This blog entry is a lengthy one. It has to be if I’m to tell the story as completely as I can.
Because of the title I’ve settled on, I feel a brief introduction is required.
You see, these crimes certainly involve more than three mothers and I’ve written about more than two abductions however, only three of the women and two of the abductions are directly linked.
With that disclaimer out of the way …….
There has been much written about women entering the workforce during WWII, to take the place of the men who were off fighting the good fight, and rightfully so, but what about the children of these women?
I don’t think we often hear about the resultant childcare crisis. Who would watch the children while the mothers were working?
It makes sense that, much like today, either or perhaps both sets of grandparents would step in to help but what if the grandparents also had full-time jobs or lived too far away to be of any practical assistance. Or what if they were deceased?
Some working mothers were forced to leave their children in the care of strangers. What a boon for nursemaids and nannies, I suppose, but what an opportunity for baby-snatchers.
Twenty-three year old Paul Jevahirian, Sr. was serving as a Military Policeman, stationed at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. His wife Alice, nineteen-years-old, had returned to work in March of 1943, employed full-time at a war plant.
Following Alice’s return to work and Paul, Sr.’s induction in the Army, Paul, Jr. was left in the care of his paternal grandparents, Samuel and Elizabeth Jevahirian. The older couple lived at 2726 Chene Street.
Alice was living less than 10 minutes away, with her sister, Mrs. Irene Dodson at 6359 E.Lafayette Street.
Samuel (named Soukias at birth) and Elizabeth were naturalized citizens. Samuel was born in Turkey; Elizabeth came from Hungary. Both immigrated to the United States in 1918. Paul was the oldest of their 4 children.
The Jevahirian family was also known to use the last name “Diamondson” but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick to Jevahirian.
Alice’s own parents were no longer alive. Her mother Johanna had died on December 6, 1934, at the age of 37 years, from (and I’m quoting the death certificate) “right upper lobar pneumonia and portal cirrhosis.” Alice’s father Stanley, aged 47 years, died on August 10, 1941.
A housepainter by trade, Stanley Cherry died following a two story fall from a ladder. His death certificate records the cause of death as “Cardiac respiratory failure following fracture dislocation of cervical vertebrae with compression of cord.”
Following Paul, Jr.’s abduction, only the very earliest newspapers articles reference some tension between Alice and
her in-laws. This discord apparently stemmed from Sam and Elizabeth’s disapproval of the young couple’s marriage.
Perhaps this accounts for Alice consenting to leave her son in their care but opting to live with her own sister? Or was there simply no room for another adult in the Jevahirian’s home?
In 1943, Samuel Jevahirian was an electrical contractor with his own business, and his wife Elizabeth was employed by the Essex Wire Co.
No one adult or a combination of several could adequately look after Paul, Jr.. The decision was made to employ a nursemaid.
Mrs. Alice White, who must have seemed like a godsend, was hired on by Elizabeth Jevahirian to relieve the family’s burden but six days later, on June 3, 1943, Mrs. White literally walked away with Paul, Jr. and she never came back.
This was the first time Mrs. White had been left alone with the boy.
Grandmother Elizabeth Jevahirian had stayed home from work for three days, to get better acquainted with Mrs. White and to be sure things would run smoothly, before finally having to return to her job.
Neighbors reported seeing Mrs. White leave the family’s apartment the morning of June 3rd with Paul, Jr. in tow, around 11 AM.
Jevahirian wasn’t made aware of the situation until 11:30 PM on the night
of the abduction. The last time Alice had spent time with her son was
four days prior and the visit had been very brief – just a quick “hello,” “goodbye” and “I love you.”
Paul, Sr. was not immediately contacted but it soon became abundantly clear that Mrs. White wasn’t going to return and that the boy’s father would need to be informed. Especially as the Detroit Free Press was already running articles about Paul, Jr.’s disappearance.
And while Mrs. White didn’t leave the family entirely without hope, this was most likely a stalling tactic rather than a kindness.
On June 4th, a telegram from Mrs. White, originating from the Greyhound Bus Station, was received by Paul, Jr.’s grandparents.
The telegram, which had been sent not to the Jevaharian home but a nearby grocery store, read: “Sorry, won’t be able to take care of Paul. My sister is dead. The baby is safe with a lady with whom I stay. She has your address. I will see you either tomorrow or Saturday.”
This mystery woman might have their address but the Jevahirians didn’t have hers. And, now that they think about it, what did they really know about Mrs. White?
According to the grandmother, Mrs. White had refused to talk about her past life and didn’t disclose where she had lived previously.
The only information the Jevahirians could tell the police was that Mrs. White was:
5 foot 6 inches tall, she weighed about 135 pounds, had (obviously) dyed red hair, blue-green eyes and was roughly forty years old. Mrs. White spoke with a southern drawl and seemed to have limited use of one arm … but was it her left or her right?
receiving a frantic telegram from Alice, Paul, Sr. was granted
emergency leave. He returned to Detroit on June 9th.
can stay until June 22,” Paul, Sr. told Detroit Free Press reporter
Katherine Lynch. “I pray all the time that we’ll find the baby before I
have to leave. The awful thing is the waiting. We’re afraid to go out,
because some word might come.”
Alice said, “I haven’t any feeling about whether the baby’s all right. I’m afraid to have.”
As far as physical evidence which may help identify Mrs. White, The Detroit Free Press reported:
“Mrs. White, the family said, had no personal effects when she was employed, and left nothing behind except a cheap striped wash dress which she had bought this week. It was a size 16.”
The police dusted the nursery for fingerprints and retrieved partial prints (two fingers only) from a bottle of hand lotion.
FBI was unable to step in because Paul, Jr. had not been missing for
the requisite 7 days nor had there been a ransom demand.
wasn’t any proof that the child had been transported across state
lines so the Lindbergh Law (in effect since 1932) wasn’t applicable. However, the FBI’s Special Investigation Squad followed the case
closely and recorded any information that might lead to the child’s
There was significant press coverage of the abduction and several tips came in, each one giving the Jevahirians hope, but none of them led to the recovery of their son:
– On June 6th, Ferndale (Michigan) resident Mrs. Naomi Condon, reported that Mrs. Alice White might have been a nursemaid who quit her employ a year ago. There was no proof that the two women were the same but police listened.
– Also on June 6th, a man, not identified by name to newspapers, contacted the Ypsilanti (Michigan) State Police because the description of Mrs. Alice White sounded like his mother, also named Alice.
His mother, who worked in Detroit homes, was a drug addict and was already known to Federal Narcotics Bureau.
The man reported that a taxi cab pulled up outside of his home the evening of the abduction, or perhaps it was the following night, but nobody exited the vehicle. It was his mother’s habit to not approach the house if she could see her son already had visitors and he was certainly entertaining friends that evening.
Detroit police asked the Ypsilanti State Police to check all the taxicab drivers in the city to see if any of them drove a woman to that address.
– On June 9th, the Board of Wayne County Supervisors offered a $250 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Paul, Jr.’s kidnapper.
– On June 15th, the Detroit Police Dept. offered an additional $250 for information leading to Mrs. White’s apprehension.
– On July 1st, 10,000 circulars bearing Paul, Jr.’s likeness began to be widely distributed throughout North America and even Central America. Paul was described as:
“weighing between 25 and 30 pounds, is fair skinned, with blond hair, blue eyes and a noticeable lump on the bridge of his nose. He has four upper and four lower front teeth.”
In the days before DNA swabs, footprint images inked at the time of Paul, Jr.’s birth, would be the Jevahirian’s best tool to match
any child suspected of being their son. Unfortunately, Paul, Jr.’s
set of prints were smudged. This would be a problem throughout the search.
A second set of footprint impressions, taken by Paul, Sr. for his son’s baby book, proved helpful but there were issues with those as well.
Thomas A. Dwyer, Detroit police identification bureau head, was highly critical of the footprinting work being done by the Highland Park General Hospital. Dwyer felt the over-inking of Paul, Jr.’s feet resulted in “blurred and distorted” prints which would make positive identification impossible.
In November 1944, Thomas Dwyer took it upon himself to visit the hospital and instruct nurses in the proper technique.
Paul, Sr., who was stationed in Texas at the time of his son’s abduction, eventually obtained a transfer to Selfridge Field in Harrison Township, Michigan, roughly 30 miles northeast of his parents house.
The Jevahirians continued to look for Paul, Jr. and/or Alice White.
In addition to impulsively peeking into any passing baby carriages and following women who looked Mrs. White, the Jevahirians worked hard at keeping their son’s name in the newspaper and they were a regular presence at Police Headquarters.
Even joyous occasions such as the birth of a second child, their daughter Marlene, became an opportunity to remind the public that Paul, Jr. was still missing.
A photo of mother and daughter was printed in the Detroit Free Press on October 15, 1944.
“If the Free Press publishes her picture, someone may remember seeing a boy baby who looked like her,” the mother said with tears in her eyes. “I suppose he looks very different. He’d be walking and talking by now.”
Alice also told the reporter she was reluctant to leave Marlene alone for even a minute. Who could blame her?
“Just being away from her frightens me,” she said. “Even when I know relatives are watching her, I’m scared. I have to keep reassuring myself that she’s safe.”
A third child, their daughter Lois, joined the family in in 1945. A photo of Alice and the girls appeared in the Detroit Press on August 8, 1948 above the headline
Alice’s reported impressions of Mrs. White would mutate over the years.
In an article published by the Detroit Free Press on June 3, 1944, the one year anniversary of Paul’s abduction, contained this passage:
They remember ‘Alice White’ well as five feet six inches tall, about 35 years old, with a long thin face, blue-green eyes, heavy-lensed glasses, speaking with a slight southern drawl. They did not know her background, but remember that she seemed to have money and “spoke in a cultured way.” It did seem odd, they recalled, that she worked as a nursemaid but “she was so good with the baby.”
At the time of the above interview, Paul was home on a 60 day furlough.
In 1948, Alice told the Detroit Free Press that she had intended to fire Mrs. White on June 4th, one day after her son was stolen.
“Mrs. Jevahirian could not endure coming home every evening and finding Paul crying. At best, it did not indicate a fondness for children on the nurse’s part.”
Throughout the years, whenever
there was an account of either a suspicious private adoption, an abandoned baby
or an abduction similar to their son’s, the Jevahirians were there.
notable kidnapping in which Alice became interested was the 1944 abduction of four-month-old Robert James King from his home at 11431 Minden Avenue. This address was a quick 15 minute drive from 2726 Chene Street.
On the evening of Saturday, September 30, 1944, Clarence and Katherine King left their four-month-old son in the care of their newly-hired housemaid Helen Rosman. They wanted to have a belated celebration of Mr. King’s birthday by going to the movies so earlier in the week they asked Helen if she would be willing to watch Bobby for several hours on Saturday.
Their eldest son, seventeen-year-old Emory, a student at Denby High School, was out of the house that evening as well, attending a party for a serviceman buddy. This was the first time Helen would be left alone with Bobby.
Kidnapping for profit didn’t seem likely. Mr. King, as an assistant sales manager for the Benjamin Rich Realty Company, was, as the Detroit Free Press described him, “a man of modest means.”
Miss Rosman had been employed by the Mr. & Mrs. King only one week earlier, on September 23rd (Clarence’s 40th birthday). Helen had answered an ad placed in a Detroit newspaper. The Kings were looking for a high school girl to do house work and care for a baby during the after school hours.
Unlike “Alice White,” when Helen applied for the position she was very forthcoming with many personal details.
Helen told the Kings she lived with her parents on E. Arizona Street; her father was employed by Ford Motors; Helen’s mother disapproved of her having boyfriends but she did have a sweetheart who went to Cooley High School; she was senior student at Northern High School and planned to study child psychology at the University of Michigan after graduation.
Helen provided but reclaimed, a letter of reference from a former employer, a Detroit doctor who was currently in the military.
Mrs. King, thirty-six-years old, was so impressed that she didn’t bother to check up on the validity of these “facts.”
As the week progressed, Mrs. King found Helen to be a competent housekeeper and thought the girl was particularly good at caring for little Bobby. Helen reported for work at 2 PM and usually left the King house each evening at 8 PM.
After the disappearance of Bobby, police detectives did a house to house on E. Arizona Street and couldn’t find anyone who knew the Rosman family. They also checked with residents of E. Philadelphia Street because the Kings recalled Helen saying she had also lived there at one time. The principal of Northern High School was unable to locate a record for Helen Rosman.
“Eighteen years old, but looks a few years older. She is five feet six inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds. She has a dark complexion, dark eyes, thick lips, and dark, kinky hair. Spoke with a slight accent, wore rimless glasses and claimed to be of French-Jewish extraction. When last seen she was wearing a red skirt, a blue-green blouse, black shoes and a full-length, black, form-fitting coat.”
Despite Helen’s claims of a Jewish-French background, the police wondered if perhaps she had “some Negro blood.”
– A DSR (Department of Street Railways) bus driver, Oscar Edwards, told police he had picked up a young girl who matched that description at 9:14 PM Saturday night. She was carrying a baby wrapped in a pink blanket. She boarded the bus at the corner of Gunston Street and E. McNichols Road. He had let her off at McNichols and Gratiot Avenue.
– A woman working the information desk at the Union Depot, Miss Betty Atkinson, told police a young girl carrying a baby and matching that description came to her counter at 9:30 AM Sunday, in the company of two men, and asked when the next train to Pittsburgh would be leaving. It would be a 3 hours wait, the train was leaving at 12:30 PM.
– A woman answering Helen’s description had entered a Unionville, Michigan restaurant the morning of Sunday, Oct 1st and asked a waitress to heat the baby’s bottle. The woman spoke with a southern accent and was in the company of two men. They left in a car heading east.
Every lead had to be investigated. The
detectives assumed that the abduction was planned in advance. They rationalized that
Helen had left the King household shortly after the couple went out for
the evening. Helen had a four hour head start before the Kings called the
Copies of Bobby’s footprints would be sent to police departments throughout the country for comparison.
Police also heard from Mrs. Helen Reid, of 2100 Junction Avenue.
On Labor Day of 1944, Mrs. Reid had advertised for a middle-aged woman to care for her child. A woman identifying herself “Helen Rosman” and giving her age as forty-years-old had phoned Mrs. Reid to apply for the job.
When Mrs. Reid met the woman she realized Helen was much younger than she said and Mrs. Reid refused to hire her. It didn’t help Helen’s cause that the address she had given as her home address was a location on Livernois Avenue. Mrs. Reid realized that was a gas station.
As was the case in the abduction of Paul Jevahirian, Jr., the FBI was prohibited from entering the investigation until October 8th, 7 days after the investigation had begun.
The Police Department’s Investigation Bureau found a single thumb print on a drinking glass in the King home and they believed it be the kidnapper’s print. It was Helen who had washed the dinner dishes that evening.
Wayne County authorities authorized a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the kidnapper.
Druggists were asked to pay attention to anyone buying the specific ingredients little Bobby needed for his colic.
Detroit Free Press sent portrait artist Karl Larsen to the King home so
he could work with Katherine King to draw a sketch of “Helen.”
On October 4th, the likeness was printed on the newspaper’s front page.
An open letter to “Helen Rosman,” penned by Detroit Free Press staff writer Kathleen Lynch, appeared on the front page of the newspaper’s Thursday, October 5th edition, urging the young woman to do the right thing – return the baby to his rightful parents.
The author tells Helen that Mrs. King has been destroyed by the loss of her child –
You know what a frail little woman she is. She hasn’t slept much since you left. She talks and moves jerkily. Her voice is almost a whisper. There are dark circles under her eyes.
She sits and stares into space a lot of the time, and she keeps remembering that she trusted you because you were so fond of the baby.
But your love for the baby, Helen, is less than hers, however much you love him. Remember that he is her own son.
You don’t want to give Robert up now. Think how you would feel if he were your own baby. You would never get over losing him.
No doubt, Alice Jevahirian read this same newspaper and thought of Paul, Jr – missing since June 3, 1943.
On Saturday, October 7th, 1944, Mrs. King answered the telephone and listened to a weeping woman saying, “Bobby is well but I can’t bring him back.”
physical description did not, in any way, match “Alice White” but maybe there was a sophisticated baby-snatching ring operating in the
While Alice most likely followed the case with great interest and empathy, it seemed unlikely that a resolution in this case would lead to the recovery of her own son.
