminal since John Dillinger.

FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks—10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, many with serial numbers beginning with the letter "L" indicating issuance by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, most carrying a "Series 1969-C" designation —and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes initially offered by authorities, demanding instead civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school.

At 5:24 pm, Cooper was informed that his demands had been met, and at 5:39 pm the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Cooper instructed Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated, brightly lit section of the tarmac and extinguish lights in the cabin to deter police snipers. Northwest Orient's Seattle operations manager, Al Lee, approached the aircraft in street clothes (to avoid the possibility that Cooper might mistake his airline uniform for that of a police officer) and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes via the aft stairs. Once the delivery was completed, Cooper permitted all passengers, Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane.

While the plane was being refueled, Cooper made plans with the cockpit crew about his escape. They would fly toward Mexico City at minimum airspeed with the landing gear down and at a low altitude so that the cabin remained unpressurized. The aircraft’s range was limited so they would have to take on more fuel before Mexico. Cooper and the crew decided that Reno, Nevada would be the perfect spot. 

At approximately 7:40 p.m. the plane took off again with only Cooper, pilot Scott, flight attendant Mucklow, copilot Rataczak, and flight engineer H. E. Anderson on board. After takeoff, Cooper told Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door closed. As she complied, Mucklow observed Cooper tying something around his waist. At approximately 8:00 p.m., a warning light flashed in the cockpit, indicating that the aft air stairs apparatus had been activated. The crew's offer of assistance via the aircraft's intercom system was curtly refused.The crew soon noticed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open.

At approximately 8:13 p.m., the aircraft's tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, significant enough to require trimming to bring the plane back to level flight. At approximately 10:15, Scott and Rataczak landed the plane, with the aft air stairs still deployed, at Reno Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff's deputies, and Reno police surrounded the jet, as it had not yet been determined with certainty that Cooper was no longer aboard; but an armed search quickly confirmed that he was gone. Somewhere in flight, Cooper had vanished into history. 

Aboard the airliner, FBI agents recovered 66 unidentified latent fingerprints, Cooper's black clip-on tie and mother of pearl tie clip, and two of the four parachutes. Witnesses were interviewed, composite drawings were made and investigators began questioning possible suspects. One of the first was an Oregon man with a minor police record named D. B. Cooper, contacted by Portland police on the off-chance that the hijacker had used his real name, or the same alias in a previous crime. His involvement was quickly ruled out; but an inexperienced wire service reporter (Clyde Jabin of UPI by most accounts, rushing to meet an imminent deadline, confused the eliminated suspect's name with the pseudonym used by the hijacker. The mistake was picked up and repeated by numerous other media sources, and the moniker "D. B. Cooper" became lodged in the public's memory.

A precise search area where Cooper jumped from the plane was difficult – even impossible – to determine. When he jumped from the plane, the aircraft was flying through a heavy rainstorm over the Lewis River in southwestern Washington. The best guess put investigators on the southernmost outreach of Mount St. Helens, a few miles southeast of Ariel, Washington, near Lake Merwin, an artificial lake formed by a dam on the Lewis River. Search efforts focused on Clark and Cowlitz Counties, encompassing the terrain immediately south and north, respectively, of the Lewis River in southwest Washington. FBI agents and Sheriff's deputies from those counties searched large areas of the mountainous wilderness on foot and by helicopter. Door-to-door questioning and searches of local farmhouses were also carried out. Other search parties ran patrol boats along Lake Merwin and Yale Lake, the reservoir immediately to its east. No trace of Cooper, nor any of the equipment presumed to have left the aircraft with him, was found. Later, this area would be called into question and numerous others were later suggested. In the end, no one really knew where to look. 

In late 1971 the FBI distributed lists of the ransom serial numbers to financial institutions, casinos, race tracks, and other businesses routinely conducting significant cash transactions, and to law enforcement agencies around the world. Northwest Orient offered a reward of 15 percent of the recovered money, to a maximum of $25,000. In early 1972 U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell released the serial numbers to the general public. A number of other rewards were offered by newspapers and remained in effect until Thanksgiving 1974, and while there were several near-matches, no genuine bills were found.

In 1976 discussion arose over impending expiration of the statute of limitations on the hijacking. Most published legal analysis agreed that it would make little difference, as interpretation of the statute varies considerably from case to case and court to court, and a prosecutor could argue that Cooper had forfeited immunity on any of several valid technical grounds. The question was rendered moot in November when a Portland grand jury returned an indictment against "John Doe, aka Dan Cooper" for air piracy and violation of the Hobbs Act. In effect, the indictment formally initiated prosecution of the hijacker that can be continued, should he be apprehended, at any time in the future.

In February 1980, an eight-year-old boy named Brian Ingram, vacationing with his family on the Columbia River about 9 miles downstream from Vancouver, Washington and 20 miles southwest of Ariel, uncovered three packets of the ransom cash, significantly disintegrated but still bundled in rubber bands, as he raked the sandy riverbank to build a campfire. FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom, two packets of 100 bills each and a third packet of 90, all arranged in the same order as when given to Cooper.

The discovery launched multiple new rounds of conjecture, and ultimately raised many more questions than it answered. Initial statements by investigators and scientific consultants were founded on the assumption that the bundled bills washed freely into the Columbia River from one of its many connecting tributaries – which confirmed the idea that, despite many theories, no one still had any idea where Cooper landed. 

Multiple alternate theories were advanced. Some surmised that the money had been found at a distant location by someone (or possibly even a wild animal), carried to the river bank, and reburied there. There was also the possibility that the money had been found on the riverbank earlier, perhaps before the dredging, and buried in a superficial sand layer at a later time. The sheriff of Cowlitz County proposed that Cooper accidentally dropped a few of the bundles on the air stairs, which then blew off the aircraft after he jumped, and fell into the Columbia River. One local newspaper editor opined that Cooper, knowing he could never spend the money, dumped it in the river or buried it there (and possibly elsewhere) himself. No hypothesis offered to date satisfactorily explains all of the existing evidence; the means by which the money arrived on the river bank remains unknown.

The D.B. Cooper case has never been forgotten and technically, is still being worked on by the FBI. Over the years, the FBI has periodically made public some of its working hypotheses and tentative conclusions about the case, drawn from witness testimony and the scarce physical evidence.

The official physical description remains unchanged and is considered reliable. Agents believe that Cooper was familiar with the Seattle area and may have been an Air Force veteran, based on testimony that he recognized the city of Tacoma from the air as the jet circled Puget Sound, and his accurate comment to Mucklow that McChord Air Force Base was approximately 20 minutes' driving time from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport —a detail most civilians would not know, or comment upon. His financial situation was very likely desperate: Extortionists and other criminals who steal large amounts of money nearly always do so, according to experts, because they need it urgently; otherwise, the crime is not worth the considerable risk. A minority opinion is that Cooper was "a thrill seeker" who made the jump "just to prove it could be done."

Agents theorize that he took his alias from a popular Belgian comic book series of the 1970s featuring the fictional hero Dan Cooper, a Royal Canadian Air Force test pilot who took part in numerous heroic adventures, including parachuting. Because the Dan Cooper comics were never translated into English nor imported to the US, they speculate that he may have encountered them during a tour of duty in Europe

The FBI task force believes that Cooper was a careful and shrewd planner: He asked for four parachutes to encourage the assumption that he might compel one or more hostages to jump with him, thus ensuring he would not be deliberately supplied with sabotaged equipment. The amount and form of the ransom appear also to have been carefully calculated in advance: 50- or 100-dollar bills would have drawn attention and been too difficult to pass, and a larger quantity of 20-dollar bills would have been too heavy and bulky for his jump.

