The Fool Killer Submarine – Part 3!

excerpted from the Weird Chicago book

Phillips appears to have designed at least four submarines in his lifetime – according to his descendants, his third model, built in 1851 and known as the Marine Cigar, was stable enough that he was able to take his family on fantastic underwater picnics (this was probably the one he lost in 1853 while trying to salvage the wreck of The Atlantic in Lake Erie – it’s still lost in the lake today). A fourth model had torpedo mechanisms added. These third and fourth models were improvements of his earlier, less successful boats; the first, built in 1845, was a fish-shaped apparatus that sank in Trail Creek near Michigan City. The second just may have been the Fool Killer.

While actual details are scarce, family legend has it that Phillips’ second model was a forty-foot cigar-shaped submarine that was built in the late 1840s (in an 1853 letter to the Navy, Phillips did mention building a sub in 1847). According to these family stories, the machine lacked a decent mechanism for propulsion and sank on a test run in the Chicago River. Phillips’ family said, decades later, that the submarine found in the river was undoubtedly one of his.

That the Fool Killer was a Lodner Phillips creation seems to be backed up mainly by family legend, which is not always reliable; another Phillips family legend states than when Phillips refused to sell one of his boats to the British Navy, they sank it, a story that is almost certainly not true. And the letter Phillips wrote to the Navy in 1853 indicates that the submarine he built in 1847 was a success – no mention is made of it sinking (though the letter was an attempt to sell his latest boat to the Navy, and talking about failed models wouldn’t have been much of a selling point).

But that the Fool Killer was one of Phillips’ subs is still the best explanation that has yet been offered for the origin of the mysterious submarine. No drawings or diagrams for his second submarine survive, but drawings of Philips’ subs from the 1850s do strongly resemble the pictures of the Fool Killer that eventually came to light.

So, could the submarine have been beneath the river since the 1840s? It’s entirely possible, especially if the reports about the ship being from 1870 are incorrect, as has been suggested. Some recent articles have stated that Phillips sold the submarine in 1871 to a man who promptly sunk it, explaining the early newspaper reports of the sub being from that era, but Phillips was busy being dead by this time.

Who, then, was the poor man who died onboard? Since Peter Nissen died onboard a different ship, not a submarine, and William Nissen seems to have been alive when the sub was raised, the identity of the ship’s poor victim remains a mystery.

It’s possible that the bones were planted on the submarine when it was raised in 1915 as a publicity stunt to get more people to come see it on exhibition. After all, complete skeletons were not found – just skulls and a few other bones. What happened to the rest of them? The Phillips’ family legend about the sub sinking in the river don’t include anything about anyone being onboard at the time. Also, Phillips first and third sub models were known to have escape hatches – why wouldn’t the second one have had one?

William Deneau does seem to have been a bit of a showman – in 1958, on the anniversary of the Eastland Disaster, Deneau told reporters that he had just been onboard the repaired Eastland – which, he said, was still sailing under another name – for a cruise from California to Catalina the year before. In fact, the ship had been scrapped years before. Like most great showmen, Deneau may have been willing to fudge the facts a bit in the name of a great story.

While it’s likely that we’ll never know the truth about the bones, many of the questions about the submarine and its origins could surely be answered today if anyone knew where the submarine was now – but unfortunately, this is another mystery.

In May of 1916, the submarine was listed in newspapers among the attractions at Parker’s Greatest Shows, a traveling carnival run by Charles W. Parker, which had arrived for a weeklong engagement in Oelwein, Iowa. It was listed as “The Submarine or Fool Killer, the first submarine ever built,” being exhibited along with “skee ball, a new amusement device,” but it was merely listed among other top draws, including “The Electric Girl, The Vegetable King, Snooks, the smallest monkey in the world (the paper was especially enchanted with the monkey, who delighted crowds by sucking his thumb), the fat girl, and the Homeliest Woman in the World.” The Fool Killer was mentioned in the papers almost daily, though one can imagine that it didn’t take much to make the papers in the town of Oelwein in 1916. In any case, it does not seem to have been as big a draw as the monkey. No mention was made of the bones, which may not have traveled on with the submarine.

