Nov 6 2014

The Great Naperville Train Disaster

The Naperville train disaster, as it will forever be known, occurred on April 25, 1946, on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad at Loomis Street in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois.  The Advance Flyer had made an unscheduled stop on the tracks, and was struck by the Exposition Flyer which rounded a curve at 85 mph and was surprised by the train on the tracks.  45 people died, 125 were injured, and the scenes of chaos left a mark on everyone who saw them. We pick up the story with the April 26, 1946 issue of the Chicago Tribune:



100 Passengers Are Injured; Arrest Is Ordered

At least 47 persons were killed and 100 injured yesterday when the crack Burlington railroad train, the Exposition Flyer, crashed at a speed of nearly 75 miles an hour into the rear of the stalled Advance Flyer in Naperville, Du Page county, 28 miles southwest of Chicago.

The Advance Flyer had made an unscheduled stop.  The Exposition Flyer ripped into it exactly 90 seconds later.

Up to midnight 41 bodies - 13 women, two children, and 26 men - had been recovered and rescue workers said that at least six more remained in the wreckage.  Of the injured, however, only 30 were required to stay in hospitals.  Many of these were said to be in critical condition.

Rescuers at work in the wreckage. (Photo from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection)

Rescuers at work in the wreckage. (Photo from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection)

Too High Speed Admitted

The wreck was the worst in the Chicago area's history.  Its cause was not immediately ascertained, but several factors were involved.  One was admittedly too high speed, with the flyers so close together.  Another was what might be called the caprice of fate.

The scene of the disaster was one of twisted and gnarled confusion, with huge luxury passenger coaches strewn across torn tracks like abandoned toy trains.  But it was a grim scene, with sudden death its background.

"We were going too fast," admitted W. W. Blaine, 68, of Galesburg, Knox county, veteran engineer of the Exposition Flyer.  He said that he was going 85 miles an hour when he noticed the first of two warning signals, but that altho [sic] he applied his brakes at once he had too little distance to stop in time.

Engineer's Arrest Ordered

A warrant charging Blaine with manslaughter was issued last night by Justice of the Peace Joseph Bopst of Naperville on request of State's Atty. Lee Daniels of Du Page county.  The warrant accused the engineer of "careless and negligent operation of a train" and by so doing causing the death of Albert J. Lane, a passenger.

Both trains were fast diesel powered expresses.  The Advance Flyer, bound for Omaha and Lincoln, Neb., carried nine coaches and 150 to 200 passengers and crew members. The Exposition Flyer, bound for Oakland, Cal., carried 11 coaches and 175 to 200 persons.

The two Burlington trains left the Union station at 12:35 p.m. on separate tracks, but after a few miles rolled into a single center track, with the Advance Flyer in the lead.  They were being operated theoretically as one train, but the Advance Flyer ran on a faster schedule.

The Advance Flyer raced thru Downers Grove at 12:57 p.m., 60 seconds late.  The Exposition Flyer followed about three minutes later. Along this stretch the flyers often speed 80 miles an hour.

About five miles west an unexplained incident - the caprice of fate - occurred.  Something, it might have been a flash of flame or a small rock, shot out from under the speeding Advance Flyer.

First Flyer Halted

Whatever it was, it was enough to disturb the train crew and Engineer A. W. Anderson of Galesburg brought his train to a stop at a point near Loomis st. in Naperville.  Anderson and his crew alighted for an inspection, some suspecting a hotbox.

As the train made its unscheduled stop, the Burlington Line's automatic control system went into operation. A yellow light calling for caution was lighted up 7,784 feet east, and a red light calling for a mandatory stop was turned on 1,100 feet east.

At the same time, James Tangney of Aurora, flagman on the stalled train, ran thru the rear car, jumped off its platform, and called back to curious passengers, "I'm going to try to stop that train behind us."

Fireman Jumps - and Dies

Tangney made no more than a dozen steps before the Exposition Flyer rounded a curve to the east, and hit the straight stretch directly toward the Advance Flyer, its brakes screeching, but its speed showing no appreciable lessening. Tangney signaled futiley, then leaped aside.

"It came fast," said Raymond J. Jaeger, 26, of Burlington, Ia, a wounded marine, who was standing at the rear platform of the standing train. "I watched it horrified. The train came on, bigger and bigger. I saw a man climbing from the engine cab, and start down the ladder. That's all I saw. The next second it hit."

