Aug 12 2013

Explosion On Juneway

The house at 1427 W. Juneway Terrace is a solid-looking, attractive brick house along a pleasant tree-lined street in one of the better stretches of the far northeast Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. It was built in 1920 and is now mostly obscured from view from the street by a large tree growing in the sidewalk easement. It’s hard to believe, looking at the sturdy shape of the house today, that it was once the site of a devastating explosion that ripped the east wall off the house and left a woman burned to death.

1427 W. Juneway Terrace. (Photo by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

1427 W. Juneway Terrace. (Photo by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

Rogers Park Oil Blast Kills Wife; 1 Hurt

Mrs. Lilian Herbert, 62 years old, was burned to death yesterday afternoon by an explosion of fuel oil which blew out one wall of her home at 1427 Juneway terrace, just west of Sheridan road, in Rogers Park. Her brother, John Coleman, 60 years old, who also lived there, was severely burned in his efforts to save her.

Mrs. Herbert was the wife of William Albert Herbert, head of the wholesale lumber company bearing his name and vice president of the Marquette Box and Lumber company. He was at the Illinois Athletic club at the time of the tragedy.

Tells Story of Explosion.

Coleman was shaving in a basement lavatory, he told police from his bed in the St. Francis hospital, Evanston, where he was taken. Mrs. Herbert had gone to the basement to supervise delivery of fuel for an oil burner from a tank truck parked in front of the house.

“There was a terrific explosion which hurled me against the washroom wall, stunning me momentarily,” said Coleman. “Bricks and plaster were falling everywhere. I could smell smoke and oil fumes, and saw flames licking through the mass of debris near the oil tank.

“I heard my sister cry, ‘Jack! Jack! Help me.’ I tried to climb over the wreckage to save her, but the flames drove me back.”

Tries Again to Enter Fire.

Coleman then rushed up the basement stairs, intending to wrap his face in a towel and brave the fire again. He was on the point of racing again into the basement, by then a mass of flames, when a neighbor restrained him.

The explosion was of such force that the west wall of the story and a half house collapsed. The east wall bulged out.

The blast apparently occurred in a fifty gallon oil tank inside the basement. Two other fifty gallon tanks under the front lawn burst from the force of the explosion, raising the sod above them. The three tanks were connected as a “battery” to supply fuel to the home.

“My sister always used a measuring stick to learn how much fuel was left in the feed tank,” Coleman said. “She would light a match to read the measuring stick. Her husband and I had warned her not to do this because of the danger of igniting fumes rising from the open oil tank. Recently we strung up an electric light near the tank.”

Firemen Unable To Enter.

Firemen under Chief Raymond J. Howe, who extinguished the fire, said they found Mrs. Herbert’s charred body near the oil tank. Because they were not equipped with gas masks they were unable to enter the basement until the fire was out because of the smoke and oil fumes.

The explosions sent a puff of smoke, like a shell burst, from the chimney. Two motorists saw the smoke cloud and heard the explosion, but when they reached the scene the basement was in flames. Damage to the house was estimated at $1,000.
An inquest will be held this morning at the undertaking chapel at 929 Belmont avenue.

(Chicago Daily Tribune, February 9, 1937)

Scene of the ExplosionBrother & Husband

An article from February 10th gives a little follow-up, and also puts a mysterious twist on the story:

INJURY IN OIL BLAST HOLDS UP QUIZ INTO VANISHED ‘FORTUNE’

Lieut. Frank Gill of the Rogers Park police said yesterday he would question John Coleman, 50 years old, about the reported disappearance of a box containing valuable papers and “thousands of dollars” from the blast wrecked home of Coleman’s brother-in-law, William Herbert.

Herbert told of the missing box at an inquest yesterday morning into the death of his wife, Lillian, 62 years old, who was killed last Monday when a fuel oil explosion wrecked the Herbert home at 1427 Juneway terrace. Coleman, a brother of Mrs. Herbert, was severely burned in trying to enter the basement where his sister was trapped.

Lieut. Gill awaited permission of authorities at St. Francis hospital to question Coleman. The money had been cached in the wrecked basement and Lieut. Gill said Coleman might know whether there had been any change in the hiding place.

The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of accidental death as the result of the explosion of an oil fuel tank. After the inquest Herbert, a wholesale lumber dealer,vainly searched the wreckage for the box.

So the question becomes… Is John Coleman a heroic attempted rescuer, or a thief??? On February 11, 1937, we have our answer:

$60,000 IS FOUND IN BLAST RUINS; FATE UP TO U.S.