By 1917, Parker’s Greatest Shows had replaced the sub with a new submarine that could demonstrate manuevers in a giant glass tank, leaving historians to speculate Parker sold the old submarine for scrap, but no one really knows what happened to it – it could still be out there someplace today, as far as anyone knows!

We here at Weird Chicago are continuing our search for more information about the craft and what became of it – but it’s likely that the riddle of the fool killer will never truly be solved!

The Fool Killer Submarine – our first post on the subject!

The Fool Killer Ad our post featuring the Tribune ad

The Fool Killer: More Evidence – a post comparing a drawing of one of Phillips’ subs to photos of the foolkiller

Fool Killer Clue? – speculating that newspaper reports that the sub dated to the 1870s might have been mistaking it for OTHER experimental subs.

Finding the Fool Killer – a newly-unearthed account of the submarine’s discovery, with an early guess as to its origin.

The Fool Killer Submarine – Part 1!

excerpted from the Weird Chicago book.

In the days following the Eastland Disaster, a diver named William “Frenchy” Deneau was responsible for recovering around 250 bodies from the murky water. Four months later, in November, he was back in the river, working to lay cables beneath the Rush Street bridge. While he worked, his shovel hit upon a large metallic object which turned out to be the wreck of a forty-foot long iron submarine. Deneau announced to the newspapers that he had found The Fool Killer, and “ancient, primitive submarine” that had been lost for at least eighteen years – and possibly much longer!

At the time, submarines were in the papers almost daily. While attempts at submarine warfare had been made in both the Civil War and the American Revolution, using submarines as weapons had only recently become practical. Half a world away, Europe was in the grip of the world’s first submarine warfare, one of the deadly new types of battle introduced to the world in the first world war. The discovery of the wreck of an old submarine in the Chicago River was an event noted by several regional papers throughout the country.

Initially, it was expected that the sub would be raised by the Chicago Historical Society, but Deneau obtained permission from the federal government to raise the ship for “exhibition purposes.” The next month, after boat traffic died down for the winter, he arranged to raise it up from the murky depths. Once it was ashore, a startling discovery was made: inside of the ship were several bones – including the skulls of a man and a dog!

While police combed their records to identity the body, Deneau made preparations to put the odd craft on display. He appears to have enlisted the Skee Ball company as investors – it seems that they planned to tour the submarine around the country along with their games as a special promotion (imagine the slogan: “Come for the the Fool Killer, Stay for the Skee Ball!”)
By the end of February, the ship was on display at 208 South State Street. For a dime, customers see the remains of the old ship — and the remains of the dead guy and the dead dog! Admission also included a lecture and question-and-answer session by Deneau, a presentation on the history of submarines, and a chance to examine the interior of the Fool Killer itself (at the attendees’ own risk). On Saturday mornings, groups of ten or more children could get in for half of the usual price.

The exact location where Deneau found the wreck is a bit of a mystery – the newspapers first said it was near the Rush Street Bridge, then said it was at the Wells street bridge. A year or so later, while he was in World War I as a doughboy and speaking to reporters, Deneau said “remember that old submarine, the Foolkiller, I found? I found it over by the Madison Street bridge!” It also seems that in the process of raising it, workers had to drag it through the river a couple of miles to the Fullerton Street bridge.

And the location of the wreck is only one of the mysteries; the list of unanswered questions about the submarine is a long one. Who built it? How long had it been in the river? Who the heck was the dead guy inside of it, and what in the world possessed him to take his dog out on a submarine trip in the river? And whatever happened to the thing?

Research into these questions has proved frustrating – stories and theories abound, but none can really be verified, and the newspaper reports seem to be full of mistakes and contradictions. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll start wading through them! Click the “foolkiller” tag below to see posts featuring pictures of the craft, the ad that appeared in the Tribune in 1916, and a video clip of Adam talking about the mystery on PBS!