The man he saw climbing down was Curtis H. Crayton of Galesburg, the Exposition Flyer's fireman. He jumped an instant before the crash - and was killed.

The jagged wreckage. (Photo from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection)

The jagged wreckage. (Photo from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection)

Engineer Sticks to Post

Engineer Blaine stayed at his brakes and throttle as his train raced on. Then it struck. Its flat, silver nose plowed into the rear steel coach of the Advance Flyer as if the car were a cigar box. For a second the engine appeared to poise in the air, tear thru the roof, then plunge down with terrific force upon the very floor and trucks of the car.

The terrific crash shook the two trains, but almost all damage was confined to the Advance Flyer. The diner just ahead of the telescoped rear coach buckled under the impact and was torn into a heap of shredded steel and debris. The third car from the end was half overturned and the fourth car completely overturned.

Coaches Upset in Crash

In all six coaches were overturned or derailed on the Advance Flyer and five on the Exposition Flyer.

Almost all the dead were killed in the rear coach and diner of the Advance Flyer and most of the injured were passengers in two or three cars ahead.  Half a dozen were injured, however, on the Exposition Express.

The first seven coaches and diner of the Advance Flyer were of streamline, light metal model. The rear coach which caught the main force of the 75 mile an hour crash, was an old type steel Pullman car, considerably heavier than the others.

The sound of the crash roared thru the countryside and was followed by tragic silence. Then came screams and cries for help as surviving passengers, recovering from the first shock, realized what had occurred.

Heroes and heroines turned up in every car, as women and young people, including children, groped in bewilderment for escape.

In the overturned coach, R. H. Barrett and J. N. Nemeth, railroad men from Lincoln, Neb., helped calm frightened women and youngsters and pulled them from under heaps of baggage. "Everybody was quite calm, altho stunned," said Barrett.

In another car, George Whitney of Council Bluffs, Ia., a navy veteran of many battles, helped a score of passengers thru windows to safety.  "He did the work of 10 men," said one witness. "Whitney also helped carry out 17 dead."

Help Swift to Come

Help was swiftly forthcoming to the disaster stricken passengers. Across the tracks, 800 employees [sic] of the Kroehler Furniture Manufacturing company stopped work, and ran out by the hundreds to help. Fifty students at North Central college abandoned classes to serve as little bearers.

Martin Prignitz, a Naperville policeman, ran from his near-by home, saw the tragedy, and promptly turned in calls to near-by towns for aid.  In minutes, doctors, nurses, and ambulances were racing to the scene from Aurora, Hinsdale, Downers Grove, Naperville, and other communities.

Rescue lines were formed. Labor crews with acetylene torches started burning thru twisted metal train plates to reach the injured and dead.

The warehouse of the Kroehler company was converted into a temporary hospital. All injured were taken there for first aid. The more serious cases were speeded to hospitals in Aurora. Three priests, the Reverends Frederick Stenger, Paul Benson, and Charles Koretke, passed among the stricken and administered last sacraments of the Catholic church.

Before long, more doctors and nurses reached the scene on a special Burlington relief train, and 50 more followed under the wing of the Chicago chapter of the Red Cross.

In the midst of the excitement, Engineer Blaine of the Exposition Flyer, crawled without help thru the window of his cab, picked his way thru the shattered remnants of the rear coach of the Advance Flyer, and found his way into the emergency hospital.

Forlorn Passengers Cared For

Passengers, some with relatives missing or injured, and most of their personal belonging inside the wrecked coaches, wandered forlornly around the tracks until, finally, they were marshalled together, and put on special trains back to Chicago.

One by one the bodies of the dead, some mangled beyond recognition, were removed from the last two coaches of the Advance Flyer and taken to funeral chapels in Naperville.  Later three of the injured taken to Aurora hospitals died.

It's always those little personal details that come out after a disaster such as this that leave the most impact.  Like this sad little snippet from same paper:


One of the injured men taken out of the rear car of the Advance Flyer after yesterday's tragic wreck at Naperville was Delbert Boon, a sailor of Luray, Mo.

His first act after reaching St. Charles hospital in Aurora, was to send a telegram to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Boon.  It read, "Come and see me. Was in train accident."