McKee, a janitor at the Federal Building in Detroit, was at the St. Stephen A.M.E. Church (6000 Stanford St*), when he noticed a light-skinned, blue-eyed baby in the arms of Mrs. Eleanor Smith.
(*now John E. Hunter Drive)
Knowing it would be highly unlikely for a blue-eyed baby to be born to two black parents, McKee phoned a tip into the Detroit Times newspaper. The newspaper contacted the police. The date was Sunday, October 8th, 1944.
Mrs. Smith, 32 -years-old, had been a member of the church’s congregation since 1939. She’d previously sang in the choir and had even taught a Sunday school class in the junior department. The hint of a southern accent could be attributed to the fact that Eleanor was born and raised in Arkansas.
According to Eleanor, before she reached her destination, the baby was born two months prematurely in The Wesley Memorial Hospital in Chicago. When Eleanor returned home, it was without their son.
“Eugene, Jr.” was still a patient at the Chicago hospital. Eleanor’s cousin would be bringing their son to Detroit by train as soon as he was healthy enough to travel. That joyous day was September 30th, 1944.
Eugene said Eleanor insisted that she go alone to the train station to meet her cousin. He didn’t see the light-skinned, blue-eyed child until 11:30 that night. He was immediately suspicious, as was Eugene’s mother.
Eugene began making quiet inquiries with the Chicago hospital; his suspicions were confirmed. There was no record of Eleanor giving birth at the hospital but Eugene loved his wife too much to call the police.
George D. McKee, however had no such reservations.
Eleanor was reluctant to show them her baby but, when pressed, she allowed them a quick peek and made a point of showing them a grayish “birthmark” on the sleeping child’s forehead.
“Your baby didn’t have that,” Eleanor informed them.
Mr. King insisted the Smith baby’s feet and Eleanor’s fingerprints be inked for comparison. This happened at 6 PM. By 6:30, Inspector George McLellan was satisfied that the prints didn’t match and everyone left. Detective Paul A. Wencel hadn’t even entered the house.
Emory King told police “I know there can’t be two women who look as much alike as that.”
Remarkably, the police didn’t detain Eleanor Smith or even
leave an officer at the scene to assure she didn’t disappear….again.
The set of finger and foot prints were turned over to the department head, Inspector Thomas Dwyer. Dwyer left them on his desk and went home.
Police Commissioner John F. Ballenger had been informed that the prints didn’t match; he too went home.
Hours later, Detective John Orlikowski, an identification officer who was working late, decided to enlarge the prints and have a closer look.
Only then, at 12:10 AM on October 11th, did police return to arrest Eleanor Smith. Mrs. Smith continued to insist she did not steal another woman’s baby.
October 12th newspapers carried the announcement by police of Mrs. Smith’s full confession.
Commissioner Ballenger hadn’t heard the good news until 7 AM that morning. He quickly launched an investigation into the “bungling” by the detectives. All involved denied any culpability.
On October 13th, newspapers reported on Mrs. Smith’s staunch denial of the confession and the fact that she was on a hunger strike.
Eleanor was visited in prison by her pastor, the Rev. W.E. Walker, on Saturday October 14th; he brought her a basket of fruit and the hunger strike ended.
“I’m proud of my family and my husband and my baby and myself.
“I’ve never done a thing in my life to be ashamed of. I’ve never been arrested or done a wrong thing since I was born. My conscience doesn’t bother me.”
Eugene, Sr. confirmed that his wife had suffered a miscarriage early in their marriage and he said she had been quite grief-stricken at the time.
The “birthmark” was subsequently wiped off by Mrs. King with a warm washcloth. Mrs. King also had to wipe away a layer or two of sun tan oil.
A sympathetic Katherine King told reporters, “I know she (Eleanor) took Bobby because she wanted a baby. I suppose her desire for a child had unbalanced her. She has caused me terrible grief but I can’t help feeling sorry for her.”
Mrs. King told a Herald Press reporter that she attributed his rescue to his blue eyes.
“We can thank God for that,” she sighed with relief yesterday as the child slept in his crib. “Otherwise he might never have been found.”
her October 13, 1944 arraignment on kidnapping charges, Eleanor Smith
entered a plea of not guilty and she was held on $25,000 bond.
Two days later, The Detroit Free Press revealed that they had tracked down Eleanor’s 1938 divorce decree from husband James Barnett and the document stated no children had been born to the couple during the marriage.
Eleanor’s statement to the police following her October 11th arrest, aka her confession, was later presented in court.
The specifics of Eleanor’s October 11th confession were printed in the Detroit Free Press on October 26, 1944. This included news that she had delivered a still-born child in her cousin’s Chicago home on June 20th:
Mrs. Smith related, according to the statement, that she had left Detroit intending to visit her mother in Metropolis, Ill.
En route, the statement declared, she became ill before the train reached Chicago. She left the train when it reached that city and went to the home of a cousin, Mrs. Ossie Harris.
The dead child was born a few hours after her arrival, the statement continued, with a midwife who lived in the same building in attendance.
Before her return to Detroit July 5, the statement said, Mrs. Smith had been treated under an assumed name and as a day patient at the Wesley Memorial Hospital.
Despite the above remarks, Eleanor Smith continued to insist Bobby King was her child.
At a hearing before Judge Gerald Groat, Mrs. Leon Grant, a neighbor of the Smith family, testified that she had spoken with Eleanor on September 30th and “Mrs. Smith told me she was to meet her cousin who would bring the baby born three months previously to her in Chicago.” This, the prosecution felt, showed intent and planning by Eleanor to steal the child.
“The next day I saw the baby for the first time,” Mrs. Grant continued. “I noticed that it had a light complexion, but I didn’t doubt it was Mrs. Smith’s baby.”
On December 30, 1944, a three person sanity commission was appointed, at the request of Eleanor’s attorneys, to determine their defendant’s mental state.
On January 19, 1945, Eleanor was deemed unfit and suffering from a mental disorder. She was committed to Ionia State Hospital aka The Michigan State Asylum.
On June 25, 1945, Eugene Smith filed for divorce, citing “cruelty.” On October 8, 1945, the divorce became final. On January 6, 1946, Eugene, then 36, married 18-year-old Marie Lavern Snyder.
I cannot find any evidence of a trial, which would have taken place upon Eleanor being declared “fit for trial.” This doesn’t necessarily mean she was an inmate of Ionia State Hospital until her death.
I’m not able to verify either exactly when Eleanor died. One Ancestry family tree lists a date of death for Eleanor Tyson (her maiden name) as February 11, 1993 but the woman’s date of birth doesn’t match Eleanor’s actual birth certificate – which I’ve seen.
On November 30, 1944, Detective John Orlikowski was given a belated citation for his efforts in identifying the two sets of prints. A few weeks later, Orlikowski, citing “eye strain,” asked for a transfer to the Missing Persons Bureau.
Veteran police reporters believed Inspector Thomas Dwyer, who was bitter over the reprimand he had received for his own mishandling of the fingerprint evidence, was at the heart of Orlikowski’s request.
Orlikowski’s desire to move on was good news for three other departments who made it known they’d be happy to have him.
The $500 reward offered by Wayne County for Bobby King’s return was split between George D. McKee and Claude Bender (whoever he is).
The Kings had their happy ending but what about the Jevahirians? Would they be as fortunate?
October 7, 1944 (one week after Bobby King was abducted), another child
was stolen in a manner very similar to Paul, Jr.’s abduction.
this happened one state to the south and 220 miles away from the Jevahrian’s home, police and
reporters quickly made the connection.
Ronald Eugene Thompson, 20-months-old, had been whisked away from his Dayton, Ohio home by his recently hired nanny “Mrs. Mary Wilkey.” *Quick note – the woman’s last name has also been spelled “Wilkie” but, wanting to keep it consistent, I will only use the “Wilkey” spelling.
father, Arthur C. Thompson, a 35-year-old Army private, was serving overseas in
France at the time of the abduction.
Mary Wilkey came to be employed by Anna Thompson after answering this help wanted ad which appeared in the Dayton Herald newspaper on October 3rd.:
Woman to care for small child in exchange for home and wages; mother registered nurse. MA 1937
Anna had already been sharing her apartment at 210 Klee Street for a brief period of time with Mrs. Elizabeth (Betty) Elworth, aged 24, a newlywed woman who’s husband Raymond was likewise serving overseas.
However, Betty had chosen to move out three weeks prior to the abduction because she had become ill and was afraid to pass the cold along to Ronnie.
“Ronnie got the cold, anyway,” Mrs. Elworth said bitterly. “I shouldn’t have given up my job and this never would have happened.”
Mary Wilkey entered their lives at 8 PM on Friday October 6, 1944. The interview went well. Ronnie seemed to like Mrs. Wilkey and she liked him.
Mary Wilkey explained that she was a widow who had raised three boys of her own; all three sons were currently in the military. Mary said she had lived in Dayton 20 years earlier and had come back to Dayton now to visit with one of her sons and his wife while he was on furlough. Mary said she would be ready to start work the following day.
The next morning, as promised, Mrs. Wilkey knocked on the door of 128 McClure Street, the home of Ronnie’s maternal grandparents.
Days after his abduction, Anna Thompson told a reporter from the Dayton Daily News about the last time she had seen her son, at 9:30 AM Saturday, October 7th:
“The woman was going to take him for a walk. Usually, he doesn’t want to go with strangers, even with his grandmother, if I am around, so I ducked into the house, and she led him away. I peeked out the window to see how they were getting along, and I saw them at the corner, crossing the street. He was quite excited, because a horse was passing by. He look so tiny, and so eager. He just has to come back.”
Mary Wilkey never returned.
Anna Thompson grew increasingly anxious and at 10:45 she left the house to find the pair.
Anna checked in with two barber shops. No luck.
“I thought maybe the were lost, so I drove around,” Anna said, “but there was no sign of them. By this time I was getting nervous. After noon, one of my brothers drove me down to the bus depot. I went in, looked all over for them.
“But I didn’t say a word to anyone in the station. Now I realize that if I had just asked someone there …”
They drove back home.
At 2:45 PM that day the Wakers received a Western Union telegram from Mrs. Wilkey:
“We phoned. Unable to reach you. I phoned this friend I spoke of (the one 20 miles away). She has a fracture and would be unable to bring my baggage over. The nurse is taking care of Ronnie so I didn’t change your plans. We will be there at 6 P.M. today. I don’t think it will be necessary. If delayed we will be there Monday in the daytime. Everything is ok. Don’t worry. Sorry.”
They phoned the police immediately.
Police confirmed that Mary Wilkey and Ronnie had actually appeared at one of the two the barber shop Anna had checked, twice. The barber didn’t recall their pressence until later. On each occasion the shop was crowded and Mary told the barber she would try again later.
Detectives traced the telegram as being relayed from a public phone at the Greyhound bus station. The message was filed at 12:59 PM, with instructions that it be delivered between 1:15 and 2 PM. Only two buses leave the station during that hour, one to Columbus and other points east and the other south, to Lexington, KY, and other points.
The two hour delay in delivering the telegram stemmed from the fact that the last name of Waker was misspelled as “Walker.”
On October 11th, the Dayton police initiated an eight state alert for “Mary Wilkey.”
in nearby Detroit were quick to
see the similarities between the kidnapping of Ronnie Thompson and their own open investigation into the abduction of Paul Jevahirian, Jr.
Four thousand circulars were printed for distribution throughout the United States and parts of Canada.
|Dayton Herlad (Oct. 13, 1944)|
Betty Ellsworth moved back into the Klee Street apartment on Saturday (Oct. 7th), to comfort her friend.
Here is a recounting of the attempt in an article from the October 13, 1944 (Friday) edition of the Dayton Herald:
Betty had left the apartment Wednesday evening for the first time to go to a movie, and had returned around 2 a.m. yesterday
She had told Mrs. Thompson she was writing a letter to her husband shortly after she came home, and went into the bathroom to take a few of the sleeping tablets, apparently to induce sleep. She started to make a telephone call and fell to the floor. Mrs. Thompson heard the noise and carried the girl to the davenport, where she remained in a deep sleep until 1 p.m. yesterday.
About 2 p.m. she rose, went to the bathroom again, and swallowed a handful of the tablets before Mrs. Thompson could stop her. Mrs. Thompson, night nurse supervisor of St. Ann’s hospital, immediately called an ambulance and took the girl to St. Elizabeth Hospital. Attendants said the victim would “sleep off” the effects of the tablets until today, but would suffer no ill results after treatment.
Betty left behind a barely legible note, dated “Oct. 12, 3:37 a.m.:
Remember I love you and God keep you safe. Perhaps this is wrong but my life may bring back Anna Mary’s little baby. I hope it isn’t in vain. If I had left her this wouldn’t have happened.”
Anyone desperate for clues as to Ronnie’s whereabouts might have thought Betty was admitting to having played a part in the child’s abduction when they saw she’d written “If I had left her this wouldn’t have happened.”
However, the police investigated this angle and Chief R.F. Wurstner determined Betty was innocent. He believed Betty had meant to write “If I had not left her …” and simply omitted the word “not.” This sentiment mirrored her previous comment.
Betty was treated at St. Elizabeth Hospital and released into the care of her in-laws.
was the case with Paul, Jr.’s abduction, Ronnie Thompson’s father was the last
one to know his son was missing. Word didn’t reach Pvt. Arthur C. Thompson until October 28,
1944 – three weeks after his son was taken.
The Thompson family, like the Jevahirians, had their own share of false leads and crushing disappointments.
A sleeping, half-starved and naked young boy, abandoned in a Seattle hotel was found by a maid on November 6, 1944. It was possible this was Ronnie Thompson.
Baggage containing men’s and women’s clothing had also been found in the room.
|AP Wirephoto of “Jackie”|
A photo of the boy, who called himself “Jackie,” was sent via Acme telephoto to Fostoria, Ohio (not Dayton) on November 9th. Jackie did bear a resemblance to Ronnie.
Even Grandma Waker said, “If you cover up the shoulders in this picture it certainly looks like Ronnie. And you can’t tell exactly, since the circular picture of Ronnie, enlarged, looks older than Ronnie does.”
Anna Thompson’s hopes were dashed when she read the description of “Jackie.” This boy, in addition to being 3-years-old had blue eyes – not brown. Also, she could see in the photo that the child’s ears were too large and his face too broad for it to be Ronnie.
Jackie’s real mother, Neta Beckwith, saw the same photo in her Seattle newspaper and recognizing that to be her son, phoned the police.
She had separated from William A. Beckwith earlier in the year, and although Neta had been awarded custody of their son after the separation. Neta
Beckwith told police she’d turned their son over to William because she did not
have sufficient room for him at her residence.
William A. Beckwith, aged 29, was arrested when he walked into the Seattle hotel. He claimed his son’s name was William L. Beckwith not Jackie and that he had left his son in the care of an 18-year-old “nanny.”
Curiously, when the nanny registered at the hotel with “Jackie” at 3 PM on Monday she presented herself as “Mrs. James Yost” and said the boy was her nephew. She checked in, then walked out – leaving Jackie and the luggage behind.
She returned at 11 PM and when “Ms. Yost” learned that police had Jackie in custody, she took off; without retrieving her luggage.
Police suspected Mr. Beckwith was attempting to cover up the true nature of his relationship with “Mrs. James Yost.”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Beckwith were charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”
This seems a little unfair to Neta Beckwith since she wasn’t involved in the incident at the hotel. However, she was the legal guardian for her son.
Trouble with the law was nothing new to William A. Beckwith.
William was arrested in December 1942 for failure to make child support payments to his first wife, Winifred.
|Seattle Star (Dec. 11, 1942)|
William and Winifred had married on June 6, 1936; they divorced on December 26, 1939; the union produced two daughters, June (b. 1936) and Peggy (b. 1939).
Under the terms of the 1939 divorce decree, William was to pay Winifred $25 a month in child support. At the time of his 1942 arrest, William owed Winifred $1072.
William had married his second wife, Neta on March 11, 1941 and they had started family of their own.
On December 11, 1942, reacting to the predicament he’d found himself in, William said, “I was all set to take my first wife to lunch after court – but all of the sudden the judge makes a decision. And look what happens to me … I’m in jail.
“I had no idea that I would end up in jail yesterday when I started out for court. My former wife and I have been good friends and we were going to have lunch together after the court hearing. But we ate alone … me in jail.
“I don’t know how they can expect me to pay all of this back money for my two daughters and still support my son,” William mused.
