As Irene stood before Pennsylvania’s U.S. District Court Judge Guy K. Bard on January 11, 1946, she tried to explain how she’d ended up there.
|Anderson H.S. Yearbook photo|
When she was 17-years-old, Irene had gone straight from Anderson (Indiana) High School into a marriage with 32-year-old, once divorced Paul Theodore Miller. It wasn’t necessary for Irene to lie about her age in order to marry Paul but she did. Their marriage license records Irene’s age as 19-years-old.
With her ever-present flair for the melodramatic, Irene stood in court and described Paul as “a barnstorming aviator.”
She stated that she married Paul with the understanding that he would enable her to study medicine and become a doctor.
This dream was still unfulfilled by April of 1940, at which point we find Irene and Paul living in Hapeville, Georgia. The US Census shows Paul was working as an aviator for a flying service. Hapeville is roughly 10 minutes from the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airport. There is no profession listed for Irene, just an indication that she’s a housewife.
Later that year, as the Battle of Britain was being fought, Paul was one of (ultimately) 47 American airmen to be offered a lucrative contract by British Overseas Airways on behalf of the Air Transport Auxiliary. He arrived in Canada on August 11, 1940 to begin training.
|photo and caption from www.ata.afleetingpeace.org|
According to http://ata.afleetingpeace.org/the-ata/index.php/9-lists?start=12, the pay was $150 a week (tax free), plus $10 a day whilst in transit, plus a $500 bonus at the end of the year.
Unfortunately, Paul was later returned home to the States because he wasn’t sufficiently familiar with “modern military aircraft.” He was one of 24 men rejected.
Paul must have continued his association with BOAC however, because that’s who he listed as his employer when he registered for the draft in 1941.
In 1943, Paul and Irene adopted a baby girl born in Montreal, Canada; they named her Eleanor Joanne but not even this child could save their marriage. Irene and Paul divorced.
Later that year, Irene met John Thomas Koblusz and fell in love.
John was 27-years-old, hailed from Philadelphia and was a Sgt. in the US Army, stationed at Marietta, Oklahoma.
Irene was 24-years-old, fresh off a divorce, posing as lieutenant in the Nurse Corps and inexplicably introduced herself as Tyanya Tickernowoiski. I’m not sure why she chose this alias for herself but paperwork submitted to the military bears this out. One newspaper article claims this is a name Irene used while working as a nightclub singer.
They married twice. Once in Oklahoma on July 25, 1943 and again on December 6, 1943 in Philadelphia. John was attached to the 44th Field Artillery Battalion and when he was transferred to Camp Clayborne, Irene followed.
In too deep and incapable of coming clean to John about her deception, Irene continued to illegally wear an Army nurse uniform and even promoted herself … twice. First to the rank of Captain and then Major.
At some point, Irene became concerned about the state of their marriage and decided it was time for them to start a family.
Irene told John that she would resign her commission and devote herself to motherhood. Not content to stay at home however, Irene took a job at a Shreveport, Louisiana hospital as a nursing instructor. This would serve her well.
It can’t be a surprise when I tell you that Irene soon announced the birth of twins. She wasn’t even pregnant.
When John visited his wife and newborn babies at the hospital, a student nurse who was in on the ruse, showed him a set of twins born to another woman. John then did what any responsible parent would do and he applied for additional allotments. This would be Irene’s undoing.
By the time the government caught up with Irene, John had been discharged from the Army (on November 20, 1945) and they were living in Washington, D.C..
John was there with his wife in court as she was charged with impersonating a Nurse Corp officer, illegally wearing the uniform and accepting the allotment money for her imaginary children. How much John knew by then, I’m not sure.
Judge Bard listened sympathetically.
Irene was released on 30 days’ suspended sentences on all three indictments and ordered to pay back the $440.00.
|Irene and John Kolbusz as they exit the courtroom –
Philadelphia Inquirer photo, January 12, 1946
The story doesn’t end there.
On September 25, 1950, Acting Superintendent Samuel A.Silk, M.D. signed off on paperwork declaring John to be mentally incompetent. His wife, Tyanya Koblusz aka Irene, applied for compensation benefits and, on January 18, 1951, they were approved.
John Koblusz died on September 9, 1956.
I don’t have access to John’s death certificate so I don’t know cause or place of death but I believe it’s unlikely he ever left the facility. John’s buried at Arlington National Cemetery – Section 31, Plot 7581. Plot 7580 was reserved for the future internment of his widow, who was then living in Albany, Indiana.
The story doesn’t end there.
On Wednesday, June 28, 1960, at 2:30 PM, Anderson, Indiana police received a 911 call from James Earl Conner. “I’ve accidentally shot my wife,” he told them.
Sure enough, when police arrived, Mrs. Conner was sitting on a davenport and confirmed that her husband had shot her. That’s all she told them before being rushed away in an ambulance.
Irene and James had been married for less than a year. Irene was working both as a private nurse and at the Sherman-Citron Fur Store. James Earl Conner was a self-employed contractor.
|photo from the
Anderson Herald –
June 29, 1960
Irene had been shot three times in the chest, twice in the left arm and once in the hip.
Irene’s husband, 37-year-old James Conner, was immediately held on charges of assault and battery with intent to kill.
At first, James stuck to his story that he had accidentally shot Irene while cleaning the gun, a .380 caliber Beretta automatic. Ironically, the gun was a gift from his wife.
Back at the station house, James admitted that he and Irene had been quarreling that afternoon but he claimed to not have known he’d fired the weapon until he saw the smoke coming from the barrel. He would also admit to cleaning the weapon after the shooting and before police arrived.
|photo from the
Anderson Herald –
August 6, 1960
Within 5 hours of being transported to the hospital, Irene was dead from massive internal hemorrhaging. She was 41-years-old.
On July 7, 1960, a grand jury indicted him on a second degree murder charge.
On August 5, 1960, James Conner pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received 2-21 years in prison.
I believe that he died on July 31, 1978 at the age of 55.
Irene is buried in the Matthews family plot at the East Maplewood Cemetery in Anderson, Indiana.
And what of Irene’s adopted daughter Eleanor?
She seems to have been in the care of Irene’s parents throughout all or most of this drama. It’s difficult to know without the 1950 Census.
Eleanor graduated from Anderson High School the very year her mother was shot to death.
In 1963, Eleanor graduated from Ball Memorial School of Nursing and was working as a Recovery Room R.N. at Community Hospital in 1964 when she married Thomas Joyce.