Posts made in November, 2010

Love Letters, Chapter 2

Who’s “Poul”?

New here? Start from the beginning…

Both of the letters I’d purchased were signed “Love, Poul” and I was curious to know who “Poul” was. The return address on the envelope said “R. Ives,” so I figured “Poul” must be some kind of nickname. I’d never heard it before, so I ran the word through Google Translator, and when I clicked “detect language,” it gave me Danish for the origin of the word. Unfortunately, the English translation was also “poul,” so I still have no idea what it means. However, it may stand to reason that it would be a Danish/Dutch term of endearment, since the recipient’s last name is Van Duyn… a Dutch name. (Incidentally, “mon poulet” is a French term of endearment and means “my chicken.” Probably similar to that.)

I assumed the recipient of the letters, “Dr. John Van Duyn” of Duluth, Minnesota, would be easy to find on Ancestry.com. Not so. I found a few Van Duyns living elsewhere in the state, but none in Duluth. So, I put that name on back burner for a while and concentrated instead on “R. Ives” living in White Plains, New York.

I tried looking for “R. Ives,” gender female, with a keyword of “White Plains,” but no luck. Too many hits, and none with a first name starting with “R”. I tried restricting my search to just Census records, but still no luck… too many hits, and no “R” first names. Then, I tried taking a stab at her birth date. This letter was sent in 1949, so I assumed she was about 25, give or take 5 years. Still nothing. Finally, I went back to my original search and checked the box that said “Exact” next to my keyword phrase “White Plains.”

Bingo.

I found 12 year old “Ruth Coes” on the 1930 census living in White Plains, New York with her father Warren, mother Millicent, and younger brother Edward, age 4. They had misspelled the family’s name. In brackets under the search results, it said [Ruth Ives].

I still didn’t know for sure that this was my “R. Ives,” so I opened up the file to look at the original census document.

Bingo!

As luck would have it, in 1930, the Ives family was living at the same address as the return address on the letter (sent nineteen years later): 107 Ralph Avenue, White Plains, New York.

I’d found my Poul. But… now the next question… was she still alive?

I went back and edited my search again. First name: Ruth. Last name: Ives. Birth: 1918 (plus or minus one year). Birth Location: New York.

I found a record on the U.S. Public Records index for a Ruth L. Ives living at 107 Ralph Avenue in White Plains, New York. Birth date: October 1, 1917.

I ran my search one more time, this time with the middle initial “L,” and the exact birth year of 1917. I found a record for Ruth Ives on the Social Security Death Index, born October 1, 1917. Died August 1975 in Maine.

Rats.

I took a look at her birth date again, and wondered how close in age she was to Elena Duke Benedict. I checked back through my Villa Am Meer blog posts and discovered the craziest thing. Elena Duke Benedict (originally Elena Amaducci) was born September 11, 1917, also in White Plains, New York. They were born 20 days apart.

Now really, what are the chances of that?

They were probably schoolmates; maybe even friends. Now that I had a name, Ruth L. Ives, I’d be able to track down a lot more information, and potentially some living family members. And of course, there was still the mysterious “Dr. John Van Duyn” I would need to track down.

Color me giddy. My “happy mystery” is starting to get fun.

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Love Letters, Chapter 1

My darling…

New here? Start from the beginning…

In my quest to find a “happy mystery” (hopefully with a happy ending) I happened upon a set of love letters on ebay that I bid on and won. There are two letters, postmarked September 30, 1949 and October 4, 1949. (If you missed my previous post with pictures of the letters, view them here.)

I chose this particular set of letters (remarkably, there are many more for sale on ebay) because they’re from a woman in White Plains, New York, addressed to a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota. If you followed my Villa am Meer story, you’ll recall that Elena Duke Benedict, the owner of the Villa Am Meer property, was also born and raised in White Plains, New York, just like the author of these letters. And because I myself live in Minnesota… well, it just seemed like these were the letters I was meant to buy. Hopefully I can return them to their rightful owners.

To respect the author’s privacy, I am not including the full content of the letters. Suffice it to say, it seems the game of love was the same in 1949 as it is today. He loves me? He loves me not? I love him? I love him not? The author of the letters, “R. Ives,” questions John Van Duyn’s love for her, and seeks his reassurance. She views their relationship from every angle, analyzes past conversations, considers their future together, reads into every single word John Van Duyn says, and plots how she can change him into the perfect man. (Like I said, the dating game hasn’t changed much.) He, on the other hand, just wants to end the “word vomit” and tell her what she wants to hear. If only he could figure it out. Poor, simple soul.