Cooper was apparently quite familiar with the 727-100 aircraft: It was the ideal choice at the time, not only for its aft air stairs, but also the high, aftward placement of all three engines, allowing a reasonably safe jump without risk of immediate incineration by jet exhaust. In addition, Cooper knew that the aft air stairs could be lowered during flight—a fact never disclosed to civilian flight crews since there was no situation on a passenger flight that would make it necessary—and that its operation, by a single switch in the rear of the cabin, could not be overridden from the cockpit. He may even have known, particularly if he served in Vietnam or had friends who did, that the Central Intelligence Agency had been using 727s to drop agents and supplies behind enemy lines in Vietnam.

The Bureau feels strongly that he lacked crucial skydiving skills and experience and has argued that from the beginning that Cooper did not survive his jump. Even if he did land safely, agents contend, survival in the mountainous terrain would have been all but impossible without an accomplice at a predetermined landing point, which would have required a precisely timed jump, necessitating, in turn, cooperation from the flight crew. There is no evidence that Cooper had any such help from the crew, nor any clear idea where he was when he jumped into the overcast darkness.

Who was “Dan Cooper?” No one knows. Since 1971, the FBI has processed over a thousand "serious suspects" along with assorted publicity seekers and deathbed confessors, most of whom have been definitively ruled out. To this day, no serious contenders for the identity of D.B. Cooper have ever surfaced and it’s unlikely that he – and the rest of the ransom money – will ever be found. 

But like September 11, 2001… the D.B. Cooper skyjacking changed air travel forever. It marked the beginning of the end of unfettered and uninspected airline travel. Despite initiation of the federal Sky Marshal program the previous year, 31 hijackings were committed in U.S. airspace in 1972, 19 of them for the specific purpose of extorting money. (Most of the rest were attempts to reach Cuba) In 15 of the extortion cases the hijackers also demanded parachutes. In early 1973, the FAA began requiring airlines to search all passengers and their bags. Amid multiple lawsuits charging that such searches violated Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, federal courts ruled that they were acceptable when applied universally, and when limited to searches for weapons and explosives. Our bags have been searched ever since and the Cooper skyjacking remained in the back of many minds until much more tragic events in 2001 changed things once again.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Was he Really a Murderer?

On this date in 1910, American-born homeopathic physician and salesman Hawley Harvey Crippen (usually known simply as Dr. Crippen in crime annals) was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London for the murder of his wife, Cora. He has the dubious distinction of being the first criminal to be captured with the aid of wireless communication. 

Crippen was born in Coldwater, Michigan in September 1862, He graduated from the Michigan School of Homeopathic Medicine in 1884. Crippen's first wife, Charlotte, died of a stroke in 1892, and Crippen entrusted his parents, living in California, with the care of his two-year-old son, Hawley Otto.

Having qualified as a homeopathic doctor, Crippen started to practice in New York, where in 1894 he married his second wife, Corrine "Cora" Turner, who used the stage name of “Belle Elmore.” She was a would-be music hall singer who openly had affairs with other men. Needless to say, their marriage was not a happy one. 

In 1894 Crippen started working for Dr. Munyon's, a homeopathic pharmaceutical company and three years later, he and his wife moved to England. His American medical credentials were not sufficient to allow him to practice medicine in the UK (and today, wouldn’t have allowed him to practice here either) so Crippen went to work as a distributor of patent medicines. Cora went back to work too and began socializing with a number of famous variety players of the time, including Lil Hawthorne of "The Hawthorne Sisters" and Lil's husband/manager John Nash.

In 1899, Crippen lost his job with Munyon’s for spending too much time managing his wife's stage career. He became manager of Drouet's Institution for the Deaf, where he met Ethel Le Neve, a young typist, around 1903. No one knows when their affair began but it is known that she was his mistress by 1905. In that year, the Crippens moved into a house on Camden Road and began taking in lodgers to supplement Crippen’s income. After Cora started an affair with one of the lodgers, Crippen began sleeping with Ethel. 

After a party at their home on January 31, 1910, Cora disappeared. Hawley Crippen claimed that she had returned to America, and then later added that she had died, and had been cremated, in California. 

Meanwhile, his lover, Ethel moved into the house on Camden Road and began openly wearing Cora's clothes and jewelry. Police first heard of Cora's disappearance from her friend, sideshow strongwoman Kate Williams, better known as Vulcana, but began to take the matter more seriously when asked to investigate by personal friends of Scotland Yard Superintendent Frank Froest, John Nash and his entertainer wife, Lil Hawthorne.

The Crippen house was searched, but nothing was found. Crippen was interviewed by Chief Inspector Walter Dew and after the interview (and a quick search of the house), Dew was satisfied. However, Crippen and Le Neve didn’t know that police suspicions had been relieved and fled in panic to Brussels, where they spent the night at a hotel. The following day, they went to Antwerp and boarded the Canadian Pacific liner SS Montrose for Canada.

Their disappearance led the police at Scotland Yard to perform another three searches of the house. During the fourth and final search, they found the remains of a human body, buried under the brick floor of the basement. Sir Bernard Spilsbury found traces of the calming drug scopolamine in the remains. The corpse was identified by a piece of skin from its abdomen – however, the head, limbs, and skeleton were never recovered.

Meanwhile, Crippen and Le Neve were crossing the Atlantic on the Montrose, with Le Neve disguised as a boy. Captain Henry George Kendall recognized the fugitives and, just before steaming out of range of the land-based transmitters, had Telegraphist Lawrence Ernest Hughes send a wireless telegram to the British authorities: "Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Mustache taken off growing beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Manner and build undoubtedly a girl." Had Crippen travelled 3rd class, he would have probably escaped Kendall's notice. Dew boarded a faster White Star liner, the SS Laurentic, arrived in Quebec, Canada, ahead of Crippen, and contacted the Canadian authorities.

As the Montrose entered the St. Lawrence River, Dew came aboard disguised as a pilot. Canada was then still a dominion within the British Empire. If Crippen, an American citizen, had sailed to the United States instead, even if he had been recognized, it would have taken extradition proceedings to bring him to trial. 

Kendall invited Crippen to meet the pilots as they came aboard. Dew removed his pilot's cap and said, "Good morning, Dr. Crippen. Do you know me? I'm Chief Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard." After a pause, Crippen replied, "Thank God it's over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn't stand it any longer." He then held out his wrists for the handcuffs. Crippen and Le Neve were arrested on board the Montrose on July 31, 1910. Crippen was returned to England on board the SS Megantic.

Crippen and Ethel were tried separately in London. Ethel was tried as an accessory and was later acquitted, but Crippen would not be so lucky – no matter how strange the trial turned out to be. 

The pathologists appearing for the prosecution, including Bernard Spilsbury, could not identify the remains or even discern whether they were male or female. However, Spilsbury found a piece of skin with what he claimed to be an abdominal scar consistent with Cora's medical history. Large quantities of the toxic compound hyoscine were found in the remains, and Crippen had bought the drug before the murder from a local chemist.

Crippen's defense maintained that Cora had fled to America with another man named Bruce Miller. They also said that Cora and Crippen had only been living in the house since 1905, suggesting a previous owner of the house was responsible for the placement of the remains. The defense also asserted that the abdominal scar identified by pathologist Spilsbury was really just folded tissue, for it among other things had hair follicles growing from it, something scar tissue could not have.

Other evidence presented by the prosecution included a piece of a man's pajama top supposedly from a pair Cora had given Crippen a year earlier. The pajama bottoms were found in Crippen's bedroom, but not the top. The fragment included the manufacturer's label Jones Bros. Curlers with bleached hair consistent with Cora's; both were found with the remains. 