He died 30 minutes later.

And then came further tales from survivors.  (April 26, 1946 Chicago Tribune)

Survivors Tell of Terror Within the Smashed Car

Victims of the Burlington railroad disaster told late yesterday in St. Charles hospital, Aurora, of the terror that gripped passengers trapped in the rear car of the Advance Flyer when it was rammed by the Exposition Flyer at Naperville.

Their initial shock and fright was increased by the fear of fire when acetylene torches dropped sparks into the car as workmen tried to rescue them. Many were caught under twisted seats and wreckage - beneath bodies and luggage.

An aerial view of the crash scene.

An aerial view of the crash scene.

Women Thrown Into Air

Mrs. Irene Cook, 20, was on her way with her mother, Mrs. Florence Whitehouse, from Schenectady, N.Y., to a new home in Kahoka, Mo.

"I was in the rear car of the first train," Mrs. Cook said. "The train [Advance Flyer] was standing. I was seated facing the approaching train, but it all happened so fast, I didn't see it clearly."

"Suddenly I must have been thrown into the air," she said, "because I remember hitting the seat twice with my head and waking up under a pile of people and seats. My mother was buried beneath another seat, a man and a woman.

"There was much screaming and I was as frightened when rescued as when the crash occurred.  The men came with their torches thru the top of the car and sparks fell. We were afraid they would ignite oil in the car.  One of my legs was caught under something, but I pulled it free and went around putting out the sparks as they fell."

Mother Suffers Loss of Leg

"Even before the rescuers started working, we were frightened by the smell of ashes. I was taken out a window, but I haven't yet heard what happened to my mother."

Her mother, whose address was given as 161 Manor av, Cohoes, N.Y., meanwhile had been taken to the Copley hospital in Aurora. She suffered a leg amputation.

Seated near Mrs. Cook and her mother before the crash was Mrs. Anne Hovey, 72, of Kookuk, In., whose legs were fractured by the train's impact.

"Things happened so fast," Mrs. Hovey said, "that I don't remember what happened to me. I was doubled up suddenly and my knees were pushed against my chest."

Couple Saved Thru Window

Mr. and Mrs. Henry Faber of Kookuk, In., also in the rear car, said "everything fell on us" when the trains collided.  They were rescued thru a window. Faber was released from the marine corps two days ago after serving without injury.  He suffered internal injuries in the train crash.

Woman Sees Trains Crash

Miss Rose Hodel, 21, was hanging up clothes for her mother in the yard of their Naperville home when the Advance Flyer drew to a stop on the near-by track.

"It's unusual for the train to stop there unless it has a hotbox or something," Miss Hodel said, "so I stood there and watched the men go around and look at the wheels.

"About that time, there was another train coming and I happened to look up that way.  Suddenly there was a terrific crash and debris flew up in the air."

Women Give Help

For some moments, she said, the scene was clouded by dust, smoke, and flying paper, then she and some of her neighbors hurried to the tracks.

"After the Naperville fire department got there," Miss Hodel said, "we helped to homes in the neighborhood people who could walk. After the ambulances and the doctors got there, we didn't do much because they had nurses, but we did carry water and give what help we could.

"The whole thing looked to me like one mass of piled up tin. Injured persons were lying all around. They had an awful time getting them out of the wreckage.

"There was just a little moaning, because most of those who were hurt were so badly injured they didn't know it, or were unconscious.  It took about an hour and a half to get all the injured out."

Wesley Overman, Caldwell, Idaho, passenger in a middle coach of the Advance Flyer said:

"I saw a baby thrown from its mother's arms when the coach lurched, but an army lieutenant grabbed it and I think it wasn't hurt."

Sol Greenbaum, 27, of St. Louis, Mo., who was injured said he watched the Exposition Flyer pull out of the Union station yards along side the Advance Flying [sic], which he was riding.

"I settled down for a nap, rousing a little when we stopped from some unknown reason," Greenbaum said. "The next thing I knew, I was somersaulting thru the air. I landed on a pile of debris at the end of the car. I pushed my hand thru a window and some one pulled me out."

