Link to Molly's DOE page
I am new here, so I hope I am posting this correctly.
This is my great aunt Amelia (Molly) Zelko, I never had the chance of meeting her, but I have heard so many stories about her through my family. She ran a newspaper here in Joliet. One evening (in front of my grandmothers home) she was kidnapped and never seen again. All that was left was her shoes, which was an indicator that something was wrong. They never really had any leads. They interviewed my family and a few witnesses that say they saw something, but every lead was a dead end.
They believe it is mob related, because Molly and the newspaper had an anti-gambling stance. I think through-out the years they have tried digging up various areas around here and came up with nothing. We have heard rumors of her going into witness protection and leaving for Flordia. We have gotten calls throughout the years with people offering information if we pay them x amount of dollars. They have even tried searching under sidewalks and in our downtown area hoping to located her remains, but nothing was ever found.
I am just interested to hear everyones take on this. You guys are awesome at showing different perspectives on things. I have always wondered about what has happend to her. My family never really talks about it. There used to be a writer in town that would write a story on the anniversary of her dissapperence every year, but he recently passed away, so there really has not been any updates and the story is dying down. I would just like to hear a different take on this case, because all along everyone has believed that it has to be mob related, but can't be for sure.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.
Last edited by SheWhoMustNotBeNamed; 05-01-2010 at 12:04 AM. Reason: updated doe network link
Welcome to Websleuths! I am sorry to hear your family has never gotten any answers about your great aunt. I remember reading her story in the book "Getting Away With Murder" by Ed Baumann. It is out of print now.
It is always a big help when family members or friends join in on the discussion, thanks for posting.
Here is another link about your great aunt:
I'd be interested in knowing more about the ring she was supposed to have worn on the night of her disappearance. Does anyone know whether it was a 17 1/2 carat solitaire, or several diamonds where the weight totalled 17 1/2 carats? Either way that's a lot of ice. If that ring turned up intact it might lead to something -- especially if it was a solitaire, there can't be many of those lying around.
Thank you for the very warm welcome. I have been a lurker on this site for awhile and I just find all these cases interesting and heartbreaking at the same time.
As for the ring, it still exsists. I am not sure if she was really wearing it the night she was kidnapped, because another Great Aunt now currently has the ring. I have heard many stories about it and always wanted to see the infamous ring, but I never have. If she was wearing the ring, I wonder where they found it?
Its kind of like the shoes she kicked off. The newspaper reporter who loved writing about Molly actually had the shoes and a lot of the things from the case. Its beyond me why they wouldn't of given all of her things to the family.
My other great aunt has put together a book through the years. Articles from when it first happend, family trees, articles up until this point and a few other things. I will look through it and see if there anything interesting. I had looked through it before when I was younger, but now I don't remember it as much.
Thanks again for the warm welcome and reading my post.
It's not just a Joliet legend, it's THE Joliet legend.
And this week marks its 50th anniversary.
This 1950s photo shows Molly Zelko working at a weekly tabloid in Joliet called The Spectator. She started as a secretary and worked her way up to editor and part-owner.
On Sept. 25, 1957, Amelia "Molly" Zelko left her newspaper's Cass Street office just before 11:30 p.m., telling two co-workers, "I'll see you tomorrow."
A bartender later said she'd stopped in for a drink and used a pay phone on her way home.
Zelko then parked in front of 413 Buell Ave., where she lived in a second-floor apartment.
And then Molly Zelko vanished, leaving only her shoes, which were later found in the street by a passer-by.
Zelko's family and friends had often warned her the enemies she made writing about mobsters and crooked politicians would get her. She replied she'd kick her shoes off and run if they tried.
Co-workers grew worried when Zelko didn't come in to the office the next morning and contacted Joliet police.
Several neighbors told police they'd heard screams around the time Zelko arrived home, but believed they "were pranks of youngsters," and did nothing about them.
Police initially believed the 47-year-old woman had been kidnapped. But no ransom note ever arrived. Searches across the area found no trace of Zelko and no suspects were identified. The case grew cold and Zelko was legally declared dead in 1964.