Throughout the proceedings and at his sentencing, Crippen showed no remorse for his wife and concern for only his lover's reputation. After just 27 minutes of deliberations, the jury found Crippen guilty of murder. He was hanged at 9:00 a.m. on November 23, 1910. At his request, a photograph of Ethel Le Neve was placed in his coffin with him. 

Crippen was dead – but the story doesn’t end there. 

Many doubts remain as to whether or not Crippen truly murdered his wife. The novelist Raymond Chandler commented that it seemed unbelievable that Crippen would successfully dispose of his wife's limbs and head, and then, rather stupidly, bury her torso under the cellar floor of his home.

In October 2007, Michigan State University forensic scientist David Foran claimed that mitochondrial DNA evidence showed that the remains found beneath the cellar floor in Crippen's home were not those of Cora Crippen. This research was based on genealogical identification of three matrilineal relatives of Cora Crippen (great-nieces, located by US genealogist Beth Wills), whose mitochondrial DNA haplotype was compared with DNA extracted from a slide with flesh taken from the torso in Crippen's cellar, carefully preserved in a London hospital museum. This has raised new questions about the actual identity of the remains found in the cellar, and — by extension — over Crippen's guilt.

One theory is that Crippen may have been carrying out illegal abortions; it may be that one of his patients died and that he disposed of the body in the way he was accused of disposing of his wife. However, the remains were also tested for sex at Michigan State, using a highly sensitive assay of the Y chromosome. On this basis, the researchers found that the body parts were those of a man.

The research team also argued that a scar on the abdomen of the body, which the Crown Prosecution interpreted as a scar consistent with one Mrs. Crippen was known to have, convincing the jury that the remains were Mrs. Crippen’s, was incorrectly identified, due to the tissue's having hair follicles, whereas scars do not (a point which Dr. Crippen's defense argued at the time).

These recent arguments for Crippen's innocence have been disputed by some commentators, although in no instance has it been disputed by actual scientists. It has been argued that the DNA sample could have been tainted or mislabeled, or alternatively that the alleged relatives were not actually blood relatives of Mrs. Crippen. However, the research has since been published in the January 2011 issue of the premiere Journal of Forensic Sciences, following careful peer-review by highly qualified forensic scientists.

Numerous requests have been made for samples of the blond hair found at the scene (and now preserved in New Scotland Yard's museum) to conduct DNA testing to see if they are Cora's. Obtaining a DNA sample from these sources would greatly lessen any questions of contamination. New Scotland Yard has repeatedly denied his request. However, New Scotland Yard was willing to test a hair from the crime scene for a fee, which in turn was rejected by the investigators as "over the top," making this an option which is still open if New Scotland Yard continues to extend the offer.

Some have suggested that the police planted the body parts and particularly the fragment of the pajama top at the scene to incriminate Crippen. Others suggested motive is that Scotland Yard was under tremendous public pressure to find and bring to trial a suspect for this heinous crime – but it should be noted that the case did not become public until after the remains were found.

Was Dr. Crippen guilty? It may not matter. In December 2009, the Criminal Cases Review Commission, having reviewed the case, declared that the court of appeal will not hear the case to pardon Crippen posthumously.

Saturday, November 22, 2014


Chicago's Year Without the Christmas Trees

While the holidays are usually a time of cheer and happiness, the people of Chicago learned of a Christmas-related tragedy on November 12, 1912 when the Rouse Simmons -- the famed "Christmas Tree Ship" -- went down in a storm on Lake Michigan. The tragedy changed the face of the holidays for the people of Chicago in an unexpected way. 

For many years, one of the great traditions of Chicago was the arrival of the famous "Christmas Tree Ship." Starting in 1887, Captain Herman Schuenemann and his brother, August, began returning with bundles of their fragrant cargo. Schuenemann sold Christmas trees and hand-made wreaths from his mooring on the Chicago River near the Clark Street Bridge. 

The tallest trees drawn from the shipment were presented to the grateful owners of downtown theaters and in return, the brothers received complimentary season passes. The rest were sold to celebrating citizens, many of whom spoke of their fond memories of the Schuenemanns and the Rouse Simmons, their "Christmas Tree Ship" for generations. By 1912, Chicagoans anxiously looked forward to the ship's arrival and anticipated searching for the perfect tree among the wares, which ranged in price from seventy-five cents to a dollar. Herman affixed a hand-painted sign to the dock each year, reminding his customers that he had ventured into the deep snows of the Upper Peninsula to hand-pick just the right trees for his fine friends back in Chicago.

Herman Schuenemann, the master of the Rouse Simmons, his wife, and three young daughters lived in a small apartment at 1638 North Clark Street, just a little over a mile north of the river. His oldest daughter, Elsie, was devoted to her father and had recently become active in the family's seasonal business. 

It was a business that was not without risk. The month of November, when the shipment of trees had to be sailed across the Great Lakes, was a particularly treacherous one for Lake Michigan. High winds and deadly gales had sent many ships to the bottom of Lake Michigan and in 1898, Captain Schuenemann's brother, August, went down with all hands while manning the schooner S. Thal in the waters off north suburban Glencoe. 

But his brother's death, and the threat of more dangerous weather, failed to deter Herman Schuenemann. He knew the Rouse Simmons was a sturdy ship. Built in 1868, the wooden schooner was fitted with three masts and had been intended for use in the lumber industry. Its large hold made it perfect for storing hundreds of Christmas trees each season.

On November 22, 1912, Captain Schuenemann, with a crew and passenger list of 16 and between 27,000 and 50,000 trees tied and bundled below decks, set sail from Manistique, Mich., bound for Chicago. The skies were overcast and high winds were predicted but the Rouse Simmons headed straight into the open waters of the lake. When a storm broke, the wooden ship was hopelessly trapped, far from shore. The ship foundered in the rough water and eventually, the sails blew out and the ice-covered masts collapsed. A short time later, the Rouse Simmons disappeared. 

Captain Herman Schuenemann was never heard from again, although many of his trees were found washed ashore in Wisconsin a few days after the ship vanished. The people of Chicago, and the family of Captain Schuenemann, were grief-stricken and stunned. 

Newspaper reporters found Elsie Schuenemann and her mother weaving Christmas garlands that came from the splintered trees recovered by Wisconsin residents on the lake's shoreline. Facing destitution, they sold the garlands to the public. Every dollar the family possessed had been tied up in the Rouse Simmons and its ill-fated cargo. The Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper, with help from the Lake Seaman's Union, organized an emergency relief fund for the family. 

Elsie told the newspaper reporters, "I am going to attempt to carry on father's Christmas tree business. I will get friends to help me and send trees by rail to Chicago and sell them from the foot of Clark Street. Ever since I was a little girl, Papa has sold them there, and lots and lots of people never think of going anywhere else for their trees."

As a sales location for the trees, W.C. Holmes Shipping, for whom Schuenemann had operated a vessel in his younger days, offered the family the use of a schooner, the Oneida. It was moored at the Clark Street Bridge where the Rouse Simmons had rested for years and after the Rouse Simmons disaster, the new ship was filled with trees each year and the cherished Christmas tradition was unbroken.

Meanwhile, in 1912, the search for clues and survivors from the Rouse Simmons continued. The U.S. Treasury Department offered the use of one of their cutters to search the small islands of Lake Michigan for any sign of the small ship. The hopes and prayers of the families of the crew and passengers went with the cutter, but those hopes quickly faded. 

