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Killer in the rain



It began, as so many dreadful stories do, with a shiver. Adeline Haaga had a feeling something terrible had happened to her sister Billie, and she was right.

It would take a few months before the shiver spread throughout the city, but spread it would. For when Billie Haaga collapsed on the porch of a Hartzell Road farmhouse on the rainy night of February 2, 1944, she dropped like a stone into the calm pond that was Fort Wayne half a century ago.

Haaga's beating death was shocking news for World War II-era Fort Wayne, but more shocks were to come.

By the end of 1944, two more young women would be beaten and strangled; in 1945, another two would die. It was a series of murders as horrific as any we see in our own violent age and, for that simpler time, it was a cause for civic hysteria.

''It looks like the work of a maniac," declared Police Chief Jule Stumpf after the third murder.

''Officials believe it is quite possible that the killer is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of murderer," the Journal-Gazette reported. "He may be a respectable man in appearance . . . with a dual personality that turns him into a ruthless mad-dog."

''Everyone should be suspicious now," Captain of Detectives John Taylor warned on WGL-Radio. "The next-door neighbor, the man downstairs, the acquaintance down the street. Any of them might be our man."

As it turned out, four men came under prominent suspicion in the slayings.

Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh walked into the Kokomo police station late one summer night in 1947 and confessed to three of the killings. Although he would spend three decades in prison, much of it on death row, later investigations indicated he probably didn't kill anybody.

Three other men would be charged in some of the killings over the next three years. One was executed. One was tried and convicted but the conviction was overturned. The third was never tried.

''No one is above suspicion," Sheriff Walter Adams told a frightened community after the third murder. Men were picked up and grilled by detectives. Police and sheriff departments received hundreds of reports related to the murders.

It took three killings to stir the town to such a state of hysteria. There was significantly less reaction to the first slaying by the "killer in the rain," in the winter of 1944.

The victims

The country was in the third year of the war, and women in Fort Wayne were following the advice of War Department posters that urged them to "Do the job he left behind."

Wilhelmina Haaga, 38, was one of those women. She left a department-store job in Chicago to return home to Fort Wayne and work in a defense plant.

She lived with her mother, Grace; her sister, Adeline; and her mother's sister Sara, whom she called Aunt Sally, in a two-story frame house in the 700 block of High Street, just north of downtown. Wilhelmina Haaga's friends and family called her Billie.

Haaga was born in Fort Wayne and lived here most of her life. She attended St. Augustine's Academy and finishing school, then performed in vaudeville as a singer and dancer for more than a decade. Most of that time she was accompanied by her Aunt Sally.

During the Depression, Haaga came home to live with her parents. In 1936 she moved to Chicago. She returned to Fort Wayne in 1941 to work for Inca Manufacturing, a division of Phelps Dodge on New Haven Avenue on the fringes of the city's east side. Her father died the next year.

A devout Catholic, Haaga was active at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church. She was director of a junior drill team there and a member of the Blessed Virgin Sodality. She was an organist for the Daughters of Isabella.

Each day at noon, Haaga telephoned her mother from work to ask how she had spent the morning. Relatives described Haaga as punctual.

On Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1944, Haaga talked to her mother and sister just before she left work at 4:30 p.m. It was cold that day, with wet snow and rain.

She told them she was meeting a woman friend downtown - that they planned to go shopping and then to dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall. At 5:30 she had a rehearsal for the drill team. She planned to meet her sister there, and the two would go home together afterward.

Shortly after Haaga left work, someone reported seeing her get into a car near the factory. Two other witnesses would later describe the vehicle as a 1932 or 1933 sedan.

Later, Haaga's sister Adeline would recall that when she heard her sister was missing she had a strange feeling "something terrible had happened."

She was right.

Shortly before 6:30 that night, Billie Haaga staggered in her stocking feet up to the farmhouse of Arno Ridel at the north end of Hartzell Road.

She had been attacked near the Maumee River off South River Road, four miles from downtown. The gravel road winds along the south bank of the Maumee, looking today much as it did a half-century ago.

Haaga walked a mile and a half over rough ground to the Ridel farm before collapsing.

Bruised and bloodied, she was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital. She died three days later, on Feb. 5. The News-Sentinel reported the death of the "pretty blond factory worker" and offered a $500 reward for information leading to her killer.

Allen County Coroner Dr. Edgar Mendenhall ruled the death a "homicide at the hands of person or persons unknown."

The autopsy showed she had been struck on the head at least five times with a heavy object. Mendenhall said the killing blow crushed her skull from just over the left ear to the top of her head.

She also had been choked. There were bruises on the neck and larynx, as well as on her right arm and both knees.

At the back of the neck was a contusion and abrasion such as might be caused by a person kicking her, Mendenhall said.

There was no evidence of sexual assault.

Detectives found Haaga's scarf at the scene of the crime along the south bank of the Maumee. They determined she had been dragged about 200 feet down to the river bank from the South River Road. One of her shoes was found 15 feet from the road. Her light brown overcoat was found in a depression about 40 feet away.

Her purse, with the wallet removed, was found a mile and a half from the scene. Her wallet was found Sunday, Feb. 6, by a News-Sentinel carrier about three-fourths of a mile from where Haaga was attacked. Robbery was discounted as a prime motive, because the killer ignored Haaga's diamond ring and wristwatch. Detectives found a pool of blood along the riverbank near where Haaga apparently was hit. They speculated she then walked to a log about 100 feet east and sat or leaned on it awhile. They found another pool of blood there. Her footprints followed the river, then went through a field to the farm.

Footprints of the assailant showed that he walked toward the log in a path diagonal to the road and then onto the road.

A resident of the River Haven neighborhood off South River Road told sheriff's detectives that at about 4:45 p.m. on the day of the attack he was pouring oil out of a pan near his garage when he saw a car go by.

It was driven by a man. There was a woman in the car, too. The resident said the woman looked at him, turning to watch him until the car drove out of sight. She had blond hair and appeared to be "very sober over something," he said. She was wearing a light brown overcoat.

Forty-five minutes later the man said he was in his garage under his car when he heard the "humming sound" of a car being driven fast. He got out from under his vehicle in time to see the same car as before disappear around a curve.

Two strange occurrences marked the case.

Haaga's body was taken to the Getz and Cahill Funeral Home, 2300 Fairfield Ave.

Shortly after midnight Sunday, Feb. 6, the phone rang at the mortuary. A male caller asked Clarence Getz if this was the place where Billie Haaga's body was. Getz said it was.