After serving one week of his six month sentence, William A. Beckwith agreed to pay Winifred $100 in cash and he promised to keep up with the $25 support payments.
“I sure don’t like jail,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to get a better job now that the one I had – because supporting two families takes a lot of money.”
Whatever new personal drama awaited the Beckwith family, it now meant nothing to the Thompsons.
Thompson had been in Fostoria when the photo of “Jackie” came through because she was pursuing another lead. There was a tip about a
man with long reddish brown hair who might actually be a woman in
individual, claiming to be an Indian “herb doctor,” had appeared in
Fostoria on Thursday, November 2nd and left his car with a friend for
repairs. He was due back on Thursday the 9th.
Mrs. Thompson had driven 2 hours on the hope that this crazy lead panned out – it did not.
On November 10, 1944, Alice Jevahirian and Anna Thompson spoke over the telephone for 20 minutes.
Alice asked if “Mary Wilkey” had freckles across her nose and Anna confirmed she did.
They both recalled their nursemaid mentioning she would be able to go for a ride in a friend’s car from time to time and asked if would be alright to take the baby along.
The more they talked, the more the two women were convinced they had lost their son to the same woman.
In mid-November 1944, the Jevahrians waited to hear if Paul, Jr.’s smudged footprints matched one of two babies abandoned in Dayton, Ohio. There was no match.
December 15, 1944, Pvt. Arthur Thompson suffered a nervous breakdown and spent months
in a series of hospitals in France, England and finally Tennessee.
March 19, 1945, Arthur returned to Dayton for a 30 day furlough. His
first stop was Police Headquarters. When the furlough ended, Arthur
boarded a train that would take him back to the Army hospital in
On April 26, 1945, the FBI called Anna Thompson … four times … and told her to get ready to travel to Chicago. They thought Ronnie had been found.
A young boy of Ronnie’s age and description had been offered to a waitress, Mrs. James Bagley, for adoption, which seemed suspicious.
Detective Edward Kirby had heard of the adoption and seen the child at the restaurant where Mrs. Bagley worked. Mrs. Bagley mentioned that the mother failed to keep a scheduled appointment to sign some paperwork and then she seemed to disappear from her room at 4539 Lake Park Avenue.
Chicago detectives noticed some physical similarities between this boy and Ronnie Thompson.
The boy was placed in a Chicago orphanage, pending a positive identification. An Acme Telephoto image was wired to Dayton.
Anna thought the resemblance was close enough that she wanted to meet the boy. But she had her doubts.
The Chicago police said the boy’s eyes were blue-gray while Ronnie’s were brown with a hazel-gray tinge. And the right ear of the boy lacked the distinctive inward bend found at the top of Ronnie’s right ear.
Still, both boys had blonde hair and a doctor who examined the Chicago lad said he was without a single birthmark. She couldn’t not look for herself.
“Some of those pictures showed quite a resemblance to Ronnie,” Anna told the press. “But from pictures alone, I didn’t know. I felt if I could see his actions, then I might now.”
However, thirty-five minutes before Anna and her mother were due to board a Chicago-bound train, word reached them that the young boy’s biological mother had come forward.
Mrs. Evelyn Kenning, 20-years-old, told police and the Assistant State Attorney that she was the birth mother of Thomas Allen McGuire, who was then 2 years and 7 months old. Thomas had been born in St. Vincent’s orphanage on September 9, 1942.
Mrs. Kenning confirmed that she had agreed to allow Mr. and Mrs. James Bagley to adopt her son. And it’s true that she failed to show up at the office of the Bagley’s attorney, Rudolph Johnson, to draw up the agreement but it was because she had mislaid her legal documents and then had forgotten the name of the lawyer.
“Maybe next time it will be Ronnie,” Anna Thompson told herself and the press.
Three months later, police tried to connect the abduction of Ronnie Thompson with the abduction of another boy.
On July 3, 1945 (a Tuesday), four-year-old Peter Watson disappeared in Buffalo, New York.
|Daily News (Aug. 26, 1945)|
Forty-year-old Mrs. Evada Watson, of Crystal Beach, Ontario, said she had last seen her son Peter when a casual acquaintance took her son shopping for new suit. The woman, “Mrs. Mary Taylor,” did not come back.
Dayton, Ohio police took a hard look at the case to see if there was a possible connection to the abduction of Ronnie Thompson.
One odd thing about the abduction of Peter Watson is that his mother waited until July 11th, eight days after her son disappeared, before contacting the police.
Evada Watson, who had two older sons, aged 15 and 16, would later explain her delay and the odd circumstances of the abduction.
This account is from the New York Daily News:
“I know I have been criticized for not reporting his disappearance sooner. I had just checked out of a Buffalo hotel with Peter and we were going to take the boat back to Crystal Beach, and I stopped in at a tavern to buy some cigarettes. This woman (Mrs. Jones) bought Peter popcorn and stuff and finally she said something about the dirt on Peter’s suit.
“I apologized for his suit, and she said she would take him out and buy him a cowboy or Indian suit.
“I said I would go too but she said, ‘No, you stay here and we’ll be right back.’ They went out, his hand in hers.
“I never gave that woman any consent to take Peter beyond the store. I waited there for a couple of hours and sent a man out to look for them.
“I came back to the tavern Saturday and again Sunday. (Peter had disappeared the preceding Tuesday.)Finally I reported to the police.”
At 6 A.M., on August 1, 1945, Peter and “Mrs. Mary Taylor” were found, safe and sound, at a bus station in Meridian, Mississippi.
Venda said she would have readily returned to Buffalo if she knew the police were looking for her.
Mrs. Taylor-Jones was arrested; she waived extradition and stuck by her story that Evada Watson, whom she had met in a Buffalo tavern, knew not to expect to see Peter for some time.
When the police found the two, they were at the bus station getting ready to leave for Baltimore, Maryland.
Venda also told police she was a newlywed. She had married Alfred H. Jones the day before she was arrested … in Monroe, Louisiana. This accounts for the newly hyphenated name.
According to Venda, she hadn’t heard from her first husband, Edward Taylor, since he was inducted into the Navy. She “took it for granted that he had been killed in action.”
Back in Buffalo, Mrs. Taylor-Jones, unable to come up with her $25,000 bail, was remanded to jail. Mrs. Watson was held as a material witness; her bail was set at $100.
As she sat in prison, Venda had time to reconsider the conversation she had with Evada Watson before walking off with her son.
This is a letter, courtesy of the NY Daily News, is one Venda wrote to Evada as she was awaiting trial:
I guess you were right. I was drunk that day and I remember asking you to let me have Peter for a month, but I guess it was in my mind that you said yes. I am going to tell them in court, but just remember this: I had no intention of keeping him. I am sorry it had to happen. At least it will teach me a lesson not to drink any more. I guess a lot of us need a lesson once in a while. All I can say is I am sorry it happened.”
Mrs. Watson, showing no bitterness and plenty of forgiveness, asked for permission to visit Venda in prison and she was planing to bring Peter with her.
On September 28, 1945, Venda Florence Taylor-Jones was exonerated. A grand jury ruled in her favor and no charges were filed.
There was zero connection between this bizarre incident and the abduction of Ronnie Thompson.
Apparently, Alice was looking over a vacant room to rent at a boarding house at 97 Winder Street in Detroit when she found a small photo left behind by a previous tenant. Alice was in the company of an unnamed friend at the time, so perhaps it was her friend who was in need of lodging.
|D.F.P. (March 14, 1946)|
Tucked in to the edge of a mirror was a small snapshot of a woman who bore a striking resemblance to “Alice White.” What are the chances?
Not trusting her own eyes, especially as she herself had only seen Mrs. White once … nearly three years ago, Alice Jevahirian showed the photo to her mother-in-law, Elizabeth.
“That’s Alice White,” the older woman exclaimed. “I’ve looked at hundreds of pictures and the minute I saw this one I knew it was Alice. If it isn’t her, it most certainly must be her twin sister.”
Mrs. Mildred Martin, an employee of a dress shop in Detroit who had seen Mrs. White daily during the week before the abduction also identified the picture as “Alice White or a girl who bears an amazing resemblance to her.”
The next person who needed to see the snapshot was Mrs. Anna Thompson. In exchange for an exclusive, a reporter from the Dayton Daily News was happy to oblige. “It resembles her very much,” Anna said.”It’s the closest resemblance to her I have ever seen.”
She added, “I never saw Mary Wilkey smile but I’m sure that is the way she would look. The resemblance is remarkable. The woman in the picture has good teeth and that is one of the things I remember about Mrs. Wilkey.”
The apartment’s previous tenant was “Howard Simpson,” a man who had occupied the room from November 9-23, 1945. Other tenants of the house said the woman was a friend of Howard’s.
It was theorized that “Howard Simpson” was an alias because, according to a Detroit News reporter, “people living at that apartment seldom used their correct names.”
The photo ran in several newspapers with an appeal for the public to help identify this woman.
I don’t know if either “Alice White” or “Mary Wilkey” were concerned about the publication of that snapshot but 18-year-old Mrs. Bernadine Ward of Port Huron, Michigan was certainly nervous.
|D.F.P. (March 15, 1946)|
“It’s my picture,” she told Inspector George B. McLellan, “but I don’t know anything about the kidnapping. I was scared to death when I saw it.”
Mrs. Ward said she had given the snapshot, taken at a “penny arcade” a year ago, to a boy living at the room house on Winder.
“She doesn’t look like a girl of 18 in the picture,” Anna Thompson said.
It was another crushing disappointment but neither family was willing to abandon hope. The Thompson family was in the same predicament as the Jevahirians – following every lead and keeping those footprint impressions close by.
For the Thompson family, another glimmer of hope arose in October 1949.
Six-year-old William “Tommy” O’Neill, who had been a ward of Michigan state since September 1947, was revealed to be a possible a match for Ronnie Thompson.
Tommy spoke no English when he entered the system.
According to a series of articles appearing in the October 14 & 15, 1949 editions of Ohio’s Journal Herald, Tommy had been living with a wandering Mexican family that eventually settled in Lansing, Michigan.
When George Garcia filed for public assistance in July 1947, the social worker thought it odd that a blonde-haired white boy was living with the Garcia family. Tommy was removed from the Garcia’s abode and housed in the Ann Arbor Children’s Institute until his placement in a foster home.
In late September 1949, newspaper articles recounting Ronnie Thompson’s abduction and the fact that he was still missing began appearing in newspapers nationwide.
Tommy O’Neill’s foster parents, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Foote of Hickory Corners, Michigan, saw the article and thought there was a chance that Tommy could be Ronnie Thompson so they made a phone call and Mrs. Thompson made plans to travel to Michigan.
Tommy apparently took it all in his stride and when he met Anna Thompson he told her “I want to go home with you.”
Arrangements were made for Anna to meet Mrs. Margaret Cooper Hart, who claimed to be Tommy’s birth mother, and Mrs. Rae, a woman who had acted as a nursemaid for Tommy for a period of time when he was younger. Neither of them was “Mary Wilkey.”
Mrs. Hart said that she had since remarried and refused to disclose her new last name to Mrs. Thompson. However, she did reveal something of Tommy’s background.
I imagine the complete story is far more complicated, but here is a summation provided by Dayton, Ohio’s Journal Herald newspaper on October 15, 1949:
Mrs. Hart said Tommy’s real name was
William Hart. He had been born in Toledo on January 1, 1943. When Mrs.
Hart registered the birth she opted to use her daughter’s last name of O’Neill rather than her own because she was not living with her husband at the time.
The Ohio Bureau of Statistics reported a record of a William Thomas O’Neill being born to James & Margaret Cooper O’Neill on January 1, 1943.
Mrs. Hart eventually handed her son over to her sister. When the sister tired of Tommy she gave him to the Garcia family.
doctors wanted some of Tommy’s hair to compare with Ronnie’s, the
youngster pulled out several strands himself. It was an unnecessary
move, according to Michigan State Police, because a comparison of the
hairs would not prove anything.
taken from some of Ronnie’s playthings did not match Tommy’s
fingerprints but it was an accepted fact that Ronnie’s fingerprints,
lifted 5 years ago, were only partial prints.
Anna felt there was a strong enough physical resemblance between the two boys that she pushed for additional testing.
Tommy’s feet were inked so that the experts could compare the impressions with those of Ronnie.
|AP Wirephoto (Oct. 14, 1949)|
Blood samples were taken from Tommy, Anna, Arthur and the Thompsons’s two others sons, James & Robert (born in 1945 & 1947, respectively).
|The Journal Herald (Oct. 14, 1949)|
The blood comparison tests wouldn’t prove that Tommy O’Neill was Ronnie Thompson but they could prove a familial connection.
Twelve hours later, Dr. Charles Cotterman, a nationally famous geneticist, had his results.
Detective Farrell Babcock had to deliver the bad news – Tommy O’Neill was not Ronnie Thompson.
Anna and Arthur went back to their hotel. A chartered plane returned them to Dayton.
|The Journal Herald (Oct. 15, 1949)|
There was some speculation in Michigan newspapers that the Thompson family would move to adopt Tommy, despite the negative results, but this wasn’t in the cards. Even before the Thompsons left Dayton, another family had started the necessary paperwork to adopt Tommy themselves.
“I’m broken-hearted,” said Anna. “I feel in my heart that some time God will return my Ronnie.”
Anna’s faith in God was not misplaced but it would be several more years, interspersed with more dashed hopes, before both the Thompson and the Jevahirians would learn what happened to their sons.
And it would take another family’s tragedy to bring forth the truth.
On Monday, September 25, 1950, Lois Tipp, the 39-year-old owner and operator of the Woodside Screw Ball Inn, informed two Tampa, Florida newspapers that her eight-year-old son, Robert A. Tipp II was missing and that the kidnappers had also stolen $2,000 in cash.
|Tampa Times (9/25/1950)|
The Tampa Tribune’s city editor asked Lois a few personal details, to flesh the story out, and Lois described her husband as “a drunkard” and she said that although he made “$200 a week” he “never supported her and had run off with a girl named Marie.”
The newspaper editor suggested Mrs. Tipp contact the police but Lois said she was reluctant to do so because she worried the kidnappers would harm her son if the police became involved.
Lois ended the phone call but rang again later to say she had contacted the FBI. A Tribune reporter followed up on this with his own call to the FBI. Apparently, a woman had just called to ask if the FBI handled kidnappings but she gave no further information before hanging up.
On September 25, 1950, The Tampa Times ran the story on their front page. There was a photo of Robert A. Tipp II and 5 paragraphs of text.
TAMPA MOTHER REPORTS SON, $2000 MISSING
The following day, the same paper repeated the story in a much abbreviated version – a mere 5 lines and no photo. This time the headline hinted at the doubts they fostered regarding Mrs. Tipp’s assertion.
MOTHER SAYS CHILD MISSING
And if Lois Tipp wasn’t going to alert the police, the newspapers would.
Two sheriff’s department deputies visited Lois at the Woodside Screw Ball Inn, 2003 Tampa Bay Blvd, that same morning.
|The Tampa Times|
Lois told the police the same thing she had told the newspapers – she believed her son Bobby was snatched at the same time her $2,000 went missing.
The official police investigation obviously didn’t include searching the property too extensively.
On the evening of September 26th, Woodside’s customers were complaining about a
nauseating odor of unknown origin.
Lois told them she had spread some rat poison around to deal with an infestation. Maybe they
were smelling a dead rodent?
the morning of the 27th, two of Lois’ friends, Avie Thomas and Mae
Everest, were at the tavern making coffee for themselves when a distraught Lois burst
in and announced “He’s dead in the refrigerator. Call the police.”
Mae Everest ran to nearby Raymond’s Grocery store and placed the call.
Lois had found her son …
dead and stuffed into a large, unused refrigerator. The appliance was facing the wall and positioned behind the bar.
Mae Everest said that when came back from phoning the police, “the smell was terrible. Mrs. Tipp had the door partly opened to the refrigerator, and I could see part of a foot in a blanket. I began vomiting and ran out.”
The police responded quickly and when they arrived, at 6:30 AM, the refrigerator door was ajar.
Bodily fluids were seeping out from the unplugged refrigerator. Lois Tipp was already mopping the tavern’s floor.
body, still stuffed into the refrigerator, was wrapped mummy-like in a
sheet and blanket; two bullet holes in his head; a handkerchief was
across the child’s mouth. Bobby’s knees were drawn up next to his
stomach so that he would fit into the space. His only clothing was a pair of blue jeans.
|The Tampa Times (Sept. 28, 1950)|
Lois now believed that whoever stole that $2,000 had killed her son. Bobby must have disturbed the burglar.