No sign of the men were found, but two bottle messages were reportedly recovered. The first was found on a beach at Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on December 13, 1912. It read, "Friday. Everybody goodbye. I guess we are all through. Sea washed over our deck load Tuesday. During the night, the small boat washed over. Ingvald and Steve fell overboard on Thursday. God help us. Herman Schuenemann." Ingvald Newhouse was a deck hand taken on board just before sailing and Stephen Nelson was the first mate and son of Captain Charles Nelson, who was also lost. 

The second bottle note, this one written by Captain Nelson, was found years later, in 1927. It read, "These lines were written at 10:30 p.m. Schooner R.S. ready to go down about 20 miles southeast of Two Rivers Point, between 15 and 20 miles off shore. All hands lashed to one line. Goodbye."

From time to time, other curious artifacts, including a human skull believed to have come from the "Christmas Tree Ship," were washed up along beaches or snagged in fishermen's nets. On April 23, 1924, Captain Schuenemann's wallet, containing business cards and newspapers clippings, was recovered at Two Rivers Point. But the final location of the Rouse Simmons remained a mystery until October 1971. A diver named G. Kent Bellrichard of Milwaukee found the remarkably preserved wreck under 180 feet of water off the coast of Two Rivers. 

As to the fate of the rest of the Schuenemann family, Elsie made good on her promise to continue the tradition of the "Christmas Tree Ship." They maintained the tree lot at the Clark Street Bridge every holiday season until 1933, bringing happiness to thousands of Chicago families every year.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


The Plot to Steal the Body of Abraham Lincoln

On November 20, 1876, a special grand jury convened in Springfield, Illinois and returned a bill against two men, Terence Mullen and Jack Hughes, for attempted larceny and conspiring to commit an unlawful act. The charges angered many people, but there was simply nothing worse that the men could be charged with. You see, grave robbery was not a crime in Illinois at that time, no matter how famous the grave was that the two men had attempted to rob. They could not be charged with stealing the famous bones in the coffin – but only for planning to steal the coffin itself. You see, the famous bones that they attempted to make off with belonged to President Abraham Lincoln!

After Lincoln had been assassinated in 1865, his body traveled west from Washington, spending several weeks visiting towns and cities along a circuitous route. His funeral service in Springfield did not take place until May 4 and it followed a parade route from the former Lincoln home to Oak Ridge Cemetery, on the far edge of the city. Oak Ridge Cemetery had been started in Springfield around 1860 and mostly consisted of woods and unbroken forest. In fact, not until after Lincoln was buried there was much done in the way of improvement, adding roads, iron gates and a caretaker’s residence. Lincoln himself had chosen the rural graveyard as his final resting place, a fact that city leaders initially balked out. However, pressure from his high-strung widow eventually forced them to go along with his wishes. 

Lincoln was placed in a temporary receiving vault in the cemetery with his sons, Willie, who had died during the presidency, and Eddie, who had died many years before. Willie’s body had accompanied his father’s from Washington, while Eddie’s had been exhumed and brought over from another cemetery. A short time later, a temporary vault was built for Lincoln and on December 21, he was placed inside. Six of Lincoln’s friends wanted to be sure the body was safe, so a plumber’s assistant named Leon P. Hopkins made an opening in the lead box for them to peer inside. All was well and Lincoln and his sons were allowed a temporary rest. Hopkins stated in a newspaper story of the time, “I was the last man to look upon the face of Abraham Lincoln.” Of course, he had no idea at the time just how many others would look upon the president’s face in the years to come. 

Construction on a permanent tomb for Lincoln lasted more than five years and on September 19, 1871, the caskets of Lincoln and his sons were removed from the hillside crypt and taken to the catacomb of the new tomb. The plumber, Leon P. Hopkins, opened the coffin once more and the same six friends peered again at the president’s face. There were several crypts waiting for Lincoln and his sons, although one of them had already been filled. Tad Lincoln had died in Chicago a short time before and his body had already been placed in the nearly finished monument.

On October 9, 1874, Lincoln was moved again. This time, his body was placed inside a marble sarcophagus, which had been placed in the center of the semi-circular catacomb. A few days later, the monument was finally dedicated. The citizens of Springfield seemed content with the final resting place of their beloved Abraham Lincoln. But then a threat arose from a direction that no one could have ever predicted – a plot to steal the body and hold it for ransom! This event became one of the strangest stories in the annals of Illinois crime.

The events began with the arrest of Benjamin Boyd, a petty criminal who had, by 1875, established himself as one of the most skilled engravers of counterfeit currency plates in the country. Boyd had been doggedly pursued by Captain Patrick D. Tyrell of the Chicago office of the U.S. Secret Service for eight months before he was finally captured in Fulton, Illinois, on October 20. Following his trial, Boyd was sentenced to a term of ten years at the Joliet Penitentiary. 

Shortly after Boyd’s arrest, the strange events concerning the body of Abraham Lincoln began in Lincoln, Illinois. The city was a staging point for a successful gang of counterfeiters run by James "Big Jim" Kneally. The place was an ideal refuge for Kneally's "shovers," pleasant-looking fellows who traveled around the country and passed, or "shoved," bogus money to merchants. Following Boyd’s arrest, in the spring of 1876, business took a downturn for the Kneally Gang. With their master engraver in prison, the gang’s supply of money was dwindling fast. Things were looking desperate when Kneally seized on a gruesome plan. He would have his men kidnap a famous person and for a ransom, negotiate for the release of Benjamin Boyd from Joliet prison. Kneally found the perfect candidate as his kidnapping victim: Abraham Lincoln, or at least his famous corpse.

Kneally placed Thomas J. Sharp in charge of assembling the gang and leading the operation. Sharp was the editor of the local Sharp’s Daily Statesman newspaper and a valued member of the counterfeiting gang. Meanwhile, Kneally returned to St. Louis, where he owned a legitimate livery business, so that he could be far away from suspicion as events unfolded and have an airtight alibi. In June, the plan was hammered together at Robert Splain’s saloon in Lincoln. Five of the gang members were sent to Springfield to open a saloon that could be used as a base of operations. 

This new place was soon established as a tavern and dance hall on Jefferson Street, the site of Springfield’s infamous Levee District, a lawless section of town where all manner of vice flourished. Splain served as the bartender while the rest of the gang loitered there as customers. They made frequent visits to the Lincoln Tomb at Oak Ridge, where they found the custodian, John C. Power, more than happy to answer questions about the building. On one occasion, he innocently let slip that there was no guard at the tomb during the night. This clinched the last details of the plan, which involved stealing the body and spiriting it away out of town. It would be buried about two miles north of the city, under a Sangamon River bridge, and then the men would scatter and wait for Kneally to negotiate the ransom. They chose the night of July 3, 1876 to carry out their plan.

The Springfield saloon was up and running by the middle of June, leaving the men with several weeks with to do nothing but sit around the tavern, drink, and wait. One night, one of the men got very drunk and spilled the details of the plan to a prostitute, who worked at a nearby "parlor house." He told her to look for a little extra excitement in the city on Independence Day. He and his companions planned to be stealing Lincoln's body while the rest of the city was celebrating the holiday. The story was too good to keep and the woman passed it along to several other people, including the city's Chief of Police, Abner Wilkinson, although no record exists how these two knew one another. The story spread rapidly and Kneally's men disappeared.

Kneally didn't give up on the plan, however. He simply went looking for more competent help. He moved his base of operations to a tavern called the Hub at 294 West Madison Street in Chicago. Kneally's man there was named Terence Mullen and he operated a secret headquarters for the gang in the back room of the tavern. One of Kneally's operatives, Jack Hughes, came into the Hub in August and learned that a big job was in the works. Kneally was anxious to carry out his plan, but balking at stealing a corpse, Hughes and Mullen brought another man into the mix. His name was Jim Morrissey and he had a reputation for being one of the most skilled grave robbers in Chicago. They decided he would be perfect for the job. Unknown to the gang, “Morrissey” was actually a Secret Service operative named Lewis Swegles. He was an undercover agent for Captain Patrick Tyrell and he began posing as a grave robber, claiming to have obtained dozens of cadavers for medical schools. 