Payoff on Burned Bits Hinges on Analysis.

In the skilled hands of the chemists of the United States secret service lies the chance of William Herbert, a wholesale lumber dealer, to recover a fortune – believed to be $60,000 – which was lost last Monday in an explosion and fire at his home, 1427 Juneway terrace.

Charred fragments of the money were found yesterday in the wreckage of the home. The currency had been hidden in a small metal box under the basement rafters by the lumberman’s wife, Mrs. Lilian Herbert, 62 years old, who was killed in the explosion.

Policeman Finds Bills.

Policeman Michael Kelly of the Rogers Park station, who with five other police had been sifting the ruins since the tragedy, found the charred bills.

“It was all in a pile,” he said, “about three feet south of directly below the place pointed out to me as the cache where the money had been hidden. The metal box was blown apart by the explosion, and we picked it up in several sections near by.”

Capt. Charles Essig of the Rogers Park station said he had been told the fortune included twenty $1,000 bills, with the rest of the money in hundreds, twenties, tens, and fives. When he examined the fragments at the police station, he said, he saw pieces of many $100 bills and bills of smaller denomination, but no parts of any $1,000 bills.

Advised to Seek Redemption.

All the fragments were turned over to Herbert, who was advised to take them to the federal courthouse to apply for redemption of the money. Capt. Thomas J. Callaghan of the United States secret service said Herbert did not call on him, and at the fiscal agency of the federal reserve bank it was said he had not appeared there.

Herbert is staying temporarily at the Illinois Athletic club, where a friend reported last night that no efforts had been made to piece together any of the fragments.

Under federal law if a portion of a burned bill less than three-fifths the size of the original, but more than two-fifths, is tendered to the treasury department, it will be redeemed at half its face value if it is proved the rest of the bill has been destroyed.

In the Herbert case police said the serial numbers of the bills had been registered at a bank by Mrs. Herbert. Capt. Callaghan of the secret service said such registration might be accepted by the treasury department as evidence but not as proof of ownership of the money.

Candle Causes Explosion.

The explosion which caused the death of Mrs. Herbert occurred when she went to the basement carrying a lighted candle, to tend the oil furnace. Gas from an oil leak was ignited by the candle. The fire quickly exploded a can containing cleaning fluid.

Herbert told the police his wife had been hiding money under the rafters for five or six years, using funds received from the liquidation of mortgages and other securities. She did not trust banks and would not rent a safe deposit box, he said.

Oh, but just before you feel too bad about poor Herbert possibly losing his money, check out the headline after his death in 1955:

FIND $1,316,000 IN SECURITIES IN HERBERT VAULT

Stocks with an estimated value of $1,316,000 were found yesterday in the safe deposit box of the late William A. Herbert, wholesale lumber dealer, by examiners for the state treasurer’s office. Herbert died May 27 in Wesley Memorial hospital at the age of 88.

His attorney, Charles J. Morgan, said the total estate probably will be in the neighborhood of $1,500,000. A will to be filed for probate next week creates a trust benefiting friends and relatives, Morgan said.

Herbert’s wife, Lillian, perished in a fire in their home at 1427 Juneway ter. in 1937. The blaze destroyed $60,000 in currency she kept in a metal box under basement rafters. At the time, Herbert told authorities his wife distrusted banks.

(Chicago Daily Tribune, June 3, 1955)

To put these dollar amounts in 2013 perspective:

Damage to the house = $1,000 (1937) = $16,215.56 (2013)
Amount of money in the box in the basement = $60,000 (1937) = $972,933.33 (2013)
Amount of stocks in Herbert’s safe deposit box = $1,316,000 (1937) = $21,339,671.11 (2013)
Herbert’s net worth = $1,500,000 (1937) = $24,323,333.33

I can’t help but wonder why he was living in such a humble neighborhood with that kind of wealth!


Aug 12 2013

Puppy Love Gone Bad

When I started working on this blog, I did a cursory search of my address to see if anything tragic had occurred here.  Sadly, nothing of note turned up.  I did, however, find that an extraordinary tragedy had occurred in the building next door: a murder-suicide committed by a lovelorn teenager, followed by an accidental re-enactment of the crime on the same day by another teenager a couple of miles away.  Here’s the amazing story, as told by the Chicago Daily Tribune on December 1, 1931.

RE-ENACTS KILLING; SLAYS GIRL

School Pupils Figure in Two Gun Tragedies

Thwarted in a “puppy love” affair, Henry Sio, 16 years old, 4186 Elston avenue, a student in the Roosevelt High school, early yesterday shot and killed his 12 year old sweetheart, Ruth Wicklund, as she was on her way to the Belding elementary school.  He then raced to his home and, with a single shot, committed suicide.