Police then found a blood-soaked mattress and sheet hidden behind a dresser in the tavern’s storeroom. Lois Tipp had no immediate explanation for that.
|The Tampa Times (Sept. 28, 1950)|
Lois was taken into custody as a person of interest. Accompanying Mrs. Tipp to the police station was her other son, 7-year-old Charley Joe.
If you haven’t already figured out the direction this story is going – here’s a line from the September 27th edition of the Tampa Times:
At County Jail, the woman was yelling, weeping and tearing at her obviously dyed red hair (*) as deputies sought an answer to the mysterious tragedy.
*The italics are my alteration to the newspaper’s text.
While the deputies were questioning Lois, others were interviewing Charley Joe Tipp.
Charley said he woke up that morning to the sound of his mother crying.
“She said come here,” Charley Joe said, “and I got up to see what it was all about. I saw my brother in the refrigerator. My mother kept crying.”
“When will my mother be out?” Charley Joe asked.
Someone asked Charley Joe if he missed his brother. “He only died today,” was the boy’s answer.
The autopsy on Bobby revealed two bullets in the child’s brain – one from a wound in the top of his head and another which was fired upward into his head from the area of his right shoulder. It was believed the bullets came from a .38 caliber weapon, but the police couldn’t be 100% certain.
Police were able to establish that Lois Tipp had owned both a .38 caliber handgun and a .22 rifle. The pistol had been given to Robert Allen Tipp, Lois’s estranged husband, several years earlier, as payment of someone’s bar tab.
The rifle was found in a storeroom; the pistol had not been located. But just because Lois had a gun on the premises, it didn’t necessarily follow that it was Lois who had fired it into Bobby’s head … twice.
Despite being questioned by detectives for 21 hours, Lois Tipp continually denied she was responsible for her oldest son’s death but she did finally realize what the bloody mattress meant.
|Tampa Times (Sept. 29, 1950)|
“The bullets that killed Bobby were meant for me,” Lois said.
Lois asserted that she must have been the killer’s target and
Bobby was shot by mistake. In the darkness, the killer wouldn’t have
been able to see it wasn’t her on the mattress.
Lois said the last time she had seen Bobby was the night before, when she had put him to bed in the roll-away cot she had set up for him in a bedroom in the back of the tavern.
Lois said she and Charley, who had undergone a tonsillectomy on September 22nd, slept apart from Bobby in the cottage. Charley had been at the Centro Asturiano Hospital on the 22nd and 23rd and only returned home on he 24th.
Their cottage and the tavern where located on the same property, connected by a breezeway.
When Lois awoke the next morning, Bobby was missing, as was the $2,000 in cash.
Lois went next door to tell Mrs. Avie Thomas that Bobby had been kidnapped and she paid the woman $3.00 to watch Charley while she went off to inform the newspapers.
Mrs. Thomas later told police that on Sunday, one day before Bobby was “kidnapped,” she had heard Bobby screaming between 9 P.M. and 10 P.M.. Then everything became quiet.
Mrs. Thomas didn’t think anything of it until the next morning when she heard Bobby was missing. She said she had not heard any gunshot.
Curiously, this wasn’t the first time neighbors had heard screams coming from the Tipp residence.
Six months earlier, on April 15, 1950, one of Mrs. Tipp’s boarders, a Mr. Miller, was awakened by Bobby’s screams. The time was 2 A.M. and the house Bobby was sleeping in was on fire. Mr. Miller quickly smashed through the door to Bobby’s room and rescued the boy.
The night before that fire, Lois had put Bobby to sleep on a mattress in a house adjacent to the tavern while she and Charley Joe slept in one of the tavern’s rooms. Earlier in the day, Lois had removed all of the furniture from the house.
Lois explained away the fortuitous furniture removal by saying that she had intended to renovate the house with an eye towards renting it.
The blaze destroyed most of the back of the house and Lois collected $3,100 from the insurance company. The $2,000 Lois said was missing was part of that settlement. Mrs. Avie Thomas was living rent-free in that partially burned building at the time Bobby Tipp’s murder.
The police thought it suspicious that, only three weeks earlier, Lois had renewed the lapsed life insurance policies on both her sons and herself. The combined value of these three policies was $5,000.
|Tampa Times (September 27, 1950)|
On September 28, 1950, Lois Tipp was arrested and charged with murdering her son Bobby. Police spotted what looked like blood splatter on black dress Lois was wearing and they submitted the clothing for analysis. Lois claimed the stains were red hair dye.
It didn’t take long for the press to dub this case “The Icebox Murder.”
*Quick note – this case is not to be confused with the unsolved 1965 “Ice Box Murders” of Fred and Edwina Rogers of Houston, Texas. The number one suspect in that double homicide has always been the couple’s adult son, Charles Rogers. Charles Rogers disappeared on June 23, 1965 and was declared dead in 1975.
Three other people were taken into custody and held as material witnesses – Mrs. Avie Thomas (43), Mrs. Mae Everest (42) and Frank F. Castrillon (43). The latter individual was identified as Lois Neely’s boyfriend.Frank F. Castrillon, a GI student at Jefferson High School, was not unknown to the police. He had been arrested ten times; his offenses included assault and battery, being an inmate of a gambling house, driving while drinking, a peace warrant and several charges of drunkenness.
Frank wouldn’t be able to provide Lois with an alibi for Sunday night, which is when police suspected Bobby had been killed, but he had been with her the following evening.
Police also wanted to talk to another of Lois Tipp’s boarders, Air Force Sgt. Henry Jacobs.
Sgt. Jacobs would later tell police that he had come home around midnight Sunday, Sept 22nd, but he could not recall hearing any gunshot, then again – he had been drinking.
Charley Joe was taken to the Children’s Home until his father, Robert Allen Tipp and Mr. Tipp’s mother, Gladys Williamson, could fly down from South Bend, Indiana later that day to claim him.
Mrs. Williamson said, “I don’t see how anyone could get mad enough at a little boy like that to kill him.”
Robert Tipp said he felt maybe Lois didn’t like Bobby “because he was named after me.”
Lois had complained that Bobby was a problem child but his school teachers disagreed, as did Robert Tipp.
|The Tampa Times (Sept. 29, 1950)|
Robert had last seen his son Bobby three weeks earlier, “for only three hours.”
That was when Lois traveled to South Bend, Indiana with Bobby to retrieve Charley Joe who had been vacationing with his father since Christmas of 1949.
Mrs. Williamson remembered how well the three hour visit had gone, “She was the sweetest I’d ever seen her be to Bob when she came up.”
When Tampa deputies escorted Robert Tipp to the scene of the crime, Bobby’s dog, Booter, was guarding the deserted tavern. Booter had been growling, barking and even nipping at strangers.
Robert hadn’t seen the dog since March 1949, when he left Lois and the boys.
In July 1949, Robert moved back to Indiana. But Booter hadn’t forgotten him and the dog bounded over as soon as Robert whistled for him.
When reporters asked Robert about his estranged wife, he said “I’m going to stick by her as long as possible. That is no more than right. I will stand by her until she is proved guilty.”
The deputies described Lois as “hard as a rock and immovable.”
Police gave Robert an opportunity to speak alone with Lois and afterwards he said “I think she is protecting someone. They say she’s hard, but she wasn’t hard with me. She puts on that hard front for the officers because she doesn’t have any use for politicians – from a street sweeper to a governor. I think that might have been the reason she didn’t report to officers in the first place that Bobby was missing. She doesn’t have any use for them.”
Members of the law enforcement community and various newspaper reporters swiftly initiated a deep-dive into the life of Lois Tipp. And as everyone would soon discover, Lois Tipp’s life was one of lies, deception and now tragedy.
I’ll start with some facts and then veer off into Lois’s version of events.
Lois Margaret Tipp nee’ Neely was born in Mississippi on July 2, 1902.
Her immediate family consisted of father Charles Jackson “C.J.”
Neely, mother Drucille and older brother Pierre (born in 1897).
The town of Lois’s birth was originally called “Washington” but it was renamed “Neely” after her father, C.J. Neely, became the area’s first postmaster in 1907.
These postmaster appointments were easily decided – the Post Office was located in C.J. Neely’s general store.
Subsequent Neely, Mississippi Postmasters were Pierre Neely (after C.J. retired from the position in 1940) and for a brief time, following Pierre’s death, his widow Alpha Sutton Neely.
C.J. Neely was a wealthy man. Those riches came from his successful mercantile store plus 5000 acres of timberland, a sawmill, a turpentine business and some oil deposits.
Drucille Neely’s brother, Dr. Joseph A. Leggett, DDS from Wiggins, Mississippi, would later tell a court that he had long suspected something was not right about his niece.
Dr. Leggett said he had come to this conclusion when Lois was 12-years-old.
Unfortunately, none of the newspaper articles recount any specific incidents that helped Dr. Leggett form this opinion.
Two psychiatrists who examined Lois Tipp, following her arrest, reported that they believed Lois had “been insane all her adult life” and that she had given “a very fantastic and inconsistent history of her life from about the age of 15.”
This wasn’t the first time Lois had sat down with a psychiatrist. She admitted to police that two years earlier she had gone to John Hopkins Hospital to consult a psychiatrist.
“I went there to find out if I was crazy because several of my neighbors had told me I was,” Lois told Deputy Bob Spooner.
According to Lois, the doctors told her she “was run down.”
A second uncle, Francis H. Leggett from Los Angeles, California, said the family always thought Lois was “mentally unbalanced.” And the news of Lois having children came as a surprise to him and he suspects her parents would have been equally surprised.
At the time of her arrest, Lois’s immediate family, the three people who would know the most about her past, were unavailable for comment because they were all dead.
Drucille Neely had died on February 1, 1944 (aged 67); C.J. Neely died on November 3, 1944 (aged 75); and Pierre died December 12, 1945 (aged 48).
Each obituary for the above three mentioned Lois as a surviving relative yet there was no mention of the Tipp children. Now, in fairness, not every death notice lists each family member but Drucille’s obituary did include the name of Pierre’s child, her granddaughter, Sandra Neely.
Surely, that obituary at least would have mentioned Bobby or Charley Joe Tipp, if the family knew of their existence. And what about Lois’s youngest daughter Rhea?
Rhea Tipp was such a mystery that not even her own father, Robert Allen Tipp, ever met the girl. Now how is that possible?
When police finally spoke to Robert Allen Tipp, he had some pretty amazing things to tell them.
Robert A. Tipp had been married once before, from 1934 to 1941.
Robert and Maria Elizabeth Schwob’s January 1, 1934 wedding ceremony was written about on the Society page of the South Bend Tribune on January 2, 1934.
They separated for years later, in March 1938.
In August 1938, Maria had filed for divorce, charging Henry with cruelty and asking for “limited divorce for three years.”
On January 24, 1941, the two separated again and this time it was Robert asking for a divorce. Robert told the court that his wife Maria slept all day and kept him awake all night. He cited their frequent separations throughout the marriage. His request was granted three months later.
Following his April 1941 divorce, Robert had married Lois Neely.
Robert said he knew a little bit about his new wife’s background.
He said Lois came from a prominent Mississippi family; she had been educated in an exclusive boarding school in Virginia.
Robert knew Lois had been married before, in New York when she was training to be a nurse, but her husband, Dr. William S. Bruckel, had died in a boating accident. The Bruckels had no children, as far as Robert knew.
Robert was aware that Lois had suffered a nervous breakdown following the 1937 death of her husband and it took her two years to recover.
In 1938, Lois had been an an inmate at a New Jersey psychiatric hospital.
knows who long Lois would have remained under a doctor’s care or if it
would have helped her had not C.J. Neely sent his son Pierre to New
Jersey to have Lois discharged and brought home.
Robert said he and Lois had met in Gulfport, Mississippi while he was on vacation from his
job as a machinist as Bendix Aircraft Corp in South Bend, Indiana. Lois
was working as a nurse in a Gulfport, Mississipi hospital. They had met
through mutual friends. Six months later, they were married.
and Lois lived in Mobile, Alabama while Robert worked for the Gulf
Shipbuilding Company. Later they moved to Panama City, Florida and
finally, in November 1943, they settled in Tampa. Robert was employed as
a stern welder and the foreman of a machinery department.
Robert said he and Lois had four children together during their 9 year marriage.
Allen Tipp, Jr., whom they called “Bobby,” was a twin when he was born
on April 26, 1942; Bobby’s sister, Barbara Jo Tipp, died following surgery for a bowel blockage, shortly after being born.
I did find a death notice for four-month-old Barbara Jo Tipp in the September 21, 1945 edition of the South Bend Tribune.
South Bend, Indiana being the home of Robert Tipp’s mother and step-father.
Mrs. Charles F. Williamson, 912
Lincoln Way West, has received
word of the sudden death of her
granddaughter, Barbara Jo Tipp,
four-month-old daughter of Mr.
and Mrs. R.A. Tipp, of Galveston,
Texas. Other than her parents the
child is survived by a twin brother,
to his birth certificate, Charley Joe was born on May 20, 1943 in New
Augusta, MS – the same town as Bobby and Barbara Jo. His birth
certificate bore the last name of Williamson, not Tipp.
A. Tipp’s stepfather (since 1921 when Robert was 8-years-old) was
Charles Fletcher Williamson and Robert had been known to use both names
at various times.
youngest child, 4-year-old Rhea, whom Robert had never seen, was
supposedly living with his wife’s wealthy family in California.
before Rhea’s birth, Lois had left town “on a business trip,” and when
she returned, it as without their newborn daughter. Robert said he spent 2 years trying to find the girl but Lois would never answer any questions asked of her.
Lois told police, “I’ll go to the electric chair before I ever tell where she is.”
Robert told police that he had left Lois in March 1949. “I stood it as long as I could,” he said.
Robert would later describe Lois as “eccentric” and as someone who “didn’t like no social life. I finally got tired of it.”
In April 1949, Lois sued Robert for maintenance. Lois claimed Robert was lazy and had women companions.
Robert filed a counter suit, asking for a divorce and custody of the children. This move by Robert prompted Lois to amend her complaint; she was now asking for a divorce from Robert.
In July 1949, Robert moved back to South Bend, Indiana and resumed working for the Bendix Aircraft plant. He was employed as an X-Ray Technician.
Although Lois never revealed her daughter’s exact whereabouts, she told the psychiatrist more about Rhea than she had told her husband.
According to Lois, Rhea was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi; she was now living with a woman named Linda who was “trouping on the road with a show.”
Robert Tipp said that he was never present for any of the births. Lois always gave birth while he was away on a short-term work assignment or while Lois herself was out of town. And if he was being truthful, his wife never really showed any obvious signs of pregnancy.
Doctor Harold Nix examined Lois and he asserted that she had never given birth to any children.
The police now had to consider that Lois was guilty of not only murder but kidnapping.
Lois challenged the doctor’s findings. In fact, Lois said she had given birth to not 4 children but 5.
During her sessions with the psychiatrists, Lois provided the following details regarding her years before Robert A. Tipp.
– Lois said that at age 15 she had married a man named Carroll, as a way “to get out of school,” but the marriage had been annulled.
– Her next marriage was to Dr. William Samuel Bruckel. They had met in New York when he was an intern and she a student nurse. Sadly, the love story turned to tragedy when both her husband and their daughter Drusella drowned in a boating accident in the Long Island Sound. Lois herself narrowly escaped death that day.
As much as police and psychiatrists doubted everything Lois told them, they couldn’t overlook the fact that much of the information came forth after Lois had received an injection of sodium amytole aka “truth serum.”
Everything had to be investigated.
The first thing they realized Lois was lying about was her age. Lois was not 39 but 48. They also found proof that a year ago Lois had paid a Tampa plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Perzia $600 for a facelift.
Police could only confirm one marriage for Lois and that was to Robert A. Tipp in 1941.
(I haven’t been able to find the documentation to confirm this for myself, much to my frustration. The closest I came was an August 31, 1941 newspaper report of an Indiana marriage license being issued to Robert A. Tipp, 912 Lincoln Way West, Mishawaka and Mary Bair, 313 East Sample Street. That’s certainly the address for Robert’s apartment building but is Mary Bair Lois Neely? That was a legitimate street address, although the building is no longer there, and it would have been roughly 2 miles from 912 Lincoln Way West.)