Swegles, pretending to be “Jim Morrissey,” came into the Hub and discussed the methods of grave robbery with the other two men. The three of them quickly devised a plan. They would approach the Lincoln monument under the cover of night and pry open the marble sarcophagus. They would then place the casket in a wagon and drive northward to the Indiana sand dunes. This area was still remote enough to provide a suitable hiding place for however long was needed. Swegles, being the most experienced of the group, agreed to everything about the plan except for the number of men needed. He believed the actual theft would be harder than they thought and wanted to bring in a famous criminal friend of his to help them. The man's name was Billy Brown and he could handle the wagon while the others pillaged the tomb. The other two men readily agreed.

On November 5, Mullens and Hughes met with Swegles in his Chicago home for a final conference. They agreed the perfect night for the robbery would be the night of the upcoming presidential election. The city would be packed with people and they would be in downtown Springfield very late, waiting near the telegraph and political offices for news. Oak Ridge Cemetery, over two miles away and out in the woods, would be deserted and the men could work for hours and not be disturbed. It would also be a perfect night to carry the body away, as the roads would be crowded with wagons and people returning home from election celebrations. One more wagon would not be noticed.

The men agreed and decided to leave for Springfield on the next evening's train. Swegles promised to have Billy Brown meet them at the train, but felt it was best if he didn't sit with them. He thought that four men might attract too much attention. Hughes and Mullen conceded that this was a good idea, but wanted to at least get a look at Brown. Swegles instructed them to stay in their seats and he would have Brown walk past them to the rear car. As the train was pulling away from the station, a man passed by the two of them and casually nodded his head at them. This was the mysterious fourth man. Brown, after examination, disappeared into the back coach. Hughes and Mullen agreed that he looked fit for the job.

While they were discussing his merits, Billy Brown was hanging onto the back steps of the train and waiting for it to slow down at a crossing on the outskirts of Chicago. At that point, he slipped off the train and headed back into the city. "Billy Brown" was actually Agent Nealy of the United States Secret Service. 

As Nealy was slipping off the train, more agents were taking his place. At the same time the conspirators were steaming toward Springfield, Tyrell and half a dozen operatives were riding in a coach just one car ahead of them. They were also joined on the train by a contingent of Pinkerton detectives, who had been hired by Robert Lincoln after he got word of the plot to steal his father's body. The detectives were led by Elmer Washburne, one of Robert Lincoln’s law partners.

A plan was formed between Washburne and Tyrell. Swegles would accompany the grave robbers to Springfield and while assisting in the robbery, would signal the detectives, who would be hiding in another part of the monument. They would then capture Mullen and Hughes in the act.

When they arrived in Springfield, Tyrell contacted John Todd Stuart, Robert's cousin and the head of the new Lincoln National Monument Association, which cared for the tomb. He advised Stuart of the plan and together, they contacted the custodian of the site. The detectives would hide in the museum side of the monument with the custodian. This area was called Memorial Hall and it was located on the opposite side of the structure from the catacomb. They would wait there for the signal from Swegles and then they would rush forward and capture the robbers.

The first Pinkerton agent arrived just after nightfall. He carried with him a note for John Power, the custodian, which instructed him to put out the lights and wait for the others to arrive. The two men crouched in the darkness until the other men came inside. Tyrell and his men explored the place with their flashlights. Behind the Memorial Hall was a damp, dark labyrinth that wound through the foundations of the monument to a rear wall of the catacomb, where Lincoln was entombed. Against this wall, in the blackness, Tyrell stationed a detective to wait and listen for sounds of the grave robbers. Tyrell then returned to the Museum Room to wait with the others. Their wait was over as darkness fell outside. 

A lantern flashed outside the door and sounds could be heard as the grave robbers worked at the lock. Almost immediately, Mullen broke the saw blade that he was using on the lock and so they settled in while he resorted to the long and tedious task of filing the lock away. After some time, Mullen finally removed the lock and opened the door to the burial chamber. Before them, in the dim light, they saw the marble sarcophagus of President Lincoln. Now, all they had to do was to remove the lid and carry away the coffin, which turned out to be much harder than they had anticipated. The stone was too heavy to move, so using an ax, they broke open the top, then moved the lid aside and looked into it. Swegles was given the lantern and was stationed nearby to illuminate the work area. Left with no other option, he complied, although he was supposed to light a match at the door to alert the Secret Service agents that it was time to act. Meanwhile, Mullen and Hughes lifted out the heavy casket. Once this was completed, Mullen told Swegles to go and have the wagon moved around. He had assured Mullen and Hughes that Billy Brown had it waiting in a ravine below the hill.

Swegles raced around to the Memorial Hall, gave the signal to the detectives, and then ran outside. Tyrell whispered to his men and, with drawn revolvers, they rushed out and around the monument to the catacomb. When they arrived, they found the lid to the sarcophagus was moved aside and Lincoln's casket was on the floor --- but the grave robbers were gone!

The detectives scattered outside to search the place. Tyrell ran outside and around the base of the monument, where he saw two men near one of the statues. He whipped up his pistol and fired at them. A shot answered and they fought it out in a hail of gunfire, dodging around the monument. Suddenly, one of the men at whom he was shooting called out Tyrell's name --- he was firing at his own agents!

Mullen and Hughes had casually walked away from the tomb to await the return of Swegles, Brown and the wagon. They never suspected the whole thing had been a trap. They had only wanted to get some air and moved into the shadows where they wouldn't be seen in case someone wandered by. After a few minutes, they saw movement at the door to the tomb and had started back, thinking that Swegles had returned. They heard the pistol shots and saw a number of men around the monument. They took off running past the ravine and vanished into the night. 

Assuming that Swegles had been captured, they fled back to Chicago, only to be elated when they found him waiting for them at the Hub tavern. He had returned with the horses, he told them, but found the gang gone. He had come back to Chicago, not knowing what else to do, to await word of what had happened. Thrilled with their good fortune, the would-be grave robbers spent the night in drunken celebration.

The story of the attempted grave robbery appeared in the newspaper following the presidential election but it was greeted with stunned disbelief. In fact, only one paper, the Chicago Tribune, would even print the story because every other newspaper in the state was sure that it was not true. To the general public, the story had to be false and most believed that it had been hoaxed for some bizarre political agenda. Most people would not believe that the Secret Service and Pinkerton agents would be stupid enough to have gathered all in one room where they could see and hear nothing, and then wait for the criminals to act. The Democrats in Congress charged that the Republicans had hoaxed the whole thing so that it would look like the Democrats had violated the grave of a Republican hero and in this way, sway the results of the election. To put it bluntly, no one believed that Lincoln's grave had been, or ever could be, robbed!

The doubters became believers on November 18, when Mullen and Hughes were captured. The newspapers printed the story the following day and America realized the story that had appeared a short time before had actually been true. Disbelief turned into horror. Letters poured into the papers, laying the guilt at the feet of everyone from the Democrats, to southern sympathizers, to the mysterious John Wilkes Booth Fund. 