Wounded Marine a Survivor

The Rev. Leo McNamars, priest at St. Adrian's church, 7000 S. Washtenaw av., appeared at St. Charles hospital searching for Msgr. Bernard J. Sinne of St Mary Magdalene's church, Omaha, Neb., who was scheduled to leave on the noon train. Father McNamara learned later that Msgr. Sinne left on another line.

Marine Pvt. Raymond Jaeger of Burlington, Ia. , who has one arm and one leg in casts as a result of war wounds, and was a passenger in the rear car of the rammed train, survived the wreck with nothing worse than shock and bruises.

"I don't know how I got out alive," he said at the St. Charles hospital.

In the end, the Grand Jury did not find any individual responsible for the crash.  Nine negligent acts were mentioned as contributing factors - from the October 5, 1946 Chicago Tribune:
  1. Stopping of the advance Flyer ... without proper thought of the speeding train only two minutes behind.
  2. Stopping of the Advance Flyer on a curve where visibility for the second train was impaired.
  3. Lack of a proper device or method for signaling the oncoming second train.
  4. Scheduling of the two fast trains only two minutes apart on the same track.
  5. Alleged prevalence of a habit among engineers of disregarding a yellow caution light in an effort to make schedules and lack of criticism by the railroad of this practice.
  6. Too short spacing of block signals so that the second train had only two miles to stop when going 85 miles per hour.
  7. Lack of intercommunication between conductors and engineers on the trains and lack of intercommunication between the trains and control points.
  8. Failure to test the emergency brakes as well as the service brakes before the trip was started.
  9. Operation of both lightweight cars and standard weight cars in the same train which provided unequal braking power when brakes were applied.
It's interesting to note that this crash is one of the main reasons why we don't have high-speed trains in America.  One of the precautions that was put in place was to limit most trains to 79 mph. When I was in Naperville, I had to visit the site of the famous crash - and a train even obliged me by coming towards me down the track.  You can still see the old Kroehler Furniture factory (which closed in 1978) in the background.
Photo by The Comtesse DeSpair. Camera: Holga 120N, Film: Ilford HP5+

Photo by The Comtesse DeSpair. Camera: Holga 120N, Film: Ilford HP5+


Nov 2 2014

Embedded Children

Some of the saddest tragedies are those that involve missing children, where their mourning parents are desperately searching for them.  And missing children before Christmas?  Even sadder. This is what happened to three parents (the married parents of one child and the widowed mother of another) in Naperville, Illinois on December 7, 1952; two young children, playing in a backyard at mid-day on a Sunday, disappeared without a trace.   The search for them would last two months and involve a bloodhound named Bessie, a drained quarry, and numerous false leads, before it finally ended - near where it started.  (Special thanks to Erik Pedersen for telling me about this tragic tale.) Here's the first article from the Chicago Tribune - from the still-hopeful day after the two children disappeared (December 8, 1952):
Image courtesy the Chicago Tribune.

Image courtesy the Chicago Tribune.

200 Searching for Lost Girl, Boy in Suburb

More than 200 persons searched the Naperville area in Du Page county last night for a 3 year old boy and a 6 year old girl who disappeared shortly before noon while they were playing in the boy's backyard.

The search was concentrated around the ice-patched Du Page river, which meanders thru the suburb within a quarter block of the homes of the children and in the Naperville stone quarry, used as a municipal swimming pool, about a half block from their homes.

Cat with Them Returns

A cat that disappeared with the children returned to the Rosenstiel home shortly before midnight.  Police said the cat's return indicated that the lost children were still in the vicinity of their homes, altho [sic] no trace of them was found either near the river or the quarry.

The children are Edward Rosenstiel, 3, son of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Rosenstiel, 230 S. Water av., and Jean Peterson, 6, daughter of Mrs. Mary Peterson, 234 S. Water av., both of Naperville.

Rosenstiel said he observed his son dressed in a blue snowsuit, and the girl, dressed in a red coat, playing in the Rosenstiel yard at 11:45.  When the parents went out a few minutes later to call the children to Sunday dinner, they were gone.

Girl's Mother Is Widow

Mrs. Peterson, a widow who also has a son, Robert, 8, and Rosenstiel, a shoe store owner, searched the neighborhood diligently for nearly two hours before they notified Chief of Police Edward Otterpohl.

