11-29-2011, 06:38 AM #1Enough Is Enough!
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IL - Elfrieda Knaak: The Girl in the Furnace Mystery - 1928
I stumbled over this disturbing 1928 murder/mystery in my search for information on another. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been discussed here before, apologies if it has (sorry also for the sheer length of this post – but there’s just so much information. I’ve done my best to summarise things).
The strange and horrible death of Elfrieda “Fritzie” Knaak in 1928 was deemed ‘solved’ as a suicide by the coroner, but there were a number of officials who suspected murder – with very good reason – and kept the case unofficially ‘open’.
I'm not normally the kind to jump on the “occult murder” thing, but I am in this case quite convinced that ‘Fritzie’ the victim of a new age cult, involving several Lake Bluff locals.
On the morning of October 30, an employee of the Lake Bluff City Hall went down to light the Hall’s furnace. To his horror, he discovered a nude woman propped up against the cold furnace, with horrific bone-deep burns to her feet, hands and face.
The woman, later identified as Elfrieda Knaak, an attractive 29-year old book saleswoman and Sunday School teacher, was rushed to hospital. Police assumed she’d been attacked by a madman and her limbs and head forced into the furnace’s small opening. Metal clasps from her dress, burned remains of garments and bits of Elfrieda’s skin and hair were found when police examined the interior of the fire-box.
It was noted that the door leading to the furnace room had been locked on Louis’ arrival. The door to the City Hall itself had also been locked when Police Chief Barney Rosenhagen arrived at 7.00 am. Rosenhagen himself had been the one to lock up, coming back to check on things and re-lock the doors at around 9.30 pm. It was a mystery, then, as to how Elfrieda and her attacker had gotten in, and how her assailant had locked the doors behind him.
More puzzling was the fact that Elfrieda would confess to have done this damage to herself, claiming “It was all my fault,” and “I did it myself, there’s no-one to blame,” insisting that she’d burned herself for the sake of ‘faith” as well as “purity and love’.
When asked who locked the doors, she replied, “A mysterious hand”.
The police (along with attending doctors and State’s Attorney V. A. Smith) openly doubted her story, due to the seeming impossibility of the act – the furnace door was too high off the ground and too small for her to have burned her own feet and legs to the bone, let alone the question of how she’d stood on one ruined foot to put the other in.
They deduced that even if it was a willing act, she must have had help. So even when the coroner declared her death a suicide, some police stubbornly kept investigating.
Further noted in evidence was a bloody handprint on the door, and footprints in blood and ash that tracked up the stairs of the furnace room and back. Elfrieda’s shoes, wrist watch and purse were found ten feet from the furnace. Her purse contained a letter from a “B. Lock”, a woman with whom Elfrieda had recently developed a sudden and intense friendship based in 'religious discussion'. With her belongings was also a book titled “Christ In You”. This book may offer some important clues as to what really happened to Elfrieda, but more on that later.
Eyebrows were raised over Police Chief Rosenhagen's decision to have the janitor sift the ashes in the furnace and throw them away, before calling the Sheriff.
The next addition to the case’s extreme oddness was the discovery that the “love” Elfrieda had sacrificed herself for was a Lake Bluff police officer who was, she said, the reason she was in Lake Bluff that night.
The company Elfrieda worked for published spiritual and religious tracts, among other things. She had spent the day in Chicago giving a lecture to some fellow publishing company employees. It was from there she called her sister to report that she’d bought some new sheet music while she was out, and would be home about 7.30 that evening.
She left work and arrived at the Highland Park depot close to 6.00pm, where she learned the bus timetable had been changed so there’d be a wait of several hours for the bus home to Deerfield. She was observed to make two phone calls - one went unanswered, the other was spoken in whispers.
Elfrieda then checked her briefcase in at the station and bought a round trip ticket to Lake Bluff, catching the 6.01. The station master at Lake Bluff saw her arrive there (one report says she arrived at 9.40, but that seems to be off). This would be the last sighting of her until she was found in the furnace room the next day at 7.30 am.