The people of Illinois were especially outraged and punishment for the two men would have been severe --- if the law had allowed it. Mullen and Hughes were charged with two minor crimes. The public was aghast at the idea that these men would get off so lightly, even though the grand jury had returned a quick indictment. Continuances and changes of venue dragged the case along to May 1877, when it finally came to trial. The jury was asked by the prosecution to sentence the men to the maximum term allowed, which was five years in prison. On the first ballot, two jurors wanted the maximum; two of them wanted a two-year sentence; four others asked for varying sentences; and four others even voted for acquittal. After a few more ballots, Mullen and Hughes were incarcerated for a one-year stay in Joliet.

And Abraham Lincoln was once more left to rest peacefully in his grave, at least for a while. 

It was not long before the story of the Lincoln grave robbery became a hotly denied rumor, or at best, a fading legend. The custodians of the site simply decided that it was something they did not wish to talk about. Of course, as the story began to be denied, the people who had some recollection of the tale created their own truth in myths and conspiracies. The problem in this case, however, was that many of these "conspiracies" happened to be grounded in the truth.

Hundreds of people came to see the Lincoln burial site and many of them were not afraid to ask about the stories that were being spread about the tomb. From 1876 to 1878, custodian John C. Power gave rather evasive answers to anyone who prodded him for details about the grave robbery. He was terrified of one question in particular and it seemed to be the one most often asked: was he sure that Lincoln’s body had been returned safely to the sarcophagus after the grave robbers took it out?

Power was terrified of that question for one reason, because at that time, Lincoln’s grave was completely empty!

On the morning of November 1876, when John T. Stuart of the Lincoln National Monument Association learned what had occurred in the tomb with the would-be robbers, he rushed out to the site. He was not able to rest after the incident, fearing that the grave robbers, who had not been caught at that time, would return and finish their ghoulish handiwork. So, he made a decision. He contacted the custodian and told him that they must take the body from the crypt and hide it elsewhere in the building. Together, they decided the best place to store it would be in the cavern of passages which lay between the Memorial Hall and the catacomb.

That afternoon, Adam Johnson, a Springfield marble-worker, took some of his men and they lifted Lincoln’s casket from the sarcophagus. They covered it over with a blanket and then cemented the lid back into place. Later that night, Johnson, Power and three members of the Memorial Association stole out to the monument and carried the 500-pound coffin around the base of the obelisk, through Memorial Hall and into the dark labyrinth. They placed the coffin near some boards that had been left behind in the construction. The following day, Johnson built a new outer coffin while Power set to work digging a grave below the dirt floor. It was slow work, because it had to be done between visitors to the site, and he also had a problem with water seeping into the hole. Finally, he gave up and simply covered the coffin with the leftover boards and wood.

For the next two years, Lincoln lay beneath a pile of debris in the labyrinth, while visitors from all over the world wept and mourned over the sarcophagus at the other end of the monument. More and more of these visitors asked questions about the theft, questions full of suspicion, as if they knew something they really had no way of knowing.

In the summer and fall of 1877, the legend took another turn. Workmen arrived at the monument to erect the naval and infantry groups of statuary on the corners of the upper deck. Their work would take them into the labyrinth, where Power feared they would discover the coffin. The scandal would be incredible, so Power made a quick decision. He called the workmen together and swearing them to secrecy, showed them the coffin. They promised to keep the secret, but within days everyone in Springfield seemed to know that Lincoln’s body was not where it was supposed to be. Soon, the story was spreading all over the country.

Power was now in a panic. The body had to be more securely hidden and in order to do that, he needed more help. Power contacted two of his friends, Major Gustavas Dana and General Jasper Reece, and explained the situation. These men brought three others, Edward Johnson, Joseph Lindley and James McNeill, to meet with Power. 

On the night of November 18, the six men began digging a grave for Lincoln at the far end of the labyrinth. Cramped and cold, and stifled by stale air, they gave up around midnight with the coffin just barely covered and traces of their activity very evident. Power promised to finish the work the next day. These six men, sobered by the responsibility that faced them, decided to form a brotherhood to guard the secret of the tomb. They brought in three younger men, Noble Wiggins, Horace Chapin and Clinton Conkling, to help in the task. They called themselves the Lincoln Guard of Honor and had badges made for their lapels.

After the funeral of Mary Lincoln, John T. Stuart told the Guard of Honor that Robert Lincoln wanted to have his mother’s body hidden away with his father’s. So, late on the night of July 21, the men slipped into the monument and moved Mary’s double-leaded casket, burying it in the labyrinth next to Lincoln’s.

Visitors to the tomb increased as the years went by, all of them paying their respects to the two empty crypts. Years later, Power would complain that questions about Lincoln’s empty grave were asked of him nearly every day. Finally, in 1886, the Lincoln National Monument Association decided that it was time to provide a new tomb for Lincoln in the catacomb. A new and stronger crypt of brick and mortar was designed and made ready.

The press was kept outside as the Guard of Honor, and others who shared the secret of the tomb, brought the Lincoln caskets out of the labyrinth. Eighteen persons, who had known Lincoln in life, filed past the casket, looking into a square hole that had been cut into the lead coffin. Strangely, Lincoln had changed very little. His face was darker after twenty-two years but they were still the same sad features these people had always known. The last man to identify the corpse was Leon P. Hopkins, the same man who had closed the casket years before. He soldered the square back over the hole, thinking once again that he would be the last person to ever look upon the face of Abraham Lincoln.

The Guard of Honor lifted Lincoln’s casket and placed it next to Mary’s smaller one. The two of them were taken into the catacomb and lowered into the new brick and mortar vault. Here, they would sleep for all time.

"All time" lasted for about thirteen more years. In 1899, Illinois legislators decided the monument was to be torn down and a new one built from the foundations. It seemed that the present structure was settling unevenly, cracking around the "eternal" vault of the president.

There was once again the question of what to do with the bodies of the Lincoln family. The Guard of Honor came up with a clever plan. During the fifteen months needed for construction, the Lincolns would be secretly buried in a multiple grave a few feet away from the foundations of the tomb. As the old structure was torn down, tons of stone and dirt would be heaped onto the gravesite both to disguise and protect it. When the new monument was finished, the grave would be uncovered again.

When the new building was completed, the bodies were exhumed once more. In the top section of the grave were the coffins belonging to the Lincoln sons and to a grandson, also named Abraham. The former president and Mary were buried on the bottom level and so safely hidden that one side of the temporary vault had to be battered away to reach them.

Lincoln’s coffin was the last to be moved and it was close to sunset when a steam engine finally hoisted it up out of the ground. The protective outer box was removed and six construction workers lifted the coffin onto their shoulders and took it into the catacomb. The other members of the family had been placed in their crypts and Lincoln’s casket was placed into a white marble sarcophagus.

The group dispersed after switching on the new electric burglar alarm. This device connected the monument to the caretaker’s house, which was a few hundred feet away. As up-to-date as this device was, it still did not satisfy the fears of Robert Lincoln, who was sure that his father’s body would be snatched again if care were not taken. He stayed in constant contact with the Guard of Honor, who were still working to ensure the safety of the Lincoln remains, and made a trip to Springfield every month or so after the new monument was completed. Something just wasn’t right. Even though the alarm worked perfectly, he could not give up the idea that the robbery might be repeated.

He journeyed to Springfield and brought with him his own set of security plans. He met with officials and gave them explicit directions on what he wanted done. The construction company was to break a hole in the tile floor of the monument and place his father’s casket at a depth of 10 feet. The coffin would then be encased in a cage of steel bars and the hole would be filled with concrete, making the president’s final resting place into a solid block of stone.

