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Mysterious America

Innocence Lost: The Tragic Unsolved Murder of Barbara Sue Beasley

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.

As the summer of ‘73 dragged on, Coles County suffered the loss of another daughter at the hands of an unknown assailant. At around 10:00 a.m. on Friday, August 3, 1973, 11-year-old Barbara Sue Beasley of Mattoon disappeared while riding her white Stingray bicycle near the Cross County Mall.

She was approximately 5 feet tall, 95 pounds, with blonde hair and green eyes, wearing slacks and a blue blouse. She lived on E. DeWitt Street, and her father, Warren Beasley, worked at the nearby General Steel and Metals plant. Her parents reported her missing on Saturday.

On the evening of Tuesday, August 7th, exactly one month after Shirley Ann Rardin’s body was found, two teenage boys left the Cross County Mall and headed to hunt turtles in a drainage ditch one-quarter mile north of the railroad tracks.

At around 6:00 p.m., they stumbled upon the badly swollen nude body of a girl lying on her back in two inches of water under a pipe that ran across the ditch west of Columbia Machine Company. The girl’s blouse was beneath her body, pants wrapped around her left arm, and her other clothes, alongside her bicycle, were strewn along the drainage ditch approximately 35 feet south. The boys ran back to the mall and called the police.

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Mysterious America

Never Came Home: The Murder of Amy Blumberg

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.

As Eastern Illinois University let out for winter break in December 1999, sorority sisters at the Gamma Mu chapter of Sigma Kappa were still grieving from the loss of Andrea Will less than two years earlier. Twenty-year-old Amy J. Blumberg, a junior family and consumer sciences major, joined Sigma Kappa in the fall of 1998, so the two young women never met, however, she undoubtedly heard stories and shared many mutual friends. She lived with around 40 other members in the Sigma Kappa sorority house in EIU’s Greek Court and served as activities chairman.

Amy Blumberg returned home to Collinsville, Illinois, a Metro East suburb of St. Louis, to stay with her parents, Ken and Sue, over the holidays. They were devout members of St. John’s Evangelical United Church of Christ. She worked at her uncle Dennis’ store, On Stage Dance Apparel at 138 Eagle Drive in nearby O’Fallon, to help out and earn extra money for school.

The store, a cottage-like brick building just east of the I-64 and U.S. Highway 50 interchange, was tucked away between a gas station, railroad tracks, and an empty field. On Friday, December 31, 1999, Amy was working alone until closing at 6:00 p.m., anticipating ushering in the new millennium with her friends later that night. It was a calm, snowless evening, with a temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and falling. 

Amy never came home. Her parents began to worry when Amy’s friends called to ask about her whereabouts. At around 9:00 p.m., they drove to the store to re-trace her route, thinking her car might have broken down on the way home. Amy’s car was still in the parking lot. Ken, her father, went inside, where he discovered Amy’s body lying on the floor, wearing only a dark blue shirt pulled up to her armpits, near the restroom in a pool of blood.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.