The caller said he was going to come out and take a look. Getz said he couldn't see the body; the casket was sealed and the funeral parlor had closed at 10.

The caller yelled an obscenity at Getz and said, "I'm going to see her before morning." Getz heard a woman's voice in the background saying "Keep your ------- mouth shut," just before the receiver was slammed down. He called the sheriff's department, and deputies were dispatched to the funeral home. The caller never showed up.

On Feb. 24, the sheriff's department received an anonymous letter. Written in pencil, it described the weight, height, complexion, hair color and eye color of Haaga's killer. It also said where detectives could find the weapon. No news reports indicate whether detectives pursued the letter.

By mid-March detectives had checked out and cleared at least five suspects. Some knew the victim, they said. Others had reputations of being "wolves with the women." No one was arrested or charged, and eventually the furor over her death died down.

Five days after Billie Haaga died, Grace Haaga talked about her daughter and the man who killed her. "No one is safe while he is at large," she said. Three months later, Fort Wayne would learn she was right.


The evening of May 22, 1944, was rainy with temperatures in the high 60s.

Anna Kuzeff, 20, worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the General Electric Supercharger plant on Broadway.

Every night at about 10:30, she walked the seven-tenths of a mile from her home on the 2400 block of Fillmore Street north to Taylor Street to catch the bus down to Broadway.

On this Monday night in May, she didn't make it.

Shortly before noon Tuesday, a neighbor, Glenn Timmis, was driving his son home for lunch from Study School. He spotted Kuzeff's body in a field.

Police were summoned to an area that was then just within the city's western limits - about where Portage Middle School is today. About 100 yards south of Taylor Street, Kuzeff had been grabbed and dragged into a field on the west side of Fillmore, less than a half mile from her house.

Her neck was fractured, indicating she had been strangled. She had been beaten on the face and neck. There was a puncture wound under her chin. Bruises on her nose and mouth indicated she had been struck with great force. One upper front tooth was broken halfway down from the gumline. She had been raped, apparently after she was killed, the coroner said.

Police believe Kuzeff's attacker hid behind a log and jumped out at her as she walked by. Trampled grass behind the log and in a spot 100 feet into the field indicated she fought furiously.

Kuzeff's face was matted with blood and there was blood on her arms. Buttons were torn from her overall-style uniform, which was ripped down the front. Her bra was torn and pushed up around her neck.

Her saddle shoes were found in the field about 50 feet west of Fillmore Street. Her handbag and lunch sack were found closer to the street. The lunch sack was split but still intact. It contained the lunch prepared by her stepmother, Irene: a peeled orange, two carrots, some lettuce and two pieces of rye bread.

The handbag contained a small purse with $1.36 in change. It also held several candy bars, two mirrors, a lipstick, powder puff, compact, pins, pencils and an eraser.

And it contained a matchbook with a message from the Toledo Bible company printed on the cover: "This book of everlasting safety matches will guide you through the Valley of Death."

Anna Kuzeff was a graduate of Central High School, class of 1943. In school she belonged to the Girls Club and the Girls Athletic Association. A few years before her death she had a "crush" on a boy, her family said, but it didn't work out and she didn't see anyone after that. She spent most of her free time at home or at the Neighborhood House, a community center on John Street.

Kuzeff's stepmother told police Kuzeff recently had complained about a man bothering her at work. She warned Kuzeff to be careful. "You better tell your foreman about him," she told her stepdaughter. "The man might be dangerous." Kuzeff promised she would, but neither of her foremen recalled her telling them anything about a bothersome man. Kuzeff did not identify the man to her stepmother.

A 15-year-old Journal-Gazette delivery boy told police he had seen a stranger in the neighborhood on several occasions. He saw nothing unusual the day Kuzeff's body was found.

Two women who also worked at G.E. passed the area about 10:45 the night Kuzeff was killed - it must have been just after Kuzeff was grabbed.

They told police they had heard nothing.

''We were making a lot of noise ourselves," one of them said. "We couldn't see a thing it was so dark. We stepped in one of those (pot) holes and we screamed and squealed and thought somebody would be calling the police."

Nobody did.

A little more than three hours after Anna Kuzeff's body was found, an employee of Essex Wire spotted a man's body floating in the St. Marys River, just north of the Swinney Park Bridge.

The dead man was Clyde Scherrer, 54, a janitor who had lived in the 2300 block of South Calhoun Street. He had worked at General Electric, just like Kuzeff.

The obvious question was whether his death was connected to Kuzeff's. The newspapers said his body was found just three-quarters of a mile from the woman's. In fact, it is more than twice that as the crow flies.

There were scratches on his body and face. There were also teeth prints on the middle finger of his left hand, said Deputy Coroner Dr. D. R. Benninghoff.

Measurements were taken of Kuzeff's teeth. (Remember, one had been broken.) Captain of Detectives John Taylor almost immediately announced there was no connection to the Kuzeff case.

Benninghoff said Scherrer had been in the water six to eight hours before he was found. There was no identification on the body.

Scherrer's wife, Millie, told police she had last seen her husband at 1 p.m. Monday, May 22. Scherrer worked 3 to 11 p.m. at General Electric. Millie Scherrer and her sister were leaving for Bluffton that afternoon She said her husband was in good spirits when she left.

Millie Scherrer and her sister returned home about 7:30 that night. The newspapers were on the front porch, and the light was on in the kitchen. Her husband hadn't eaten the lunch she had prepared for him before she left.

General Electric reported that Scherrer hadn't worked that night - or all of the previous week, in fact. A guard at the plant said he'd heard Scherrer was "mowing grass for some well-to-do people instead of working at the plant."

Millie Scherrer said she didn't know her husband hadn't been going to GE. He'd been leaving the house at his regular time, 2 p.m., and returning as always around midnight.

When she last saw him on the afternoon of May 22, in fact, he had his GE badge on the left side of his shirt, just like always, she said.

There was no badge on the corpse. Police found a pocket knife, two keys, 55 cents a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, two sticks of chewing gum and a white handkerchief with an Army laundry mark.

On Saturday, May 27, 1944, Dr. Mendenhall officially ruled that Clyde Scherrer killed himself for "reasons unknown."

The search for Anna Kuzeff's killer, meanwhile, continued.

Shortly after her slaying, three men were taken to Indianapolis for lie detector tests. The relatively new device wasn't yet available in Fort Wayne. In June, detectives grilled a magazine salesman from Saginaw, Mich. He was freed after a polygraph examination.

In October, a 19-year-old ex-sailor from Elgin, Ill., under indictment for two rapes in that city, confessed to Kuzeff's slaying. He said he had come to Fort Wayne because he had heard it was a "fast city" with plenty of girls and night life.

