Categories
Mysterious America

Partners in Crime? The Murder of Darwin Ray Webb

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Thirteen months after Linda Diane Shriver’s murder, the frozen body of a 29-year-old man from Lancaster, Texas named Darwin Ray Webb was discovered in a deep ditch along Illinois State Route 316, three-quarters of a mile west of Loxa Road. A work crew was patching the road when they discovered Webb’s body shortly before noon on Tuesday, February 11, 1975.

The 5-feet 6-inch tall Webb was wearing brown shoes, bluejeans, a flowered shirt, and gold corduroy jacket, and was laying on his back parallel with the road. His chest and neck bore wounds from two shotgun blasts at close range. 

Darwin Ray Webb and 30-year-old Russell Lee Roberts of Warrensburg, Illinois were suspected of robbing an IGA store in Mattoon the previous Friday. At approximately 7:06 p.m. on February 7th, two gunmen wearing ski masks and ponchos armed with shotguns cleaned out the front registers and a safe at Taylor’s IGA at 1316 DeWitt Avenue.

One customer, a man named Joe Mitchell, tried to intervene and grab a shotgun from one of the men. It went off in the struggle, blowing a hole in the ceiling. The second gunman struck Joe on the back of the head with the butt of his shotgun and the pair fled. Before they took off, a bystander wrote down their getaway car’s license plate number.

Categories
Mysterious America

Who Murdered John Mason?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

In 1880, the cold-blooded murder of an elderly German-American farmer and shopkeeper named John Mason shocked Coles County residents. Though two suspects were arrested, they were acquitted at trial. To this day, the person or persons responsible for Mason’s death remain a mystery. 

John Mason was born in 1807 in Württemberg, Germany and came to the United States sometime prior to 1840. He married Christena Fogle (1815–1870) and the couple had four children. They lived in Ohio before coming to Coles County sometime in the late 1850s. There his son Henry married Theressa Louisa Raser (spelled Theresa Reasser in the marriage record), daughter of Frederick and Johanna Henryette C. (Henrietta) Raser, recent immigrants from Saxony, Germany, on January 18, 1870.

John’s wife, Christena, died at the age of 54 on February 26, 1870. Three months later, John and 45-year-old Henrietta were wed.

For the next ten years, the couple were prosperous farmers in Seven Hickory Township and owned a grocery store eight miles north of Charleston along the plank road. His property stretched outward from the northwest corner of the intersection of what is today State Highway 130 and County Road 1600N to County Road 1700N.

Categories
Mysterious America

The Strange Death of Cora Stallman

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

Cora Stallman stood out. She was approximately six feet tall and 175 pounds, physically larger than average. She was a 45-year-old unmarried former schoolteacher, a college-educated woman from Cincinnati, Ohio who routinely rode a horse into town. Some neighbors described her as eccentric, odd, and even “stuck up” or “demented.”

Others that she was kind and benevolent, especially toward children. When Cora’s brother-in-law discovered her body mostly submerged in a cistern on his wife’s farm in Humboldt Township, it ignited a mystery that remains unsolved.

It was 1925, the year F. Scott Fitzgerald published The Great Gatsby and the battle between evolution and creationism was waged in the “Scopes Monkey Trial”. On a 600-acre farm two miles southeast of Humboldt, Illinois, a village of approximately 330, in the early morning hours of Saturday, August 1, 49-year-old Tom Seaman went to check on his sister-in-law, Cora, but she was not at home.

He sought out Boston Martin “Bos” Lilley (1886-1972), a tenant farmer on his wife’s land, and together they searched the property, including a small cottage where Cora kept her belongings. Tom’s wife, Anna, was away on a Mississippi River cruise.

Categories
Historic America

Prohibition and the Birth of the National Security State

For most of American history, the Federal government had little policing power. America’s experiment with Prohibition would fundamentally change that.

The Netflix miniseries Waco (2018) highlighted what many perceived as out of control Federal policing in the 1990s, an issue that has certainly not gone away. These concerns are just the latest in a long line of criticism that Federal law enforcement agencies have too much power. How did we get here?

The birth of the National Security State can be directly traced back to the Eighteenth Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol, which was adopted in 1919. If not for the nationwide law enforcement necessities of Prohibition, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would be nothing more than a few dozen agents in the Justice Department, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) would not exist.