Charles W. Hitchcock was a handsome former movie actor working as a night policeman. During the day he taught classes in 'elocution and salesmanship', in a Waukegan studio kept for that purpose. Elfrieda had been one of his students. It was Hitchcock, she said in hospital, who she’d come to Lake Bluff to see that night.
Hitchcock would strenuously deny any close relationship with Elfrieda, though she described their relationship as ‘spiritual’ in nature. They had, as “Fritzie” – a pet name her family gave her, and one that Hitchcock called her on her deathbed – would put it, “a pure love”. An “astral love”.
Police rushed over to question Hitchcock about Elfrieda. He was at home, with his wife and kids, because he’d broken his leg some length of time before and was apparently still unable to walk on it past a brief and painful hobble.
Which begs the question of who, exactly, Elfrieda was supposed to have been meeting up with in Lake Bluff that night. Hitchcock? At his home -- with the wife and four kids? Awkward.
So. Back to this book:
It’s not mentioned in any report I could find, but a few hours hard digging revealed the anonymously authored “Christ In You” to be a ‘channeled’ religious text, purportedly dictation from a group of beings who’d ascended physical reality. This book is one of the main instructional texts recommended to followers of the “New Thought” movement, one of many part-religious, part-occult, motivational pseudo-science spin off groups that have sprung from the original Eastern-inspired occult/philosophy organisation ‘The Theosophical Society” (which also inspired Aleister Crowley, at the darker end of its scale) and would be fundamental to the development of the modern “New Age”and “Self Help” industries, which market recipes for happiness and success – often at a very steep price.
Interesting, I think, keeping in mind the self-improvement stuff Hitchcock was peddling.
Have I mentioned that Elfrieda was also a wealthy drug company heiress? Well. She was.
Anyhow, this ‘channeled text’ was found to have a single page marked, on which a few chillingly apt words had been singled out:
“I tell you, it is impossible to know true joy – the heights of joy – until you have known corresponding depths of pain. This is the process known as ‘the refiner’s fire’.”
The last three words are underlined by hand. But whose hand?
It was assumed that Elfrieda had been studying the book and marked the words herself. But Sheriff Lawrence Doolittle’s convictions that another person had been present in the furnace room proved right. So maybe the book actually belonged to somebody else - perhaps Hitchcock, or the woman friend who wrote the letter found in Elfrieda’s purse.
I can’t find the full text of this letter from "B. Lock" anywhere (which is driving me nuts), and only a partial quote was given reporters. It said Elfrieda was -- “forgiven, but would be sorry.”
Before she passed away, police made Hitchcock hobble over on his broken leg to sit at her bedside and gently urge her to tell the truth. Elfrieda held fast to her story for a time but eventually recanted her previous claims to being alone, stating that somebody else had been present, and that her horrible injuries were the fault of more than one person.
Among several scenarios she described to various people, the heavily-drugged and dying Elfrieda told her brother Alvin that she’d made a pact with another girl, who’d not gone through with it after Elfrieda was burned, and who then ran off, leaving her in the furnace room alone. But her story changed, and changed again, until in her final moments she admitted she was, after all, attacked.
“Frank threw me down,” she said, repeatedly (though it’s also reported as ‘Frank turned me down’), and “They did this”.
Sheriff Doolittle sought out the only Frank known to her locally – violin teacher Frank P. Mandy, who shared the Waukegan studio with Hitchcock – but Doolittle could find nothing to connect him to the crime.
(AUSNOTE: I’d LOVE some more info on Mr. Frank P. Mandy, if anyone can find some!)
Elfrieda is said to have also named a woman accomplice, but spoke the name too faintly for it to be heard. She died, soon after, and was officially declared a suicide.
So. Now it gets really weird:
A month after Elfrieda died of her burns, a man in Texas contacted police by letter, and confessed to having ‘helped’ her burn herself.