Detectives doubted his story. He claimed on the afternoon of the slaying he had seen the movie "Casablanca" at a Fort Wayne theater. The 2-year-old movie wasn't showing at any city movie house that day. A month after his confession, it was proved he was at work on the day of the slaying.

Police assumed one man killed both Kuzeff that spring and Haaga the previous winter. A summer slaying would soon be added to the list.


The body of 17-year-old South Side High School junior Phyllis Conine was found in a field of weeds along a country road in Aboite township on Sunday, Aug. 6, 1944.

She had been reported missing two days earlier when she failed to meet a girlfriend at a downtown movie theater. She had been strangled. A blow to the head had crushed her skull, but the coroner speculated she was hit after she died, because of the absence of dried blood where the body was found.

Her clothing had been torn from her body. Lab tests failed to determine conclusively whether she was assaulted, but detectives, nevertheless, believed she had been raped.

Lying near the body was a man's tan trench coat, size 38, with grease marks all over it and blood on one lapel. The collar and cuffs were frayed. The left pocket was badly worn and detectives speculated the killer was left- handed - assuming, of course, the coat belonged to the killer.

Sheriff Walter Adams testified at the inquest that there were no sign of a struggle or blood where the body was found, suggesting she had been killed somewhere else. "It looked like someone had just walked into the weed-grown field, dumped the body, walked around and left," he said. The location was off Yohne Road, eight miles southwest of the city. The victim's emptied purse was found a mile and a half west of the site.

Conine was found by two brothers - Wybourn Foulks, 37, and Glenn Foulks, 39, both of Fort Wayne. They had stopped by the field around 4 p.m. to shoot at a crow they spotted across the Little River Ditch.

The brother noticed a shoe and umbrella lying between the road and a wire fence bordering the field. They saw strips of cloth flapping in the wind on the barbed wire. They walked to the fence, looked into the field and say Phyllis Conine's body.

The trail of the victim's clothing led from the field to the body. First came the other shoe; then a white slip; and, close to the body, her brown-and- white-checked dress and a blood-stained head scarf.

Phyllis Conine was active in South Side athletics and worked on the school paper. She belonged to the Girls Athletic Association. She was a girls sports reporter on the school paper, The South Side Times, and was going to be girls sports editor in her senior year. She played piano and liked public speaking.

''She was a good student, and she would want you to mention that," said her mother. "Her main interests were her school activities and athletics."

Because she was believed killed somewhere else, possibly within city limits, both the Fort Wayne Police and Allen County Sheriff's departments worked the case.

The cumulative affect of the three murders threw the town into "fearful discord." Police Chief Jule Stumpf said his department would remain on 24- hour emergency call until the murderer was arrested.

''We have no idea from what walk of life this killer may hail," said Sheriff Walter Adams. "No one is above suspicion until he checks out clean with us. No one with unaccountable scratch marks - and shaving isn't a good excuse - is exempt. He should be reported. We'll clear him if he's innocent."

Six men were immediately hauled down to the police station and grilled in the killing. Most were picked up because they had scratches on their faces. Rumors of dead girls being found ran rampant all over the county.

A 25-year-old Boone Street woman who was reported missing turned up in Huntington, where she had gone to spend the night with relatives.

A 21-year-old married woman was reported missing Sunday, Aug. 6, the day Conine's body was found. She was found the following Wednesday parked in a car in Swinney Park with a man other than her husband. She said she had gone to Van Wert with some friends.

More than 500 reports were phoned into the police department. The Journal- Gazette reported getting 45 calls an hour the day after Conine's body was found.

Conine's friend, Barbara Criswell, said she had telephoned Conine at 2:30 the Friday she disappeared and arranged to meet her in front of the Paramount Theater downtown at 3:45 p.m. Criswell said she was late, not arriving until 4:10 p.m., but Conine wasn't there. She said she waited until 5 p.m. and then called Conine's parents.

''I suppose I'll always wonder if it might have been different if I had gotten to the theater on time," she said later. "I don't suppose I'll ever get over thinking about that."

Playing at the "healthfully cool" Paramount on East Wayne Street that day in 1944 was "Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble," with Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone and Fay Holden. Andy was at college being torn between two girls, twins, that he couldn't tell apart.

Strangely, after the murder - and five years later, at Franklin Click's trial, - Criswell testified that she was meeting Phyllis at 3:45 p.m., but it came out that show times for the movie that day were 3:30, 5:35 and 7:40 p.m. Conine's mother said she called her daughter from work at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. that day. She asked her to take some lace downtown to get it matched. That was the last time she talked to her daughter.

Conine was not the kind of girl who would get in a stranger's car, her family insisted. Perhaps her slayer was a school acquaintance or other friend.

But detectives said a high school boy wasn't capable of such a vicious attack.

Her father would later speculate that his daughter got in the killer's car because she thought it was a friend of the family. They had a friend who drove a black Chevy, he said.

The killer drove a black Chevy, detectives would learn later.

It was raining on that fateful afternoon.

Conine left the family home in the 900 block of Kinsmoor Avenue, heading for Creighton and Calhoun streets, and apparently she got in someone's car while waiting for the No. 4 streetcar to take her downtown.

The Phyllis Conine case was not without its own strange turns.

A 10-year-old girl said she saw Conine in a car at Jefferson and Van Buren streets Friday afternoon. The car was heading west. "She knew me and she waved at me," the girl said.

One man said he saw Conine in a downtown tavern Saturday night, Aug. 5 . The man said he knew the Conine family well and that the girl had come to his table and talked to him for a moment. Two other people claimed they saw her Saturday night.

When her body was found Sunday, Aug. 6, the coroner said she had been dead at least 48 hours.

The manager of the Paramount Theater said he saw Phyllis Conine in his theater at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4 .

A saleswoman said she saw her at Wolf and Dessauer's department store downtown shortly before that.

Reacting to the town's outrage and fear, the City Council on Tuesday, Aug. 8, authorized a $15,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of the killer of Haaga, Kuzeff and Conine.

It would be years before anyone would try to claim the money. Before then, there would be at least one more killing in the rain.


Early on Tuesday, March 6, 1945, a policeman checking stores downtown heard low moaning from an alley behind the 600 block of South Calhoun Street. The policeman found Dorothea Howard, 36, of the 1200 block of McClellan Street, lying semi-conscious. She was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she managed to say her name before collapsing into unconsciousness. She died 11 days later from what the coroner said was an abscessed lung. She had been raped.

