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The Mysterious Case of Frederick Wennerstrom pt. 2

On the night of September 5, George Phister was just starting his security rounds at the Ravinia Park Casino when he was overtaken by a group of men in the dark. They took his keys, bound him and proceeded to rob the Casino. Also, in what was probably an accident in attempting to scare him, the thieves shot Phister. He was able to escape his binding and despite his wounds was able to get help. When authorities arrived, they found Phister unconscious (he would later recover) and $800 missing from the Casino. About a month later, two men named Knapp and Mawhood, were being held in Waukegan on suspicion of horse theft and robbery throughout northern Illinois. Trying to get them to turn on each other on the thefts, authorities had them in the same jail cell. Soon thereafter a heated discussion took place between the two, with one of them softly mentioning the word “Cary”. Now authorities realized they may, in fact, have the murderers of Frederick Wennerstrom. After a short interrogation, the two men confessed to the crime, both offering details into what happened the night Wennerstrom was shot.

Ravinia_Park_IL_05
Casino (large communal dining hall), from 1910 where the Phister robbery took place. Compliments of Living History of Illinois.

According to Knapp and Mawhood, they and two accomplices met up outside of Cary to rob the Crystal Lake Post Office. However, they had tried robbing the Post Office there a month before and thought there may be too heavy of a police presence. So it was decided that they would drive to Madison, Wisconsin and work their way back to Chicago, stealing horses along the way. At this point, Wennerstrom balked at the idea, not wanting to drive that far. One of the robbers, possibly Knapp, shot Wennerstrom. Since it was about 8 at night, they hid the body in nearby Fuchy School and would return around midnight to dispose of the body in the river. Evidence would later back this up as there were some smudges on one of the windows and on the floor near the window. This lead police to believe that Wennerstrom was either lowered in and/or out the window and into the car which was backed up to the school. Soon after that, he was dumped into the Fox River. After Wennerstrom was killed, the crew laid low for a few days then decided to rob the Post Office in Barrington and the Ravinia Park Casino. After the robberies, they met up in Chicago. The Barrington robbers had only taken about $200 compared to the Ravina’s $800, therefore the Ravina crew wouldn’t split the pot evenly. An argument ensued and one man was shot and killed. Running the risk of creating a pattern, they weighed the body down and threw it in Lake Michigan. They ended up leaving the car near Algonquin after it started to give them mechanical trouble.

Chicago InterOcean - 7 Sep 1911
September 1911 drawing of the area where the Wennerstrom murder took place from the Chicago Inter Ocean.

Knapp and Mawhood soon retracted their confessions, went on to blame two other criminals and then finally said the whole thing was a joke. While police had other suspects and several theories this was the only one that seemed to have much weight. Some parts of both Knapp and Mawhood’s stories didn’t corroborate the facts or were inconsistent with each other, such as when the Ravinia robbery took place. However, many of the details they provided were rather descriptive, such as the evidence found in the school. However, with the murder confessions withdrawn, Knapp and Mawhood went to Joliet prison to serve sentences for horse theft and grand larceny respectively in December 1911.

What really happened is hard to say. Maybe their confessions were a joke like Knapp and Mawhood said. Yet, they may have realized that authorities didn’t really have a case without the confessions, so they retracted them. Either way, nobody was ever charged in the murder of Frederick Wennerstrom and sadly his case has been largely forgotten. Interestingly, for a short time, the case was a huge one. It caught press from all over the country, including the New York Times, and was a daily fixture on the front page of the Chicago Tribune for two weeks.

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.
“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.
“Guilty Plea Is Entered.” The Daily Chronicle (DeKalb, IL) 11 Dec 1911: 1. 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.
“Murderer Steals A Horse.” The DeKalb Chronicle (DeKalb, IL) 5 Dec 1911: 1 & 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.
“Operated Near As Horse Theives.” Belvidere Daily Republican (Belvidere, IL) 7 Dec 1911: 14. 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.
“They Faked Murder Story.” Belvidere Daily Republican (Belvidere, IL) 11 Dec 1911: 2. 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.
“Wennerstrom Slayer Confesses.” The McHenry Plaindealer. 7 Dec 1911: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 2 May 2018.

 

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