Police could find no recorded boating accident in New York for a Dr. Bruckel. In fact, they couldn’t locate anyone named William S. Bruckel. Nor could I.
However, Lois was speaking the truth when she said she had been a student nurse.
The 1940 US Census shows Lois Neely, already shaving ten years off her real age, was enrolled as a student nurse at Baltimore’s John Hopkins University.
Of course, what Lois failed to disclose was to her husband Robert, her prospective employers, the police or her psychiatrists, etc. was after three months, Lois had been advised to leave because she “had no grasp of nursing.”
Despite flunking out of nursing school, Lois repeatedly presented herself as a registered nurse when applying for work.
The October 17, 1950 edition of the Tampa Times reported that Lois was a 1930 graduate of Woman’s and Children’s Hospital in New York City.
According to the January 24, 1951 edition of the Tampa Times, it’s possible Lois had lived and worked in Cumberland, Maryland under the assumed name “Margaret LaRue.”
“Margaret LaRue,” police would soon discover, was one of many names Lois Tipp used over the years.
The Cumberland Hospital had employed a “Margaet LaRue” for a few months in 1930 before asking her to resign due to her “non-cooperation and impertinence.”
I found a “Margaret LaRue” in the 1930 Census (enumerated on April 19th) living in NYC. That “Margaret LaRue” was one of nine roomers at 171 W. 81st Street in Manhattan and working as a practical nurse? The woman reported her place of birth as Mississippi.
cannot find “Lois Neely” in the 1930 Census; she isn’t in Mississippi living
with the Neely family.
According to the 1940 census, Lois was living in
Neely, Mississippi in 1935.
So, perhaps after things didn’t work out in Cumberland, Lois made her way back to Neely, Mississippi for a little while?
Dr. Joseph A. Leggett, Lois Tipp’s uncle on her mother’s side, testified in court that when Lois introduced Robert to her family as her “husband,” they didn’t believe her.
According to Dr. Leggett, it didn’t help that Lois at first said the marriage took place in New Orleans then, when no record
of the union could be found there, she said the wedding had taken place “in New
Haven, or somewhere else.”
Robert says he and Lois had actually married in Dr. Leggett’s hometown of Wiggins, Mississippi on September 5, 1941.
proof of the marriage was finally found, it apparently showed that Lois had married
Robert using a last name which Lois said belonged to one of her former husbands.
the time Lois was able to prove the marriage was legitimate, her parents had died.
C.J. Neely died in November 1944, nine months after his wife’s death.
His $500,000 estate was left to Pierre only. A
decision had been made to disinherit Lois because she, in their opinion,
was living in fantasy world and couldn’t be trusted with any vast sums of money.
There was an “unwritten agreement” between C.J. Neely and Pierre that Pierre would provide Lois with occasional small allowances, on a “piecemeal basis.”
Lois intended to challenge the conditions of her father’s will but Pierre died in December 1945 before she had a chance to do so.
Pierre’s will left everything to his wife Alpha and their daughter Sandra. And that included all of the money he had inherited from his father.
In October 1946, Lois hired a Hattiesburg, Mississippi lawyer, Arlington Jones, to break Pierre’s will; Lois asked that she be given her “rightful share.” The claim made it’s way through the Mississippi courts.
That same year, Lois
and Robert purchased the Woodside Filling Station and Inn.
The Chancery Court had ruled against Lois and dismissed her claim on the Neely money. However, in August 1948, before the case could be tried in the Mississippi State Supreme Court, Pierre’s widow agreed to an out-of-court settlement and Lois was awarded $12,000.
Naturally, Lois Tipp’s work record was also riddled with contradictions and lies.
|Lois Tipp, 1945|
Frank N. Harris, officer of the Tampa Ship Building Co., provided testimony that Lois Margaret Neely applied for work at his office in early 1945. The woman claimed to have previously worked at another shipyard.
The woman’s personnel record, Harris said, listed her a “single” and as her emergency contact, Lois wrote down the name “Mrs. R.A. Tipp.”
On her 1946 application for employment at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Lois claimed that she had received her nurses’ training at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in New York City, and she gave Panami General Hospital and McCloskey shipyard (a wartime concrete shipyard in Tampa) as references. They rejected her application.
However, Lois did find work at the Southwest Florida Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Drew Field. She was a nursing supervisor there in 1947 and 1948; resigning, she said, because of ill health. The truth of the matter is Lois resigned when hospital officials demanded to see her nursing certificate.
Papers found at the tavern revealed Lois had used six different names throughout her adult life: Lois M. Neely, Lois M. Tipp, Constance LaFlue, Lois Margaret Bruckel, Loretta Schaffer and Margaret LaRue. These last two names were ones that Lois used during her stay in the NJ psychiatric hospital in 1938.The very last name, Margaret LaRue, is the one Lois is believe to have used in the early 1930’s when working as a nurse.
Police also found some typeset pages of what appeared to be an unpublished novel, written by Lois.
It was on the pages of this novel that they finally found Dr. William Samuel Bruckel.
One paragraph described the death of Dr. Buckel and his son in a fishing accident. Dr. Buckel’s widow is described as the beautiful, prominent sub-deb from New York. Her name – Lois Neely.
Police also found receipts totaling $2742.93 for various pieces of restaurant equipment purchased by Lois after the insurance payout (from the April 1950 fire) of $3141.49.
Her bank account showed a current balance of one dollar.
When arrested, Lois had $480 on her person, pinned to her clothing. Another $31 in cash was found at the tavern.
One of Lois Tipp’s three attorneys, Mrs. Jane Brannon McMaster, petitioned the court to have all of the cash turned over to Robert A. Tipp as well as the keys to the Woodside Screw Ball Inn.
|The Tampa Tribune (September 28, 1950)|
In additional to there being equipment worth “several thousands of dollars” at the Woodside Inn, there were already “morbid curiosity seekers chipping wood from the tavern.”
McMaster also petitioned the court to allow Lois to attend Bobby’s October 6th funeral.
(One quick thing about Jane Brannon McMaster that I thought was worth mentioning – a graduate of Ohio State University law school, Jane spoke Russian, Italian and Yugoslavian. She served as a member of the war crimes commission which handled the Nuremberg trials of Hermann Goering, Joseph Goebbles and Irma Grese aka “the beautiful beast of Belsen” aka “the hyena of Auschwitz.”)
Sheriff Culbreath was reluctant to grant Lois Tipp’s request to attend Bobby’s funeral service.
In fact, Culbreath said he would permit it “only if a court order” required him to do so.
The State Attorney’s office asked the sheriff to allow it and Culbreath acquiesced but not before telling the press, “There is no law that requires me or any other sheriff to do this. The woman has shown no remorse over the child’s death and when the bloody mattress was placed in front of her she gave no indication of emotion. I believe the woman is guilty of the brutal and grisly slaying of her son.”
|Tampa Tribune (Oct 7, 1950)|
Lois was seen sobbing twice during the service but otherwise she displayed little emotion.
Charley Joe did not attend his brother’s funeral. He remained at the Children’s Home, where he had been since Lois was arrested.
Reporters strained to hear the hushed conversation between Lois and her mother-in-law, Gladys Williamson.
W.S. (Preacher) Allen, writing for the Tampa Tribune, reported that he had heard Mrs. Williamson ask Lois “Daughter, are you trying to protect somebody?” Allen also heard the word “confess” being conveyed to Mrs. Tipp. Lois did not reply but conveyed her unwillingness to do so by shaking her head.
After the funeral, Bobby’s body was shipped to Indiana for burial at the Fairview Cemetery in Mishawaka.
To support Lois’s claims of being Bobby’s birth mother, Jane McMaster, produced a
photostatic copy of a Mississippi birth certificate for Robert Allen
Tipp, Jr., born on April 26, 1942 in New Augusta, MS.
document, like all of the birth certificates for Lois Tipp’s children turned out to be forgeries.
Each birth certificate for the Tipp children was signed by John A. Mead, MD, yet each signature was
Dr. Mead was a real Hattiesburg, Mississippi doctor but he had died suddenly of a heart attack on February 10, 1947, in his office. He was 61-years-old at the time.
I find it interesting that Pastor James T. Leggett assisted with Dr. Mead’s funeral. “Leggett” being Drucille Neely’s maiden name.
Police were able to compare Dr. Mead’s verified signature on other birth certificates with those produced by Lois Tipp’s attorneys but that was all; the results didn’t favor Mrs. Tipp.
And if investigators needed further evidence that Lois had produced these fakes, several blank birth certificates were found at the tavern.
Other odd finds at the tavern were:
– A government dividend insurance check, dated June 1950, made out to Chester Zeszotek in the amount of $154. Zeszotek had done occasional work at the tavern and the check had already been reported as lost.
– A $25 government bond, dated March 1950, belonging to George Griffin. Griffin was the brother of the tavern’s former owner, Margaret Steer.
– A secret compartment built under the floor. Police found two pillows into which had been sewn clothing belong to Robert Tipp. Robert told police he hadn’t seen those items since before he walked out in 1949. He had assumed they were stolen.
A Grand Jury was convened on October 3, 1950.
Frank Castrillon, Lois’ boyfriend, was not scheduled to testify. It was theorized that he was excluded from the witness list because, were Castrillon to testify, he would have been granted immunity from prosecution.
By now, Robert Tipp had returned to South Bend with Charley Joe and he’d enrolled the boy in school.
On October 24, 1950, Lois was indicted for murder. At her November 8, 1950 arraignment, Lois maintained her innocence and plead not guilty. “I wouldn’t kill my own child,” she said.
Lois Tipp’s trial was scheduled for January 8, 1951. The state was prepared to call 37 witnesses to the stand.
There was still some doubt about Mrs. Tipp’s sanity and her ability to stand trial. In late November 1950, the defense team filed notice that they may plead “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
At a pre-trial conference in Circuit Judge Henry C. Tillman’s chambers on December 8, 1950, Lois’s attorney Jane McMaster said “Mrs. Tipp maintains she is not guilty and wants to go to trial.”
Lois had repeatedly told McMaster that she was innocent and as such she wanted to either be vindicated or die.
Lois sat silently by as the Judge and attorneys for both sides discussed the matter.
In the end, Judge Tillman agreed that the insanity plea could be held open, for the time being. Should the defense decide to pursue that angle later, her attorneys would need to submit the particulars to the prosecution team 15 days prior to the trial.
Judge Tillman commented, “any of us may be a little crazy when the case comes to trial.”
On January 3, 1951, five days before the start of the trial, Judge Tillman formed a two person panel of psychiatrists (Dr. Samuel G. Hibbs and Dr. C.W. Bartlett) to determine Lois Tipp’s fitness for trial.
Dr. Hibbs reported back that he had found traces of insanity in the woman and he asked that she be placed under observation at the Municipal Hospital at her own expense.
Judge Tillman rejected that petition and stated that if Mrs. Tipp was insane, it was his duty to appoint a commission to examine her at the expense of the state.
Lois was transferred from the County Jail, where she had been since her September 27th arrest, and placed in the Municipal Hospital under the supervision of a deputy sheriff. The doctors were told to present their report on January 17, 1951. The results of those findings would be made public on January 22, 1951.
In mid-January 1951, The Jevahirians and Thompsons were each considering the possibility that 8-year-old Jackie McKinnon was their son.
|Detroit Free Press (January 17, 1951)|
Jackie had been left homeless following the January 10, 1951 death of his 46-year-old, alcoholic mother, Irene Matthews. The woman had been admitted to Detroit’s Receiving Hospital on January 9th and died the following day.
police turned Jackie over to the Juvenile Detention Home when it was
determined the boy couldn’t continue to live where he had been for the
last several weeks prior to Irene’s death – with her two friends, Hobart Floyd and John Patheloziz, in a rooming house at 2124 Harper Avenue.
The police also thought Irene’s physical description matched that of “Alice White” and “Mary Wilkey.”
Irene Matthew’s common-law husband, Dale Matthews, was at the time incarcerated in Leavenworth Federal Prison, serving a sentence for stealing from an interstate shipment. Police intended to question him regarding his wife’s son.
Papers found in Mrs. Matthews’ room indicated that Jackie had been known by at least four names. These names were McKinnon-Beamer, McVeigh, Matthews and Floyd. The particulars regarding Jackie’s birth were different on each document.
The five brothers and three sisters of Irene Matthews who attended her funeral were surprised to learn she had a son. Jackie’s own memory was a little sketchy but he did call Irene “mother.”
The Jevahirians met face-to-face with Jackie and Alice said he “looks just like” her eldest daughter Marlene, then 6 years old. Paul thought there was a slight resemblance but he was less convinced.
Alice viewed Irene Matthews’ body before the funeral and said she couldn’t be sure if this woman was “Alice White.” Sam Jevahrian also had a look and said the two women were “definitely not the same.”
Hobart Floyd, Irene’s friend and roommate, said “This other woman (Mrs. Jevahirian) is wrong about Jackie’s being the kidnapped boy” and stated he was sure Irene was Jackie’s mother.
The Thompsons were shown a photo of Jackie McKinnon and Anna thought the boy “certainly looks like Jimmy,” their son who was born in 1946. They also thought there was a similarity between Jackie’s right ear and their son Ronnie’s right ear.
Before either set of desperate parents could claim Jackie McKinnon as their missing son, Edward F. Wier, a 31-year-old construction worker, came forward and proved to police that he was the boy’s biological father.
Edward had married Anna Wier nee’ Wargo on December 11, 1939.
Their son, whose real name was Joseph Edward
Stanley Wier, had been born on May 7, 1942. Joseph was placed in a boarding home before the age of one.
On June 9, 1943, after three and a half years of marriage, Edward filed for divorce.
After the Wier’s divorce was finalized on April 6, 1944, Edward was awarded full custody of their son … and then he was laid off from his job.
Edward claimed that in January 1947, he had entrusted Irene
Matthews with the care of his son. Irene, at the at time, was employed as a secretary in a lawyer’s office.
Edward had tried repeatedly to reclaim Joseph but Irene Matthews refused to relinquish him.
Edward took the matter to juvenile court and he was authorized to seize his son – if he could find him.
One attempt failed and then Edward lost all trace of the pair until he saw his son’s picture and Irene’s name in the Detroit Free Press.
Canadian-born Margaret Irene Matthews nee’ McVeigh, had two legitimate marriages under her belt before the common-law union with Matthews; each had ended in divorce.
Irene married fellow Canadian John Benjamin Gill on August 7, 1923. Their marriage certificate lists John’s age as 20 and Irene was 19. The two relocated to Michigan and, on May 24, 1924, their daughter Helen was born. Sadly, Helen never lived to see her first birthday; she contracted measles and died from bronchial pneumonia on January 18, 1925.
On December 6, 1939, after sixteen years of marriage, John Gill filed for divorce. The request was uncontested, there was no alimony granted and on May 25, 1940, three weeks after his divorce from Irene was finalized, John Gill married Olive Micks. They remained married until his death in 1986.
In 1941, Irene also entered into a second marriage but it was disaster. Husband number two was 34-year-old Clarence Beamer.
On December 8, 1940, Clarence was so despondent because his (first) wife Agnes had filed for divorce that he shot himself in the chest with a .22 caliber pistol. The wound was a superficial one.
On February 11, 1941, Clarence married Irene Gill.
On March 18, 1941, he was arrested for assault and battery after kicking Irene. She filed for divorce that very day. Clarence contested the motion. Their divorce became final on January 23, 1942.
Less than seven years later, Irene would be dead from alcoholism.
Irene’s death and the reported possibility that she may have kidnapped “Jackie McKinnon” enabled Edward Wier to find his son.
|Detroit Free Press (Jan 18, 1951)|
While this was good news for Edward and Joseph Wier, it was more bad news for the Jevahirians and Thompsons.
Meanwhile, down in Florida that week:
Doctors Hibbs and Bartlett were conducting a series of interviews with Lois Tipp and they found her to be arrogant, sarcastic, vague, evasive and she had refused to cooperate in any of the psychological tests. “I’m not going to answer all those questions,” she told the doctors.
Lois did shoulder some responsibility for Bobby Tipp’s murder. She told the doctors, “Through my carelessness I lost my son. I didn’t kill him. I should never have had him around a bar.”
Lois also told them, “I’m not afraid to die. I am better ready to meet my Maker than a lot of people.”