Dorothea Howard had moved to Fort Wayne with her Army husband, Jack Howard, from Mesa, Ariz., in the summer of 1944. Her husband had been assigned to the base at Baer Field.

They took a room on McClellan Street, but Jack Howard was often confined to the base. That left Dorothea Howard alone many nights. She spent some of them drinking in downtown bars.

It was raining on and off the night of March 5. Dorothea Howard was seen drinking with a soldier and a civilian at Elmer Keirns Beer Parlor at 124 West Main Street.

Keirns said Howard had had enough to drink and refused to serve her. She argued with him awhile, then got up and left the bar. The soldier followed.

She was found at 3:30 a.m., lying naked in the cinders and grime of an alley between Columbia and Main streets, her shoes and stockings beside her. The rest of her clothes were 250 feet away.

She died at the hospital on March 17. She had told authorities that she remembered men pulling off her clothes and that she was conscious but unable to resist during the assault.

Police didn't have a clue as to who killed Howard. Then the soldier who left the bar with her that night stepped forward.

Charles Dillard Dodson, 26, a former postal clerk from Memphis, told his commanding officer he was the soldier who Keirns saw with Dorothea Howard.

He told police detectives that when he got outside with Howard he was joined by a civilian man, but not the one who had been sitting with them inside.

Howard was very drunk, he said, and fell in the first doorway west of the bar. He had started to pick her up when the other man came along and helped him.

The three of them walked west on Main Street, Dodson said, and the civilian was making advances toward Howard. When they got to the alley the man said to Dodson: "Buddy, why don't you take her back in the alley?"

Dodson said he and the man had started walking Howard into the alley when a car pulled in behind them with its lights shining on them. Police would learn later the car was driven by the proprietor of a local brothel.

Dodson said he got scared and ran, leaving Howard on some steps in the alley. The man ran with him and asked him to go back for Howard, but Dodson said he refused. He said he took a bus back to the base. The brothel operator later testified that the civilian came back to the alley by himself, walked up to Howard, said "Drunk again" to her, pulled her to her feet and started walking down the alley with her.

Years later, Dodson would identify first Ralph Lobaugh and then Robert Christen as the civilian with him that rainy night.

It was just one of many on-again off-again confessions and accusations that plagued the case, beginning with the confession of Ralph Lobaugh in June 1947.

The suspects

Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh died in a South Bend nursing home on June 18, 1981, at the age of 64. He'd spent 30 years in prison for murders he most likely did not commit.

Lobaugh grew so accustomed to life behind bars that when Gov. Otis Bowen granted him clemency in Aug. 1977, he broke down after two months of freedom and asked to be sent back to prison.

The state obliged. Toward the end of his life he was released to a halfway house in New Carlisle.

''He was a quiet man who just did his work in the garden every day," said the Rev. Abe Peters, who supervised the residence.

It was a travesty, certainly, but one largely of Lobaugh's own doing. Beginning in June 1947, he repeatedly confessed to three of the Fort Wayne murders. With no suspects, no leads and nothing to show for more than three years work, authorities took him up on his offer.

The mayoral election was less than five months away. The Republicans in power were nervous about their re-election chances. Cleaning up even three of the four murders could pay off at the ballot box, they hoped. As it turned out, they were wrong.

The Journal-Gazette, staunchly Democratic, hammered at the administration's lack of action on the murders.

''It is the belief of the Journal-Gazette," the paper editorialized in March 1945, "that lack of proper direction is responsible in a large way for the dearth of results.

''Why then, in the name of heaven," the editorial continued, "has not the city long ago engaged an expert, outside detective to work on one or all of these murders and direct the investigation from top to bottom?

''Our local officers need help and the longer city officials delay in furnishing it, the more stress is placed on incompetence."

Months before Lobaugh's arrest the Journal-Gazette spoke out again.

''It is too much to hope that the four murders will be solved, but it is not too much to ask of the (Mayor Harry) Baals Administration that it does what is necessary with the police department to avoid any more similar fiascos.

''Among the many things pledged by the City Hall in various elections was law enforcement. We get it in stiff doses in minor cases. Murders and rapes are too tough."

It's not hard to understand why authorities here didn't waste any time shuttling Ralph Lobaugh from the police station in Kokomo, where he first confessed, to death row in Michigan City.

Around midnight on Monday, June 9, 1947, Lobaugh walked into the police station and calmly confessed to killing Haaga, Kuzeff and Howard.

At that time, he denied killing Conine - although years later he would confess to her murder, too. Lobaugh, 30, was working as a punch-press operator in Kokomo. He was an ex-sailor, dishonorably discharged for being AWOL after six months in the Navy. At the time of the killings, he had lived in Churubusco, where he worked as a grave digger.

''I have an urge to kill," he said. "Something tells me to kill somebody. I want to be locked up. I'm afraid I might poison and kill my wife."

At that time Lobaugh had been married (for the second time) about a month. His wife, Oma Lobaugh, 34, who would soon file for divorce, said she'd met Lobaugh a few months before when he was a cook at a Kokomo restaurant. On Wednesday, June 11, Allen County Circuit Court Judge William Schannen, at the request of the prosecution, called the Allen County Grand Jury to hear the case on Monday, June 16.

Then the circus began. By June 12, Lobaugh had signed confessions to the three murders.

He was asked to reenact the Haaga slaying. At first he was "hazy" about the details, Police Chief Jule Stumpf said, but then pointed out the scene with "almost unfaltering accuracy."

Then on Saturday, June 14, Lobaugh asked to see News-Sentinel police reporter Charles Keefer, to whom he had granted an earlier interview. After that meeting, Lobaugh recanted his confessions.

He said he was drunk when he confessed and under stress because he had just received a letter from his mother in which she had disowned him. His mother later denied ever sending such a letter.

In the meantime, other police agencies with unsolved crimes were coming forward. Lobaugh was questioned about the slaying of a Woman's Army Corp member in southern Indiana. Chicago police talked to him about the killings of two women there.

By August, Lobaugh had confessed and recanted the Fort Wayne killings, then confessed and recanted again. The grand jury, nevertheless, indicted him for the Haaga, Kuzeff and Howard murders.

On Oct. 22, 1947, just two weeks before the mayoral election and over the objections of his attorney, Lobaugh insisted on having an immediate hearing before Judge Schannen. He pleaded guilty to each of the killings.

Schannen sentenced him to die on Feb. 9, 1948. The day after the sentencing, Lobaugh again repudiated his confession.

His attorney produced affidavits from his first wife, Florence Bunyan, and father-in-law, Emmett Bunyan.

