After six months, mystery still unsolved
[April 16 will mark the end of the sixth month since the mysterious slaying of three Chicago school boys. Tribune reporters John Gavin and Joseph Egelhof have made an exhaustive re-examination of the events that preceded the crime and the unsuccesful efforts of the authorities to solve it. This is the second installment of their report. The final installment will be published tomorrow.]
Two families were corners of a tragic triangle Tuesday morning, Oct. 18. The third point, as yet unknown, was the location of Robert Peterson, 14, and John Schuessler, 13, and his brother, Anton Jr., 11.
It was a cloudy day and the noon temperature was 52, about the same as when Anton and Eleanor Schuessler, of 5711 Mango av., and Malcolm and Dorothy Peterson, of 5519 Farragut av., had said good-by to their sons in mid-afternoon of the preceding Sunday.
But a liquor salesman decided to eat his lunch outdoors in Robinson reserve woods, a forest preserve along the Des Plaines river and due west of the city area where the boys disappeared. He was Victor Livingston, 50, of 2600 Reacher av.
Drives into lot
He turned his car south from Lawrence av. into a blacktop parking lot 100 feet east of the river. He took out a sandwich and glanced at the foot-high grass, drying in autumn. There had been a 30 minute shower the night before.
Directly ahead of him he saw something which he thought was the lower part of an unclothed tailor’s dummy. Feet toward him, it was lying in a shallow ditch eight feet from the cast edge of the lot.
He got out and saw it was a body. Then he became ill, returned to his car, and drove away rapidly. He reported his discovery at a nearby tavern. A few minutes later men were looking down into the ditch.
Sprawled on side
The body was Robert’s. It was lying stomach down, head jammed against the east side of the ditch. John’s body was sprawled on its side to the north, one leg under the Peterson boy. Anton’s was on its back on the south, hands folded restfully across the lower part of the chest, and with the legs under Robert’s body.
Pictures taken at the scene show the bodies in somewhat varying positions. Almost everyone who looks at them has a theory as to how they got there, but no one knows wether they were thrown or dragged.
However, it is obvious that no attempt was made to conceal the bodies until decomposition. The aim seemed to be to keep them from being noticed from afar while the death vehicle was at the scene. Before the grass was trampled, only part of the body could have been seen from the parking lot.
Avoid leaving tracks
An unpaved drive leads from the north side of Lawrence near the lot entrance. The more exposed lot was selected to avoid leaving tracks.
After a brief examination at the scene and the identification of the boys, the naked bodies, smeared with dirt, were removed. The post-mortem was conducted at 4 p.m. in the County morgue. The findings have been reevaluated so often and so much conjecture has been added that they are confused.
The cause of death was suffocation. Robert had been garroted with a long, flexible object, as the strangulation bruise extended around his neck. There was an unexplained horizontal fingernail mark on the throat. Bruises and a vertical fingernail mark on Anton’s neck disclosed hands had strangled him. A peculiar mark on John’s neck suggested a judo blow.
Not ruled out
Examinators found no evidence of sexual molestation, but that has not been ruled out by police.
Tiny bits of adhesive gum and skin abrasions on the faces of all three indicated that tape had been applied and removed. The tape was in strips, but there is doubt about what area on the faces was covered. It could have been applied over mouths, noses, and eyes. Possibly the Peterson boy’s eyes had not been taped.
Amazingly, examiners could not find any marks indicating the boys’ wrists or ankles had been tied. It was decided that rigor mortis had come and gone, indicating the time of death 16 hours or more before.
Subject of controversy
The wounds and bruises on the bodies also have become the subject of controversy in the nearly six months since the examination. One argument is over whether one of the boys had a broken nose and another a broken jaw. The coroner’s pathologist at that time said there were no such fractures. Another dispute over an apparently weird wound in one of the legs was settled with disclosure the physician had found a rodent bite and removed sections of adjoining tissue to study it.
Fourteen small wounds were found on the left side of Robert’s head. There seemed to be four parallel patterns, one of four gouges, which might indicate a four pronged instrument had been swung at him four times, with not all the prongs striking each time.
Single heavy blows, apparently with fists, had caused large bruises near the right eye of John and the left eye of Anton, and behind the left ears of both. Anton’s right side had another bruise.
Anton’s knuckles torn
Three of the knuckles on one of Anton’s hands and one on the other were torn, as if he swung at a person and struck some intervening object.
Black smears on the soles of their feet indicated they had been walking in their bare feet. Dirt and blood smears suggested they were naked before they were slain.