We learn some clues to their personalities from these letters. The woman, “R. Ives,” was a tennis player and had just started working in the cosmetics department of Altman’s Department Store in White Plains. She was also a new Sunday School teacher at her church and trying to learn how to play bridge. It seems John Van Duyn was an avid bridge player and, in hopes of improving her game, had even given Ms. Ives his “Culbertson” (an instruction book written by world famous bridge player Ely Culbertson). His love of the game and her general lack of skill seemed to be a running joke between them.

By the second letter, it’s obvious that John Van Duyn had grown impatient with his girlfriend’s constant doubts and analysis. The couple appears to be on the brink of a break-up. Ms. Ives ends her letter by saying, “I think I’m beginning to accept you as you are, and I couldn’t love you more.”

So, who are these two people? Why was one living in White Plains, New York, and the other living in Duluth, Minnesota? Do they ever resolve their differences and get married?

Stay tuned to find out.

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My new “happy mystery”

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a quest to find a new “happy mystery.” I wasn’t sure if I could actually find such a thing, but I knew right where to start… ebay.

For those of you who know me, you know that I’m an avid genealogist. I’ve done extensive research digging up the backstories of my own German, Swedish, and Norwegian ancestors. For me, finding names and dates isn’t good enough. The real meat is found in the stories of the people themselves… their dreams, their struggles, their tragedies, and their passions. The best finds are primary sources like letters, journals, and… the Holy Grail of all genealogy quests… a family Bible.

Edling Family Bible

Edling Family Bible

If your family is lucky enough to own an antique Bible showing the births, marriages, and deaths of your fellow family members, consider yourself blessed. For one thing, these beautiful books are true works of art. I’ve run across two such Bibles in my own family research, and in both cases, the craftsmanship of the cover, binding, illustrations, and printed pages is truly impressive. “They just don’t make them like they used to,” so to speak. The other reason these family Bibles are such a great find is that they often give a complete genealogical record of all births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths of family members whose records weren’t tracked in the days before hospital births, newspaper announcements, and the Social Security Administration. In these cases, finding a family Bible is like hitting the ancestry jackpot.

So, imagine my surprise when, a few years ago, I happened-upon a family Bible for sale on ebay. I can’t remember how I ran across it exactly… it must have shown up in a random Google search that I was doing at the time. However, after a little more searching, I learned there are a LOT of family Bibles for sale on ebay. I couldn’t believe it. How did these historic family relics end up on the auction block? Surely the family members would want them back, wouldn’t they?

I decided my new “happy mystery” would be to purchase one of these Bibles and return it to its rightful owner. That all sounded very valiant and fun until I was outbid on every item I tried to purchase. It turns out that being a do-good-Bible-returner is an expensive franchise.

So, on a whim, I decided to do another ebay search… this time for “love letters.” Again, much to my surprise, it turns out ebay is full of antique love letters for sale. How exciting! These would be even more fun to return to their rightful owners!

I took some quick glances at a few of the descriptions, and immediately saw the letters I wanted to buy. They were written by a woman from White Plains, New York and sent to a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota. (Remember White Plains, New York? That’s where Elena Duke Benedict was from.) I decided it was a sign… so I hit the “Buy It Now” button and shelled out $12.49 for both letters.

Here’s the description included on ebay:

LOT OF 2 LETTERS AND ENVELOPES [I PAGE AND 2 PAGE LETTERS]
SOME TEARS FROM BEING OPENED, A LITTLE WRINKLING, SOME YELLOWING AND POST OFFICE WRITING
POSTAL STAMP: WHITE PLAINS NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 60, 1949
OCTOBER 4, 1949
FROM: R. IVES, WHITE PLAINS NEW YORK
TO: DR. JOHN VAN DUYN, DULUTH MINNESOTA
CONTENTS: A MAN AND WOMAN [NOT YET MARRIED] TRYING TO WORK OUT THEIR DIFFERENCES.