They stated Lobaugh married Florence in December 1939 and lived with his wife's family in Churubusco until the winter of 1945 except for the six months he was in the Navy.

The couple divorced in 1944 but Lobaugh continued to live with the Bunyans, the affidavits said.

Lobaugh worked with his father-in-law at the Eel River Cemetery and he was working there when both Haaga and Kuzeff were killed. He couldn't possibly have killed either woman, the Bunyans insisted.

In another bizarre turn, Lobaugh's attorney, Robert Buhler, in asking for a clemency hearing before Gov. Ralph F. Gates, said he knew who killed one of the women but couldn't say.

An outraged prosecutor, Alton Bloom, challenged him to be more specific. Buhler refused.

In the middle of the clemency hearing in December 1947 the governor received a telegram. It was from Lobaugh himself.

''I Ralph W. Lobaugh recommend that the plea for clemency be turned down. I am not guilty but I am willing to die for somebody else. The truth will never be known. Thank you kindly."

Clemency, needless to say, was denied. That same month the prosecution released transcripts of Lobaugh's confession, hoping to seal his fate.

They described how Lobaugh would become "crazed with drink, stealthily stalk his victims and strike them down with murderous fury."

A psychiatric report described him as a "degenerate but sane and responsible for his acts."

At one examination, it was reported, Lobaugh exhibited "shocking homosexual tendencies" including an "indecent proposal" made to a doctor giving him a truth serum test.

Charles Dodson, the soldier in the Howard case, identified a photograph of Lobaugh as the civilian who was with him the night Dorothea Howard was killed. By this time Dodson was out of the service and had returned to postal work in Memphis. He had been court-martialed but acquitted of simple assault in the Howard case.

Lobaugh's attorney continued to appeal. In January 1948, Lobaugh wrote Judge Schannen and urged him not to interfere with the execution scheduled for February.

Schannen did interfere, however, staying Lobaugh's execution until April 2. It was the first of 11 stays Lobaugh would receive before his sentence was commuted to life in prison late the next year.

Gov. Henry F. Schricker, reviewing the case in 1949, called it "one of the most sordid messes in the history of the state."

Years later, in 1975, an investigation by Gov. Otis Bowen concluded that Lobaugh was "guilty of little more than perjury." Bowen granted clemency in 1977.

''It was mostly my own doing," Lobaugh admitted. "I've paid for it with half of my life. Now I want to forget the past and look to the future. I'm sure I can cope with life outside . . . and I know I'm not going to get into any new trouble. I've paid too dearly for the old."

If Ralph Lobaugh didn't kill Howard or Haaga or Kuzeff, who did?

The investigations changed significantly after the mayoral election in November 1947.

Harry Baals, mayor since 1934, lost his re-election bid and on January 1, 1948, Democrat Henry Branning became mayor.

Branning appointed Lester Eisenhut chief of police. Eisenhut had been a patrolman with no investigation experience, but he did have one important quality in his favor. He was a Democrat. And he had his own ideas about the Fort Wayne murders.


In March 1948, Eisenhut announced his men had uncovered new evidence showing Lobaugh was innocent and were working on even more "proof of his innocence."

Prosecutor Alton Bloom, a Republican, was furious. If Eisenhut had evidence about Lobaugh's innocence, he should produce it. Now it was the Republican News-Sentinel's turn to rant about the political situation down at the police station.

''Among the hitherto unheard-of unorthodox tactics displayed in the Lobaugh case," the paper proclaimed on March 16, 1948, "is the spectacle of the police department exerting its energies toward amassing evidence for the defense and against the state, in a triple murder case in which a defendant has already been sentenced and is in the death house." Amazingly, this swollen prose appeared not in an editorial, but in a news story.

At the end of March, after Bloom insisted that Eisenhut put up or shut up, Eisenhut said he had no additional information in the Lobaugh case. Eisenhut hadn't been the only one looking into the Lobaugh case. A month earlier, in fact, the Indiana State Clemency Commission brought Charles Dodson from his home in Memphis to the state prison at Michigan City to meet Lobaugh.

Dodson now said he was mistaken. Lobaugh was not the man with him the night Howard was killed. That man talked out of the corner of his mouth, Dodson said. Lobaugh didn't talk out of the corner of his mouth. But Robert Christen did.

Dodson identified Christen in a photo as the elusive civilian with him the night of March 5, 1945. Christen was a former Fort Wayne man who had moved to Denver. Dodson was flown to Denver, where he positively identified Christen as his companion.

Robert Christen, 36, was the son of a Fort Wayne drugstore owner and had a long record of misconduct and "bad behavior against women," police said. He had been questioned in the Howard case, but a lie detector test indicated he knew nothing about the murder, police said, so they let him go.

In October 1945, four minor complaints against Christen were dismissed in circuit court on the condition he leave town. He did. He and his mother moved to Denver and opened a grocery store.

In April 1948, he was arrested in Denver for disorderly conduct and fined $40. That September he was detained in a robbery but released.

After Dodson identified Christen as the civilian he was with the night Howard died, the madam who had pulled into the alley that night said Christen was the man.

In October 1948, new evidence in the Howard case was presented to the Allen County Grand Jury. Dodson was persuaded to return to Fort Wayne to testify. He came with his mother and wife and stayed in a downtown hotel.

The grand jury surprised Dodson. They believed his testimony and indicted Robert Christen for the murder of Dorothea Howard. But they also indicted him.

Denver police arrested Christen in November 1949. He denied killing Howard. Nevertheless, he was extradited to Fort Wayne. In April 1949, he was found guilty of second-degree murder by a Whitley County Circuit Court jury of 11 farmers and one farmer's wife. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Charges against Dodson were dismissed in March 1949 at the insistence of Chief Eisenhut. Dodson returned to Memphis, where he and his wife live today. Contacted at his home, Dodson seemed willing to talk about the case until his wife got on the phone. "That's all behind us now," she said.

Christen appealed his conviction. In January 1950, the state Supreme Court overturned it and ordered a new trial.

''Hundreds of other persons besides Christen could have ravished and fatally beaten Mrs. Howard," the court said. "To say that Christen did must be based upon the acceptance of a mere possibility and upon guess and conjecture."

On Friday, Jan. 27, 1950, Whitley County Circuit Court dismissed charges against Christen. He was freed at 3:15 p.m. and later returned to Denver.

A story in The News-Sentinel years later said that Christen eventually was arrested in Arizona for a crime similar to the Howard case, and that he was executed there. There is no record of a Robert Christen being imprisoned, let alone executed, in either Arizona or Colorado.