On September 26, 1901, a group assembled to make the final arrangements for Lincoln’s last burial. A discussion quickly turned into a heated debate. The question that concerned them was whether or not Lincoln’s coffin should be opened and the body viewed one last time. Most felt this would be a wise precaution, especially in light of the continuing stories about Lincoln not being in the tomb. The men of the Guard of Honor were all for laying the tales to rest at last, but Robert was decidedly against opening the casket again, feeling that there was no need to further invade his father’s privacy. In the end, practicality won out and Leon P. Hopkins was sent for to chisel out an opening in the lead coffin. The casket was placed on two sawhorses in the still-unfinished Memorial Hall. The room was described as hot and poorly lighted, as newspapers had been pasted over the windows to keep out the stares of the curious.

A piece of the coffin was cut out and lifted away. According to diaries, a "strong and reeking odor" filled the room, but the group pressed close to the opening anyway. The face of the president was covered with a fine powder made from white chalk. It had been applied in 1865 before the last burial service. It seemed that Lincoln’s face had turned inexplicably black in Pennsylvania and after that, a constant covering of chalk was kept on his face. Lincoln’s features were said to be completely recognizable. The casket’s headrest had fallen away and his head was thrown back slightly, revealing his still perfectly trimmed beard. His small black tie and dark hair were still as they were in life, although his eyebrows had vanished. The broadcloth suit that he had worn to his second inauguration was covered with small patches of yellow mold and the American flag that was clutched in his lifeless hands was now in tatters.
There was no question, according to those present, that this was Abraham Lincoln and that he was placed in the underground vault. The casket was sealed back up again by Leon Hopkins, making his claim of years ago true. Hopkins was the last person to look upon the face of Lincoln.

The casket was then lowered down into the cage of steel and two tons of cement was poured over it, forever encasing the president’s body in stone.

This should have been the end of the story but as with all lingering mysteries, a few questions still remain. The strangest are perhaps these: does the body of Abraham Lincoln really lie beneath the concrete in the catacomb? Or was the last visit from Robert Lincoln part of some elaborate ruse to throw off any further attempts to steal the president’s body? And did, as some rumors have suggested, Robert arrange with the Guard of Honor to have his father’s body hidden in a different location entirely?

Most historians would agree that Lincoln’s body is safely encased in the concrete of the crypt, but rumors persist. Some might ask whose word we have for the fact that Lincoln’s body is where it is said to be. We only have the statement of Lincoln’s son, Robert, his friends and of course, the Guard of Honor. But weren’t these the same individuals who allowed visitors to the monument to grieve before an empty sarcophagus, while the president’s body was actually hidden in the labyrinth, beneath a few inches of dirt? 

I don’t think we will ever really know for sure.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


The Mad Final Days of Jim Jones: 38 Years Later

On November 18, 1976, U.S. Representative Leo Ryan from California (along with four others) was killed near Jonestown, Guyana by members of the People’s Temple, a church run by a madman named Jim Jones. The murders were followed by a night of mass murder and suicide – one of the most chilling nights in history.

The story galvanized 1970s America and stunned people who never believed that something like that could happen. Phrases like "drinking the Kool-Aid" became synonymous with brainwashing, suicide and horror. The cult’s settlement in Guyana, known as Jonestown, was a place of voluntary slavery. Each day with filled with backbreaking labor and trauma for all but Jones and his closest henchmen. The inhabitants were too busy slaving away in the fields to realize what was happening to their lives. Jones was their leader, high priest, king and god. He had total control of his follower’s lives. 

New members gave all income and property to the church and to Jones, who had them believing that he was Jesus Christ reincarnated. In truth, he was nothing more than a charismatic criminal, who demanded that his people call him “Father” or “Dad” and worship him as a living deity. Whatever Jones decided was the rule of the day. Those members of the cult with no self-esteem, and who had a desperate need to belong, found life at Jonestown more than just bearable. For the others, there was no escape. Many believed in Jones’ claims to be able to do anything from placing fatal curses on his enemies to bringing the dead back to life. He was an expert at manipulation and there were enough members under his spell to keep any malcontents from fleeing.

But how did a bizarre cult from America end up in the jungles of South America? And how did the commune become known as one of the great mass suicides in history?

Jim Jones was born on May 13, 1931 in the small town of Crete, Indiana, near the Indiana-Ohio border. His parents, Jim and Lynetta Jones, were instrumental in starting him off on the strange path where he ended up. Lynetta believed that she was the reincarnation of Mark Twain and told family and friends that her departed mother had come to her in a dream and proclaimed that she would give birth to the world’s savior. She often re-told this story to her young son and obviously, Jim would never forget his rather dubious “destiny.” 

Jones’ father worked for the railroad but spent most of his time on disability. His life was plagued by alcoholism and depression, mostly due to his poor health after World War I. He had returned from the service with his lungs nearly destroyed by mustard gas. As his son was growing up, he could usually be found in local taverns, trading war stories for drinks and offering his spare time to the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Jones family did not stay in Crete long after the railroad rerouted through Lynn in 1934. They moved into a small house along the tracks on the south side of Lynn. Young Jim became known as the town’s version of St. Francis, always followed by a collection of stray dogs, cats and other animals. At first, he was happy to let them run free but soon he built cages for them in his family’s barn. As the captive animals slowly disappeared one by one, everyone bemoaned Jim’s loss ---- never imagining that the creatures could have met a chilling fate.

As a young man, Jones attended religious services with his family at a local Church of the Nazarene but soon began attending a more spirited congregation on the west side of the city, the Gospel Tabernacle. Here, the churchgoers yelled, raved, screamed, spoke in tongues and passed out on the floor under the influence of the “holy spirit”. The minister soon turned Jones’ talent for foul-mouthed rants into a child preacher with a tendency toward fire and brimstone.

Outside of church, Jones would baptize his friends on a nearby creek and preside over funerals for pets and animals in the neighborhood that died. While most kids were playing hide and seek, Jones was setting up altars in his barn and preaching to the other kids, attracting his “congregation” by offering lemonade and punch during the hot summer months. While it didn’t seem odd at the time, he once locked some of his friends in the hayloft when they threatened to leave his “church”. 

Jones also had a passion for science and used the barn as a laboratory between church services. He often set up a microscope to show insect specimens to his friends and performed bizarre experiments, like the time he tried to graft a chicken leg onto a duck. He also liked to combine his interests, reviving supposedly ailing rabbits and chickens through religious fervor. 

After Jones’ parents separated when he was in high school, he began attending Richmond High. In order to earn some extra cash, he took a job as an orderly at Reid Memorial Hospital and it was here that he met Marceline Baldwin, his future wife. Marceline was a nurse at the hospital and inexplicably attracted to the high school boy. 

After they were married, Jones and Marceline began making a big impression on Indianapolis during the 1950s and 1960s. They arrived in the summer of 1951 and the couple brought along their pet chimpanzee, very little money and a burning desire to minister to the poor. Jones started out as a student pastor at the south side’s Somerset Methodist Church but refused to take orders or be an assistant to anyone. Jones wanted his own church --- and he wanted to run it his own way.

He soon began his own ministry, Community Unity, on Randolph Street and moved into a bungalow on nearby Villa Street. To raise funds to fix up the church, he and Marceline sold South American monkeys door-to-door at $29 each, grossing over $50,000. He was also invited to be a guest minister at the nearby Laurel Street Tabernacle, where he became known for miraculous healings that included yanking “cancerous blobs” from supposedly sick parishioners. Marceline helped with the act, providing prayers, music and plenty of “hallelujahs”. 

Laurel Street never brought Jones into the church full-time, mostly because he was actively recruiting African-Americans into the Community Unity church, so in 1956, he headed to the north side to starter a new, larger church. He christened it “Wings of Deliverance”, a name he soon changed to “The People’s Temple”. His message attracted many poor and liberal followers. He opened food and clothing banks, created soup kitchens, took poor children to the zoo and delivered free heating coal to shut-ins. He also helped to integrate at least one Indianapolis hospital. Their message was so successful that, a year later, Jim and Marceline moved the congregation to a former synagogue and purchased a duplex on North Broadway.