“James Kelley,” AKA “Ezra McVeagh”, described as an Army deserter from Selfridge Fields, Mt. Clemens, MI, claimed he watched Elfrieda tear her clothes off, before hitting her over the head with a ‘poker’ and helping her place her feet, hands and head into the furnace – on her own request. He also admitted to attacking another (unnamed) woman in Lake Forest whom he thought he’d killed, but he'd found out she survived. The man was quickly thrown into the nearest mental institution.
In his letter, which was said to be intelligently written, Kelley/McVeagh had described himself as a 'student of occult mysticism', and signed it with the Crowley-esque, Egyptian-style pseudonym: "A-Os-Wun-Aken".
And because there’s apparently just not enough weird here:
The autopsy suggested Elfrieda had not just been burned in the furnace, but also severely electrocuted. There were high voltage transformers not far from the Lake Bluff City Hall. She had also suffered a blow to the head, leaving injuries akin to those ‘typically’ caused by a ‘sandbag’.
(AUSNOTE: I suspect ‘sandbags’ – which sound nothing like ‘pokers’ - might have been employed by both robbers and night policemen in 1928… I intend to check it out!).
So there’s the case, give or take another ton of info I can’t find yet. The connection between Elfrieda and the New Thought movement seems pretty strong – and I suspect Hitchcock was involved with it, too. The movement attracted some wealthy, famous and powerful people back in the early 20th C, and still exists today as “New Thought” and “Divine Thought”, among other appellations.
Astral projection is a common belief among these Theosophy offshoots, as is the concept of ‘spiritual purification’ so people might ascend to a higher realm of existence while still alive. From experience, I surmise that such a movement would very likely have attracted just as many poseurs and creeps trying to get in the pants and purses of vulnerable women as they do today. I believe Hitchcock was one of them.
But no firm conclusions, yet. Still digging!
Some source articles:
Last edited by Ausgirl; 11-29-2011 at 10:35 AM. Reason: crimes against grammar
11-29-2011, 10:41 AM #2Enough Is Enough!
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Some further information, quite detailed:
"At the coroner’s inquest, it was reported that there was no smell of burned flesh in the basement when the young woman was found. Doctors argued that the bloody footprints found on the concrete basement floor and the stairway were not possible because the extreme burns to her feet would prevent any bleeding. What the inquest did not point out was that there were fresh drops of blood found on the concrete stairway down to the basement from the north side of the building.
The coroner’s jury ruled the burning as a self-inflicted accident, but a closer look at the evidence convinced detectives, Lake County officials, and many local residents that there was more to this story.
A thousand blind alleys! States Attorney A.V. Smith assigned the Hargrave Secret Service to solve this mysterious death. Detective George Hargrave wondered how Elfrieda could have possibly burned the back of her head but not her face? How could she have endured the pain of putting first one arm into the furnace fire, then the other? And how did she burn her limbs and feet? Also, how did Miss Knaak get into the Village Hall Police Station? Once, Elfrieda admitted to having a key. Who gave her a key? Hitchcock denied having given her a key."
and, somehow not surprisingly,
"In July 1929, Charles Hitchcock and his 18 year old son Raymond, were arrested by Chief Spaid. Both confessed to a series of village burglaries. The son was convicted and given a prison term. Charles was dismissed of all charges by States Attorney A. V. Smith. Smith was a friend of Hitchcock’s and a former student. "
from this web page, well worth the read:
This was also fascinating:
"Dr. Rissinger testified that Elfrieda told him she had burned all her clothing. He asked her if it wasn’t immodest to undress in the basement. She said “it wasn’t immodest in the sight of God.” She said she had probably been burning herself all night as she fainted several times. Dr. Rissinger said Elfrieda said she loved Policeman Hitchcock, but she talked to him at night – spiritually to him. She said Hitchcock got her out of hell three months ago, but she couldn’t explain what she meant by that.
Nurse Kierney reported that Miss Knaak told her “I would never submit to his love until agreeable to his wife. I wonder, then again, I wonder….” The nurse asked Elfrieda to explain, and she added, “If they did it, why did they do it?” Later, Elfrieda cried to Kierney and said “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it. THEY did it!” "
11-29-2011, 11:31 AM #3
Fascinating. I'd love to hear more about this.“Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
In no way should any of my statements be construed as legal opinion or advice. While I am a lawyer, I am not a verified poster here at WS. The above statement(s) are an expression of my personal opinion, for entertainment purposes only, and copyright.