Chief Otterpohl immediately expanded the search.  A call for volunteers was answered by the entire police force, firemen, Boy Scouts, war veterans, and neighbors who came out with flashlights and lanterns to continue the search thru the night.

Police sent to Sauk City, Wis., for a pair of bloodhounds to aid in the search.

The bloodhound traced the children to the quarry on December 9 (from the Chicago Tribune):

Bloodhound Traces Scent of Lost Children to Quarry Edge

Use 5 Boats to Drag Pool for 2 Victims

A bloodhound led 300 searchers for two missing Naperville youngsters to the edge of a stone quarry a half a block from their homes yesterday.  State police and townspeople in five boats began systematically dragging the quarry, which is approximately 300 feet square and 80 to 90 feet deep in some places.

Bessie, 8 year old female bloodhound owned by Roy Case of Sauk City, Wis., was given a scent from a gym shoe of Jean Petersen, 6, daughter of Mrs. Mary Petersen, 234 Water av., Naperville, one of the missing children.  The dog led searchers to the edge of the quarry three times.

River Searched in Vain

Lt. Donald Barnes of the Elgin state police district, who is in charge of the search, said a search of the Du Page river, which flows near the quarry, failed earlier yesterday to reveal a clew [sic] to Jean or Edward Rostenstiel, 3, son of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Rosenstiel, 230 Water av., Naperville, who were last seen shortly before noon Sunday playing in the boy's backyard.

A small dam was opened to allow river water to flow into a spillway until searchers were able to see bottom in most parts of the river.

Edward Otterpohl, chief of Naperville police, said a diver from a Chicago salvage company had been hired to search the quarry and would begin diving at dawn today.

Apples Found in Quarry

As national guardsmen, veterans, and Boy Scouts joined in the search, 100 children attended mass yesterday in SS Peter and Paul church to pray for the safe return of the missing children.

Barnes said the spot the bloodhound led searchers to is on the opposite side of the quarry from the homes of the two children and is the shallowest portion of the quarry which is used as a municipal swimming pool.

Barnes said two apples with teeth marks in them were found floating in the quarry and a piece of a Christmas tree ornament was found near the shore.  He said the objects were shown to the parents but they were unable to identify the ornament nor would they attempt to identify the teeth marks.

The police decided they needed to drain the quarry that Bessie had led them to.  This excerpt is from the December 13, 1952 Chicago Tribune.

Pumping of water from the Naperville quarry, which is being drained in a search for two children, was slowed yesterday as the water level was lowered 22 feet, forcing rescue workers to seek lower locations for gasoline pumps to make them effective.

Marshall N. Erb, who is in charge of drainage, said an attempt will be made to cut ledges in the side of the quarry to reinstall the gasoline pumps.  Also slowing the drainage, he said, is seepage from another quarry and the river which, he said, amounts to 25 per cent of the water pumped out.

Jean Petersen, 6, and Edward Rosenstiel, 3, are the youngsters who disappeared Sunday afternoon from the Rosenstiel back yard at 230 S. Water av., half a block from the quarry.

Police Chief Philip J. Hels of Maywood said 50 members of the Illinois police reserves have volunteered to assemble at the scene tomorrow to handle the crowds of curious expected to gather.  They also will relieve for a day the small force of Naperville, sherif's [sic] and state policemen who have been keeping the vigil since Monday.

However, despite all this effort, the children weren't found in the quarry.  At this point, the investigation starts to get strange.  This is from the December 19, 1952 issue of the Chicago Tribune.


Sex Offender Sought for Questioning

Two leads in the mysterious disappearance of Jean Petersen, 6, and Edward Rosenstiel, 3, of Naperville, on Dec. 7 collapsed under investigation last night.

One was the finding of a red jacket similar to a garment worn by the Petersen child when last seen.  The jacket was found in the yard of the home of John J. Racz in route 59, two miles south of West Chicago, in Du Page county.

It was believed that the jacket had been dragged into the yard by Racz's Irish setter after the dog supposedly found it in the Du Page river, about a block from the Racz home.  Racz threw the jacket into a refuse burner before realizing it might be important in the investigation.

Remnants Disprove Theory

However, the remnants were sufficient for the girl's mother to establish it was not the garment worn by her daughter.

