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):
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.
TWO NEW LEADS FAIL IN HUNT FOR LOST CHILDREN
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
AREA COMBED IN PRIOR HUNT YIELDS 2 BODIES
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.
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)
TWO NAPERVILLE TOTS DROWNED, JURY’S VERDICT
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.