11-29-2011, 12:05 PM #4Enough Is Enough!
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Some miscellany, and a correction:
Elfrieda was not, as reported in some hysterical article or other, an 'heiress' - her family ran Knaak's Pharmacy in Deerfield, and were prosperous enough but not filthy rich by any means.
Here's a picture of the family home, 1928.
Illinois State Senator Karl Ives Berning worked in Knaak's Pharmacy in 1928, after his family moved to Deerfield.
11-29-2011, 12:53 PM #5
I love old cases like these. I mean I certainly don't love what happened to poor Elfrieda but I find the story fascinating.
I would guess that Elfrieda was pretty severely mentally ill, schizophrenic maybe? Something that would cause her to be to delusional. I think that it is likely that she was involved with a fringe religious group whose practices intensified her delusions. I have no experience in the medical field, I'm just going off of personal experience that I have had with a friend who was caught up with this type of group after beginning to exhibit signs of schizophrenia.
In my friends case, her experiences with the group actually led to a psychotic episode which is immediately what I thought of happening to Elfrieda. In that type of state, I think it is within the realm of possibility that she burned herself. That being said, I don't think that she was alone because of the footsteps and blood found outside of the room.
Thanks for sharing this case, I'll be interested to learn more."Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." - N. Mandela
11-29-2011, 02:13 PM #6Enough Is Enough!
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Cheers, I'm finding it's very rewarding, researching these old cases.
I found another Frank in "Fritzie's" life, perhaps - the owner of the company she worked for. I've still to verify this is the right company, but it looks good so far.
I also thought that maybe she'd had some sort of psychotic break. And maybe she did - but like the Sheriff and her doctors, I'm not at all convinced that Elfrieda hurt herself.
This 'advanced psychology' she was talking about wasn't, I think, any normal Freudian type study - the occult groups of the time (1928 was something of a boom year for Theosophy, Steiner, New Thought and several other groups popular in the Chicago area) employed 'advanced psychology' as a term to encompass 'mesmerism' (hypnosis), remote viewing, spiritual channeling, meditation and a bewildering assortment of other mind control and mind-over-matter techniques. The kind that could mess someone's head up badly enough that she might be coerced into protecting the very people who hurt her.
I think perhaps 'Fritzie' wasn't initially burned in the furnace. I think she was hit on the head outside, before or after being pushed onto one of those transformers near the City Hall, and was already burned quite badly before being taken down to the cellar.
That might explain the blood, as well as the lack of burning smells. A person on fire makes a horrific stink - even the smell of badly singed hair can linger for hours - so how was that basement (and the rest of the building) not reeking of burned flesh at 7am? It would also explain the evidence of electrocution mentioned in her autopsy report.
It doesn't explain why she'd lie (or forget?) about who harmed her right up until her final moments of life. People have done some really odd things for the sake of love. Especially if they've been sucked in by cultish practises and/or malignant sociopaths.
Her confusion and apparently delusionary story telling could have been a symptom, rather than the cause, of her tragedy.
I wonder what she meant by "I would never submit to his love until agreeable to his wife.."
What kind of con was Hitchcock pulling on that poor girl, I wonder?
Sorry to hear about your friend, pdxmama. Terribly sad, what these groups can do to a person. I do hope they're well and free of that influence now.
11-29-2011, 02:50 PM #7
Fascinating case! It’s so sad this girl came to this horrible end. I believe there is alot more to this case that hasn't been explored. This poor girl had to be emotionally unstable and looking to find a place in the world where she belonged. I'm sure she was quite vulnerable and lonely, which is exactly what these predators who organize Cults such as the “New Thought” movement are looking for
Since I am a fan of old Hollywood especially the silent film era, I thought I would look up Charles Hitchcock It seems he appeared in several shorts between 1911 and 1915. He even did a movie with Charlie Chaplin at one time. It seems strange to me that he would leave a career in Hollywood to be a night patrolman? Knowing he got into trouble at point with his son, I wouldn't be surprised something happened in Hollywood that caused him to leave? Many Hollywood types, even then are into different ideas and religions (Scientology for instance?) Maybe he was peddling his ideas there and something happened which caused him to flee.