One medical expert has suggested that the blows, the tape applied in near suffocating manner, and the later strangling indicate an irrational overdoing of murder typical of maniacal fury -the brutal passion of a man subject to sadistic rages but normal at other times.
However, a more recent development is an opinion, accepted by police, that the tape may have been removed before the boys were slain -either before or very shortly after.
The time of death also has been debated. The examiners found several ounces of partly digested food in the stomachs of the Schuesslers but nothing in young Peterson’s. The food is similar to the chicken soup which John and Anton had at home between 1:30 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16. Altho they were alive six hours later, beyond the time food normally would be retained in the stomarch, it now is accepted that the food was from the meal at home.
This tends to place the time of the Schuessler’s death at shortly after they disappeared Sunday night. Robert probably was killed sometime later.
Folding of hands
The medical findings can be made to point to almost any kind of killer -or killers. Anton’s folded hands were interpreted by some authorities as an expression of remorse by the killer. The position does seem unnatural. However, it has been pointed out that some other person, who came on the bodies and lifted an arm to seen if they were dead, might have placed both arms in the position of rest.
Most arrests have been founded in the belief that sexual degenerates killed the boys, perhaps one or two of them by accident. Teen-age gangs have received much attention. Investigators can only guess how the victims were disrobed and controled without being bound.
The bruises on the faces and heads of the Schuessler boys suggest that a powerful man, much taller than they, struck each first on the face. then as the boy sagged, he grabbed and turned him, striking again in the back of the head to propel his victim thru a door. The Peterson boy’s head wounds suggest a weaker, frantic flailing of a weapon by a shorther assailant. Police marvel that two killers, or more, could have held such a secret so long.
All theories present
Almost anything can be read into such speculation -a pair sex degenerates or a gang of young toughs or even a man and a woman.
All the theories were there from the start and little has been uncovered to support any of them.
Robert’s father was weeping as he left the morgue where he identified the son’s body and cried, “O Robert, what have they done to you?” The bodies of John and Anton were viewed by their father, who had to be helped to a car, saying, “If you have any kids, you know how I feel.” The world was shocked and a free-for-all man-hunt was on.
Less than a month later the senior Schuessler died of a heart attack.
Investigation develops into dogged checking
[With nearly sixth months elapsed since the mysterious slaying of three Chicago school boys, Tribune reporters John Gavin and Joseph Egelhof made a complete re-examination of all known facts about the crime. Today’s article concludes their three part report.]
The “triple murder” investigation got under way with three principal aims: to seek the killer in the area where the boys disappeared, and to locate the death scene.
Coroner McCarron‘s aids and Sheriff Lohman‘s deputies vied with city and state police and forest rangers in the first search for suspects and clews. There was immense public support but also considerable fear of being questioned by police or harmed by the murderers. Some persons still are withholding valuable information.
After a four day free-for-all, Police Commissioner O’Connor set up a special 50 man unit to handle the case with the aid of the other agencies. It was headed by Lt. Patrick Deeley and turned over to Sgt. Michael Spiotto, now a lieutenant, when Deeley was promoted to chief of detectives.
Disappear Oct. 16
Robert Peterson, 14, and John Schuessler, 13, and his brother, Anton Jr., 11, disappeared Sunday night, Oct. 16, in the Irving Park police district. Their bodies were found Tuesday noon in Robinson reserve woods, at Lawrence av. and the Des Plaines river in Leyden township.
Despite the question of jurisdiction, Chicago police operated freely in the county area and carried the main load from the first day.
Capt. Russell Corcoran arrived to take command of the Irving Park district at 1 p.m. Tuesday and was met by a reporter who told him he had “one of the roughest crimes in the history of Chicago” on his hands. Capt. Herbert Burns of the adjoining Albany Park district also was in the investigation from the beginning. So was Lt. James McMahon, head of the homicide division.
John T. O’Malley, then chief of detectives, ordered the investigation started immediately. Lt. John Archer‘s crime laboratory technicians were sent to the Robinson woods parking lot. Gov. Stratton was represented by his top investigator, Lt. Edward Stanwyck. Walter Fleming leads a major crime unit of the sheriff’s police in the case.
The Peterson boy’s father Malcolm, 40, and Anton Schuessler Sr., 42, went out to look for the killer. Services were held for John and Anton Jr. in St. Tarcissus church, 8020 Ardmore av. and for Robert in the Jefferson Park Lutheran church, Northwest hwy., and Long av.
