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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.

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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.

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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.

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Historic America

The Lynching of Adolphus Monroe

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 the nineteenth century, “lynch law” reigned. The most infamous incident in Coles County occurred in the early morning hours of Friday, February 16, 1856 when convicted murderer Adolphus Monroe was lynched by a mob of angry citizens.

In October 1855, Adolphus got into a drunken altercation with his father-in-law, Nathan Ellington (who was the first county clerk), and gunned him down. Ellington and his wife, Fannie, strongly disapproved of their daughter Nancy’s marriage to Adolphus, who had a reputation for drinking.

Ellington confronted Adolphus about mistreating Nancy, and according to local historian Nancy Easter-Shick, Ellington struck Adolphus with his cane. Adolphus drew a small smoothbore pistol, shot him twice, and the two antagonists continued their mortal struggle on the floor. Adolphus was convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged on February 15, 1856.

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Mysterious America

German Church Road and the Grimes Sisters Tragedy

When the frozen, nude bodies of teenagers Barbara and Patricia Grimes were discovered along a remote roadside in 1957, it ignited one of Chicagoland’s most famous mysteries. But was it murder?

German Church is a nondescript avenue running between Willow Springs Road and County Line Road, just a half-mile north of Healing Waters Park. The area is sparsely populated and two streams, Flag and Devil’s Creek, gently wind their way through the nearby woods. During the 1950s, not very many people had a reason to venture out to that particular edge of Cook County, but it was along an isolated stretch of German Church Road near Devil’s Creek on a cold day in January 1957 when a passing motorist discovered the remains of Barbara and Patricia Grimes.

The two sisters had been missing for three weeks before a Hinsdale man named Leonard Prescott noticed their nude bodies lying on the outside of the guard rail just before the culvert leading down to Devil’s Creek. Upon identifying the girl’s remains, their father, a truck driver named Joseph, exclaimed, “I tried to tell the police my daughters didn’t run away, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”

It was the end of a long and exhaustive search, but only the beginning of a case that would shock and fascinate Chicago for decades to come. Many writers have declared that moment to be the end of innocence, but it was, in fact, only one in a series of similar incidents stretching back a decade.

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Mysterious America

The Murder of Kenton Gene Ashenbramer

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.

Clarence W. “Jack” Ashenbramer (1909-1996) and his wife Helen Grace returned from a weeklong vacation to their home at 920 Piatt Avenue in Mattoon at around 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 27, 1972. Their son’s red 1967 Ford Fairlane with a white stripe was not parked outside.

When they entered the back bedroom where their 34-year-old son Kenton Gene Ashenbramer was staying, they made a sickening discovery. He was lying across his bed with multiple stab wounds, a knife nearby. The horrified parents called police and an investigation was launched.

Kenton Ashenbramer was a former Marine with three children who worked at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and had lived in Mattoon since 1955. On Saturday evening, August 26, 1972, he met two 26-year-old women, Ann Cole and Shirley Mae Moutria, at a bar called Club Oasis, 1406 Broadway Avenue in Mattoon.

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Historic America Video

Tales of Coles County – Unsolved Murder of John Mason

A reading from the new edition of my book Tales of Coles County, Illinois, released in October 2020!

In part three: Hidden History, I examine events some believe are better left unremembered. What is the history of Coles County’s ghost towns? What were some of its most infamous murders? What happened in the Tornado of 1917? Never-before published information about Mattoon’s battle with Prohibition and even a local chapter of the KKK is inside.

I’m no longer accepting pre-orders because the book has officially been released! Order it today on Amazon.com, Walmart.com, and GooglePlay.