Echoes Of A Parma Tragedy

This February sixteenth will mark the hundredth-year anniversary of the murders of Mabel Foote and Louise Wolf. The two teachers were beaten to death on Ridgewood Road, roughly a quarter mile east of its intersection with Ridge Road.  Sadly, their murders were never solved. Where nearly forgotten today, the murders were the flash point of public umbrage.  There were numerous citizen outrage meetings.  Armed mobs of farmer “posses” roamed the streets, searching woods, farms, and homes while questioning all that they met. 

By all evidence, the tragedy occurred at a near rapid-fire pace: at five o’clock Charles Uhink witnessed the teachers leaving the school from his family farm. When the teachers were found the next day, a pocket watch, having belonged to Mabel, was found near the bodies. It was broken and had stopped at five fifteen.  It was then estimated that the attack either occurred at that time or before. Given the fact that their walk on Bean took them to State Road, some two miles away, they had to walk at a fairly rapid pace. Such would have them encounter their murderer within five minutes of leaving the school.

It may seem rather odd that Uhink or another resident did not hear the woman’s predictable screams as they fought their attacker. However, there is a logical reason for this. This was that the temperature was roughly fifty degrees, with winds gusting up to fifty miles per hour. That Bean was a gloppy mess was evidenced by the women’s walking on the northern side’s bank of the road. It also recorded their attacker’s approaching them from a real estate shack on the south-side. It also recorded his jumping into the road and fleeing westward after the attack.

Immediately after the discovery of the bodies, the controversy began. To begin with, police lost control over the situation from the start. By the time that they arrived at the crime scene, a crowd had gathered nearby. Within hours, the “posses” had formed and were tramping through the area looking for “clews.”  In the coming days, these “unofficial investigators” would be led by, of all people, a school board secretary by the name of Herman Geltman. Before long, the investigation devolved into a search for roughly dressed men who did not wear hats. 

From the start, a legend formed around the murders. Some of this was based upon facts, such as the argument that at least one of the teachers knew their assailant. If not, why would they let him approach them on that lonely stretch of road? Others, however, were pure myth, such as the claim that Louise died on her stomach. A simple study of the crime scene photos reveals that she died on her back. Another myth was that Mabel dragged herself toward Louise, pausing at her overnight bag to wipe her face on her nightgown. Again, one need only look at the crime scene photographs to see that Mabel died crawling towards the road. More, the pictures plainly show that the nightgown is completely out of the bag. It is then arguable that Mabel could not have removed the nightgown from her overnight bag, considering that she dragged herself. We could expect it to be halfway out, but not all the way out of the bag. 

In the end, the investigation failed miserably. Of course, there were the given suspects, mainly men with scratched faces or who matched the accepted version of what the killer should look like. As well, there were those who came forward to claim responsibility, such as Arthur Ihlenfeld, whom all sources hold to be mentally handicapped. The problem with Mr. Ihlenfeld is that his accounts of the assault do not match the evidence of the situation. 

The ultimate tragedy of the murders was what their investigation revealed about the area’s residents. Throughout, “imbeciles,” “half-wits” and “morons” were held with suspicion and accused with unabashed regularity. These were, after all, the birthing days of Eugenics. 

For those interested, a small park next to the Pearl Road entrance to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo memorializes the two teachers. 

Bob Shafer

I am the fellow who spoke with Dan about the Foote/Wolf Murders

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Volume 13, Issue 2, Posted 8:52 AM, 02.01.2021