The second lead which collapsed was furnished by Ernest Muehle, 61, of 3638 S. Wolcott av., a machinist, who said he believed the children were in the house of a relative of one of the missing tots, south of Naperville.

Muehle admitted under questioning that he knew nothing of the children's families or whereabouts and that he had used a "divining rod" formula to arrive at his theory as to where they could be found.

Seek Chicago Sex Offender

Naperville and Du Page county authorities were seeking a N. Clark st. sex offender for questioning in connection with the mystery, but no information was given on his possible connection with the case.  His name was not disclosed.

Searchers combed brush piles and other places of concealment yesterday in the vicinity of the children's homes and near two large quarries which were emptied of millions of gallons of water in an unsuccessful search for the children.  No new clews [sic] were found.

More than 1,500 volunteers and policemen will turn out tomorrow to search the countryside for the children.

Despite this huge community-wide search, the parents of Jean and Eddie spent a solemn Christmas staring at presents and wondering if they would ever be opened.  But the efforts of the police were considerable.  Just before Christmas, the Naperville police went far out of their way in their search.  From the December 22, 1952 issue of the Chicago Tribune:

Naperville police prepared last night to make a search around Tipton, Ia., for Jean Petersen, 6, and Edward Rosenstiel, 3, Naperville children, who have been missing since Dec. 7.

The search was based on information from Walter Revoir, 9310 Harlem av., Dearborn Heights, near Oak Lawn, a lumber truck driver.  Revoir reported that on Dec. 8 he saw two children who fitted descriptions of the missing youngsters.

He said they were riding with a man in a green, International semi-trailer cattle truck which stopped at a lunchroom at U.S. highways 30 and 51, 30 miles west of Naperville.  The truck bore Iowa license plates and "Tipton, Ia.," was painted on the front of the trailer. Revoir said the boy was about 3 to 5 and the girl, who was wearing "something red," a little older.

Revoir said the man was about 30, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed about 165.  After buying a sackful of sandwiches, the man drove west in highway 30.

Sherif [sic]  C. R. Willey of Tipton said he would undertake a search among cattle truck drivers in the Tipton area in an effort to find the man described by Revoir.

The police gave the family members lie detector tests, which they passed, and the case went cold... until it turned to ice on February 3, 1952 when the mystery was finally revealed... only a few feet from where it started.  From the Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1952:

Probe River Deaths of Naperville Children


Faces Visible in Icy Shallows

Du Page county authorities last night were investigating the deaths of two Naperville children whose bodies were found earlier in the day in the ice coated Du Page river 59 days after the children disappeared.  The discoveries were made less than a block from their homes, ending a widespread search in which volunteer workers had even emptied an abandoned quarry.

The children were Jean Peterson, 6, and Edward Rosenstiel, 3, who vanished from the boy's back yard shortly before noon on Dec. 7, a Sunday.

Discovery of the bodies left many questions unanswered.  Primarily, the inquiry centered on the fact that the youngsters were found in relatively shallow water that had been searched thoroly. [sic]  Mayor Charles Wellner, firemen, policemen, and citizens who aided in the search said they were unable to see how the bodies could have been missed.

Promises Thoro Inquiry

An inquest was opened late in the afternoon in the undertaking establishment at 44 S. Mill st., Naperville.  Deputy Coroner Joseph Dieter swore in a jury of six business and professional men, Ted Miller, 25 N. Mill st., a painting contractor, was named foreman and promised a thoro investigation. The inquest was adjourned after identification of the bodies to await results of autopsies and chemical and other tests of vital organs.  The parents were not present.

The body of the girl was found first, at 10:04 a.m. It was discovered by Richard Forrestal, 23, of 803 2d av., Aurora, a lineman for the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois.  He was working on a transformer where Webster st. ends at the river.  As he walked across the river ice, he saw the girl's face under it.

Police removing the body of Edward Rosenstiel.

Police removing the body of Edward Rosenstiel.  (Naperville Sun)

Chop Ice to Get Body

Forrestal called Naperville police.  They responded with firemen.  Timbers were laid on the ice to prevent it from breaking under the men's weight.  The ice was chopped away, and the body taken out.  It was clad just as the girl was when she vanished - in a red coat and red boots.