Whatever Happened to Lillian Collier: Teenage Flapper?

Update, 2014: We’ve had a break in the case!

The facts are these:

Lillian Collier (sometimes spelled Collee, or even Kelly) came to Chicago around 1920 from Greenwich Village, intent on converting Chicagoans to “real life.” Only a teenager by most accounts, her poetry made her the darling of the Dil Pickle Club. Some accounts say she had previously been a circus performer.

On arriving in Chicago, she founded a bohemian tea room called The Wind Blew Inn at Ohio and Michigan (where the Eddie Bauer store is now), where she held open forums, art exhibits, poetry readings, and more. The place was not popular with the neighbors, who complained about the jazz music, or the police, who thought that any tea that cost 75 cents had to have liquor in it (which it surely did), or with local parents, who feared that their children were attending “petting parties” there.

The place was raided by cops, and Collier was forced to put overalls over the Greek nude statues. On the stand in trial, she said there was nothing stronger than hot chocolate served at the place, and that “there is no snugglepupping at the Wind Blew Inn.” We here at Chicago Unbelievable are trying to bring the term “snugglepupping” back (along with its variants “Snugglepuppy,” a girl who enjoys snugglepupping, and “snugglepup,” the male equivalent.”)

The judge, in what should probably be considered a landmark case, sentenced her and her “aide,” Virginia Harrison (modern commenters generally assume she was her girlfriend) to read a book of fairy tales to cure her of her bohemianism. A month or so later, the Wind Blew Inn caught fire, the victim, Collier was sure, of puritan arsonists.

The place moved to a new, fancier location on LaSalle, but, lacking the grit and charm of the original, it soon tanked.

A few years later, in 1924, Collier was featured in a major national article about flappers in which she stated that flappers were not savages, but pioneers of new freedom for women. In the article, she comes across like a proto-feminist.

But here her trail ends. Various clues to her whereabouts around this period have popped up here and there – she was arrested for embezzling a bit, and may have been considered for a role in a Charlie Chaplin film. Another Wind Blew Inn, which may or may not have been related to the first one, opened for a while in New York.

There were many people named Lillian Collier who showed up in the press therafter – a poetess in Canada, a suffragist in Texas, and a NY socialite who married an Olympic fencer who promptly died in a zeppelin crash (I thought this was the best lead, but the marriage certificate indicates that the NY Lillian Collier was probably too young to be the Chicago one). None seem to be the same Lillian Collier who took Chicago by storm. Actual records of Collier herself are hard to come by, partly because we aren’t at all sure that Collier was really her name (it seems to have been pronounced more like Collee or Colley, in any case).

So we’re putting out an All Points Bulletin on information as to whereabouts of Lillian C after 1924. Was she your grandmother? Your great aunt? Did your mother know her? Was your great grandmother, the old lady in the home who watched a lot of Lawrence Welk and always asked if your crops were in, even though you work at the bank, a snugglepuppy? Let us know! Any leads are appreciated.

Update: some detective work has led us to much more info about Lillian, who died under the name Nellise Rosenfeld in 1981 after a long career as a playwright and mystery novelist.

Tales of the Gallows: Johann Hoch

When they caught Johann Hoch in New York, where he had fled from Chicago, he had already proposed to what would have been something like his 45th wife. His habit was to marry women and take their money within about a week or meeting them.He was not an attractive guy, but he was charming as all get out. “All of der vimen for Johann go crazy,” he explained, merrily, as his trial went underway in 1905. In fact, he preyed on lonely spinsters. Here are a few of his wives – not a rosy cheek among ’em.

But he didn’t just steal from his wives. About a third of the time, he killed them, too.