Of course, I was curious about all kinds of things. Did they ever end up getting married? How did they know each other? Why were they living so far apart? What differences were they trying to work out? Sounded like a good, happy mystery to me… or so I hope.

I’ve already done some preliminary research and am busy piecing together the story of these two people who were in love in 1949. Much more to come in my next few posts… stay tuned!

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Was Jacob’s abduction “a perfect storm?”

I have a few more thoughts about the Jacob Wetterling case. After this, I’m hoping to move on to a new mystery – a happy one with a happy ending. Surely there must be a happy mystery that exists somewhere. If you know of such a thing, let me know.

(New here? Start from the beginning…)

Several people have wondered what the weather was like the night Jacob was abducted. I wondered the same thing, so on the day I drove through St. Joseph a few weeks ago, I made a stop at the St. Cloud Library on my way home. I wanted to check the microfilm for the local newspaper on the day after Jacob was abducted (October 23, 1989) to see if I could find any information that hadn’t been included in recent news reports. Click here to read the article.

3rd quarter moonAs for the weather… here’s the skinny. After making a copy of the October 23, 1989 newspaper article, I rolled back the microfilm to one day earlier so I could look at the weather report from October 22, the actual day Jacob was abducted. It had been a clear, beautiful day for late October, with a high near 70 degrees. The evening sky was clear with a waning moon in its third quarter. That means it was a half moon; the full moon had been one week prior.

That being said, the question rolling around in my head was… even though the boys said they never saw a car, could a car have been parked in the Rassiers’ driveway a little further down, so the boys couldn’t see it in the dark?

In 2003, the investigators discounted the “getaway car” theory when a local resident came forward to admit the tire tracks found by police in the Rassier’s driveway that night were most likely his. But why were authorities so quick to discount this theory and instead, focus on the “local-resident-who-escaped-on-foot theory?” Was it because it was Dan Rassier, himself, who’d been the one to tell police he’d seen a car turn around in his driveway that night, and then speed away at about the same time Jacob was abducted?

If Rassier witnessed the car from inside his house, that must mean the car pulled all the way into his property to turn around. That’s because you can’t see the end of the driveway from the house; it’s hidden by trees/woods. If I understand it correctly, the local resident (Kevin) who inadvertently left his tire tracks in the driveway that night, told Trish Van Pilsum from FOX 9 News that he had simply pulled in, backed up, and driven away. Wouldn’t that mean he didn’t go all the way into the property? So, if Rassier is telling the truth, doesn’t that mean there had to be another car that night… someone besides Kevin? (If you didn’t see Trish Van Pilsum’s interview, read my previous post).

I re-visited this “getaway-car-parked-in-the-Rassier-driveway theory” one more time. Even though Aaron and Trevor said they didn’t see a car that night, could there have been one parked halfway up the driveway, away from the road so the boys couldn’t see it, yet before the curve, where Rassier would have seen it from the house? Could someone have been parked in the Rassiers’ driveway that night, waiting for the boys to return from the Tom Thumb? Was it so dark that night that the boys wouldn’t have seen a car in the driveway?

At first, I thought no way. You’d think a half moon would be pretty bright. Surely if a car had been parked on that driveway, only 20 yards away, at least one of the boys would have seen it. Right? But, here’s something I learned about a third quarter moon. It rises at midnight and sets at noon the following day. That means, at 9:15pm, when Jacob was abducted, there was no moonlight at all. The moon hadn’t even risen yet, so the sky was completely dark.

So… was it a stalker-stranger who abducted Jacob and escaped in a getaway car that he’d stashed in the Rassiers’ driveway? To me, this scenario seems highly unlikely since all the elements of the abduction would have had to have fallen together perfectly. The boys had never been allowed to go to the Tom Thumb after dark before. If a stranger had been stalking Jacob at his hockey tryouts earlier that day, and/or skulking around at the Tom Thumb earlier that afternoon, what are the chances he’d be so lucky that Jacob would come strolling along, out for the first time after dark, on a moonless night, when his parents just happened to be away at a dinner party? A perfect storm? I doubt it.

The person who abducted Jacob KNEW he’d be returning down that dark road within 30 minutes or so. He knew the Tom Thumb plan. It seems that a stalker-stranger who just happened-upon three young boys out after dark would strike while the iron was hot, like in the Cold Spring case. After all, without knowing the boys, or where they were heading, wouldn’t the stalker-stranger logically assume they were just on a one way trip… either back home or to a friend’s house?

