The Murder of Amos J. Snell Part 1

Besides reporting strange things that happen our our tours and investigations, one purpose of this blog is to serve as a supplement to the book. Forgotten for years, we present The Mysterious Murder of Amos J. Snell

The near-west side in the 1880s had no shortage of villains. E.A. Trask was operating on Washington street, possibly in conjuction with H.H. Holmes. A block to the south had been the offices of the notorious Dr. Thomas N. Cream. A block west of all of this stood the mansion of Amos J. Snell, a local millionare who owned hundreds of houses, including most of what is now Milwaukee Avenue, which he turned into a toll road that made him a fortune. He lived at the Northwest Corner of Washington and Ada (where a vacant lot now stands).

A millionare with a streak of paranoia, Snell kept a pistol by his bed and was known on several occasions to wake up, grab the pistol, and run off to investigate any strange noises he heard. Usually, it turned out to be nothing but the wind. But in February of 1888, Snell heard a strange noise in his house at 2 in the morning, came down to investigate, and was shot to death by burlgars – who stole nothing. The only clues were scattered views of coaches running by in the freezing street reported by servants, two sets of footprints in the snow, and a bag of tools – the kind used by burglars – left on the scene.

Mr. Snell’s paranoia had been brought on by a robbery of his house in 1867, just before his move to Chicago. The day before his murder, he had told friends in a saloon that he was going to have to be careful – one of the 1867 robbers had threatened to get revenge on him, and had just been released from prison. Snell, it was said, seemed terribly troubled that day, and seemed to have a premonition that he was going to die that night. Indeed, that day would turn out to be his last on Earth.

But that old burglar was far from the only suspect – more than 40 people were eventually arrested. One suspect was eventually pinpointed, but never captured.

TOMORROW: The Suspect!

Resurrection Mary: Mary Miskowski?

(new info added December, 2011)

For a time, the best candidate for the “real” Resurrection Mary was Mary Miskowski.

According to witness accounts Troy Taylor, my colleague from my time with Weird Chicago, gathered very recenty, Mary Miskowski died on or around Halloween, 1930, at the age of 18 or 19, having been hit by a car on 47th street while going to a Halloween party, at which she was dressed as a bride in her mother’s old wedding dress. A blonde herself, she would have matched the traditional description of Mary – a teenage blonde girl in a white dress – far better than most other canditates (Mary Bregovy was a brunette, and Anna Norkus wasn’t quite 13).

Finding solid information about Mary Miskowski was tough – Troy’s best information came from a woman whom Mary used to babysit. Variant spellings of her name make it hard to pin down records about her. Here, though, is a census record of her family that would have been taken shortly before her death in 1930. Mary was said to live at 4924 S. Damen – according to the Ward maps from 1930, this census record came from exactly the right block.

This backs up the stories Troy was told indicating that she was old enough to be on her own, but still living with her family. The census shows that she was living at home at age 19.

Stories of her death, however, were harder to verify – no Mary Miskowsky (or Miskowski) is listed as dying in Illinois between 1916 and 1950 in the Illinois Death Index. When I started digging into the files, I half suspected it would be one of those times where it turns out the subject not only didn’t die in 1930, but still hasn’t died yet – or, at least, didn’t die until a few years back.

The death index lists a Mary Muchowksi as dying on November 5, 1930 – people familiar with digging through census records and stuff will know that for a record for “Miskowski” written in cursive to be typed in as Muchowski would hardly be unlikely (especially if they forgot to dot the i – just look at it above).

November 5 would be a few days after Halloween, but pretty close to it, as well. Her death does not appear to have made the papers, as Mary Bregovy and Anna Norkus’s did, though, which may be why it wasn’t until the recent stories have come to light that her name has been considered seriously as a candidate.

Research by Ray Johnson, the Haunt Detective has now indicated that the name in the records was not a misprint, and that a woman named Mary Muchowski, age 67, really did die that day, which left the fate of the Mary Miskowski above an open question for some time.

One woman in Chicago named Mary Miskowsky married a man named Roy Jensen in 1937.  THAT Mary Miskowski died just a few years back, but her parents’ names were not John and Helen, indicating that she’s not the Mary Miskowsky from the 1930 census.

New information added here December 2011: The fate of the Mary Miskowsky in the census has now been solved – according to a couple of obituaries (hers and her father’s, from 1963), Mary Miskowsky married a man named John Sutko, with whom she had three children, and died in 1956. She was interred at Evergreen; John died in 2003.

This DOES raise another question – why did the woman (and her cousins) so vividly remember Mary Miskowksy of S. Damen dying in 1930? Were they mistaking her for someone else? There were a number of car accidents around that time, including a boy who was hit by a car and killed on the 5400 block of S. Damen on October 30, 1930, not far away from Mary Miskowsky’s house. The funeral record book that contains Anna Norkus’s funeral information also lists a funeral for a young man who was murdered in 1929 barely a block from Mary Miskowsky’s house.