The doctors said Mrs. Tipp was indignant about being brought to the hospital because “when I get back to jail,” Lois said, “I will have to sleep on the floor because the jail will be full.”
On January 22, 1951, the sanity commission’s findings were released.
The report declared:
Lois Tipp has been “insane during all of her adult life” and her disorder was the “schizophrenia, paranoid type.”
While they couldn’t deny Lois had been raising two children, the doctors determined any children other than Bobby and Charley Joe Tipp were “figments of her imagination.”
“We find that in this insanity, Mrs. Lois Tipp has such a perverted and deranged condition of her mental and moral faculties as the render her incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, or render her at many times unconscious of the nature of the acts she may be committing.”
“Her will or volition,” the report continued,” has been so completely destroyed that her actions are not subject to it, but are beyond her control, and she may be considered dangerous to herself and or to others, and that her insanity is of such a chronic nature that the prognosis for treatment is extremely poor, and that she “should be considered a menace to society.”
Robert Tipp challenged these findings and asked Judge Tillman to postpone his ruling for one week so that he could “obtain witnesses as to Mrs. Tipp’s condition,” indicating he would seek to show she was not insane.
I suppose the task was impossible.
At the January 29, 1951 commitment hearing, Mrs. Tipp’s lawyers said they had no evidence with which to challenge the sanity report.
Circuit Judge Tillman, having reviewed the sanity commission’s report and upon hearing nothing new to dispute those findings, he ruled that Lois Tipp was insane and would not be tried for murder.
No jury would hear that the red stains on Lois Tipp’s dress were, as she claimed, red hair dye.
Nor would it matter what date County Physician Dr. H.H. Whitney determined was Bobby Tipp’s last.
According to Dr. Whitney’s official report: “It (Bobby’s body) has probably been dead at least one week.”
Since the autopsy was performed on September 27, 1950, the day Bobby’ body was found, this would place time of death sometime before September 20th. Yet witnesses said he was alive as late as Sunday, the 24th.
A refrigerator repairman said the boy was at the tavern on Friday, September 22nd, while he was doing some work there.
Authorities at the Tampa Bay Blvd. Elementery School said Bobby had mised no school since the start of the semester.
The cab driver who drove Lois Tipp into town on the day she reported Bobby missing, September 25th, would not be testifying to the fact that she asked him to stop at the Cass Street bridge, where she dropped a small package into the river.
Judge Tillman signed the committal form and Lois was scheduled to be transported to the Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee.
|Florida State Hospital (1939 image)|
Judge Tillman looked at Robert Tipp and declared, “This is a tragedy, but life is full of them. We all feel mighty sorry for you, but I am convinced this is the right thing to do.”
Also present in the courtroom that day was Charley Joe Tipp and Dr. Joseph A. Leggett, Lois Tipp’s uncle on her mother’s side.
On the stand, Dr. Leggett told the judge “She said so many things later about babies being born that no one believed her.”
|Robert A. Tipp|
While wiping away tears, Robert Tipp said “I do not think it is so (referring to the opinion of the sanity commission), but not being a medical man, I do not know.”
Without money to hire his own psychiatrists, Robert conceded he could not challenge the judgement. “The publicity on it made everyone stand back,” he said.
“I think the Neelys and Dr. Leggett should have told me a lot of things at the start,” Robert said. “As for the children, I claim them.”
Ah, if it were only that simple.
Police were convinced Lois Tipp was not the birth mother for those children, so who did Charley Joe and Bobby Tipp belong to?
One child was dead but the other night still be reunited with his family.
On January 24, 1951, two days after a sanity board declared Lois insane, The Miami Herald reported on the possibility that both of Lois Tipp’s “mystery sons” had come from a foundling home in Richton, Mississippi.
While investigators were looking into years-old abductions, Robert and Dr. Joseph Leggett each petitioned to be appointed the curator of Lois Tipp’s property and holdings. This included the Woodside Screw Ball Inn, several insurance policies and some jewelry.
Judge Tillman chose Dr. Leggett and asked him “to preserve, sell or otherwise protect the real and personal property” of Lois Tipp.”
In early April 1951, the deed to the tavern was turned over to Lois Tipp’s two attorneys, Jane Brannon McMaster and Hugh McArthur, as partial payment of her legal fees. Judge Tillman allowed the lawyers $8500 jointly.
The sale is recorded under the heading “Property Sold” in the Tampa Bay Times for April 7, 1951 – lots one and two, block 17, Fair Grounds Farms Subdivision, $7300.
Two weeks later, the tavern, a 5-room cottage and the 210 x 185 lot were put on the market.
The big question regarding the property is – what happened to the distinctive sign advertising the Woodside Screw Ball Inn?
And here’s big another question – would police have thought to look into abductions as far north as Ohio or Michigan if it hadn’t been for Michigan State Police detective Farrell Babcock?
Detective Babcock happened to be vacationing in Florida at the time of Bobby Tripp’s murder. He saw a photo of Charley Joe Tipp in the newspaper and thought the boy bore a strong resemblance to photos he had seen of Bobby Thompson.
On February 1, 1951, The Tampa Times reported news of a lengthy letter the sheriff’s department had received from Detective Babcock in which he communicated the details surrounding the abductions of Paul Jevahirian and Ronnie Thompson. Babcock also described the two nursemaids whom he long-suspected was the same woman.
Tampa deputy L.J. Swann quickly realized this was their best lead.
Babcock offered to send the two fingerprints on record for Paul Jevahirian for comparison to that of Bobby Tipp.
Unfortunately, Bobby’s body had already started to decompose before he was discovered, making it impossible for the Tampa identification bureau to take his fingerprints.
Comparing those prints with Charley Joe Tipp would be easy enough though.
On April 18, 1951, Anna Thompson and her mother traveled to the Florida State Hospital. Together, in the company of a hospital administrator, Anna and Mrs. Waker, looked at an assemblage of 15 female inmates.
According to a syndicated newspaper article this is how events unfolded:
“Do you recognize your Mrs. Wilkey?” asked the doctor.
Hesitating, Mrs. Thompson indicated a woman sitting across the room.
The doctor took Mrs. Thompson and Mrs. Waker into another room and told Mrs. Thompson that the patient she picked out was not Mrs. Tipp.
“Now do you want me to show you which is Mrs. Tipp?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Thompson.
Back in the general room, the doctor nodded towards a woman who didn’t look much like Lois Tipp of Tampa. This woman’s hair was gray. Her youngish face had sagged with sudden age. She was wearing glasses.
“That’s her!” exclaimed Mrs. Thompson. “It’s Mrs. Wilkey. It’s her hair that deceived me. Could I see her walk? Could I talk to her?”
Ms. Tipp was called over.
Face flushed and hands clasping and unclasping nervously, Mrs. Thompson asked, “Do you remember seeing me before?”
“No,” Mrs. Tipp answered sweetly. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Have you ever been in Dayton?”
“Well, let’s see,” Mrs. Tipp frowned. “Yes, I went through there about seven years ago.”
Mrs. Thompson’s hand flew to her lips. That was about the time Ronnie was kidnapped – abut the time Mrs. Tipp said she gave birth to Charley Joe.
Lois Tipp’s appearance had changed so much since her arrest that not even a Tampa Times reporter, who had seen Lois numerous times throughout the case, recognized her when paying Lois a visit in Chattahoochee.
On March 3, 1952, The Thompsons filed a petition in a South Bend, Indiana probate-juvenile court for custody of Charley Joe Tipp.
Anna Thompson had just visited Charley Joe Tipp’s school in Ardmore, Indiana and when she saw him she exclaimed, “That’s Ronnie; that’s our boy in and out.”
Robert A. Tipp had come to like the Thompsons. He felt sympathy for them and was even willing to admit that he wasn’t sure if he was Charley Joe’s biological father but he steadfastly maintained that he was “not going to give him (Charley Joe) up until someone proves they are the parents. They’ll have to prove it, if it takes every dime I’ve got. Why Charley even looks and acts like me.”
Two days later, a pair of reporters, Tom Arnold (writing for the Dayton Daily News) and Ray Gregg (the South Bend Tribune) traveled to Ardmore, Indiana to get a reaction from Robert A Tipp.
The reporters were met at the door to 1118 Kensington Avenue by a “tall, attractive, blonde-haired woman. A boy about 3 or 4 years old, stood by her side.”
The woman said her name was Ella and she was identified as the new Mrs. Tipp.
The reporters did not see either Robert A. Tipp or Charley Joe Tipp nor did they report on the presence of a second child at the house.
me interject here for just a moment. Lois Tipp may have been crazy but
at least one of the things she told the Tampa Tribune editor on
September 25, 1950 was true. Robert Tipp did have a new woman in his life whose name was Marie.
The woman who answered the door to reporters on March 4, 1952 was Ella Marie Harvey.
The young boy beside Ella was her 3 and 1/2 year old son, Wilmonte H.
Harvey. Ella had divorced her husband Cody Haines Harvey in June 1949.
Ella had given
birth to Henry Fletcher Tipp on June 14, 1950.
While Robert and Ella might have been in a committed relationship, Robert was still legally married to Lois Tipp.
Ella told them Robert was not home. They would find him at his mother’s house at 912 Lincoln Way in Mishawaka.
They dashed over there but were turned away at the door by a young woman with a broom who threatened to call the police if they didn’t clear off. I’m going to guess that this was possibly Robert’s sister Hazel.
The Jevahirians also had a stake in these developments.
|Jane Brannon McMaster (1960)|
Working with Lois Tipp’s attorney, Jane Brannon McMaster and Detroit detectives, the family examined a baby picture found amongst Lois Tipp’s possessions. The baby, believed to be Bobby Tipp, looked quite a bit like Paul Jevahirian, Jr..
“It looks like my child,” said Paul Sr. “I can’t say for sure because babies look so much alike. It has been a long time, I want to know the truth even if it’s bad.”
Paul Sr. and his father Sam Jevahirian traveled to South Bend, Indiana to look at Charley Joe Tipp and sadly, he saw no family resemblance. Nor Sam did not believe this was his grandson.
Paul Sr. agreed. “I don’t believe he could be mine. His face is too narrow and pointed to be little Paul.”
Alice Jevahrian was too fragile to make the trip.
On March 22, 1952, the body of Bobby Tipp was exhumed and pieces of skin from the bottoms of the dead boy’s feet were removed.
These would be compared to the footprint impressions made by Paul, Sr. and transferred to his son’s baby book. Unfortunately, even those impressions lacked the 16 definite checkpoints required by Michigan law to establish a positive identification.
“The pattern is the same,” Inspector Thomas A. Dwyer said. “But we cannot be certain.”
The smudged footprint impressions which had been taken at the hospital remained as useless as ever.
Sr. asked that additional photos of Lois Tipp be sent to them. “Perhaps
my wife can identify her as the nursemaid we knew as “Mrs. Alice
White,” he said.
rather than relying on Alice’s memory of a woman she had glimpsed
nearly nine years early, police would compare Lois Tipp’s fingerprints
to those found on bottle of hand lotion; fingerprints that police were sure
belonged to “Alice White.”
Police announced on March 31, 1952 that those two impressions were a match. Lois Tipp was Alice White. But was the boy she killed Paul Jevahirian, Jr.?
Blood tests could only go so far in proving paternity. The Jevahirians said they were “fairly sure” Bobby Tipp was their child but added that “we’re not closing the books on this case.”
“All I want is proof that the dead child is or is not mine,” sighed Paul, Sr. “I do think the police are closer to solving the case than they ever have been.”
Sam Jevahirian told reporters, “In a way, it’s a relief to know the kidnapping is solved. But only God knows whether that dead baby is little Paul.”
The courtroom battle for custody of Charley Joe Tipp, which began with a preliminary hearing on March 6, 1952 was a drawn-out affair. Just as Probate Court Judge John S. Gonas predicted.
Judge Gonas read from a prepared statement:
“Gentlemen, we are not dealing here with property, or a product, or a gift made by man, but with a human being which only God can give.
“The child in question belongs to his god-given parents. It is the court’s duty to establish who are the rightful parents.
“This is an important factor in the lives of all parties concerned in this matter. For that reason, the court will give additional time to both parties to submit further evidence to prove without a doubt to whom the child belongs.”
The delay allowed a pair of Detroit detectives, Sgt. Miles H. Barrie and James Blessington, additional time to gather evidence and interview witnesses.
One individual who was questioned by them was Robert Tipp. Robert told the detectives, “I never did get to know too much about Lois except that I was always becoming a father without seeing any children until they were about ready to walk. I guess Charley Joe was about five months old when I first saw him.”
Robert said their marriage unraveled after Lois bought the tavern and “began running around with other men.”
The trial was further delayed when Robert filed for a dismissal of the court because he felt
Judge Gonas lacked jurisdiction. The request was denied.
then asked for change of venue from Judge John S. Gonas, alleging bias
and prejudice. This last request was granted on May 12, 1952 and the
search for a new judge to hear the case began.
These days the results of a simple DNA test could settle the matter but this was 1952, at least thirty years before the advent of such tests would be admissible in court.
The physical evidence which the Thompson family intended to introduce involved a distinctive scar left on Ronnie Thompson’s body from a surgical device used to perform his circumcision, some webbing between the second and third toes on one of his feet (a trait passed down from Ronnie’s grandmother, Mrs. Genevieve Waker) and the cartilage formation at the top of Ronnie’s right ear.
If these characteristics could be found on Charley Joe’s body, the court would most likely rule for the Thompson family.
All Robert Tipp could do is try to prove that Charley Joe was a member of their family before 20-month-old Ronnie Thompson’s abduction on October 7, 1944.
In late November 1952, blood samples were taken from Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, Robert & Lois Tipp and Charley Joe Tipp. The samples were shipped to Chicago to analysis.
A trail was set to begin on December 15, 1952. The Thompson family attorney, Mason Douglas, expected the proceedings would last five or six days.
The trail actually began on January 6, 1953, at the St. Joseph Courthouse, with 78-year-old Special Judge Lewis W. Hammond presiding.
The abduction of Ronnie Thompson was recounted for the court.
There was testimony from law enforcement concerning the investigation and their belief that it was Los Tipp, posing as Mary Wilkey, who had spirited the boy away.
Other individuals who had met “Mary Wilkey” described her physical appearance and personality quirks to the judge. These impressions were compared with the testimony of people who knew Lois Tipp. Both women had a habit of using the phrase “don’t you see, don’t you know.”
Judge Hammond listened to the opinions and findings of the various psychiatrists who had interacted with Lois Tipp.
A letter from sent to Dayton police from a Kings County, New York hospital stated that a patient named Lois Neely had been diagnosed by their staff as a “psychopathic personality” on November 12, 1938.
A deposition from the Florida obstetrician who had examined Lois Tipp was read aloud in court to establish the fact that she had never given birth to any children and as such could not be Charley Joe Tipp’s natural mother. These findings were substantiated by two other Florida physicians who had examined Lois Tipp.
|South Bend Tribune (Jan. 7, 1953)|
Judge Hammond heard testimony from the man who had analyzed the blood samples, Dr. Israel Davidsohn, a blood pathologist from Chicago’s Mt. Sinai Hospital Research Foundation.
Dr. Davidsohn said he could only rule out Lois Tipp as being related to Charley Joe Tipp. Unfortunately, based on the blood groupings present in the samples, Robert Tipp and the Thompsons were all still potential parents.
Robert Tipp’s attorney succeeded in getting Dr. Davidsohn to admit that he could not say with any certainty that Mr. and Ms. Thompson were Charley Joe’s parents.
Genevieve Waker showed the judge her naked right foot and he compared it with Charley Joe’s right foot. Both feet had the same deformity.
Charley Joe’s left ear was compared to the left ear of Arthur Thompson. Both ears had the same inward bend at the top. Arthur’s mother, Clara Thompson, also had the same bend.
An Ohio State university professor testified that ears are one of the best tests of biological ancestry.
Despite an objection from Robert Tipp’s attorney, Judge Hammond called for a comparative examination of Charley Joe Tipp and five-year-old Bobby Thompson.
Guynell Smith, a former supervisor of the Martime Day Nursery (a school established near Tampa during the war for the care of shipyard workers’ children) took the stand.