Last night another 16 year old Roosevelt High school student, Joseph T. Wilson, 2537 Argyle street, reenacted the tragedy in which a school mate had figured.  Facing him were Constance Trohatos, 15 years old, and her sister, Cleo, 17, of 2425 Eastwood avenue, also students at the Roosevelt High.

As young Wilson reenacted the shooting he snapped the trigger of a supposedly empty revolver.  Constance slumped into her chair dead, a bullet in her brain.

 First Tragedy Described.

The background of yesterday’s first tragedy lay in the parental objection to the juvenile courtship by young Sio of the Wicklund girl.  Both resided in the same building, and frequently Sio accompanied her to school.  Recently their affair was ordered stopped.  Yesterday the Wicklund girl left her home as usual.  At Berteau and Springfield avenues Sio halted her.  He drew a revolver and fired, as she pleaded with him not to shoot. His own death followed shortly afterward.

A contemporary view of the apartment building at 4186 Elston avenue where both Ruth Wicklund and Henry Sio resided in 1931. (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

A contemporary view of the apartment building at 4186 Elston avenue where both Ruth Wicklund and Henry Sio resided in 1931.  (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

A modern view of the intersection of Springfield and Berteau avenues - where Henry Sio fatally wounded Ruth Wicklund. I tried to get ahold of police records indicating precisely where Ruth fell, but was unsuccessful. Ruth would have been walking to this intersection in front of the building shown (which is not the building she and Henry resided in), in a rightward direction, in order to head towards Belding school. Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.

A modern view of the intersection of Springfield and Berteau avenues – where Henry Sio fatally wounded Ruth Wicklund. I tried to locate police records indicating precisely where Ruth fell, but was unsuccessful. Ruth would have been walking to this intersection in front of the building shown (which is not the building she and Henry resided in), in a  left to right direction, in order to head towards Belding school.  (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

News of the shooting became the main topic of hundreds of students at the Roosevelt High school, where Sio was well known.  It remained as fresh news last night.  Among the few, however, who knew nothing of the double death was Constance Trohatos.  She had played hookey.

Gather in Boy’s Home.

Last night she and Cleo left home for a neighborhood library.  They recollected that young Wilson possessed a number of entertaining books and called at his home.  They sat in the living room, discussing literature, when Wilson mentioned the Sio-Wicklund tragedy.  Constance expressed surprise, saying she had not heard of it, and laughingly remarking she “was glad she had played hookey, or she might have been shot.”

Wilson excused himself and left the room.  He reappeared a few moments later carrying a revolver.

“This is loaded with wooden bullets, so don’t be afraid,” he reassured, smiling.  He broke the weapon and extracted a wooden cartridge.  As he displayed the weapon, he described the suicide of Sio and the killing of his sweetheart.  He inspected the gun, and sprang suddenly to where Cleo was sitting.  He pressed the gun to her head.

Presses Gun to Head.

“See?” he exclaimed, as he pressed the trigger.  There was a harmless snap.

“How would you like to be shot?” he asked, jokingly, as he walked over to Constance.  She accepted the threat in fun and laughed.  Wilson stepped up to her, placed the revolver against her temple, and pressed the trigger.  Again there was a harmless snap.  He pressed the trigger a second time.  There was a sharp explosion.  Constance fell over dead.

Cleo screamed.  Wilson almost collapsed, but holstered himself sufficiently to summon police.  Lieut.  John O’Brien of the Summerdale station responded.  He took the boy and Cleo to the station, and after questioning them said the killing was doubtless an accident in which the supposedly “empty” gun was loaded.  The basement of the Wilson home was searched, and another revolver, a rifle and a knife were found.  Wilson said he had a flair for military things, and that he formerly attended the Morgan Park military academy.  At the time of the shooting, he wore a military uniform.  He was held last night for the inquest.

Contemporary view of the house at 2425 Eastwood avenue where 15-year-old Cleo Trohatos was accidentally slain in a re-enactment of the Sio-Wicklund shooting by her friend, 16-year-old Joseph T. Wilson. (Photograph by The Comtesse Despair.)

Contemporary view of the house at 2425 Eastwood avenue where 15-year-old Cleo Trohatos was accidentally slain in a re-enactment of the Sio-Wicklund shooting by her friend, 16-year-old Joseph T. Wilson. (Photograph by The Comtesse Despair.)