List of movies...
Short with chaplin that he appeared in, don't know which one was him?
11-29-2011, 02:58 PM #8Enough Is Enough!
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Awesome, momtolil!! Wow, he worked with Chaplin... and it crossed my mind, too, that maybe he'd done something to get turfed out of the film industry. He was apparently considering a return to it, at the time of Elfrieda's death.
Maybe he was overwhelmed with all the glamour of being a night patrolman.
I'll watch that short after I sleep (maybe my net will be faster in the morning!) and try to spot him. Much appreciated!
11-30-2011, 12:22 AM #9Enough Is Enough!
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momtolil, Hitchcock is the guy in the pale suit jacket in frames 2, 4 & 11 here.
There's a somewhat odd series of photographs taken of Hitchcock by a news photographer at the time of Elfrieda's murder. I really don't know what to make of them - they look disturbingly like publicity shots! With the crutch, proof of his broken ankle, placed in plain view too. Something about this guy sets my teeth on edge.
And here's a brochure from his Vaudeville days.
I wonder if he ever played a guy with a broken leg? :x
11-30-2011, 01:34 PM #10
I wonder how authentic the broken leg was? He was an actor after all, not so difficult to fake a broken leg.
Ausgirl, thanks for your kind words about my friend. She is doing quite well now and is in the field of social work, working with those who suffer from mental illness."Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." - N. Mandela
11-30-2011, 02:07 PM #11
The more I read about Charles Hitchcock the more I believe he was a con-artist. He had the perfect opportunity with his so called "job" at the Highland Park police station. I'm sure Elfrieda wasn't his only victim probably just the worst.
The question to me is why he did this to this poor girl. Whether he did it himself or talked her into it and helped her. He is guilty of something I'm sure of it.
Also, I find it odd that the coroner’s office was so quick to call it a suicide when all the clues were pointing at something more sinister. I wonder if he had connections there as well?
It seems that many people did him favors which allowed him to get away with so much. Lucky for him everyone with any authority in that town seemed to be an ex student of his. He must of had a lot of charm and charisma.
Whatever became of him? When did he die? I'm sure he got into more trouble along the way.
Also... I found out he probably never went to Hollywood. He made movies with Esanay Studios in Chicago. Charlie Chaplin did a series of films there in 1915.
11-30-2011, 04:29 PM #12Enough Is Enough!
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Yes, and the Chief of Police acted oddly too -- throwing the ashes out? That actually brought him under suspicion, for which he was cleared, said one newspaper. Why'd he do that?
I don't think Sheriff Doolittle was a fan of his, though, momtolil. And Doolittle's successor certainly wasn't, being the arresting officer when Hitchcock was caught for those robberies (after he was -almost- Chief of Police? embarassing...).
The man who wrote from Texas -- what do you guys think of that?
It's easy to pass him him off as a nutter who read the papers and decided to 'confess' to a crime he didn't do. BUT - Kelley/McVeagh (which is his real name?) signed that letter in a way that made me believe he was indeed a member of an occult science group: A-Os-Wun-Aken.
The paper said he signed the letter with 'strange figures', meaning he probably used hieroglyphs which were rendered into English phonetics. Considering the Egyptology craze of the era, they'd have had no trouble finding somebody to translate, if so.
Anyways, I learned a little ancient Egyptian years ago, and immediately recognised 'Aken'. I can't be sure how accurate that translation is - but 'Aken' was the Ancient Egyptian 'ferryman of the dead'. The words before it probably make the name a sign of devotion to/identification with that particular god, as was the fashion.