Even with all of these seeming good works, it soon became apparent to even the most devoted that Jim Jones had a dark side. When he felt that his congregation was not being attentive enough, he would throw his Bible on the ground and spit on it, raging that “too many people are looking at this and not at me!” He also devised an elaborate scheme where People’s Temple members ran local businesses that channeled money back into the church, a plan that would eventually send him west to California.

In 1961, the governor appointed Jones director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. He used the position to draw more attention to himself but unfortunately for him, a lot of that new attention came from tax investigators and creditors. Terrified that his recent financial dealings would be discovered, he announced in 1965 that his congregation was moving to Ukiah, California. The reason, he explained, was to escape from an upcoming holocaust unleashed by nuclear war. He believed that Ukiah was naturally protected from any sort of nuclear fallout.

Jones led a procession of about 100 of the Indiana faithful to the San Francisco area. He took more than $100,000 with him but managed to leave more than $40,000 in debts behind in Indianapolis.

Once in California, Jones began looking for new sources of income for the People’s Temple. Although already accepting donations from his members, as well as their slave labor in businesses that financed the church, he now began requiring that the members of the congregation turn over their life savings, social security and pension checks when they joined the church. In the city and state known as a “capital for kooks” at the time, hundreds of believers joined the cult. Those who had nothing to start with or had already given everything they owned to the People’s Temple were usually allowed to defect without much trouble. But when a member who still had a substantial source of income became disillusioned with the sect, Jones would use a considerable amount of persuasion to retain their membership. When that failed, dire circumstances followed. Some died mysteriously while others simply vanished.

Tax deductible contributions received by the People’s Temple were meant to enhance the lifestyle of its members. But instead, the funds were used to bribe, coerce, bargain and buy positions of power and political influence for Jim Jones. However, when citizens and honest politicians became suspicious of what Jones and the People’s Temple stood for, the business end of the cult became less profitable. Jones began to encounter serious legal problems too and was advised to move away from northern California and elude possible arrest. He and his closed men began relocating the cult members to the country of Guyana, where an agricultural commune had been established to protect the Temple from constant scrutiny. 

Few of the cultists were aware of the hardships to come. The first to arrive were not allowed to communicate with the members in California about the miserable conditions they were forced to endure. All mail was censored and only Jones’ closets lieutenants were allowed to travel to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. 

In spite of Jones’ security measures, word did get back to California about the brutal conditions and the fact that members who wanted to leave were literally being held captive. When California congressman Leo J. Ryan heard about what was going on, he began an immediate investigation, the result of which convinced him that he needed to personally visit Guyana and Jonestown.

When news of Congressman Ryan’s impending trip to South America was released, a number of news reporters asked and were allowed to accompany him. It was one of these reporters, Sammy Houston of the Associated Press, who was instrumental in getting Ryan to Jonestown. Houston and his wife, Nadyne, told Ryan what had happened to their son, Robert, a one-time member of the People’s Temple. Robert had been forced to work two jobs, with the railroad and as a probation office, in order to keep up his $2,000 monthly contribution to the church. He was later found guilty of breaking church rules and was found dead in 1976, just hours after defecting from the Temple. When the cult moved, his widow was convinced by Jones to relocate with her two children to Guyana. Nadyne Houston would later accompany Ryan to Jonestown in hopes of bringing her two grandchildren back to California.

Arriving in Guyana with his contingent of newsmen and aides, Ryan was not happy with what he found. Many People’s Temple members wanted to defect. Families were divided with some wanting to leave and others to stay. When Ryan, his party and some of the defectors left Jonestown for the Kaituma airfield on November 18, Jones sent a heavily armed hit squad to wipe them out. Ryan and three newsmen were among those killed. Cameraman Bob Brown managed to keep his camera going until the moment that he was shot down. The developed film would show the assassins advancing on their victims in vivid, horrific color.

But not everyone was killed. When word reached Jones that the hit squad had botched the job, and that some of the victims had escaped, the cultists were all gathered together at the meeting hall, where they found Jones seated on his familiar green throne. As his ring of armed guards, which he called “Angels.” surrounded the congregation, a debate began after Jones told his followers about the killing of Congressman Ryan and members of his entourage. The subject of mass suicide was discussed --- something that had been rehearsed many times since the cult’s arrival in the Guyana jungles. 

“Now, we must die with dignity,” Jones told them. “The GDF (Guyanese Defense Force) will question you. Then they will torture you. They will castrate you. They will shoot you. I can’t leave any member of my family behind.”

Those who protested were simply told again that Jones was “unable to leave them behind”. If they chose not to die with dignity, he told them that they would die anyway. Then the guards, armed with rifles, pistols and bows and arrows moved in and pushed the crowd into a tighter group. 

He ordered the nurses to prepare a powerful “potion” that was added to a large tub of strawberry flavored Flavor-Aid (a generic version of Kool-Aid) and then instructed the cult that the babies were to be brought up first. Babies were carried to the podium, and while still in their mother’s arms, had their mouths forced open and poison squirted inside. Some of the children were torn from the hands of hesitant mothers and dragged to the front by nurses and guards. As their sobbing parents watched, the babies endured painful spasms and died in minutes.

Then, the previously practiced “white night” suicide ritual started going awry from the earlier rehearsals. What was never part of the plan was when the first victims began gagging, retching and twisting in horrible pain. A number of the cultists, realizing that this was no rehearsal but the real thing, began resisting and refusing to willingly drink the poisoned juice. Guards and other members had to hold them down while the liquid was forced down their throats. Some of the more violent resistors were injected with the poison, as were those who didn’t seem to be dying fast enough from ingesting the drink.

Screams of agony and tortured moans echoed through Jonestown as the dying lay on the ground, writhing with unspeakable pain. Seeing his follower’s experiencing such a torturous death, Jones decided that he, himself, would die quicker and with less pain.

When authorities, who had been alerted by the few survivors who managed to escape the massacre and run off into the jungle, arrived at Jonestown, they were appalled by the already decaying bodies. Many of the dead were contorted in agony. Only Jones seemed to be at peace. He had been felled in his green throne with a bullet to the brain. 

The final body count reached 912 but this did not include those who escaped into the jungle but succumbed to the deadly snakes, scorpions, quicksand and whatever other dangers the remote area offered. The count also didn’t include those in Congressman Ryan’s party who were murdered at the airfield. The bodies at Jonestown were found lying in piles as high as 30 deep and were so badly decomposed from the brutal heat that they were falling apart by the time that Guyanese authorities arrived at the compound. Many of the soldiers and policemen, who witnessed death on an almost daily basis, retched and vomited when they saw the carnage. 

Even after the corpses were taken away by body removal teams with gas masks from the U.S. Army, the stench of death remained in the air at Jonestown. Jones’ bloodstains around his green throne and podium remained, no matter how much effort was expended to remove them. As perplexing at these bloodstains turned out to be, the authorities were even more baffled by the discovery of the gun that had killed Jim Jones. The weapon was found in a building some distance away from the spot where the cult leader was killed.

Did Jones succumb to cowardice when it came his turn to die? Did he admonish his followers to “die with dignity” and then fail to do so himself? There seems to be no way that Jones could have committed suicide, placed the gun where it was found and then return to his throne, where the body was discovered --- and yet somehow, it happened. 

To this day, the terrible events at Jonestown remain shrouded with mystery and also linger as a horrific example of the evil that some men do.