However, this person KNEW the boys would be making a return trip to the Wetterling home. He knew where the Wetterling home was, and he waited for their return. If it was someone who saw them at the Tom Thumb picking out a movie, that person had to have known who they were, where they lived, and where they were heading. If he was driving, he would have had to hurry to get ahead of them, stash his car, pull a mask over his head, and position himself in the ditch, all without being seen.

Or, it had to be someone who knew the boys were on their way to the Tom Thumb and knew they’d be returning down that dark road in about a half hour. He knew they’d be RETURNING soon… that they weren’t just on a one-way trip to another friend’s house. Could that person have been outside on that warm, quiet October night and overheard the boys talking on their way to the Tom Thumb?

Aaron Larson, Jacob Wetterling's best friendAs you recall, Aaron (Jacob’s friend) was on a scooter, so they had to have been going pretty slowly. Was someone spying on them, listening to their every word? Didn’t Aaron report that he thought he’d heard rustling in the tall grass, halfway to the Tom Thumb? The Minneapolis StarTribune interviewed Aaron in 2009, on the 20th anniversary of Jacob’s abduction.

Watch Aaron’s 2009 interview here

We know for sure there was another boy, Jared, just one year older than Jacob, who was abducted, molested, and released by a stalker-stranger in Cold Spring… just 10 miles away and 9 months prior. That man was never found, and the similarities between the two cases are striking (i.e., Jared was abducted on his way home after skating at a hockey rink; Jacob was at hockey tryouts earlier that day; the man was concerned about being recognized in both cases; he had a gun and a low gravely voice; and, in both instances, he told the boys, “Run and don’t turn around, or I’ll shoot.”). These facts are hard to deny. Sure sounds like it could be the same guy.

However, they sure have put the heat on Dan Rassier lately, and God help him if he had nothing to do with the case. Yes, his actions on the night of the abduction seem a little weird. But then, why in the world didn’t the police officers search his house or interview him that first night? Also weird.

And really… could a guy like Dan Rassier, an educated man with a Master’s degree and a TEACHER for heaven’s sake, actually do something like this? For 21 years, he’s lived his life under a microscope. If he was guilty of child molestation/abduction, wouldn’t they have found some nasty files on his computer or some kiddie porn in his bedroom? They’ve searched his house three times now… chances are they would have found something incriminating by now. Right?

Confounding. Frustrating. Agonizing!

Let me just end by saying this…

Peace to the Wetterlings, and peace to you, Jacob. If there was something… ANYTHING… more I could do for you, I would. But unfortunately, only two people know what really happened that October night 21 years ago – you and your abductor. So… here’s one last word for you, Mr. Gravely Voice. If you’re still out there, know that it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s never too late to ask for forgiveness, and it’s never too late to be forgiven. Please, do the right thing.

In the meantime, I’ll keep praying and “thinking Jacob.”

Skip ahead to 2013: Thinking Jacob. Again.

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A few questions answered, but more to ponder…

I was just alerted to this Channel 9 interview between Dan Rassier and Trish Van Pilsum. It was done in 2004, before Dan Rassier’s name was made available to the public. In the interview, his face is blurred-out and, I assume, his voice is disguised.

We also hear from the witness who arrived first on the scene and inadvertently left his tire tracks when he turned around in the Rassier’s driveway.

Transcript

It’s been nearly 15 years since Jacob Wetterling vanished near his St. Joseph home.

And he’s the man who says he has recently become a “suspect” in the Wetterling Investigation.

Stearns County authorities don’t use the word. That’s because of gaps early in the investigation. They haven’t been able to link him to the crime or rule the man out.

Trish Van Pilsum: “Did you have anything to do with Jacob’s disappearance?”

The Man: “I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

FOX 9 won’t identify this man because he hasn’t been arrested or charged. He lives near the abduction site. He was home alone on October 22, 1989. There is no one to confirm his whereabouts. Police questioned him the day after the abduction, more as a witness than a possible suspect.

The Man: “They needed to check me out. They said they had to check me out.”

They searched his car at work but not until later in the day.

The Man: “That morning when I left, I had a car full of …”

Trish Van Pilsum: “Boxes. Big boxes.”