A fifth woman's death offered up yet another - though belated - twist in the story.

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1945, at 9:30 p.m., about a month before Dorothea Howard was killed, the body of Pearl "Torchy" Lee, 26, was found in her apartment at 129 1/2 East Main Street.

She had been dead since Sunday, Feb. 4, the coroner said. The newspapers said Torchy was a tavern waitress and worked at the Mecca Grille on South Calhoun Street.

But it was common knowledge Torchy was a prostitute. One story called her a "big girl, 5 feet 7 inches, and an attractive blonde by choice" who "knew her way around the night spots."

County Coroner Dr. Edgar Mendenhall said a preliminary investigation showed no evidence of foul play. After an autopsy, his deputy coroner, Dr. D.R. Benninghoff, said death was due to "chronic valvular heart disease."

Lee had been seen last by her boyfriend about 3:30 a.m. Sunday. He took her home from the Mecca Grille, stayed about half an hour and left, he told police.

The boyfriend pried open the door Wednesday night after Lee didn't answer his knock. He found her sprawled next to the bed. The apartment was stiflingly hot and the body badly swollen and deteriorated.

In fact, the gas stove in the four-room apartment apparently had been burning the whole time.

Lee's building had been fumigated the previous Friday, police learned. The boyfriend said the odor of fumigation gas remained in the apartment when he took Lee home Sunday.

As an alternative to the heart problem, Mendenhall suggested some of the cyanide used in the fumigation might have been inhaled and caused Lee's death. No other tenant deaths, however, were reported.

Lee had moved to Fort Wayne from Oaks, Ky., about 18 months earlier. She was taken home and buried in a small hilltop cemetery. That, presumably, was the end of the Torchy Lee story.

Since officially she had died from heart disease or cyanide poisoning, her death was never included in the investigation of the other slayings.

One of the patrolman involved in the Lee case, however, was Lester Eisenhut. The "bad heart" explanation for Torchy's death had never sat well with him. So when Eisenhut rode the wave of a Democratic sweep into the chief's office, he immediately reopened the case.

Late in 1948, he quietly exhumed Lee's body and had it examined by Dr. Alan Moritz of Harvard University. Moritz, with the university's legal medicine department, was a world-renowned authority on post mortems.

Moritz's opinion: "Pearl Lee possibly came to her death as a result of intracranial bleeding caused by one or more blunt impacts to the head." The doctor also found no evidence of heart disease.

Inexplicably, Eisenhut sat on the report until 1951, when he said he heard that "official sources outside the police department" were looking into the case, so he released the doctor's findings.

Despite Moritz's report, new Allen County Prosecutor John Reiber said there was insufficient evidence to warrant further action.

Moritz's report also noted that there was no evidence Lee's skull had ever been examined.

Benninghoff explained that it was never examined because there was "no evidence of physical violence to the head." He added the intracranial bleeding may have been caused when Lee fell to the floor.

In any event, there was no further action in the case after 1951, although the boyfriend who originally found her body had re-entered the public eye two years earlier. His name was Robert Christen.


The final player in this melodrama stepped from behind the curtain of a humid, rainy August night in 1949.

It was the same month that Look Magazine called Fort Wayne "America's Happiest Town." The article mentioned none of the killings from five years earlier.

Around 10 p.m. on Aug. 17, police received a call from Simon Sparks of Rural Route 8 in the southwest part of the county. Sparks told the police his 19-year-old wife, Leona, had been abducted and assaulted by a man who had come to look at their house, which was for sale.

Simon Sparks said the assailant had dumped Leona Sparks back at her house after driving around with her. Leona Sparks had written down the license number of the car as it sped away from her house.

The car was registered to a Franklin Click, 30, of the 3200 block of Taylor Street. Patrolmen William Bollman and Leonard Scrogham were sent to the house. Click was in bed when police arrived, and his wife, Marie, had to awaken him. She went to the bedroom, leaving the two wary patrolmen in the front room.

''She stayed in the room too long," Bollman said, "and then I heard a whispered conversation. Fearing that a weapon was being hunted, I hurried into the room and ordered him out of bed."

Click resisted arrest and butted his head into Officer Scrogham's face as his hands were being cuffed. Click denied attacking Leona Sparks. At least at first.

Franklin Click was born in Celina, Ohio, on March 18, 1919.

He was the second oldest of eight children. The Click family moved to Fort Wayne when Franklin was still very young. He attended Study and Jefferson schools, quitting at 16 to help out at home.

Click's mother said he was a model son and father. "He did everything at home," she said. "He took care of the cooking and ironing and washing. Of course, the others helped, but he was always the first to do things like that. He's always been that way at home, and he's been that way with his wife, too."

Click's mother said his children were his life. Franklin and Marie Click had five children, four girls and one boy, ranging in age from 5 months to 6 1/2 years when Click was arrested.

A check of his criminal record showed Click had been arrested twice for stealing cars.

On Thursday, Aug. 18, 1949, after hours of questioning, Click admitted attacking Leona Sparks. It helped, of course, that Sparks had positively identified him in a lineup.

Leona Sparks told police that at one point during the assault Click removed his belt and began to strangle her with it.

The circumstances of the attack jarred official memories of earlier assaults. Kuzeff and Conine had both been strangled.

By this time most believed Lobaugh probably hadn't killed anybody. Click looked like a likely suspect.

Police would learn, in fact, that when Kuzeff was killed in May 1944, Franklin Click lived directly across the street from the Kuzeff house on Fillmore Street.

When Haaga was killed, he worked at REA Magnet Wire, just a few blocks from Inca Manufacturing.

At the time of his arrest, his house on Taylor Street was a little more than a block from where Kuzeff's body was found.

On Saturday, Aug. 20, Click went through a five-hour polygraph test in Fort Wayne. That night he was taken to South Bend for more tests and was questioned about the Kuzeff and Conine cases. Click denied killing anyone.

Then on Sunday, Aug. 21, he asked to see his wife. He gave her a letter.

''My Dear Wife," it read, "I want you to be the first to know and learn from my own lips that I am a murderer. I am the one and the only one guilty and the only one that murdered Wilhelmina Haaga, February 2, 1944; Anna Kuzeff, May 22, 1944, and Phyllis Conine, August 4, 1944. No other person was with me or participated in either of these murders. This I know is a terrible confession and I want you to hand this confession to Chief Lester Eisenhut. I understand that by doing so you will be entitled to the reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer. I am the murderer. You are the first person to whom I have confessed."