I've researched this case extensively and here's what I found. John Whiteside was the reporter who wrote about Zelko in the Herald News from 1978 up until his death, finding new leads/witnesses and instigating new searches for her final resting place in Joliet. On the night Zelko disappeared 3 neighbours who lived in her apartment block reported hearing screams and a woman saying "oh, oh, no" which they ignored as they thought it was just kids messing about. A young boy who lived nearby also heard a woman scream, a car drive off and then two cars park on Benton Street with the headlights facing each other, followed by screams from what he identified as the same woman's voice and two gun shots, after which he heard a front loader operating, this all happened on a construction site and the boy's story was backed up by a construction worker who came forward years later in response to Whiteside's newspaper articles about Zelko, claiming that he worked on the same construction site and that they day after Zelko disappeared he attended work and a section of the construction site which had been empty the night before when he left work had been filled in, but he didn’t ask about it as he wanted to get his financial bonus for finishing the job. (The ditch that was filled in was 8 – 12 feet down, and would not show up a body with ground penetrating radar as it is too deep!). (Although both of these witnesses never went to the police but rather to the reporter John Whiteside, but I don’t think they were looking for fame, as they both declined to be identified in the articles).
Another witness Whiteside found was a woman who lived nearby to Zelko’s house and looked out the window after 12pm the night Zelko disappeared as she was waiting for her husband and saw four men with a black car removing a bundle from the back of the car, she then saw an arm fall out and realised it was a body, she then said that they buried the body in the storm sewer on Stryker Avenue.
As well as this I also found out that the FBI formally declined to investigate Zelko’s disappearance, and that they also told Joliet investigators that they did not have any information on the case at all. Although when the reporter John Whiteside applied for the “nonexistent” files through freedom of information acts, he received many files on Zelko’s disappearance, even citing J Edgar Hoover’s personal interest in the case. (SO WHY DID THE FBI LIE?)
Another twist in the case was in 1958 when Bobby Kennedy then the Chief Counsel of the U.S. Senate Rackets Committee travelled to Joliet in the company of his chief investigator Jim Mcshane and convict and Mafia employee James Rini (also known as the “Green Hornet”), who was convicted of breaking and damaging tavern/bar coin machines not owned by the Mafia) to search for Zelko’s remains after Rini wrote a letter to Bobby Kennedy saying he was involved in the murder of Zelko and on 9th Nov 1959 they travelled to an orchard on Mike Kozak’s farm on Renwick Road Joliet and spent the day digging holes in the search for Molly Zelko, yet came up empty. Kennedy mentioned this in his book “The Enemy Within.” Rini was taken to testify to the Rackett’s Committee regarding Zelko’s Murder, but pled the 5th amendment on each and every question, later saying it was all a hoax.
Many leads came up over the years including:
The bar tender who saw Molly Zelko the night she disappeared, saying that she had a drink, received $4 change, tipped him half a dollar and made two phone calls from the bar before leaving to drive home, although he only came forward decades later as a result of John Whiteside’s articles.
Not to mention that in the 1960’s a tipster told police she was buried in a grave near a flowing well in Pilcher Park but investigators found no trace of Zelko.
And on 10th Oct 2004 Karl & Rebecca Darley discovered a concrete filled bath tub underneath the property of their 429 Buell Avenue home, believing it could contain Zelko’s remains they contacted police, Detective Tom Quillman, Srgt Dave Stoddard, Officer William Smith and Rich Trafton investigated under the supervision of Chief David Gerdes and Deputy Chief Fred Hayes, even calling in the Cook County bomb disposal squad to x-ray the concrete, they eventually smashed it with hammers but there was nothing there.
Apart from the above other occurrences over the years related to this case are:
1. The 17 ½ Carat Ring, which was brought for Molly by her brother Ernest and displayed at the Illinois Worlds Fair in 1934 was found in the possession of one of Molly’s friends ( a male politician in Joliet – although I don’t know his name – sorry) after Molly’s death and returned to her family.
2. The reporter John Whiteside had possession of Molly’s shoes since he was given them by the ex Sheriff Joe Trizna, years after Molly’s death. They were apparently black open toed pumps. And he also had a copy of Molly’s dental records, apparently given to him by her family (I believe one of her brother’s was a dentist), not to mention FBI files on the case, witness reports, Molly’s old articles from The Spectator and Joliet police files.
