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'Bloody Illinois'

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[December 03, 2008]  "Bloody Illinois: History & Hauntings of Crime & Murder in the Prairie State." Troy Taylor, Whitechapel Press, 2008, 287 pages.

HardwareReview by
Richard Sumrall

Central Illinois author Troy Taylor's "Bloody Illinois" is the newest addition to his "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" series. Taylor is the founder of the American Ghost Society, the Illinois & American Hauntings Tours, and the author of more than 50 books. In this edition, "Taylor unlocks files of rare, seldom-told and favorite stories from both the cities and rural areas of the Prairie State." Here's a sample of the sensational episodes of terrifying crimes and hauntings:

"The First Century of Illinois Crime"

The first part of the book covers the history and hauntings from the early period of statehood to the early 1900s. One of the more bizarre criminal cases in central Illinois occurred in Menard County in 1826.

In the 1820s Nathaniel and Peggy Van Noy established a homestead approximately five miles west of present-day Athens. By all accounts the couple enjoyed a happy marriage and Nathaniel's blacksmith shop prospered. On Aug. 26, 1826, passers-by found the lifeless body of Peggy Van Noy on the couple's cabin floor. Suspicion turned to her husband after an array of sophisticated counterfeiting equipment was discovered on their property.


Van Noy was convicted of his wife's murder and condemned to the gallows -- but not before he made a deal with Springfield doctor Addison Philleo. The good doctor sold Van Noy a device "which applied to the corpse just after death, could reanimate the body." The deal was ruined when Van Noy's body was left hanging for five hours after the execution.

To this day, visitors claim to see the ghostly, spectral image of Peggy Van Noy wandering the woods and fields of the old family property.

"The Roaring 20s"

The next part of the book looks at the murder and mayhem that took place during the Prohibition era.

In 1921 central Illinois was rocked with the news that a 45-year-old Decatur woman named Josephine Cooper had been arrested for the murder of her former lover James Parker. Cooper ran a boarding house on Decatur's King Street and had begun an affair with Parker, a new tenant. Eventually she had a change of heart and became involved with another man. When Parker refused to "go gentle into that good night," he became the victim of foul play and his dead body was found in the Cooper home.

The police immediately suspected Josephine Cooper since "she was a very clumsy killer, as Parker's body became the fourth body to be found in her home in just a few years!" More evidence came to light when it was revealed that Cooper had tried to persuade her current lover to secure some poison.

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Josephine Cooper was convicted of the murder of James Parker and served 11 of the 14 years of her prison sentence. Even in death Cooper continued to be a source of controversy. She died in 1954 after sustaining injuries received by falling from a window in her second-story apartment. To this day it is unclear whether she jumped from the window or was pushed by someone.

Meanwhile strange things continue at her former home on King Street. Visitors and residents report hearing groaning voices, slamming doors and unaccounted for footsteps at all hours of the day. Is this evidence of the ghostly presence of Josephine Cooper's unlucky victims?

"Public Enemies"

This portion of the book examines the most infamous chapter in the history of Illinois crime -- the lawlessness during the Great Depression. In an era of notorious criminals such as John Dillinger and "Baby Face" Nelson, a most heinous criminal act took place in Alton -- the murder of policeman August Mayford. Unsolved to this day, this 1937 crime remains an open case in the Alton police files.

Mayford served as a patrolman and merchants' watchman in the Alton business district. During his usual rounds on the night of Oct. 16, 1937, he conversed briefly with a fellow officer, began his duties of checking the locked doors and windows -- and mysteriously vanished without a trace. On Halloween night his bullet-riddled body was discovered near Edwardsville's Cahokia Creek. It was speculated that Mayford had interrupted a crime in progress, was "taken for a ride" by the criminals and eventually murdered. No clues to the criminals' identity were ever found.

Over the years a number of ghostly sightings have been reported in downtown Alton. Witnesses report seeing "a solid, stocky man with gray hair, wearing an old-fashioned police uniform." The route taken by the apparition? The exact route Mayford took the night of his disappearance. Residents in Alton wonder if Mayford is making his nightly rounds, or is he a restless spirit due to his unsolved murder?


"Bloody Illinois" is another winner in Troy Taylor's "Dead Men Do Tell Tales" series. The book freely admits that it is not for the faint of heart. Readers who want to journey back into the chilling and unsavory side of Illinois crime will surely be thrilled with this collection of recountings from the seamy side of the state's history. This book is especially recommended for true crime fans, believers in the supernatural or paranormal, and local history enthusiasts.

[Text from file received from Richard Sumrall, Lincoln Public Library District]

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