Click later said his interrogators had told him he was bound to get life in prison for the kidnapping of Leona Sparks anyway; that he might as well confess to the killings so his wife could get the reward; that it wasn't going to make his sentence any worse.

Other newspaper stories from the days after Click's arrest indicated he spilled the beans to police first.

One story said Detectives Mitchell Cleveland and Edwin McCarthy began questioning Click at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 21, and after 35 minutes Click said he would clear the Haaga, Conine and Kuzeff slayings.

''Suddenly Click straightened in his chair," one newspaper story reported. " 'All right,' he declared. 'Get my attorney and I'll talk.' "

Another story quoted police as saying that when Click decided to confess "his words came so rapidly that he had gone through all of the slayings before anyone could be summoned to take shorthand. He then had to repeat them."

In the days after Marie Click handed her husband's confession to the chief of police, she expressed belief in his innocence while posing for pictures for The News-Sentinel with her five smiling children gathered around.

''I don't see how he could have been involved in that murder," she said of the Kuzeff case. "It's true that he did not work that night as he was helping another man work on his racing car. When he came home he was not drunk, nor did he bear any marks that would indicate he had been in a struggle with anyone."

Click admitted enticing the women into his car for sexual reasons. He said he first noticed having sexual urges after he was injured in a truck accident in 1941. He was confined to a hospital for some time. After he was released, whenever he drank, he would get the urges. He allegedly told police that the sight of girls in shorts "drives me crazy." None of the murder victims had been wearing shorts.

''There's something wrong with my head," Click said. "I need an operation, I tell you."

The community was shocked when Click revealed he had been a pallbearer for Kuzeff.

Sam Kuzeff, the victim's father, confirmed the fact. He said of all the neighbors, Click was the most profuse in his expression of sympathy for the family.

Anna Kuzeff lay in state at the family home on Fillmore Street. Click came over several times to ask if there was anything he could do, Sam Kuzeff said. Click said the day he kidnapped Conine, he had stolen a car from the area of Creighton Avenue and South Calhoun Street.

That was around 3:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, shortly before he picked up Conine at the same intersection. The car he stole was a black Chevy belonging to a city businessman.

The trench coat found at the Conine murder site was in the car when Click stole it.

When Click returned to the city after killing Conine, two patrolmen spotted him in the stolen car.

Click was stopped at a light at Rudisill Boulevard and South Wayne Street. He bolted when he saw the police. They gave chase.

At one point, one of the officers drew his service revolver and aimed it at the driver; the other stopped him from shooting because a streetcar was approaching.

Click sped away, wrecked the car on Broadway and fled on foot. Police never connected the chase with Conine's murder.

After Click explained where the trench coat came from, police dragged it out of the evidence room and, after tracking down the owner of the stolen vehicle, made him try it on. It fit perfectly. The salesman said he used the old coat to wrap up merchandise in his car.

The businessman testified later that he first noticed his car missing around 3:30 p.m. that Friday afternoon. He first thought some friends he'd been with at a nearby bar had hidden it. He called police later and told them it was stolen.

Click took police to each of the murder scenes and walked through the crimes with them.

He said he used his own car, a 1933 Pontiac sedan, when he grabbed Haaga. He said Kuzeff recognized him after he pulled her from a darkened Fillmore Street as she walked to the bus. He said he thinks Conine got into his car because it was raining so heavily.

Click was later tried and found guilty of the kidnapping and attempted rape of Sparks and sent to prison at Michigan City. His sentence was life. While Click was in prison, the Allen County grand jury indicted him for the murders of Haaga, Kuzeff and Conine.

Strangely, considering the indictments and his signed confessions, he was put on trial just for the Conine murder.

There was speculation at the time that Click was charged with only one murder because someone else had already been convicted of the other two and it would just complicate matters.

Click pleaded not guilty, having already recanted his confessions.

His trial began Monday, Nov. 28, 1949. There were 124 prospective jurors on hand, but only 33 were called before the panel was selected. It was made up of seven farmers, three housewives, a construction worker and a factory worker.

Two days later, on Wednesday, Nov. 30, the prosecution rested. Incredibly, the defense called no witnesses. Among the defense witnesses available was a psychiatrist who had administered a truth serum test to Click and concluded him innocent. He was not called, although the test became the subject of a failed defense appeal.

The jury got the case at 4:43 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30, 1949. After deliberating 11 hours they found Click guilty of the murder of Conine.

After Click's conviction, Lobaugh added the Conine murder to his confession list. Nobody was listening. The next day, Dec. 1, 1949, Judge Schannen sentenced Click to die in the electric chair on March 27, 1950, and he was returned to prison.

For a time the prison in Michigan City simultaneously held Lobaugh, who had confessed to the Haaga, Kuzeff and Howard murders; Christen, convicted in the Howard case; and Click, who had signed confessions in the Haaga, Kuzeff and Conine killings.

After his conviction, Click said he confessed to the murders to get the reward for his wife and to escape police brutality.

New claims submitted in last-minute appeals included affidavits from a Fort Wayne man, Ferdinand Nicodemus, who said he saw Conine at Jefferson and Calhoun streets at 4 p.m. Aug. 4, 1944, the day she disappeared.

He said the girl was a friend of his daughter's and had been at his house on numerous occasions. Nicodemus would turn up again a year later when it came time to distribute the reward money.

Other eyewitnesses placed Conine in the Paramount Theater at 4:30 and in the Wolf & Dessauer department store downtown. That was an hour after Click said he picked her up.

In another petition, Click said police told him Conine was strangled with a belt from the trench coat found at the scene and he had worked that into his confession. He learned later the trench coat did not have a belt or even a place for one.

Futile appeals and petitions delayed Click's meeting with the executioner, but not for long. The sentence was carried out on Saturday, Dec. 30, 1950.

By then, Christen was already back in Denver with his mother.

Lobaugh's sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

With the exception of an occasional journalist stumbling on his case and dragging him out for public outcry, Lobaugh became a forgotten man. For awhile in the late '70s when clemency seemed imminent, he talked about moving to the Muncie area to be near his elderly mother. She was in a rest home there. He never made it.

After the reward money was distributed a year later, in November 1951, Fort Wayne tried to forget. People eventually stopped talking about the killings and time eventually worked its standard cure.

But there would be one more surprise in the case. It came during the reward hearings and took the form of an amateur detective named Floyd Moreland.

The rewards
Late in 1951, a commission headed by Mayor Branning met to consider five claims to the reward money authorized by the city council six years earlier. Marie Click and Leona Sparks were among the petitioners, as was a self- professed psychic.

The most interesting claim came from an Angola photographer and amateur sleuth, Floyd L. Moreland.