While the shooting of Constance was unmotivated, the killing of the Wicklund girl had a direct inspiration, police said, and that of thwarted love.  When police found young Sio in his den, in the basement of the building, he was unconscious.  The revolver lay beside him, and not far away was a postcard on which he had written: “I’m sorry.”  In one hand he clutched a tan glove, once owned by his sweetheart.  On his wrist was her bracelet.

Scattered in the den were books, magazines and odds and ends of a boy’s workshop.  Sio, detectives were told, aspired to be a scientist or an inventor.  In a small chest investigators found letters written by the Wicklund girl, chiding against his jealousy and protesting her love for him.  A diary also was found, containing mute scrawling of his jealousy, and filled with entries the sense of which was: “The time has come for a showdown.”

The entrance to Henry Sio's basement apartment is seen on the far left of this contemporary image. The windows seen on the bottom corner of this shot were Sio's apartment. He was found dead from a self-inflicted bullet to the brain in the den inside. (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

The entrance to Henry Sio’s basement apartment is seen on the far left of this contemporary image. The windows seen on the bottom corner of this shot were Sio’s apartment. He was found dead from a self-inflicted bullet to the brain in the den inside. (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

Mrs. Karin Wicklund, mother of Ruth, told police she had asked Sio’s father, Matthew, a barber, to stop his son’s wooing of her daughter.  The father said he had so notified Henry.

A coroner’s jury late yesterday returned a verdict that young Sio had murdered the Wicklund girl and then committed suicide.  The motive officially designated was “jealousy and puppy love.”

Photographs featured in the December 1, 1931 Chicago Daily Tribune. (Reproduced without permission for personal use only.)

Photographs featured in the December 1, 1931 Chicago Daily Tribune.
(Reproduced without permission for personal use only.)

 

Follow-up article, Chicago Daily Tribune, December 3, 1931:

SCHOOL MOURNS GIRL VICTIMS OF 2 GUN TRAGEDIES

Two grief stricken families yesterday made funeral preparations for Ruth Wicklund, 12 years old, and Constance Trohatos, 15 years old.  There was gloom at Belding grade school and the Roosevelt High school, where the girls had been pupils.

Both the girls were shot to death on Monday.  Ruth, a Belding pupil, was slain early in the morning by Henry Sio, 16 years old, a student of the Roosevelt High school, who then shot and killed himself.  Constance was accidentally killed in the evening when Joseph Wilson, 16 years old, tried to show how Ruth was shot.  Constance and Joseph were Roosevelt High school students.

Yesterday Young Wilson was exonerated by a coroner’s inquest.  Deputy Coroner James A. Gleason, however, directed that he be placed in the custody of the Juvenile court for one year during which he will make weekly reports.  The official verdict to the jury was that Constance was killed accidentally.

At the Belding school Principal Ida M. Tregellas and Miss Katherine Mahon, Ruth Wicklund’s teacher, said they would send flowers for the girl’s funeral.  The children in Ruth’s room contributed nickels and dimes tot he flower fund.

Friends of both Ruth and Constance planned to attend the funerals.  The services for Ruth will be held at 2 o’clock today from a chapel at 3918 Irving Park boulevard, with burial at the Irving Park Boulevard cemetery.  Funeral arrangements for Constance have not been completed.  Ruth lived at 4186 Elston avenue, and Constance at 2425 Eastwood avenue.

The Cooney Funeral Home, 3918 Irving Park boulevard, where the funeral services were held for Ruth Wicklund on December 3, 1931. (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

The Cooney Funeral Home, 3918 Irving Park boulevard, where the funeral services were held for Ruth Wicklund on December 3, 1931. (Photograph by The Comtesse DeSpair.)

Funeral notice, Chicago Daily Tribune, December 3, 1931:

HOLD LAST RITES FOR GIRL VICTIM OF YOUNG SUITOR

Funeral services for Ruth Wicklund, 12 years old, 4186 Elston avenue, a pupil of the Belding grade school, who was shot and killed by Henry Sio, 16 years old, of the same address, were held yesterday at the chapel at 3918 Irving Park boulevard.  Sio, the girl’s suitor, also killed himself.  Hundreds of friends of the girl attended the services.  Burial was in Irving Park Boulevard cemetery.

Services for Constance Trohatos, 15 years old, a pupil at the Roosevelt High school, who was killed by Joseph Wilson, 16 years old, when the latter attempted to show how Ruth was shot, will be held today at noon from St. James Orthodox church, 2727 Winona street.  Burial will be in the Elmwood cemetery.

 

Comtesse Note:  One of these days, I hope to track down the graves of these three tragic youths and add images of the gravestones to the blog.