Here is an interesting question from the reference desk, perfect for the Halloween season. A patron messaged the library looking for information on an unsolved murder that happened near New Lenox in the mid-70s. This is not the first time I’ve fielded a question of this nature, but it was by far the grisliest. It concerned a case of a young woman who was found strangled to death. The killer was never found.
Today I will be showing how I used our lovely digital resources to shed some light on this mystery. Recently there have been a few notable cases that were solved by genealogy work and it’s exciting to think of what could be uncovered by the clever genealogist if they know where to look.
A good, comprehensive search must start online. My first step was to check out our available databases with relevant information; MyHeritage, Family Search, and Ancestry. All of them have their pros and cons as well as a substantial amount of overlap in coverage of particular collections, but I found useful results from searching all three. I was also able to pull up a newspaper article in the Chicago Tribune about the discovery of the body. If it was a local crime, I would check our Bolingbrook newspaper collection on microfilm for additional clippings, but it was enough in this case to confirm the date and location. The site Find-A-Grave was used to confirm her final resting place and birth. These details were especially important to continue the search.
MyHeritage, added to our collection at the end of August, proved especially useful due its yearbook collections, which allowed me to pull a photo from the year she was killed. A useful feature of the U.S. Yearbooks Name Index, 1890-1979 collection is that a record is created for every yearbook entry, in theory indexing the name of all individuals across the collection for easy searching between years and schools. However, yearbooks are often not as rigorous as other records. In this case she had her name listed differently between books, each generating a record with slightly differing information. As a general rule during research, be on the lookout for alternate spellings, nicknames and abbreviations to not overlook relevant records.
Both Familysearch and Ancestry include social options that allows users to post notes about their family tree and to comment on individuals. Both sites listed information from posters possibly related to the individual or that knew them or the family. This is a tricky area that might lead to very valuable information if the posters want to be contacted and both services offer a messaging system to users. Researchers should be careful about opening old wounds for the victims’ families and loved ones from a case of this nature, but they may be happy to help and the work may offer some form of comfort.
As often with unsolved cases, rumors tend to pop up. I found a story online claiming her death was foretold by an Ouija board reading four years prior to the night. If you know Spanish, check it out.
While a substantial amount of work can be done online, solving this case would require contacting several agencies to pull all available information. An autopsy report would require contacting the county coroner. These are usually only released to family members after paying a fee, around 50$. If she had died in her home, Died in House may have been useful for more information.
If you would like further information on practicing general genealogy, check out the Genealogy 101 Course from Universal Class available through the library. It was very useful to help formulate starting questions and to know the available sources.
See You at the Library!