The Man: “… and they never looked in my car. I mean it was that bad.”

They searched his property, too. But not until five days later.

The Man: “They didn’t come in the house that night. It could have been over with.”

Investigators, new to the case, agree important things were overlooked in the early days of the search. That there were just too many people and too many agencies involved.

More than 14 years passed. Why the renewed interest in this man now? The FOX 9 Investigators have learned that investigators now doubt one of the main theories of Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance. That theory: While Jacob, his brother, and a friend walked their bikes and scooter home from a convenience store, somebody got out of a car, grabbed Jacob, and fled in his car.

Stearns County investigators are steering away from the car, leaving their suspect on foot, and local. That fits with what the other boys said.

This is a copy of a statement Jacob’s best friend Aaron gave police.

[Investigator:] “Was there any vehicles or anything around at this point that you observed?” [Aaron Larson:] “Uh uh. Not that we could see.”

How did the car come into play? Remember the witness turned possible suspect? It was his account that placed a car at the scene that night. He said it turned around and sped away about the time Jacob disappeared.

The FOX 9 Investigators also have learned there was a car nearby that night. We found the driver. He is not a suspect.

Kevin: “It’s sad. It chokes me up. But what can I do. What could I have done.”

He’s a man in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Kevin: “I never came forward. I figured I didn’t have to.”

Kevin was 21 at the time. He heard something on the scanner. Saw a police car speed by his house. Curious, he tried to follow the squad. He was there so fast there was no police crime scene tape around the bikes and scooter yet. He drove away and told a police officer what he’d seen.

Kevin: “He said, yeh we know all about that. I know about the bikes. And that was it. It was like I was bothering him. We backed out and left and that was it.”

Trish Van Pilsum: “He didn’t take your name or phone number.”

Kevin: “He didn’t take my name.”

Trish Van Pilsum: “He didn’t ask, did you see a man lurking around?”

Kevin: “Didn’t ask me a thing.”

Nor, it appears, did the officer pass along his conversation with Kevin to investigators. It strikes the new investigators now working on the case 14 years later as strange. It also strikes them as a huge problem. In fact, investigators didn’t know about Kevin at all until this October [2003]. This came about because he met a federal marshal at a party who urged Kevin to talk to the lead investigator of the Wetterling investigation.

Kevin: “He was really shocked. ‘Cause after I told him who I talked to, what I seen, he couldn’t believe he didn’t know about me. In reality, I could have been the kidnapper and they never would have found me.”

In fact, of the thousands and thousands of pages of leads, none places Kevin at the scene around the time of the kidnapping. A source close to the case said they wasted 14 years looking for him.

Trish Van Pilsum: “Kevin, do you think, ‘Boy if my information didn’t get passed along, what else was missed?’”

Kevin: “Yes. Who else knows something about the case they might not think was crucial.”

Kevin even heard the police were trying to track down the car using tire tracks.

Kevin: “I was scared. I got really scared.”

Kevin expected police to come to him. They never did.

Trish Van Pilsum: “So if they couldn’t find you, what were the odds that they could find the kidnapper.”

Kevin: “Exactly. I think about that all the time. It’s sad. A young kid like that you know, 14 years.”

Why didn’t he go to the police? He figured he’d gotten to the scene after everything was over. He doubted he had anything to add. And he didn’t want to get caught up in the widening net of the Wetterling search.

Kevin: “I knew they were looking for someone and I didn’t want to be put in the position of being a suspect.”

Now investigators believe the car is accounted for. The investigation narrows to a small area surrounding the abduction scene. And, specifically on one man. One of Jacob Wetterling’s neighbors.

The Man: “I’m not worried. I’m thinking they’re going to figure out I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do something like that.”

Investigators questioned him as recently as two weeks ago, February 7th [2004]. They took a sample of his DNA. Five days later they questioned his family and searched his computer files at home.

The Man: “I just have to hope they make sense out of it and not wreck my life.”

Remember he is the witness who placed a car at the scene. Later that night he heard a commotion. It was the search and it was in his yard. He went back to bed.

Trish Van Pilsum: “Why would you go to bed when a kid had just disappeared?”

The Man: “I wanted to get some sleep. I wasn’t going to waste my time.”

The man FOX 9 talked with may never be connected with the Jacob Wetterling kidnapping case.

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