Mason Douglass, attorney for the Thompsons, had the following exchange with his witness:
Q. Did you know Lois M. Tipp?
A. Yes sir. I knew her quite well.
Q. Did you know Robert A. Tipp?
A. Yes sir.
Q. How far did you live from Mrs. Tipp?
A. About half a block.
Q. Were you ever in her home?
A. Many times.
Q. Describe Mrs. Tipp.
A. She was of medium build, had tinted red hair, you might call it henna, sloping shoulders and was very flat chested….
Q. When did you first see Charley Joe?
A. It was in the early winter of 1944.
Q. Can you fix the date in reference to any holiday?
A. About Christmas, 1944.
Q. Had you seen Charley Joe anytime before that?
A. No sir.
Q. When you first saw Charley Joe how was he dressed?
A. In a navy blue sailor suit. Bobby was with him. They were dressed alike.
|Charley Joe and Bobby Tipp|
Mason Douglass then submitted a picture into evidence of the two boys in sailor suits, along with a picture of Mrs. Tipp. Mrs. Smith identified both photographs.
Douglass then proceeded to produce photograph after photograph (14 in all) taken of Ronnie Thompson, before he as kidnapped. Mrs. Smith identified each one as the child she had cared for in the nursery school.
Q. When you first received Charley Joe was he fully trained?
A. Not when he first came.
Q. Could the child eat alone?
A. No, sir; I had to train him.
Q. What was the color of his hair?
Q. What was the age of Charley Joe when he entered the school?
A. Mrs. Tipp told me he was 20 months.
Ronnie was nearly 18 months old when he was kidnapped on October 7, 1944.
Mrs. Smth’s testimony was supported by a deposition given by Mrs. Lena Heffler, another former worker from the Florida day nursery. Mrs. Heffler had also looked at photos of Ronnie Thompson and identified the boy as the one she knew as “Charley Joe Tipp.”
Robert James Jordan, custodian of records of the U.S. Department of Commerce, testified that Lois Margaret Neely had quit her job at the McCloskey shipyard in Tampa on September 27, 1944.
The forged birth certificates were entered as evidence.
Anna Thompson took the stand and testified that she “recognized my Ronnie instantly” when she saw him at the Ardmore School in March 1952.
Then she had to answer questions about her previous positive identification of “Tommy O’Neill” as her son in 1949.
Anna at first denied she’d made the assertion. She exclaimed, “I want my child only, no one else.”
According to the South Bend Tribune:
An attorney for Robert Allen Tipp was using a confession-type magazine article about Ronnie’s kidnapping as the basis for interrogating Mrs. Thompson about the O’Neill boy.
Mrs. Thompson said she authorized the article but could not vouch for its details. Attorneys for Tipp, who claims he reared Charley Joe as his own son, said they sought to prove through the magazine story, that Mrs. Thompson “would claim as her lost son every fair-haired, brown-eyed boy that she saw.”
In an exclusive interview with The Journal Herald, Mrs. Williamson, Charley Joe’s grandmother, lamented the toll all of this was taking on the boy. From the January 10, 1953 edition:
“This publicity isn’t doing Charley Joe any good,” she said. “We’ve already lost one boy and are trying o give the other one an even break. We are trying to find out who he belongs to.
“We’ve talked with Charley Joe about this trial. He knows what this is about. Shouldn’t he know? We can’t just pick him up from here and transfer him there without telling him why.
“We’ve talked with him and if the time comes, I hope he’ll be reconciled. It’s been hard on us but it’s been even harder on him. He had to grow up yet.
“If he has to leave, I think I can take it. I’m used to taking things.”
As Mrs. Williamson spoke, she placed an arm around Charley Joe’s shoulders and drew the lad to her side. With a loving glance at the child, she continued:
“Charley Joe hasn’t been to Sunday school since this thing started. We are trying to keep him out of the limelight as much as possible. Other children are beginning to ask questions.”
For the same reason, Mrs. Williamson said the child has been withdrawn from the South Ardmore school until the custody suit ends.
As Mrs. Williamson talked, Charley Joe pulled a leather wallet from his rear pocket.
“Do you want to see a picture of my girl friend? This is the one I gave a present to at Christmas. She’s special.”
On January 14, 1953, Judge Hammond announced his decision.
“Anybody can see the striking resemblance between the picture of Ronnie and Charley Joe,” Judge Hammond said. “The court has no hesitancy in finding that the boy is the natural child of the Thompsons and that they are entitled to his custody from this day forward.”
Even Robert Tipp, who had listened to all of the evidence as it was presented, became convinced. Some of the information came as a surprise to him.
Referring to Robert Tipp, the judge said, “It is difficult to understand why he never conceived the idea that this was his boy but again we can throw the mantle of charity upon him and say, perhaps, that he is an unusual and credulous person. It may be his love for that woman. He did what he presumed was his duty and he and his mother, Mrs. Charles F. Williamson, are to be commended for the excellent care given the boy as shown by his appearance in the courtroom.”
A relieved and elated Anna Thompson hugged her son.
Reporters asked the boy how he liked his new name. Ronnie shrugged and said, “Okay, I guess, but I don’t even know how to spell it.” They asked Ronnie how he liked his new mother. Ronnie replied, “She’s okay.”
As the courtroom emptied out, Anna Thompson took Ronnie’s hand and lead him towards his new life. Ronnie turned his head to find Robert Tipp and Gladys Williamson in the crowd and called out “So long, Dad. Goodbye, Grandma.”
Recognizing how difficult the situation was for Ronnie, Anna said “Naturally, Ronnie was sorry. But that’s only natural. Those people were good to him.”
“It takes a lot of patience and understanding,” she continued, “but I think everything will work out fine.”
Meanwhile, Robert Tipp was left to mourn the loss of a second son and reminisce with reporters about how he had to bribe Charley Joe with pieces of pie or cake in order to get the boy to eat his greens – whether Charley Joe and Bobby were his biological children or not.
At least Robert still had his son Henry Fletcher Tipp (then nearly 3-years-old). Henry had been named after both of Robert’s fathers – “Fletcher” being his step-father’s Charles F. Williamson’s middle name and “Henry” was the first name of Robert’s biological father, Henry C. Tipp – a man his namesake would never meet.
Henry C. Tipp, then 53-years-old, died on on June 21, 1945 following a horrific workplace accident at the Mishawaka, Indiana Ball-Band plant the day before.
Ball-Band, famous for their rubber footwear, was engaged in war work at the time of the accident. Henry had been employed by the company for two years.
Henry had failed to shut down the machine he was working at before reaching underneath the rotating drum. Henry was pulled into the machine and caught in the frame. His death, in the St. Joseph hospital came as a result of a fractured skull. Additional, non life-threatening, injuries were a fractured jaw and an injured left leg.
Robert himself was no stranger to an accidental leg injury. In 1953, a reporter asked Robert about his prosthetic leg.
Robert Tipp said that he’d lost the leg decades earlier, when he was five years old. “We lived beside the railroad track. I fell off a journal box under a rolling train. They amputated it there, just below the knee.”
(It’s interesting that when 26-year-old Robert registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, his only “obvious physical characteristic that will aid in identification” was a tattoo on his right arm. No mention of him missing a leg.)
On the evening of January 15, 1953, Robert and his mother Gladys brought “Charley Joe’s” toys and clothing to the Thompsons’s room at the Hotel La Salle in South Bend.
Ronnie did express the desire to return to visit “Dad” during vacations and the Thompsons readily agreed to making that happen.
The “father and son” were never reunited.
Although, Gladys Williamson did send Ronnie (whom she still thought of as her grandson) a sweater on his first birthday away from the Tipp family.
On June 19, 1953, Anna Thompson revealed in an interview with a reporter from The Journal Herald, that the adjustment has been difficult.
She had no way of knowing that things would only get worse.
“We thought everything would go smoothly once we got Ronnie back,” Anna revealed, “but we still have our troubles. Two weeks ago, someone broke the boys’ banks. Then daddy blacked out and ran into a car.”
The years in which the Thompsons had been looking for Ronnie and then the cost of a courtroom battle had drained the family’s bank accounts. Even with both Arthur and Anna working full-time, they were worried about making their $50 mortgage payments on their home at 132 Linsan Court, Dayton, Ohio.
The nervous strain resulted in Arthur Thompson suffering from “blackouts.” If you recall from earlier in this story, Arthur had suffered a “nervous breakdown” in December 1944.
Ronnie’s younger brother Jimmy (born in 1946) had trouble accepting that he was no longer the oldest child whom little Bobby Thompson (born in November 1947) looked up to.
A fourth son, Billy, joined the family in 1950.
Anna concluded though, “Our problems are small, compared with the joy of having Ronnie back again.”
Two individuals who read about the Thompson family’s struggles responded to the article by initiating “The Ronnie Thompson Fund.” Preferring to remain anonymous, they identified themselves only as “Good Samaritans.”
|Journal Herald (Sept 1953)|
People began sending small contributions of $1, $2 or $5 dollars to the fund in care of the newspaper. The Boy Scouts of Troop 235 raised $94.50 on September 13, 1953 by organizing a day of pony rides.
On December 1, 1953, The Journal Herald reported that $4,820.18 had been contributed to the Fund.
A grateful Anna Thompson said, “It’s unbelievable folks would help us out like that in just three months time.”
Arthur Thompson was unavailable for comment. He had been hospitalized since his suicide attempt on November 1, 1953.
Because of his frequent “blackouts,” Arthur Thompson, now 43-years-old, had been on a leave of absence from his job as a grinder with the General Motors Frigidaire division since July, and he’d been under a doctor’s care since August.
Sometime between 5:30 and 6:00 PM on November 1, 1953, Gladys and Arthur argued about, she said, what meat they would have for dinner that night.
Following the dispute, Arthur went down into the basement, tied a piece of clothesline between two overhead water pipes while standing on a box. Then he kicked the box away. The act was witnessed by five-year-old Bobby Thompson.
Bobby ran upstairs and called out to his mother. Anna rushed down the basement stairs, butcher knife in hand and cut the rope from which Arthur was dangling. As he fell, his head hit the concrete floor.
An ambulance transported Arthur to St. Elizabeth Hospital. He would survive but the marriage wouldn’t.
Arthur was separated from Anna and living elsewhere when, at roughly 4 AM on April 30, 1969, the Thompson family home at 132 Linsan Court caught fire.
Anna Thompson, 49, suffered a back injury when she jumped from the second story to escape the blaze.
James Thompson, 23, who was sleeping in a back bedroom, was burned on the face, chest and arms before managing to break through a window and leaping to safety in the back yard.
Billy Thompson, 13, suffered a compound fracture of his left leg when he too jumped from a second story window.
Robert (Bobby) Thompson, 21, perished in the fire. He had been sleeping on a living room sofa. Firefighters found his body in the ashes of the family home, three hours after they responded to the scene.
The Thompson’s next-door neighbor Mrs. Ray Bucenski said she looked outside to see “the whole front of the house ablaze. It was out from under the front porch. The whole downstairs was a solid sheet of flame.”
Ronnie by then was married (since 1965) with a family of his own and living in Dayton View, Ohio.
One year later, the Linsan Court property, with a new 3 bedroom home, would go on the market. Asking price $17,500.
In 1972, the two men Ronnie Thompson had called “Dad” passed away.
Arthur Thompson, 58-years-old, was the first to die – at 5:55 AM, on February 4th, in Middletown Hospital in Ohio. His obituary does not list cause of death. It does however identify Arthur as “a retired employee of Frigidaire Corp.” so we can assume he did eventually return to work. The notice mentions all surviving family members except for Anna Mary, who was still alive. Arthur is buried in the Germantown Cemetery, Germantown, Ohio.
Robert Tipp, also 58-years-old, died at 1:30 PM, on June 22, 1972, in Walters Hospital in Michigan City, Indiana. Cause of death, according to the death certificate, was “aplastic anemia and (I think) “metastatic anemia.” There is an indication that he’d been under a doctor’s care for these issues for a period of one year. Robert is buried in the Fairview Cemetery in Mishiwaka, Indiana. The same cemetery where Bobby Tipp was buried in 1950 and Henry C. Tipp in 1945.
According to his obituary, Robert had “retired from the Bendix Corp. in South Bend, after 25 years of employment.” Robert’s surviving relatives included his mother, his sister and his son Henry F. Tipp, then in the US Marines.
It’s interesting, considering his leg amputation at the age of 5, that Robert’s death certificate lists him as a former Merchant Marine.
Robert’s marital status at the time of his death, again from the death certificate, is “divorced.” This would be divorced from Lois Tipp though and not Ella Marie Harvey.
Robert’s divorce from Lois was not finalized until February 8, 1957; six years after she was institutionalized. By then Ella had moved on and moved back to Florida … and she’d taken Henry F. Tipp with her.
I can’t find a marriage record for Ella Marie Harvey to Jack Vaught however, Ella changed her last name to Vaught in 1956.
Then I found several subsequent notices in Florida newspapers, beginning in late November 1957 and ending in May 1958, informing Jack Vaught that his wife was suing him for divorce. Jack’s “last known address” progressed in these notices from “Oaks Hotel in Palmetto, Florida” to “unknown.” Although, it would seem that Jack was out of the picture long before that.
On the afternoon of April 28,1956 (a Saturday), when 5-year-old Henry F. Tipp was severely injured after being hit by a car, his mother was described as Mrs. Marie Vaught, a widow who supports Henry and another son, Monty, by working as a waitress in a Palmetto restaurant.
Henry was attempting to run across US highway 41, near his Tropical Trailer Park home, when a car, driven by 57-year-old George Simmons, hit the boy. His brother Monty was waiting for him on the other side.
No charges were filed against Simmons, as it seemed clear that young Henry had darted into traffic.
Henry’s injuries included a cuts about the face and head, a possible fractured skull, a broken right leg, a broken left wrist, broken ribs, a punctured liver and shock.
On May 2, 1956, the Palmetto Police Department kicked off a fund drive to help the family with medical expenses by contributing $50. A Bradenton Herald newspaper article alerted readers who wished to contribute that the money could be sent to either the “Tipp Fund, Bank of Palmetto” or handed to any member of the Palmetto Police Department.
Six weeks later, Henry was still hospitalized but he’d recovered enough to enjoy a small 6th birthday celebration in the hospital lobby, on June 14, 1956.
The Tampa Bay Times reported in their July 1, 1956 edition that the “Tipp Fund’ had grown to $651.00.
On August 27, 1956 it was announced that Ella Maire Vaught had filed a $100,000 lawsuit. She was asking for $25,000 for medical expenses and $75,000 in damages. Mrs. Vaught claimed that Henry was permanently injured by the accident and that his future earning ability was impaired.
I cannot see a resolution to this lawsuit but we know that Henry would make (what seems to be) a full recovery.
Henry Tipp went on to be a top athlete in high school (football and basketball); he served 8 years as a US Marine and Henry was even a sparring partner for Leon Spinks while stationed at Camp Lejueune, N.C..
|Bradenton Herald (Sept. 18, 1980)|
On September 20, 1980, 30-year-old Henry participated in the first ever “Manateee County Red-Neck” competition – an MMA-style amateur Toughman contest held at the Brandenton Municipal Auditorium.
“I haven’t had a good fight in a year and a half,” said Henry, “and I’m really looking forward to the thing at the auditorium. Basically, I’m easy-going and peace-loving. But when I get pushed around or if I’m in a bad mood, look out!”
The winner that evening wasn’t Henry Tipp but 26-year-old Gordon Griffis, a self-employed stone mason and operator of the Florida Freestyle Karate Studio. He walked out with bragging rights and $1,000 dollars.
Henry’s mother, Ella Marie, married for a third and final time in 1959 when she was 31-years-old. Her choice was 47-year-old James R. Harding. The union produced one child, a daughter Marie Ann. However, by 1969, Ella was once again headed to divorce court.
Ella Marie Harding, Robert A. Tipp’s once-time girlfriend and mother of his only child, died on February 16, 1995 at the age of 67. The obituary did not list a cause of death. She’s buried in the Skyway Memorial Gardens in Palmetto, Florida.
On July 1, 1995, Wilmonte Harvey, died in the Manatee Memorial Hospital. There was no cause of death given in the obituary. “Monty” was 48-years-old.
For those wondering what happened to Frank F. Castrillon, Lois Tipp’s boyfriend at the time of Bobby Tipp’s murder, He eventually moved to Houston, Texas and married Ruby Jones Noblitt on March 31, 1961.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 20, 1961, the garage apartment in which Frank and Ruby lived exploded and he was critically injured. Frank died in Jefferson Davis Hospital six days later. His death certificate indicates he suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body.