The fact that the commission eventually divided the money among Moreland, Marie Click and Leona Sparks has to lend credence to his incredible story.

Moreland was living in Fort Wayne and working for General Electric in 1944. He was drawn into the case not for the pursuit of justice, but for the money. "I had no interest in the investigation except to collect the reward," he said.

After the Aug. 8, 1944, city council meeting that established a $15,000 reward, Moreland bragged that he could solve the case in two weeks. His claims came to the attention of Otto H. Adams, city controller and superintendent of city utilities.

Adams called Moreland to his office and asked him about his statements. ''I told Mr. Adams," Moreland would later explain to the reward commission, "that if I had possession of the police files, I could determine who killed Miss Haaga in two weeks."

Adams told him to proceed, Moreland claimed, and later provided him with the complete police files. The police knew nothing of his investigation, he said. Moreland spent one night making photostatic copies of the complete file. He said he began his investigation on Aug. 13 and had it wrapped up by the 26th.

Among the items in the police file was a laundry ticket found at the scene of the Haaga killing. Police apparently never did anything with the ticket after they picked it up.

''The laundry ticket," Moreland explained, "stood out to me as a key to the solution of the Haaga case." He traced it to Clifford Siders of the 2000 block of Strathmore Street, a few blocks east of Fillmore Street where Kuzeff lived. Siders, however, was dead.

But Moreland learned that, after Siders died, his car, which was not fully paid for, was returned to the auto agency where he had bought it. On Jan. 31, 1944, four days before Haaga was attacked, the agency resold the car - to Franklin Click.

After he took his investigation that far, Moreland said, he figured he would need police help to continue. It was a weekend. Otto Adams was out of town. So was Police Chief Jule Stumpf. So Moreland called Mayor Baals at home and explained the situation to him.

Baals "told me to sit tight until Monday," Moreland told the commission. On Monday, Moreland got a called from Otto Adams who asked Moreland to meet him at the Keenan Hotel downtown.

Moreland said he met Adams on the mezzanine of the hotel on South Harrison Street. Adams' attitude toward him had changed significantly since their previous meeting.

Adams told him to drop his investigation. "If you persist," Moreland said Adams told him, "we will be forced to arrest you for obstructing justice."

Adams later called Moreland and suggested that police should have a copy of his investigation. Moreland said he put the whole report on Chief Stumpf's desk around mid-September 1944.

After Click was arrested five years later, in August 1949, Moreland called his investigation to the attention of Lester Eisenhut, the new police chief.

Eisenhut found Moreland's report and it was presented to the reward commission on Nov. 19, 1951. Members of the commission included Mayor Branning, Eisenhut, Sheriff Harold Zeis, City Council President Arthur Herber, County Prosecutor John Reiber and C. Byron Hayes, with the city's legal staff.

Leona Sparks, who traveled to the hearing from her new home in Gainesville, Texas, reminded the commission that she was the one who had supplied police with Click's license number after he attacked her in August 1949. "I certainly think I'm entitled to the reward," she said. "I might have been with those other murdered girls, and he might still be loose."

Marie Click said she repeatedly told her husband to tell the truth and pointed out that Click had confessed to her first. Sam Kuzeff, Anna Kuzeff's father, objected to Marie Click's reward claim.

He said Marie Click shouldn't get anything because "she hid him five or six years." Marie Click suspected something was wrong with her husband, Kuzeff said. "One time she came to my wife and started to say something but got sort of nervous, all trembly, and walked away."

City resident Ferdinand Nicodemus, whose statement about seeing Conine had become part of Franklin Click's last-minute appeal a year earlier, based his claim to the reward on the conviction of Lobaugh.

Nicodemus insisted he had identified Lobaugh as the abductor of Conine. He said he'd also given the police pertinent information about Lobaugh's connection with the other murders.

Since by this time most people were beginning to believe Lobaugh didn't kill anybody, the commission gave Nicodemus' claim short shrift.

Naomi Phillips, of East Lewis Street, told the commission that information about the killings came to her by "mental telepathy" after the killing of Haaga. Phillips said she relayed her information to Captain of Detectives John Taylor.

On one occasion, Phillips said, Taylor talked to her for 90 minutes. She said she told Taylor that the killer wore a size 38 or 40 coat, that he was around 5 feet, 10 inches tall and that he lived near the Kuzeff girl. She also claimed she told police the man's first name started with "f" and his last name with "cl."

''I told him that after the first murder there would be two more and that a fourth would be attempted some time later.

The commission rejected Phillips' startling revelations and in December ordered the reward split evenly among Marie Click, Leona Sparks and Floyd Moreland.

Dusting off the facts
Gathering information for these stories was no easy task. Very little in the way of official records remain on any of these cases.

There were no police or sheriff's office files to look at - they have all been lost or destroyed, either on purpose or accidentally.

I don't mean anything nefarious by "on purpose." Over the years, storage space became a premium and people had to decide what stayed and what went.

Sheriff Joe Squadrito explains, for example, that many sheriff records kept in the basement at the old Byron Health Center were destroyed by water.

Fort Wayne Police Captain Dwayne Hartup of the police department's records bureau helped me look for old files on microfilm. We found a few arrest and complaint reports from back then but none of what must have been the bulky files that would have accumulated with each investigation.

The Allen County Courthouse has case-number records for any of the suspects who got to the judicial system, but there is, for example, no transcript of the Franklin Click trial.

What I was left with in assembling these stories were the newspaper accounts from the times. Fortunately, the 1940s was a glorious era for police reporters.

Police were a lot more open with their information back then. Reporters were given access to reports and files they would never see today. Members of the media accompanied detectives to crime scenes.

So most of what you read here comes from stories published by The News- Sentinel and The Journal-Gazette. Fortunately, both Charlie Keefer, police reporter with The News-Sentinel, and Kenny Keller, of the Journal-Gazette, had an eye for detail. They cared about what Anna Kuzeff had in her lunch and what was in Clyde Scherrer's pockets when they pulled him out of the St. Marys River.

Illustrations were another problem. The paper didn't have staff photographers in the 1940s. In our files were plenty of pictures of the suspects - Franklin Click, Bob Christen and Ralph Lobaugh - but none of the victims. Jack Lake, a retired Fort Wayne Police detective who worked on the murders, loaned me a reward poster that showed three of the victims. My thanks to him.

Others who helped include Ellsworth Crick, a police photographer; Squadrito; Hartup; attorney Robert Parrish; and City Councilman Paul Mike Burns. Thanks to all of them.

--Feb. 5, 1994