For the first 100 years of United States history, the Federal government had very little internal policing power. Instead, it relied on private agencies like the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or left criminal investigation up to local authorities and individual states. In 1886, however, the Supreme Court ruled that states had no power to regulate interstate commerce. It was not until 1908 that U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte organized the Bureau of Investigation and hired 12 agents for interstate policing.

Categories
Mysterious America

Who Killed Shirley Ann Rardin?

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

At around 12:30 a.m. Monday morning, July 3, 1973, Shirley Ann Rardin, a 20-year-old sophomore art major at Eastern Illinois University, finished her shift at Hardee’s at the corner of 4th Street and Lincoln Avenue in Charleston, changed clothes, and said goodbye to her coworkers. She was 5 feet 7 inches tall, 125 pounds, with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue-green eyes. She was wearing wide flare jeans, a black halter top, and blue tennis shoes, with $5 in her pocket.

Shirley was a local girl, having graduated from Charleston High School in 1971, and a young divorcee. She had been previously married to a former manager at Hardee’s named Rich DeWitt.

Shirley was renting Apt. 203 in the Lincolnwood building at 2210 9th Street, exactly one mile from the Hardee’s, and was believed to be heading there after work. She usually rode her bike to and from work, but that night she walked. If she ever arrived, no one knew. Medication she needed to take four times daily for a serious medical condition was later found in her apartment.

Her boyfriend, David Thomas, a fellow EIU student, reported her missing to Charleston police at 1:14 a.m Tuesday. The search dragged on for almost a week, but police were hampered by the fact that Shirley was a legal adult and could do as she pleased. As the days passed without any leads, however, they began to assume the worst.

Categories
Mysterious America

“Something Terrible Has Happened”: The Murder of Andrea Will

The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.

It had been over 24 and a half years since sophomore art major Shirley Ann Rardin’s body was found in a wooded area northeast of Paris, Illinois. For more than two decades, students at Eastern Illinois University enjoyed a sense of safety and security. That all changed on the morning of Tuesday, February 3, 1998.

At around 10:00 p.m. the previous evening, 20-year-old Justin J. “Jay” Boulay descended the long wooden staircase to his downstairs neighbor’s apartment door and asked to borrow his car to pick up his girlfriend, 18-year-old Andrea Will, from Lawson Hall. Brian Graham, his neighbor, happily obliged. “I’ve been up to his place a couple of times by myself and I didn’t notice anything weird about him,” he later told the Decatur Herald and Review.

In a letter Justin later wrote and left in his apartment, he described getting into an argument with Andrea that evening when she told him she was dating other men. According to Andrea’s mother, Patricia, Justin called Andrea several times over winter break, but Andrea, a freshman marketing major with long blonde hair and cherubic smile, wanted to end their relationship and see other people.

“I lost it,” Justin, a sophomore history major, wrote. “I couldn’t let go of her neck.” Coles County Coroner Mike Nichols later determined Justin strangled Andrea with a telephone cord. At around 3:30 a.m., Justin’s downstairs neighbor and his neighbor’s girlfriend, Michelle McVey, heard loud but “soothing music” coming from Justin’s apartment. They knocked on the ceiling and it stopped.

Categories
Mysterious America

Maple Lake’s Tragic History

Most visitors to Maple Lake in southwest suburban Chicago come for recreation, some to witness unusual lights that emerge from its water at night, but few know of the lake’s violent past.

Every spring and summer, visitors by the hundreds of thousands descend on the southwestern corner of Cook County. They come to the Palos and Sag Valley Divisions of the Park District to ride horses, hike, and bicycle on the trails, or drop a fishing line into one of the dozen lakes and sloughs. Many grab a quick bite at the Ashbary Coffee House before heading south down Archer Avenue to 95th Street. There they enter Pulaski Woods under a canopy of maple trees and continue east until they reach Maple Lake, a man-made body of water roughly half a mile in width. With its wide, curving shores and tranquil waters, it is a deceptively peaceful place.

Over the years, Maple Lake has acquired a reputation for the unusual. A handful of visitors—those who stuck around after sundown—have reported seeing strange lights hovering over the lake. These lights, although they are the subject of speculation by every chronicler of Chicagoland folklore, are just the tip of the iceberg. Maple Lake has a grim history into which few have delved.