Here’s Mary’s obit from 1956. The parents and siblings listed here match the ones in the 1930 census exactly:

I’ve blocked out a few names because I tend to get really unpleasant emails about Resurrection Mary and don’t wish for her surviving family to be hassled. The names of her kids and her sisters’ married names aren’t really relevant here. In any case, this firmly establishes that at the time of Mary Miskowsky’s death, she was much older than the ghost is said to be, and she was interred at Evergreen, not Resurrection, and can be eliminated as a candidate. No cause of death is listed, but she would have been 45 years old, and was certainly not killed en route to a costume party in 1930.
For a whole lot more information, check out our Resurrection Mary Roundtable podcast episode!

Jack the Ripper

The Tribune, like most papers, followed the Jack the Ripper case closely, printing every rumor (including the stories about a an American suspect named Mr. Tumblety who is now thought to be among the strongest suspects).

This is the first article ever in Chicago on the subject, from Sept 2, 1888:

By this time, of course, H.H. Holmes had been in Chicago for at least three years, and had probably already killed more people than The Ripper ever would.

And, at the same time, a man named Dr. Thomas Neil Cream was in Joliet Prison – he had murdered several people in his office, near where Madison and Racine meet today (or within a block or two of there, anyway). He would eventually be released and drift over to London, where he’d kill again, and utter the words “I am Jack The…” just before the trap sprung on the gallows. There are those who say that Creame was actually NOT in prison in Joliet in 1888, but had been replaced by a double, and was, in fact, in London, committing some of history’s most famous murders. More on him is in the Weird Chicago book!

What Does Shakespeare Taste Like?

Over at the Newberry Library, adjacent to Bughouse Square (on Clark, just above Chicago Ave), they have a copy of the First Folio, the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays published by his friends. It’s not exactly complete (it’s missing Pericles and some apocrypha that probably belongs in the canon), but it was the first time several of the plays had ever been published.

And they don’t just keep it under a glass case, either. They’ll bring it out to you on its own special pillow; you can touch it, read it, and smell it. I wouldn’t recommend tasting it (and it’s probably not allowed), but I imagine that careful, sneaky types might be able to pull it off. This is one of the wonderful things about Chicago – any time you feel like it, you can get your hands on a copy of the First Folio.

So, why do I bring this up today? Well, you see, the First Folio is really, really, really valuable. About 500 copies were printed, and just about half survive (though more keep turning up).

Just under 300 copies of the Weird Chicago Book with the misprint on the cover were printed.

So do the math: The “Missing O” variation” of the Weird Chicago Book IS JUST ABOUT EXACTLY AS RARE AS THE FIRST FOLIO!

Hurry up – a few may still be available!

Oops

Well, this is one for the “we can whine, or we can laugh about it” files.

It seems that the first handful of copies of Weird Chicago: The Book will have a misprint on the cover – namely, in the part of the subtitle that says “Forgotten history,” the word “forgotten” is spelled “forgtten.”

This just begs for jokes. “How forgotten is it? So forgotten that we forgot the O!”

This still puts us in safer territory than the first printing of another local ghost book which had to be recalled due to a serious amount of factual errors (apparently of the slanderous variety). And, anyway, it will make that first printing a highly-sought-after collectable, like that stamp where the airplane is upside-down, the baseball card where Billy Ripken has the F-word written on the end of his bat, or that Star Wars trading card that makes it look like Threepio has a wiener.

Hurry up and order your limited edition “typo” copy today, and retire in STYLE tomorrow!*

* note: rise in value is not a guarantee with our products any more than it is for those commemorative plates** from the Franklin Mint that have the Family Circus on ’em.

** – anyone interested in a limited edition commemorative plate of the Foolkiller Submarine? Or about one of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre? People pay a killing and three quarters (pun not intended) for bricks that may or may not even be from the garage, why not a commemorative plate?

Update

Sorry for the recent silence – we’ve been occupied with doing some intensive research inside of a certain famously haunted place. We can’t talk about it much yet; this is one of those investigations where loose lips might sink ships. But it’ll be worth the wait – the information (and evidence) that we’re getting on this place is pretty awesome!

Also, don’t forget that next Saturday, the 26th, is the annual Bughouse Square Debates in Bughouse Square, on Clark just above Chicago Ave. Things usually pick up around 11am! I’ll sure be there – in fact, it’s sort of my bachelor party, since I’m getting married the next day.

The book should hit stores in the next couple of weeks – it’s at the printers now!

The Fool Killer Submarine ad

One of our favorite topics around here is The Foolkiller, the submarine found in the river in late 1915 that contained the skulls of a dead man and his dog. How old the sub was, who the guy was, and what became of the thing, are some of the city’s enduring mysteries. People tend to think I’m kidding when I tell the story about kids being admitted to see the wreck and the corpses for half price on Saturday mornings, so I’ve started bringing along a copy of the original ad from the Tribune that I dug up:

Yes, the thing was actually on display in the loop – dead bodies and all! Inflation has certainly gotten bad lately – the goodman theatre offered to show me a skull lately, and the price has has gone up from a dime to $500! It was eventually put on display in a carnival that traveled the midwest, and its last known whereabouts were on the midway at Riverview in late 1916.