Accidents & Incidents, Community Buildings, Historic Structures

The Mysterious Case of Frederick Wennerstrom

On a Sunday morning, September 3, 1911, a couple of fishermen who were out on the Fox River and made a gruesome find. Floating in the river was the body of a man. Authorities were called and after the body was removed from the water, they could see it was wrapped in a rain cover for an automobile and weighed down by a railroad car brake. The brake was probably wrapped around his waist, but had slid down allowing the head to be seen at the river’s surface. Upon further inspection, they could also see that victim had been shot twice in the head. The coroner estimated that the body had been in the water for roughly 4 days. The clothes weren’t disturbed and robbery wasn’t a motive as there was still $55 left in the victim’s wallet. Also found was a drivers’ union card with the name, Frederick Wennerstrom, who was listed as living in Chicago. People had noticed some blood on a nearby bridge a few days before. Not knowing what to make of it at the time, they soon pieced it together that was where the killers had dumped the body.

After contacting the Chicago law enforcement, authorities were able to track down the following information regarding Frederick Wennerstrom.  He recently bought an automobile, which was missing after the murder, and was working as a chauffeur mainly driving people around the city. However, he was known to travel out toward Lake and McHenry Counties. On Tuesday, August 29, Wennerstrom left the garage where he parked his car,  asked an acquaintance to call  and tell his wife he would be out working and wouldn’t be home for a few days.  His brother, C.C. Wennerstrom, stated that the car was black with blue trim and was made by the Schacht Manufacturing Company. This fit the description of a car driving around McHenry County shortly after the Post Office Robbery in McHenry as well as an attempted robbery in Crystal Lake in May. Also, Frederick Wennerstrom’s wife later stated that he was gone the night of the McHenry robbery.

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Bridge where Wennerstrom’s body was thrown. Compliments of Explore Chicago Collections.

Police quickly came up with three different theories as to what happened to Wennerstrom. The first was that he was the driver and/or a member of the crew of safe blowers who were robbing local post offices and other establishments. The second was that Wennerstrom, who was in a union, somehow became a victim of “sluggers”, who were muscle probably responsible for the recent disappearance of a local witness set to testify against a union. Lastly, Wennerstrom had made a few offhand comments to an acquaintance that he was helping some postal inspectors hunt down some robbers, leading to the idea that he was killed for helping the authorities. The last theory was quickly debunked as no law enforcement organization had Wennerstrom working with them.

1911 Schacht Ad
Advertisement fronm Schacht Motor Car Co. from 1911. Compliments of Cincinnativiews.net

At first, the leading theory was that the killers had shot Wennerstrom while he was driving over the bridge. The blood noticed by some witnesses and the “swervy” tracks on the bridge fed into this theory. However, it was hard to come up with much of a conclusion without the missing car. Search parties were sent out to look for the vehicle without any success. About a week after Wennerstrom was found, a farmer walking along a rural road near Cary found a hat with what appeared to have blood on it. Four days later, the automobile was found in a ravine on the Rotlaber Farm. The odd thing was that hat and car were found very close together. So close in fact, that the farmer who found the hat, would have seen the car as well. This means that the car was still being used at the time the hat was found. Both the hat and the car were identified as belonging to Frederick Wennerstrom. Sadly, despite the hope and anticipation neither really produced any significant clues. Things looked like they were slowing down. Then the horse thieves got involved.

To Be Continued In Next Month’s Blog Post….

Sources

“Auto Owner Slain By Thieves He Aided.” New York Times 5 Sep 1911: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Autoists Murder Leads To Trail Of Safeblowers.” Chicago Tribune 5 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Automobile Identified.” Woodstock Sentinel 14 Sep 1911: 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Believe Labor Sluggers Killed Chicago Autoist.” Woodstock Sentinel 12 Sep 1911: 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Body Of Chauffeur Found In Fox River.” The Dispatch (Moline, IL) 4 Sep 1911: 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Cary Death Mystery.” The Herald (Crystal Lake, IL) 7 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Cary Residents Find Man’s Body In Fox River.” Woodstock Sentinel 7 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Chauffeur Murdered For Aiding Police.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) 4 Sep 1911: 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Clew To Auto Murder.” Dixon Evening Telegraph (Dixon, IL) 5 Sep 1911: 6. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Clews In Murder Deepen Mystery.” Chicago Daily Tribune 7 Sep 1911: 3. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Cracksmen Loot McHenry Office.” McHenry Plaindealer 16 Aug 1911: 2. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Have Unraveled The Auto Crime.” The Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, IL) 8 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Link Auto Death To Labor Thugs.” Chicago Daily Tribune 9 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Murder Remains Mystery.” The Herald (Crystal Lake, IL) 14 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Seek Clews In Yeggmen Murder.” Belvidere Daily Republican (Belvidere, IL) 12 Sep 1911: 9. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Slay Autoist; Hurl His Tied Body In The River.” Chicago Daily Tribune 4 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Slayers Leave Cap As A Clew.” Chicago Daily Tribune 11 Sep 1911: 3. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“To Hunt Chauffeur’s Slayers In Chicago.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) 11 Sep 1911: 3. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Was Murdered For Revenge.” The Rock Island Argus and Daily Union (Rock Island, IL) 4 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Yeggs Murder Chauffeur Who Guided Police.” The Inter Ocean (Chicago, IL) 4 Sep 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.

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