3. People/law enforcement personnel connected to the case were:
Joe Trizna, Sheriff at the time Molly disappeared
John Dillon ex States Attorney was Captin of Detectives when Molly disappeared
Frank Masters a local Joliet lawyer and was states attorney in 1957
Bobby Kennedy, his assistant Jim Mcshane and convict James Rini (aka Green Hornet)
3. Molly’s friends were Billie Butler Serene who worked as the society editor of The Spectator (Molly’s newspaper) and William “Bill” McCabe her ex boss and current business partner at the time of her death – although it was eluded in 1957 that Bill and Molly had a more intimate relationship.
4. Molly was part owner of The Spectator which started publishing in 1929 and ceased publishing in 1965 and was also owned by William “Bill” McCabe (ex County State’s Attorney) who was Molly’s boss at the Prosecutor’s Office before he brought the paper and she came with him when he brought the new business, first working as his Secretary, then as Reporter and Editor and eventually part owner. No one knew she was part-owner of the paper until she disappeared. McCabe was attacked by gangsters (probably Mafia) who were never caught in 1947, McCabe was beaten, shot and left for dead on Bruce Road, he was 65 at the time and took a back seat in the running of the newspaper after this. Molly was obsessed with finding who was responsible for his attack, even driving past the local mob boss’s home on a regular basis and taking down licence plate numbers of the cars parked in his drive, it was said that she believed at the time of her disappearance that she was close to finding out who had orchestrated the attack, even hiring private investigators – McCabe died in August 1958. (Motive?)
5. The Spectator (Molly’s Newspaper, located on Cass Street) was bombed in 1937, the bomb being thrown through the window. Not to mention that Lynne Lichtenauer (a next door neighbour of reporter John Whiteside, who initially told him about the case) worked at The Spectator in 1958 and sat at Molly’s desk and said that there were bullet holes in the window next to the desk. (Had Molly been threatened/attacked before?)
6. The Spectator supported the election of candidates to the city counsel who voted to outlaw pinball machines just one month before Molly’s disappearance on Aug 5th 1957.
7. Also one week before her death Molly had sent a reporter and photographer to investigate a gambling house in down town Joliet.
8. And the mayor who Molly knew was convicted of income tax evasion on kickbacks and was sentenced to 1 year probation in 1957, which Molly wrote about and was actually very annoyed about, believing that he should have received a much harsher sentence.
9. 31 year old police Captain Billy dagget killed himself in January 1957, 9 months before Molly’s disappearance and had been close to her, although it is not clear how, he had married just 7 weeks before his death.
10. Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Theodore Link also wrote about Molly’s disappearance in the St Louis Dispatch (newspaper) and he found a recording Zelko had made proving collusion between several contactors in Joliet bidding on public works projects (so that they could all get a piece of the business and make money – highly illegal) – she also had similar tapes regarding politicians and gangsters.
11. And on the day Molly disappeared police who traced her last movements said her day went something like this “she had a bacon on toast sandwich and black coffee for breakfast, a uniformed Joliet police officer came to her office the night she disappeared, colleagues stating that the door was closed, but they could still hear the two yelling and that Molly was upset after he left (he was never identified), she left work at 11.30pm telling a printer John Walsh she would see him in the morning, drove to the bar, had a drink, made two calls and drove home, disappearing never to be seen or heard from again.
12. Police initially believed she was kidnapped, but when no ransom note ever arrived they gave up on this theory.
13. Police searched her apartment on the second floor of 413 Buell Avenue the day after she disappeared after receiving a telephone call from her colleagues saying she was missing.
14. The day after she went missing Captain John Dillon (captain of detectives in 1957) combed the entire area of Buell Avenue in a helicopter not finding Molly anywhere.
15. The night she disappeared her shoes were found kicked off on the sidewalk, which is what she told friends she would do if attacked, yet her car keys were in their usual place underneath the drivers seat – which tells me that she was attacked as soon as she got out of the car, this was a planned attack, they were waiting for her!
16. Copies of The Spectator (Molly’s newspaper) can be found at the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield Illinois. They have 54 rolls of microfilm from the paper for the years 1929 – 1965 except for 1936, and 1961 – 1964. Or the Kankakee Public Library also have copies. (Might be a good idea to read articles written by Molly to identify possible enemies)
17. There are also several articles about Molly’s disappearance, and McCabe’s attempted murder which can be brought from the Chicago Daily Tribune’s website for $3 each and also on The New York Times website (under archives)