One of the more interesting aspects of the story is that the police initially claimed that he was a protege of H.H. Holmes of the Murder Castle. The press made this sort of claim all the time; playing “connect the dots” with killers sold papers. But in this case, the police and press both reported that Hoch had been a regular at the murder castle under the name Jacob Scmidt (or Edward Hatch, depending on you asked). One by one, several of the major players in the Murder Castle story from a decade before were marched into the jail to identify him. Only E.C. Davis, the jeweler who never seemed to play along with this sort of thing, said he didn’t recognize Hoch. However, all of these reporters were almost certainly mistaken; Hoch wasn’t even in the country yet when Holmes was operating the murder castle. This is one of the things we have to consider when we try to separate fact and fiction when it comes to Holmes – much of what we know comes from stories told by gossipping neighbors, and we have to wonder just how much of it they were making up.

The killing that got him in trouble was that of his 43rd wife in Chicago. He had poisoned her, then proposed to her sister before she was cold. He married her, robbed her, and fled the city. He was captured after a massive manhunt, and eventually hanged – a more detailed version is in FATAL DROP

Fatal Drop: True Tales from the Chicago Gallows by William Griffith(Click for ordering info!)
In honor of our first spin-off book, it’s Hangin’ Week on the blog!

fataldrop button

Farewell, House of Crosses!

A true Weird Chicago landmark, the House of Crosses is no more. It was already abandoned by the time we started up the company, and was a staple on our earliest tours.

The house went on the market a couple of years ago, and was presumed to be a tear-down property. Most of the crosses were removed around May of 2007, though the crosses on the coach house and the back of the house remained. However, it appears that the house wasn’t torn down, in the end. The house and coach house were simply totally gutted and rehabbed. Here’s the house as it appears today:

Click here (or see our book) for our piece on the house – including a link to our interview with the owner, Don Zaraza, whose uncle created the crosses.

Florentine “Shadow Ghost” analysis!

We’ve now had time to analyze the heck out of the Florentine Room shadow ghost picture that was taken during a tour a few weeks ago – most of the early theories going around revolved around the presence of a “second photographer” taking a picture that cast either my shadow or that of the photographer against the wall. Here’s the shot (edited version):

And here’s the original, unedited version. The camera malfunctioned on the shot, apparently causing the flash to go off very weakly, or perhaps out of sync with the shutter. The exif data of the photo says the flash did go off, but at a power level of “20/100.”

And, just for comparison’s sake, a shot from the same night, from about the same spot, with the same camera, when the flash DID go off correctly – and with someone standing about where I was in the “ghost” shot, but casting no shadow on the back wall:

From the edited picture, we can see that the part of the wall and chairs illuminated by the flash in the two photos are consistent, and the shadows from the lighting fixtures are cast at just about the same angle – and angle that strongly suggests that the source of light hitting the wall is coming from the camera. The shadow definitely isn’t me – I’m lit from entirely the wrong angle to be casting a shadow, especially one that strong, in that direction. And it’s not the photographer himself, since A: the shadow clearly isn’t a guy holding up a camera, and B: there’s no shadow of him on the table. Therefore, we can surmise that whatever is casting that shadow ought to be standing directly between the photographer and the wall – and, as you can see, nobody is.

Now, I make it a point never to say that anything is definitely a “paranormal” photo, but this one has certainly defied all explanation. The only thing left is that there’s always a chance that it’s faked, but if so, the photographer’s doing a HECK of a job of tricking me. This is one reason why I often say “there’s no such thing as GOOD ghost evidence, only COOL ghost evidence:” even when all normal explanations are exhausted, we still have to take everyone at their word that it wasn’t a hoax. Having spoken with the photographer, I don’t think he’s a hoaxer.

So,assuming it’s NOT a fake, who is the ghost? There IS a “shadowy figure” ghost that is thought to be that of a guy named Captain Lou Ostheim. And there’s always been a rumor that Teddy Roosevelt haunts that particular ballroom – it DOES look like a Roosevelt posture, eh?

These aren’t the only possibilities – certainly the room was popular with gangsters in the 1920s – they were known to hold banquets there from time to time, and rumors persist among the staff that there was a hit in the general vicinity at one point or another. This IS the general area where the “gunshot” noise has been heard.