These are the sort of names used by members of groups like the Golden Dawn (Crowley's crowd) and Theosophists (of whom Hitler was also fan). I'm wondering why he'd sign a letter to police using that pseudonym. Crazy? I'm not so sure. The letter he wrote was noted to be remarkably intelligent and lucid. I do get the feeling he'd seen headlines announcing Elfrienda's interest in 'religious science' and the occult (obviously a more well-known fact than I had figured).
The same way Elfrieda herself was 'lucid' prior to October 30 - her family openly scoffed at the thought she had hurt herself. She'd been a responsible, sensible sort of girl. She bought sheet music that day - why do that if you're planning to never play it?
Elfrieda's trip to Lake Bluff was clearly a last-minute decision. If the bus had been there as expected, she'd have gone home. The phone call she made (in whispers - why whisper? and to whom?) was likely to let somebody know she was coming.
And if you look at the reports from her employer - she had been working hard, and was trusted to make some sort of motivational speech to other employees (was she actually 'recruiting'? Made me wonder...). Elfrieda was well-educated, successful, and working in an era when women were not especially expected to work in jobs like that. The day of the 29th was something of a triumph for her, something to celebrate. I think her family can be understood for having serious doubts that she flew into a fugue out of nowhere and then implausibly burned herself slowly to a char in a police station furnace.
Electric shock can cause severe burns -- as well as neural trauma (as might that blow to the head she sustained, as well). Specifically, a bad shock can severely affect memory. So it might be no wonder she was confused about how the injury happened -- especially if somebody she trusted had coached her on how she'd ended up that way, before (or even perhaps after) being discovered in the furnace room.
I'm fairly sure she was not expected to survive her injuries as long as she did.
pdxmama - I'm very glad to hear that (about your friend).
Last edited by Ausgirl; 11-30-2011 at 04:42 PM.
12-01-2011, 02:30 AM #13Enough Is Enough!
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Well. After a very long, exhausting day I decided to sit down with a nice hot cup of coffee and do a bit of research regarding high voltage electrical burns.
I do not recommend this course of action to those of delicate sensibility.
After looking into just how severe electrical burns can get, I can see a pretty clear possibility that bilateral burns such as those Elfrieda had could indicate she suffered electrocution, just as the coroner suspected. What's massively less than probable is that she survived. But some people have survived such extreme voltage, when all reason dictates they ought to be dead.
Problem with electrical burns is that the full damage can take days to manifest. Such a burn can both char skin and clothing badly, but can also leave healthy skin intact over burn sites - though the tissue underneath is ruined and can lead to death if the deep tissue damage is not treated carefully.
I'm going to avoid this entire topic for the rest of the evening, get some rest -- and tomorrow call a burns unit for an opinion on whether Elfrieda's burns could indeed have been partially or wholly caused by contact with high voltage electricity, such as an extremely elderly transformer.
eta: Interesting snip from a study on possible neurological effects:
"Immediate manifestations in survivors of lightning and electrical injuries include altered consciousness, confusion, disorientation, and amnesia. Subsequently, patients show either normalization of mental status or sequelae ranging from headaches and distractibility to persistent psychiatric disorder and dementia. The fact of this variety has been recognized for a long time."
Last edited by Ausgirl; 12-01-2011 at 03:20 AM.
12-01-2011, 02:43 AM #14
Two questions came to me tonight when I was thinking about this case.
First, what was her actual cause of death? The fact that she was lucid while at the hospital made me wonder if there was some kind of infection that worsened and actually killed her.
Second, do we know if any toxicology tests were done? Being under the influence could also explain her bizarre behavior and her ability to harm herself or allow herself to be harmed in such an extreme way. It could also be an explanation for how Hitchcock was able to possible gain control over a girl who is described as normally being "sensible" by her family."Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." - N. Mandela
12-01-2011, 03:04 AM #15
Also, when did the coroner finalize his report saying Elfrieda had committed suicide? She was hospitalized on Oct. 30th and died 3 days later, so Nov. 2nd?
This article from Nov. 16th still states that the police believe "her death was the work of a fiend."
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