18. John Whiteside’s articles about Molly (all 35 or so of them) can be found at www.highbeam.com
18. Also a sculpture was erected at Western Ave. and Centre St. has a pair of shoes representing Molly Zelko.
The case regarding Molly is obviously complicated! But I would be interested to know who benefitted in her will (if she had one), also I would like to see the FBI/Joliet Police Files, and read Molly's articles to find out who her enemies may have been, also if Molly was declared legally dead in 1964, so what happened to her business (The Spectator) and her property/home between the years 1957 - 1964, were Molly and William McCabe (her business partner and ex boss) really an item, or did she date anyone else or was she married? Was Molly's bank account/social security number ever used after her disappearance? What happened to her car, what was her car's licence plate number. Why can Molly not be found on the Social Security Death Index? (I have looked!) Did Molly keep a Journal which could give clues to her disappearance? Who was it that bombed The Spectator's offices on Cass Street in 1937, who attacked William McCabe, why were there bullet holes in the window next to Molly's desk, who was the unidentified Joliet Police Officer who visited Molly in her office that night, and why did Molly not take the precaution she usually took of having one of the newspaper men follow her home that night, who did she call from the bar the night she disappeared? And how did Molly know Captin Billy Dagget who committed suicide? Also just for my own personal interest what does the "J" stand for in Amelia J Zelko?
Bumping case up...
My great grandpa is actually James Rini.. I am doing some research on him just because I know he has a crazy past.. He actually lived with us for about a year. If anyone has anymore information on him.
Find A Grave memorial
Sounds like she had an endless list of enemies. Mob? Politicians? Law Enforcement? Unions? Construction people? Anyone that knew of her 17 1/2 carat ring? I can't get over that. I need to see a picture, I can't even imagine what it would look like lol
McCabe's beating articles:
Articles about Molly:
A lot of other articles but they are pay per view.
I wanted to come on here and answer a couple questions for you guys. I just got off the phone with my Grandma and was trying to ask her some of the things I saw posted on here....
They sold the car Molly's car and a lot of her belongings after she disappeared. My nanna thinks that the J. in Molly's name stands for Janice. (But she wasn't a hundred percent sure). She said back then there was a very well known mobster who lived on Western Ave. (Which isn't to far from the spot Molly disappeared). There were probably a lot of people that knew about her 7 1/2 carat ring. My nanna says Molly was a character and was not afraid to speak her mind and a lot of people had a problem with her. Well, not had a problem with her, but I don't think people who used to such a straight-forward woman. My nanna wouldn't really elaborate if she thinks that Molly had an affair with William McCabe . She says they never talked about it and that he was married (like that has ever stopped anyone before), but the way my nanna said it.... made it seem like she thought they might of had something going on. I can't be 100% because she didn't come right out and say it. Nanna was not to sure what happend to Molly's portion of the Spectator. Molly was my Grandpa's sister, so he and family took care of a lot of things, and didn't really share every detail with my nanna. I don't know if they ever found out who beat William McCabe.
I think, as well as my nanna, Molly knew she was in for it. She told them that if she ever kicked off her shoes that she had been kidnapped. I cannot think of any other reason why you would tell your family this, unless you knew something was going to happen. Maybe Molly was trying to blackmail someone? Who knows?
I wonder if the body could of been dumped in Des Plaines pretty easily. The house where she was taken from is not very far at all. Joliet is a pretty big city, but you drive 5 minutes outside of town and you are in the county (and this is now-a-days, I couldn't imagine back then). It probably would of been easy to hide a body.
Could Dagget of been the officer that went to her office the night she was taken? Could Molly maybe of called someone at the bar to meet her at home and thats the person who took her? Did she know her attacker?
If you guys have anymore questions I will try to ask the family as much as I can (and be a little bit more prompt in my responses!)
This month marks 53 years that Amelia has been missing. Come home soon.
I am fascinated with this case and check this thread now and again to see if there are any updates. I am surprised that there has never been a book written or a film made about Molly, if there is one I have yet to find it!
Amelia's Charley Project file has been updated.
Please Help Find Brian Shaffer!
Getting Away With Murder says that he estate was valued at around $36,200. That seems relatively modest for a single person her age even in 1957.
This is my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, that is, if I'm not joking.
September will mark 55 years since Amelia Zelko went missing.
Amelia J. Zelko, 47, Missing since September 25, 1957 from Joliet, IL
Missing for 55 years...
Amelia J. Zelko
Missing since September 25, 1957 from Joliet, Will County, Illinois.