Ruby was also hospitalized with burns, but her injuries, one would assume, were far less severe; she didn’t die until June 18, 1989.
It was believed that a considerable amount of natural gas had accumulated in the apartment and was ignited when Frank fired up his lighter to have a cigarette.
Anna Thompson died on March 10, 1991, at the Kettering Convalescent Center in Ohio. She was 71.
Anna is buried beside her son Robert Paul Thompson at the Calvary Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.
The Dayton Daily News ran a two page article after Anna Thompson’s death which recounted the abduction of Ronnie, Anna’s tireless search to find her son and it provided readers with an update on Ronald Thompson’s adult life.
“Mother never gave up hope and never had a doubt I would be returned to her,” Ron, then 48, told the reporter.
Ron had traveled from his home in Florida to attend the funeral.
Ron’s first marriage, which produced three sons, ended in 1971. He and his ex-wife Pamela fought bitterly over visitation.
Fed up and longing for warmer weather, Ron eventually relocated to Florida; a decade would pass before Ron saw his sons again.
In 1980 Ron married for a second time; he adopted his wife Linda’s two daughters and opened his own auto repair shop in Sarasota.
Ten years after he’d left Ohio, Ron’s ex-wife Pamela drove their three teenaged sons down to Florida and told Ron it was his turn to be a parent. She gave him full custody of the boys.
Ron has often admitted to having his own doubts about his real identity over the years. Were Arthur and Anna Thompson actually his parents?
“I can’t remember the early part,” Ron said in 1991. “The most that I remember was some of my life in Florida and the custody trial in Indiana. It was really Mother’s story to tell.”
“Mother and I went round and round on this,” Ron continued. “Maybe sometimes there was a doubt. I’m human. But the judge in 1953 said there could be no doubt in any human’s mind who this child belonged to. There was enough evidence to convince anybody I am me. I told Mother if I ever got to the stage where I doubted who I was, I could go back to South Bend. But then I would have a lot of problems.”
Speaking of Anna’s back injury after escaping the April 1969 house fire, Ron Thompson said “She was told she might not live, but she was still walking 20 years later. She also had emphysema. Her determination allowed her to stay alive this long.”
Anna lived to see one more tragedy touch her family before she died. That was the January 27,1991 accidental death of her grandson Jeffrey Sean Thompson. Jeffrey was Ronnie Thompson’s son.
Nineteen-year-old Jeffrey and two of his friends, Schell Harris, 22, and Anthony Geraci, 20, decided to climb the remnants of the old Sunshine Skyway Bridge. This was a Sunday evening, way after dark.
Harris and Geraci managed to climb down safely but Jeffrey (who had been drinking and smoking marijuana) slipped and fell 80 feet to the concrete road below. St. Petersberg Fire and Rescue personnel pronounced him dead at the scene.
old Sunshine Skyway Bridge had been destroyed on May 9, 1980 when a freighter, the MV
Summit Venure, collided with a support column causing six cars, a truck, and a Greyhound bus to fall 150 feet into the water, killing 35 people.
The demolition of the old bridge began in July 1991.
Dayton Daily News reporter Mary McCarty caught up with Ronald Thompson in May 1999. Once again, readers were presented with a recounting of the abduction, the death of “Bobby Tipp,” the custody battle and Ronald’s life afterwards.
|Dayton Daily News (May 23, 1999)|
This time Ronald was a little forthcoming with his memories and far moreintrospective.
“I was there when they took him (Bobby) out of the refrigerator,” Thompson said. “That was my brother. My brother Bobby.”
Ronald talked about seeing Anna Thompson at his Indiana school. “I walked down the hall, my heart pounding, afraid I was in trouble. I can recall there was a lady sitting in a chair. She could have been the mother of any of the students.
“That lady sitting in the chair was my mother and it was the first time she had seen me in eight years. It took every ounce of her human strength to keep from reaching out and grabbing me. A mother’s love is the most powerful thing on the Earth. She never doubted who I was. She knew who I was. She fought hard for me.”
Ronald concluded with the realization that he was forever changed by what happened. “I will never get over what happened to me,’ Ronald said. “I keep people at arm’s length. I have a big wall around me.”
Before she died, Ronald said he told Anna Thompson, “I know you are my mother, and I am your son.”
On February 5, 2004, Ron and Linda Thompson were both interviewed by Paula Zahn for CNN.
While Ron’s abduction certainly came up in conversation, the real reason Paula Zahn approached the couple was because their next-door-neighbor, Joseph P. Smith, was the chief suspect in the abduction and murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia.
Here’s a transcript of the interview:
SARASOTA, Florida (CNN) –Carlie Brucia, 11, has been missing since Sunday, and police believe she has been abducted. A carwash surveillance camera captured a man leading Brucia by the forearm, and suspect Joseph P. Smith has been in custody since Tuesday, but there is still no sign of the girl.
Ron and Linda Thompson, neighbors of the suspect, described the man they knew to CNN’s Paula Zahn Thursday.
ZAHN: Linda, you lived next door to the suspect for four years. When you heard he was being held in connection with the alleged kidnapping of this young girl, what went through your mind?
L. THOMPSON: Well, it was unbelief at first. It just didn’t seem like the same person. The things I was hearing is not the things I was seeing as a family man and as a neighbor. It’s just like two different people. So, I was shocked.
ZAHN: And how was he around family members?
L. THOMPSON: [He] has three beautiful little girls. And he just adored them. And he played with them. And he took good care of them. It’s just a different picture than what we see today.
ZAHN: Ron, you knew that the suspect had a drug problem. Was there ever any indication of trouble or anything unusual going on in that home?
L. THOMPSON: There was, because his wife and I were friends. And we knew when he had been arrested on some drug charges and was sent away for a while. And we kind of looked out for her while he was gone.
So we know there were problems there. But you could only go so far. You can only step into another person’s life so far. And we just didn’t do that.
ZAHN: I know, Ron, this story is very personal for you. Why has this had such an impact on you?
R. THOMPSON: Well, I’m a victim. When I was 20 months old I was kidnapped. And it took eight years for my mother to get me back. It happened in 1944 through 1953. So when people ask me what it felt like possibly living next door to a kidnapper, I have a different perspective. I have the perspective from the victim’s side.
I know what it did. The actual kidnapping didn’t really affect me that way. It’s finding out I wasn’t who I was 10 years into my life, and then having those 10 years just wiped out. And then placed in the hands of my parents, who then I spent the rest of my life with and everything. But I have a different feelings about it.
ZAHN: Linda, anybody who has read about the story, or seen it talked about on television, gets hurt to the core knowing that an 11-year-old girl’s fate is hanging out there. Just give us a sense of the outrage that people have about her disappearance.
L. THOMPSON: Oh, it does. There’s a lot of anger undercurrent in this city. But on the other hand, it’s really brought this city together. And you see people out together looking, and handing out pictures and bringing attention to the car. And the city has really come together to help find Carlie.
(Real quick note about Joseph P. Smith. February 5, 2004 is the day Smith revealed to police where he had disposed of Carlie’s body. He was found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and capital sexual battery. His penalty was 2 life sentences for the latter charges and death by lethal injection for the murder. Smith died in prison on July 26, 2021 before the sentence could be carried out.)
Sadly, Linda died in 2010 from breast cancer at the age of 57.
In 2019, 76-year-old Ron Thompson was interviewed by South Bend Tribune reporter Margaret Fosmoe.
Ron stated “I have lost everything I’ve ever loved.” It was more of an observation than a play for sympathy.
Here are some passages from the article:
Regarding life in Florida “his mother” Lois:
By the late 1940s in Florida, Lois Tipp and her two boys lived in a shack behind the Woodside Screw Ball Inn, a tavern she owned near Tampa.
Charley Joe Tipp — that’s what he was told his name was — was young, 5 or 6 years old.
He had a big brother, Bobby Tipp, who was a year or two older and was allowed to bus tables at the bar. The customers were rough, drinking too much and often losing control — sometimes grabbing Bobby or burning him with their cigarettes.
The boys’ mother didn’t intervene. Lois was stretched thin running the tavern. She was separated from her husband, whom the children didn’t see for weeks or months at a time. The boys were largely unsupervised.
Regarding life in Indiana, after Bobby Tipp’s murder and Lois Tipp’s arrest:
Charley Joe settled into his new life in northern Indiana. He lived with his father and got to know the woman he was told was his grandmother. He also had a new stepmother, and there were a couple younger children in the house. He was frequently assigned to babysit and handle diaper duty.
Regarding his new life in Dayton with the Thompsons:
In Dayton, Ronnie settled in with his family. He learned the role of being an older brother to Jimmy, Bobby and Billy, a fourth son born to the family after Ronnie’s return.
The Thompsons were Catholic, and Ronnie attended Catholic school.
Anna Thompson came from a large family and had eight brothers. Ronnie suddenly had dozens of relatives, including many cousins. It was a tough adjustment and, with the strained nature of his sudden re-entry into the family, Ronnie didn’t always get along with his siblings, especially Jimmy.
There were other strains, too.
Arthur Thompson worked as a machinist at the Frigidaire plant in Dayton. He fought a battle with depression and mental illness, perhaps related to his experiences in the war and the abduction, according to sons Ron and Bill.
Ronnie’s abduction was rarely mentioned by the family after his return to Dayton. And in those days, the concept of family therapy or counseling wasn’t prevalent.
Arthur Thompson’s anger and other emotions sometimes boiled over. One time he threw a plate of spaghetti against the wall. He’d tell Ronnie that the family had financial struggles because of the cost of the search after the kidnapping.
“Dad blamed me,” Ron Thompson recalls. “He’d tell me: ‘It’s your fault I can’t buy a boat because we spent so much money getting you back.’ ”
On the long-lasting impact the abduction had on his life:
Thompson admits he has struggled his entire life with building strong relationships. But he doesn’t point to his childhood experiences for an explanation.
“I don’t blame anything about my behavior on the fact that I was kidnapped,” he says.
He recently made several visits to a psychologist, thinking it could help him come to terms with his past. He says it didn’t help.
Comments from Ron’s family and friends:
One of his daughters, Jennifer Meyer, wishes her father would confide in a counselor and reveal the range of his emotions.
“He needs to open up and talk to somebody about it,” she says. The kidnapping “impacted him more than he’ll ever know.”
She knew of her father’s abduction when she was growing up but says the family never talked much about it. She acknowledges her father can be prickly at times and is set in his ways. “He’s always been a know-it-all kind of person,” she says frankly.
But her father also has a generous nature, she says. He has helped families in need at Christmas, even when his own family didn’t have much money to spare.
Meyer, 48, lives in Bradenton and often checks on her father, making sure he has food and is safe.
“I love him dearly. He’s my dad,” she says. “Now that it’s just him and me, our relationship has gotten 10 times stronger than it ever was before.”
Ron doesn’t have many other relationships. He is estranged from his other daughter and his two living adult sons, and he never sees his grandchildren.
Ron’s two living brothers, Jimmy and Bill Thompson, still live in the Dayton area. Ron rarely sees them and only occasionally speaks to them on the phone.
When contacted by The Tribune for an interview about Ron’s life and the impact of the kidnapping, Jimmy declined. “That’s old news,” he said.
Bill Thompson, 63, said he has tried for years to patch up the relationship between his brothers. He suspects Ron was emotionally scarred by the kidnapping, explaining his fractured relationships.
Bill feels for his brother and says he tries to draw him out of his shell. The last time Bill visited Florida, he told his brother: “Man, I love you.”
Jim Hatch of Myakka City has been a friend of Ron Thompson’s since the mid-1970s. He agrees with the family’s description of Ron’s hard-headed nature, saying Ron can be “very particular,” no matter the activity or chore. “There’s a right way, a wrong way and there’s ‘Ron’s way,'” he says.
But he also describes Ron Thompson as someone always willing to help others, especially elderly people who were clients at Thompson’s auto garage. Ron would take some of those customers to their doctor appointments, bring them meals and even stay overnight with them when they were ill.
“He was forever helping people out,” Hatch says.
Hatch didn’t know about the kidnapping for years — for a long time, Ron didn’t talk about it.
“It had to be pretty traumatic to find out you were kidnapped,” Hatch says.
On some days, usually after someone asks him about the abduction, Ron looks through the suitcase of clippings he came to possess after his mother’s 1991 death and tries to remember details of when he was Charley Joe Tipp. As he flips through the faded newspaper stories, he often cries — “a lot,” he says.
He understands that his life story is unique, and he says he might write a book about it someday.
He may already have an ending.
“Never give up hope,” Ron Thompson says. “My mother never gave up hope she would find me.”
Lois Tipp nee’ Neely, the woman who set most of this in motion, died on February 1, 1994, in Apalachiola, Franklin County, Florida. She is buried in the Neely family plot in Lake Park Cemetery in Laurel, Mississippi.
It’s interesting that Lois’s gravemarker and lists her birth year as 1912. We know this is untrue. Lois was born in 1902. When she died, Lois Tipp was 91 years old. She had spent the rest of her life in the mental hospital.
Florida is very particular about their death certificates so I didn’t order a copy of Lois Tipp’s certificate because her cause of death would be omitted, due to privacy laws.
The last updates I’ll provide are for the Jevaharian family.
Paul died on May 28, 1988, at the age of 67. He is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery, New Baltimore, Michigan.
I would never suggest that a financial windfall could make up for the terrible loss of her son Paul, Jr. but I was pleased to learn that on October 5, 1990, 66-year-old Alice Jevahrian won $50,000 on the Michigan Lottery’s television game show “Fame & Fortune.”
The “Fame & Fortune” show provided lottery players a second chance to win big money, assuming they’d held on to their losing tickets.
The South Bend Tribune reported Alice’s win in their October 8, 1990 newspaper:
“It was sitting on top of my TV for about four months before I decided it had collected enough dust and sent it in,” Jevahirian said of her ticket, which entitled her to appear on the show when it was drawn during the previous week’s program.
Jevahrian, who is retired, said her only immediate plans for spending her winnings involved a visit to family members in Maryland.
Other prizes awarded during that program included a 1990 Buick Skylark worth $11,997 (won by 22-year-old Lynn Steigerwald). Also, two people won $3500, one man won $2500 and another walked out with $800.
Alice Jevahirian died on September 19, 2001, she was 77. Alice was buried alongside her husband Paul at the Oakwood Cemetery.
The body of Paul Jevahirian, Jr. remains to this day in the Michawaka, Indiana grave marked “Robert A. Tipp II.”
Oh, for people who like such things – it was believed by some that the large two-story house built by Lois Tipp’s father Charles J. Neely, was haunted.
I would imagine that Lois Tipp having killed a child is largely responsible for this rumour.
|Rumours, courtesy of Facebook|
The Facebook group “Family Album: Old Photos of Buffalo, Neely, and McLain” has been a great source of information about the house.
in Neely, Mississippi, where Sand Ridge Road meets Old Hwy 24, it was a
twelve room house with fireplaces in each bedroom.
One member posted that the house might have been built with timber which fell during the July 1916 hurricane.
as you often find with haunted houses, information regarding the
original owners is a bit off.
An article in the April 9, 1984 Hattiesburg American newspaper does much to perpetuate this ghost story.
Having read my accounting of events, you can now compare them with what reporter Jerry O’Neal wrote:
According to local residents, the Neelys had a son, Pierre, and a daughter, Lois. Lois, with dreams of artistic pursuits, left for New York City. It is here that the story takes on the flavor of a Stephen King novel.
Late in the 1930s Pierre was dispatched by his father to fetch Lois home. With her came a baby girl. There were rumors of her husband’s strange disappearance. Some say it was murder. Tight-lipped as ever about his personal affairs, C.J. Neely and his son, who died a short time later, took the real truth to their graves. Left alone in the huge home, Lois eventually went mad and killed the little girl, several residents say. A few days later, the dismembered body of the child was found stuffed in a refridgerator. Los Neely was committed to a mental instituiton for the remainder of her life.
Today, the present owners of the Neely home, James and Joyce Thurston, can’t say for sure if the old home is haunted, but “on occasions there have been unaccountable noises coming from the upstairs bedrooms that closely resemble that of a human,”Thurston says with a slow grin.
Some time after this article appeared, the house burned down (I’m unable to pinpoint in what year an accidental fire destroyed the beloved landmark) but the Neely House is
still fondly remembered by locals; as much for it’s grandeur as it’s spookiness.
The following two photos of the house (circa 1980), were shared with group by the photographer, member Murray Simmons.