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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.

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.

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Saudade

A Freshman’s Lament

My first semester at EIU at the dawn of the new millennium wasn’t quite what I expected.

As a newly minted 18-year-old at Morehouse College in 1947, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”

That must be why, in the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois, hangs a large portrait of the building’s namesake covering his forehead with one hand in a gesture of either bewilderment or exasperation.

On Orientation Day the summer before my freshman year at Eastern Illinois University, my fellow prefrosh and I nervously and excitedly shuffled into the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union ballroom to watch a video addressing our fears of dorm life and living away from home for the first time. “EIU doesn’t have dorms,” it assured us. “It has residence halls.” The freshman in the video anxiously dreamt of having a nightmare roommate, but when they finally met, they became best friends.

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Announcements

New Edition of Tales of Coles County Ready for Pre-Orders!

Pre-ordering for the sixth and final edition of Tales of Coles County, Illinois is now available.

Own a previous edition? You won’t want to miss this! The original stories have been completely revised and updated. This edition also includes an index and a foreword by local genealogist Ann Winkler Hinrichs.

One hundred additional pages, five brand new illustrations by Katie Conrad, comprehensive bibliography, and over a dozen new photos await you 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.

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Saudade

EIU Memories: Jimmy John’s

In 1983, 19-year-old Jimmy John Liautaud opened a sandwich shop in a small college town with a loan from his dad. He’s now worth $1.7 billion. That sandwich shop was Jimmy John’s, now a national sandwich chain, and that college was Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. Jimmy made his business profitable by offering fast delivery to the EIU dorms, and that’s how I encountered the sandwich chain 17 years later.

I first ate Jimmy John’s my freshman year of college, back in the fall of 2000. I didn’t have a car down at school, and when I got tired of dorm food, I would order Jimmy John’s and have it delivered to Carman Hall. A sandwich only cost $3.25, plus tip, and it came in a brown paper bag. Later, they came out with plastic cups with a different design on them every year. I have a collection somewhere.

When I was younger, I loved Subway, but there was something simple about Jimmy John’s sandwiches, and their menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Just pick a number and you’re set. On nice days, I always enjoyed sitting on the picnic bench outside the shop in the alley behind Positively Fourth Street Records.

Jimmy John’s logo from a delivery bag, c. 2001
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Mysterious America Reviews

Haunted Colleges and Universities a Good Primer on Campus Haunts

Haunted Colleges and Universities: Creepy Campuses, Scary Scholars, and Deadly Dorms by Tom Ogden is a good place to start if you are interested in learning about campus ghost stories. This comprehensive guide contains information on over two hundred colleges and universities around the United States, but you will have to look in the reference section if you want to find a more in-depth examination of each location.

Published in 2014 by Globe Piquot Press, Haunted Colleges and Universities is 318 pages and retails for $18.95. It is divided into four parts based on regions of the US as defined by the US Census Bureau. Each section is further subdivided into individual states.

When I think of what I look for in a book of ghostlore, well organized content is a plus, and Haunted Colleges and Universities is nothing if not organized. With a clear table of contents listing every college and university in the book by state, it is easy to find any location. Each entry is proceeded by the college’s address, phone number and website. The names of haunted buildings are highlighted in bold, so it is a breeze for your eyes to jump to any location in the body text. All of these features make this book very helpful to its readers.

If Haunted Colleges and Universities has a flaw, it is that it overreaches and cannot devote enough space to any one college (although there are certain colleges in the book that have a lot more space devoted to them than others). The author himself acknowledges this problem.

In his introduction, he wrote: “Readers of Globe Piquot Press haunted books will immediately notice that the format of this one is completely different from others I’ve written for the series. During my research, I wasn’t finding just two or three dozen stories I was finding hundreds. So instead of highlighting just a few hauntings, in this work I’ve tried to include as many legends as space would permit.” He certainly succeeded at that.

Categories
Saudade

EIU Memories: Roc’s Blackfront

It’s fashionable for bars and restaurants to claim some connection to the days of Prohibition, but Roc’s Blackfront Tavern & Grill, at 410 Sixth Street in Charleston, Illinois, is the real deal. It even has the memorabilia to prove it. In my senior and graduate school years at nearby Eastern Illinois University, I frequented Roc’s to have a drink with friends in a classier atmosphere than the usual college bars.

Roc’s ad in the Daily Eastern News, August 18, 2000.

That brick building, absent its black tile facade and martini glass-shaped neon sign, was originally built for the Charleston Courier newspaper office in 1841. Willis W. McClelland opened the Red Front Saloon there in 1917. As fate would have it, the Eighteenth Amendment banning the sale of alcohol in the United States passed in 1919. What were establishments like the Red Front Saloon to do? The saloon changed its name to McClelland’s Cafe and continued to clandestinely sell alcohol a short walk from the county courthouse.

Racing enthusiast Hank O’Day bought the speakeasy in 1931 and renamed it Hank O’Day’s Tavern after Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. Illegal activities continued, however. O’Day ran an underground casino in the room above the bar, complete with buzzer system to alert patrons of police raids. When owner Mike Knoop renovated in 1996, he discovered hidden gambling devices and paraphernalia, including total boards for horse racing and a roulette wheel that now hangs on the wall.