|One of the most shocking and terrifying events in the history of Chicago took place in October 1955. When the bodies of three young boys were discovered in a virtually crime-free community on the northwest side of the city, the entire region was paralyzed with fear. In a few years, another tragedy would occur with the disappearance and death of the Grimes sisters, but at the time of the Schuessler-Peterson murders, the city was stunned by the horror of violence against children. Also, as with the Grimes sisters, the murders would highlight the fact that cooperation between different Chicagoland police departments and investigators was poor at best... so poor that more than 40 years would pass before a killer would be discovered.||
The story begins on a cool Sunday afternoon in the fall of 1955 when three boys from the northwest side of the city head downtown to catch a matinee performance of a movie at a Loop Theater. The boys made the trip with their parent’s consent because in those days, parent’s thought little of their responsible children going off on trips by themselves. The boys had always proven dependable in the past and this time would have been no exception... if tragedy had not occurred.
With $4 between them, John and Anton Schuessler and Bobby Peterson ventured into the Chicago Loop to seen a move that Bobby’s mother had chosen for them. Around 6:00 pm that night, long after the matinee had ended, the boys were reported in the lobby of the Garland Building at 111 North Wabash. There was no explanation for what they might have been doing there, other than that Peterson’s eye doctor was located in the building. It seems unlikely that he would have been visiting the optometrist on a Sunday afternoon.
Many years later, according to author Richard Linberg, a Chicago police detective named John Sarnowski came up with the theory that the boys may have been at the building attempting to meet an older boy named John Wayne Gacy. Gacy often hung out at the Garland building as the lobby was reputed to be a meeting place for gay men and prostitutes. Strangely, Gacy did leave a few blocks away from the Schuessler brothers at 4505 North Marmora Avenue at that time... but it’s unknown if they were connected in any other way. Regardless, the boys were in the Garland Building for less than five minutes that evening.
Around 7:45 pm, the three entered the Monte Cristo Bowling Alley on West Montrose. The parlor was a neighborhood eating place and the proprietor later recalled to the police that he recalled the boys and that a “fifty-ish” looking man was showing an “abnormal interest” in several younger boys who were bowling. He was unable to say if the man made contact with the trio. They left the bowling alley and walked down Montrose to another bowling alley, then thumbed a ride at the intersection of Lawrence and Milwaukee Avenue. They were out of money by this time, but not quite ready to go home. It was now 9:05 in the evening and their parents were beginning to get worried.
They had reason to be.... for the boys were never seen alive again.
Two days later, the boy’s naked and bound bodies were discovered in a shallow ditch about 100 feet east of the Des Plaines River. A salesman, who had stopped to eat his lunch at the Robinson Wood’s Indian Burial Grounds spotted them and called the police. Coroner Walter McCarron stated that the cause of death was “asphyxiation by suffocation”. The three boys had been dead about 36 hours when they were discovered.
Bobby Peterson had been struck repeatedly and had been strangled with a rope or a necktie. The killer had used adhesive tape to cover the eyes of all three victims. They had then been thrown from a vehicle. Their clothing was never discovered.
The city of Chicago was thrown into a panic. Police officials reported that they had never seen such a horrible crime. The fears of parents all over the city were summed up by the grief-stricken Anton Schuessler Sr. who said, “When you get to the point that children cannot go to the movies in the afternoon and get home safely, something is wrong with this country.”
Police officers combed the area, conducting door-to-door searches and neighborhood interrogations. Search teams combed Robinson’s Woods, looking for clues or items of clothing. The killer (or killers) had gone to great length to get rid of any signs of fingerprints or traces of evidence. By this time, various city and suburban police departments had descended on the scene, running into each other and further hampering the search for clues. There was little or no cooperation between the separate agencies and if anything had been discovered, it would have most likely been lost in the confusion.
While investigators were coming up empty, a honor guard of Boy Scouts carried the coffins of the three boys from the St. Tarcissus Roman Catholic Church to a hearse that would take them to St. Joseph Cemetery. The church was filled to capacity with an estimated 1,200 mourners. This marked the end of innocence in Chicago.... and with the death of the Grimes sisters a few years later... it was apparent to all that America had changed for the worse.
Years passed. As there is no statute of limitations for murder, the case officially remained open but there was little chance that it would ever be solved. The families involved saw there hopes for closure in the case slowly fading away. At best, the murders provided parents with a cautionary lesson about the perils of “talking to strangers”. Then, decades later, the impossible happened! In a bizarre turn of events, a government informant named William Wemette accused one Kenneth Hansen of the murders during a police investigation into the 1977 disappearance of candy heiress Helen Vorhees Brach.
In 1955, Hansen, then 22 years old, worked as a stable hand for Silas Jayne, a millionaire from Kane County. Jayne himself was wild and reckless and had been suspected of many violent and devious dealings during his rise to power in the horse breeding world. He went to prison in 1973 for the murder of his half brother, George. Hansen himself was no prize either and soon, investigators were able to build a case against him. The case resulted in the deviant’s arrest in August 1994.
Cook County prosecutors showed jurors how Hansen had lured the Schuessler brother and Bobby Peterson into his car under false pretenses. They retraced the path of the killer in what Richard Linberg called “chilling detail”. His story was that he wanted to show the boys some prize horses belonging to Silas Jayne. According to the testimony of several men that Hansen had bragged to, he had molested and then killed the Schuesslers and Peterson one by one. When his crime was discovered by Jayne, the horse breeder burned the stables in order to obliterate any evidence that Hansen had left behind. Hansen’s brother had then dumped the boy’s bodies at Robinson’s Woods and Jayne had filed a bogus insurance claim for the lost building.
This case came to trial in 1995 and breaking a 40 year silence, many of Hansen’s other victims came forward, recalling promises of jobs made to young men in return for sexual favors. He forced their silence with threats that included warnings that they might end up “like the Peterson boy”.
Even without evidence and eyewitnesses to corroborate the prosecution’s allegations against him, a Cook County jury convicted Kenneth Hansen of the murders in September 1995. They deliberated for less than two hours and Hansen was sentenced for 200-300 years in prison.
Bobby Peterson and the Schuessler brothers could finally rest in peace.
COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.