Age at Time of Disappearance: 47 years old
Distinguishing Characteristics: White female.
Clothing/Jewelry: Possibly a diamond bracelet and a 17 1/2 carat diamond ring. The ring was worth an estimated $38,000 in 1957 and would be worth over $250,000 today.
Photo at link below.
Circumstances of Disappearance
Zelko disappeared from Illinois in 1957. She was a newspaperwoman, running a weekly paper in Joliet.
She had blasted mobsters and political corruption on the front page of her weekly newspaper, The Spectator. On the Spectator's pages, Molly had also actively crusaded against gambling. It is unknown if any of this was related to her disappearance.
Zelko left her newspaper's Cass Street office just before 23:30.
A bartender later said she'd stopped in for a drink and used a pay phone on her way home. Zelko then parked in front of 413 Buell Avenue, where she lived in a second-floor apartment.
On the same day that Zelko disappeared, a witness claimed that she saw some men bury the body of a woman near her home, but Zelko was never recovered.
All that was found of Zelko were her two shoes. When she was in danger, she had told friends she would kick off her shoes and run.
At first police believed she had been kidnapped but no ransom note arrived. Searches were done but no trace of Zelko was found.
Zelko was declared legally dead in 1964.
If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
Illinois State Police
Suburban Chicago News
Suburban Chicago News
The Doe Network: Case File 1253DFIL
Coming up on another anniversary (56) in a week.
I remember reading somewhere that Miss Zelko had a "close relationship" with her partner in the paper, William McCabe. It seemed to me that perhaps they were suggesting a romantic connection although not necessarily. She also was said to wear a ring that had been given to her by a man who was later killed in an accident. I would assume that this was something that may have been an engagement ring or something like what would be called a pre-engagement band in a later time - some speculation on my part but not unwarranted I don't believe. None of this is likely to have any connection to her murder.
Charleyproject's entry says that the bartender didn't tell his story until 1978.
Do we know what she was wearing that evening besides shoes and a hat?
This is my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, that is, if I'm not joking.
In a few rare instances, a mobster's wife or girlfriend will be killed as collateral damage when the guy is being rubbed out but the mob killing a single unconnected woman is virtually unheard of.
This is my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, that is, if I'm not joking.
The murder of Estelle Carey in 1943 is sometimes cited as a mob hit on a woman but there are several theories that posit that it was not a mob killing at all. Even if it was a mob hit, it was a sort of rubout by proxy of her mobster boyfriend Nick Circella who was in prison at the time - totally unlike the Zelko Case.
Last edited by STANDREID; 09-19-2013 at 09:58 AM.
This is my opinion and to the best of my knowledge, that is, if I'm not joking.
I know this thread doesn't have much traffic, but I thought I'd mention a few things I found in the course of researching another case. First off, I believe the hit was ordered by Willie Potatoes (via the real Chicago boss, Hyman Larner), who has long been linked to the attempted murder of Molly's boss.
Severin John Boubede is one of the Keddie murderers, and his de facto dads were his uncle Alvin (d. 2 Feb 1959), and none other than Jimmy V Rini, who had RFK digging holes in a Joliet farm field, looking for Molly's grave. Rini laughed about that for decades, probably all the harder because he was actually involved in her kidnapping and murder. The connections of these mob scum have been researched and pieced together to a great extent here and here, and there is a gallery dedicated to photos and news clippings concerning the mafia angles of Boubede, Rini, et al., located here. Several clippings are about Molly, of course.
Long story short: Willie Potatoes was the Outfit's lead street enforcer (for 'tribute', etc). The main Chicago guy running the slots/juke action Molly was making too much noise about went by the name of Red Waterfall. In reality, Red was Hyman Larner, and Rini and Alex Ross were Hy's main slots enforcers, conducting anything from threats and acid attacks to all-out hits on those 'in the way' of mob progress.
One guy they were after was Willard Bates. Rini, Ross, and their long-time third gun, Frank Mustari, tried to kill him on June 29, 1957. Mustari waited in the back seat of Bates' car, but Bates got the draw and blew Mustari's head off. There was a new third man on the team when they did Molly three months later and, barely a month after Molly, the Rini/Ross team succeeded in their second attempt on Bates.
If anyone's interested, I have a ton more details.
Last edited by dmac; 07-22-2014 at 11:06 PM. Reason: typos, of course