As suspects paraded thru lie tests and the lack of real clews became evident, veteran investigators realized that they had one of history’s roughest crimes. The investigation developed a pattern of dogged checking and probing, led by five sergeants, Thomas Mulvey, John Cartan, Otto Kreuzer, John Hartigan, and John Konen.
Father of two dies
Anton Schuessler Sr., ill before his only sons were slain, died Nov. 11 in the Forest sanitarium and rest home in Des Plaines. He apparently suffered a heart attack while undergoing an electric shock treatment for depression.
With his death, his wife, Eleanor, 37, who said “Everything there was to live for is gone“, became a symbol of the tragedy.
The first leg of the investigative triangle, the search of the area where the boys disappeared and where they presumebly met the killer, has brought a dreary sucession of degenerates of every type before the public. Spiotto estimates that his men have taken at least 100 degenerates off the streets. One admitted crimes with 100 other persons.
Get reports of cars
At the second leg, the parking lot in the forest preserve, police obtained reports of three cars parked outside the lot and three and possibly five inside between 7:15 and 8:30 a.m. the day the bodies were found. The reports were from persons driving in Lawrence av.
Bror V. Malberg, of 5726 N. Odell av., an engineering firm president, said three vehicles were parked together at 7:15 a.m. in the east side of the lot, near where the bodies were found in a shallow ditch. The car in the middle was a light colored station wagon with wood trim. Two men were standing behind it.
This has raised a fantastic pair of alternatives. One was that the bodies were dumped in broad daylight. The other is that some persons saw the bodies and fled without notifying anyone. None of the persons in the cars has come forward to tell his story. It is possible but seems not likely that the topmost body was not seen in the ditch by persons in cars parked where Malmberg said he saw them. Others driving in the lot probably would not have seen the bodies.
Another strange event
Another strange event had to be fitted into the parking lot puzzle. This was the story of Edward Rolfes, 47, that he and his deaf-mute brother, Herman, had slept in their truck in a connected lot 300 feet from where the bodies were found and had been there all of the night before the discovery.
Edward, whose story was supported by lie tests, told of driving back about 10:30 a.m. with his daughter to show where he had slept. Neither saw the bodies. But they saw three hatless young men in a weathered blue Ford enter as they drove out. Recently Herman gestured a story, as yet neither proved or disproved, of having seen a fight and a body.
Working along the third side of the investigation triangle toward the death scene, police at first had no more than the reports of screams had in many places that night, as they are every night.
Reports get attention
Some reports jibed with other unusual events and some have been investigated extensively. One receiving attention now is that of a woman living in a corner building a short distance east of the Montrose Kenneth avs. intersection. There have been two reports of sighting the boys at the intersection shortly before they disappeared.
At midnight this woman’s husband went across the street to buy a bottle of beer. A few minutes later she heard a screech of brakes, and fearing he had been struck by a car, looked out. She saw a westbound car halted and heard a person, she thinks a boy, screaming while a man in the front seat turned and struck repeatedly at someone in the back seat. The screams halted and the man drome off and turned north at the next corner.
The death scene search was aided by the volunteer work of scientists at two great research laboratories, Standard Oil Company of Indiana at Whiting and Armour Research Foundation of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Scrapings are analysed
Fingernail scrapings of young Peterson [the nails of Anton and John had been bitten to short to accumulate material] were analysed in the Standard lab. In the scrapings the scientists found and identified several tiny fragments of an unusual nonmagnetic stainless steel.
Armour Research locked into a flake of material from Robert’s right foot. Altho weighing only a millionth of an ounce, the speck was found to be a substance similar to casein glue and containing bits of lime, dolomite, sand, and other materials.
With these aids, police began an enormous survey of metal working places. The have visited 2,000 shops in a large area of the northwest side and the adjoining county area.
Yields possible clew
A third scientific aid gave police a possible clew to the make of car sought. A series of parallel marks on John Schuessler’s back could have come from the trunk mat of a 1942 to 1951 Packard. Police compiled a check list of 12,000 owners of such cars.
Spiotto estimates that approximately 1,120 suspects have been questioned or investigated. Of these, 319 were sex deviates.
Nearly 30,000 persons have been interviewed.
About 7,000 homes, vacant structures or business have been visited and searched. At least 16 square miles, including the entire Irving Park district, was covered in the house to house interviews.
Instead of waning, the investigation has become much more active in the last two months. Police veterans do not see the pattern of the typical unsolved child killing in this case. They believe the killer -or killers- will be caught, in spite of his care and luck.