While officials were gathering to view the girls' body, Reuben Weber, a farmer from the Lemont area who is building a home at 619 S. Webster st. in Naperville, joined crowds on the river bank. As he walked across the ice, at 11:21 a.m., he, too, saw a face under the frozen surface, 56 feet from the spot where the girls' body had been taken out.

Recover Second Victim

His shouts brought police, firemen, and others. Again the timbers were laid, the ice was chopped, and the tiny form of the Rosenstiel boy was taken out. The boy's body was clad in the blue snowsuit he wore when the two youngsters disappeared. On his feet were his white boots. Around his waist was his cowboy belt, still carrying the toy holster he wore.

There they were viewed by Coroner Samuel K. Lewis, Sherif [sic] Rollin Hall, and Edward Otterpohl, chief of police in Naperville.  They said there were no external marks of violence on the bodies, which were in an extremely good state of preservation. There also was no evidence of molestation of any kind, the officials declared.

Immersion Time Undetermined

It was pointed out that the cold water would have helped preserve the bodies, but Coroner Lewis said it was impossible to determine immediately how long the bodies had been in the river.

In an effort to determine definitely whether there were any suspicious circumstances in connection with their deaths, chemical and other tests of the internal organs were ordered by Coroner Lewis.

Among questions to be answered by the analyses, which will not be completed for 10 days to two weeks, are these: Were the youngsters fed anything after their last Sunday morning breakfast at home?  Was drowning the cause of death?  What accounts for the unusual, pink color of the youngsters' skins, a color that often results from carbon monoxide poisoning? How long had they been in the water?

Recalls River Search

Sherif Hall recalled that the river, both above and below a dam just to the west of the area where the bodies were found, had been searched carefully.  After water above the dam was released, ice was hauled away and the river searched by men in hip boots and in boats. The water below the dam, where the bodies were found, was 40 inches deep at the site of the girl's body and 51 inches where the boy's body was found.

Among reasons suggested for the failure to discover the bodies earlier were that they might have been in a deep hole and later risen to the surface; that they might have been caught under the surface by roots of a tree on an island, and that they might have been enmeshed in ragged, sub-surface ice.  Both bodies were found on their backs lying east and west, the direction in which the stream flows at that point.

Mothers Comfort Each Other

The Peterson girl was the daughter of Mrs. Mary Peterson, 234 Water st., Naperville.  She is a widow. The Rosenstiel boy was was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Rosenstiel, 230 Water st. Rosenstiel operates a shoe repair shop.

Both cried, but both seemed numb at the end of the long period of worry.

Rosenstiel sat drinking coffee in the kitchen of his home with a clergyman from Aurora.

"At least we have got an answer," he said. "We prayed hard that the Lord would give us an answer to the disappearance. At last it is over. I know the two children have gone to heaven. They were so good. They will always be with us. They are in the hands of the good Lord.

"We prayed continuously that they would be found alive. Now that they have been found, it still is a relief to know where they are."

Services for the Rosenstiel boy will be held 2 p.m. tomorrow in St. Olaf's Lutheran church, Aurora. Those for the girl had not been arranged pending arrival of relatives from Arizona.

And the next month, the coroner returned a verdict, putting the sad case to a rest.  (Chicago Tribune, March 12, 1952)


Death by drowning was the verdict returned by a Du Page county coroner's jury yesterday at the inquest over two Naperville children who disappeared Dec. 7 and whose bodies were found in the Du Page river near their homes Feb. 23. The children were Edward Rosenstiel, 3, and Jean Peterson, 6. The jurors, headed by Theodore Miller, Naperville painting contractor, said they were convinced the drownings were accidental.  Floyd Rosenstiel, father of one of the children, said he was satisfied with the verdict, and thru Deputy Coroner Joseph Dieter thanked the authorities for their aid in solving the mystery of the childrens' disappearance.

After reading about this sad story, I visited Naperville and photographed the bridge over the river where the children's faces were seen through the ice.  The houses where the children lived are gone, replaced by the Naperville City Hall, but you can look at the Google Maps view of the area and still imagine where the scene unfurled.
The bridge that marks the location where the children's bodies were found on February 3, 1953.

The bridge that marks the location where the children's bodies were found on February 3, 1952. (Camera: Holga 120N, Ilford HP5+ film)

The houses where the children lived are gone, but the quarry remains.

The houses where the children lived are gone, but the quarry remains.