So what we have here is the most we can really hope to find on any given ghost hunt: a mystery! Thanks again to John of, the photographer!

The Murder of Amos J. Snell Part 3: The Aftermath

No examination of the Amos Snell story (ours is the first that we know of in about 65 years) is complete without a few words on what became of the well-to-do family.

In 1901, Snell’s son, Albert, was penniless and living in the barn on the property. He was committed to an insane asylum and died in a rooming house a few years later.

Mrs. A.J. Stone, one of Snell’s daughter, sued for a share of the estate. Her claim was struck down on the grounds that she was allegedly an adopted daughter (I don’t know all the particulars of the trial, but what a horrible verdict!)

One of his daughters married several times, beginning by running away with a coachman at 16. She eventually left him and was forgiven by the family (daughters of rich men who married servants could generally be expected to be kicked out of the family in those days). She was married often, including being married and divorced from the same guy three times. She was eventually known as Mrs. Grace Snell-Coffin-Coffin-Walker-Coffin-Layman-Love-Love. Papers called her The Most Married Woman in the World. The second marriage to Mr. Love appears to have lasted; her name was still Mrs. Love when she died in 1941.

Given the number of properties that Snell owned in life (including most of what is now Milwaukee Avenue, which he turned into a toll road), legal wrangling over the estate went on for years – shares were still being argued over in 1943!

There was a $10,000 reward for the capture of WIllie Tascott offered; the last known attempt to claim it came from Doyle Quigg in 1946. He claimed to have proof that his “grandpappy” had killed Tascott in Florida fifty years earlier, and served on a chain gang as a result. By 1946, though, no reward was really on offer, and no one could prove that the man Quigg’s grandfather had killed was Tascott.

The Murder of Amos J Snell Part 2 – the vanishing suspect

Continuing our story on the mysteirous murder of Amos J Snell in his Washinton Blvd mansion in 1888…

Some believed that Snell’s strange sense of foreboding came not from some pyschic feeling, but, perhaps, from some sort of warning from the recently-freed burglar, and that burglar was one of the first men rounded up. But he was found innocent very quickly.

The Snell Mansion at the time of its destruction
Evidence that it had been a two-man job was fairly overwhelming: there were two sets of tracks in the snow, and two kinds of bullets in Snell’s body. But, when no solution had been found after 10 days, the frantic police decided that it had been the work of one person: Willie Tascott, a young man who lived on Ashland near Union Park before becoming something of a drifter, working for railroad companies all over the country, serving some jail time in Kentucky for robbery, and eventually drifint back to Chicago working odd jobs, including operating the elevator at the Palmer House Hotel, while engaging in some petty thievery here and there.

A few days before the murder, Tascott went to a jeweler to have a pearl set in a ring. The jeweler noticed his strange bag of tools and asked if he was a piano tuner.

“Hell no!” Willie replied. “I’m a burlgar!” The jeweler thought he was joking.

A few days later, he bought a set of tiny saws and tools – the kind used by burglars. These very tools were the ones the police said were found on the scene. The night of the murder, a witness described encountering Tascott on the street and, in the process of flirting with him, asking about his bag of strange tools. “I’m a crook,” he said, casually. He then showed her some sharp manuevers with two pistols that he carried – proving, the police said, that the two kinds of bullets could have been fired by a single person.

This didn’t explain the footprints, or WIllie’s alibi (his brother said he had been with him the whole night), but Willie Tascott disappeared. A world-wide hunt ensued, but there was no picture, or even a good drawing, to help anyone identify the guy. Clues and sightings poured into the police station for decades, and several people were arrested around the world on suspicion of being him, but Tascott was never found, and the murder of Amos J. Snell was never solved.

The Snell Mansion was torn down in 1923. Few traces remain on Washington Blvd to indicate that it was ever a fashionable haunt for Chicago’s wealthiest citizens.