Volunteers sorting old court records come across a note.
Removing old paperclips and straight pins, discarding the wormlike remains of ancient rubber bands, then straightening folded papers for insertion in acid-free folders can be as tedious as a too long sentence.
So when volunteers sorting and filing old probate cases at the Clark County Historical Society come across something unusual — say a hand-written note — they often entertain one another by reading it.
Thus did Amber Lopez come to read aloud the lightly pencilled, mostly legible note in the 1915 probate case of Evelyn and Catharine Anjean Welsheimer. As it turned out, only the lettering was light.
For from the start, the note’s tone seemed straight from the inky nib of Edgar Allan Poe.
“It seems that I am a misery to my wife and that she no longer is satisfied with me,” it began, “for she said she no longer loved me, and I can’t help but fuss with Hattie for I am called at the shop about her not doing right. I am told to watch her.”
The shop Seth K. Welsheimer walked about was the International Harvester works on Lagonda Avenue. He was a night watchman there, a watchman who in fall of 1915 had little but time and worry on his mind.
“While I believe that she is perfectly innocent (of infidelity),” he continued, “the thought of walking around here studying, being told such stuff makes me nervous, weak and broken-hearted.”
“I love Hattie,” he wrote. “(But) I don’t care to live with her after what I have been told. (And) I can’t see her leave with someone else.”
This far into the reciting, the impending danger had become apparent to Lopez and the other volunteers seated nearby.
“Everybody just stopped dead,” Marguerite Brinkman said. “It was a suicide note.”
“I am driven mad at such thoughts,” the note continued, “so I am going to purchase a gun and kill her and myself.”
Although, by his own suggestion in a “mad” state, Welsheimer seems to have been clear-minded enough address his estate.
“Call Jesse Walsheimer at Urbana. See if he won’t take Evelyn,” the note said. “Tell Eva in Wichita, Kan., to take Anjean.”
Having dispatched with the living, he turned to burial arrangements for the soon-to-be dead.
“Bury us beside Kenneth (the couple’s deceased son) — or me, any way — and know (that) Hattie wanted to be.”
“I have $1,000 Woodman Insurance for the kids and $800 at the shop,” he wrote, finishing up with practical matters.
“Oh, it is a long lonesome night, walking around here ... studying about this. (If) only (I) could control my mind.”
Front page news
Heritage Center volunteers occasionally have felt uneasy about poring over the intimate details of people’s lives in probate cases. But in this case, the cat has been out of the bag for 96 years.
Curatorial Assistant Natalie Fritz found front page newspaper coverage of the murder suicide that filled out the story.
The Sun, Springfield’s morning paper, said that “15 minutes before the shooting, Welsheimer was seen standing in the door at Charles. R. Rummel’s pool room and cigar store.”
“Earlier in the afternoon,” the Springfield Daily News said, “Mrs. Welsheimer had left her 3-year-old daughter, Anjean, with a neighbor before going downtown.
The couple had stopped at the home a few minutes before the shooting and were asked if they wanted to take the child with them.
“Let her sleep. I will come after in a little while,” Mr. Welsheimer is reported to have said.
“Welsheimer and his wife were (then) seen crossing the street to their home (at 624 Linden Ave.). Several persons ... said Tuesday that they judged from the attitude of the couple that some trouble was occurring, but they thought nothing of it.”
Blood on the street
Initial reports said Welsheimer shot his wife twice with steel jacketed bullets from a .32-caliber revolver, leaving an apparent defensive wound in her right wrist, then the fatal shot in her right breast.
Coroner Howard Austin later reported a second chest wound.
Mr. Welsheimer then administered a single gunshot to his own forehead.
Neither died instantly.
Motorcycle Officer Robert Marmion, a neighbor, was first on the scene and “found the woman lying in the street in front of her home still breathing,” The Sun said. “She was carried into the front room of the house, in which Welsheimer lay on the floor with a ghastly bullet wound in the forehead, but still alive.”
There both expired there, he at 33, she at 29.
The Sun gave its readers one thing to be thankful for in the report: “F.H. Rolfes, who has a grocery store at Linden Avenue and Clifton Street, heard the shots and notified the police. He then ran out and stopped Evelyn, the 10-year-old daughter, as she was coming from school, and took her to her grandmother’s home.”
At least the girl did not see her parents’ slaughter.
The next day’s paper brought what turned out to be good news and bad news.
Following the announcement that the double-funeral of that evening would private and the couple taken to Greenfield, Ohio, for burial beside their son came this news: “The two little daughters will undoubtedly be well cared for, as relatives were in the city yesterday and two or three asked for the care of the children.”
PAGE 2 OF 2Another note
The care of surviving young children can be a contentious matter in the best of circumstances. Welsheimer’s killing of his wife likely caused nearly unendurable tensions between the two sides of the family.
Whether there were any other gross instances of misbehavior between them isn’t clear. The one that survives in the court file seems sufficient.
It is a letter sent to the elder girl, Evelyn, from an uncle in Chicago, presumably on the maternal side of the family.
Telling her he is “very sorry to hear you did not think you could come and live with me,” he asks the 10-year-old to raise the issue with the judge.
The letter mentions the lovely times she, her sister and their uncle and aunt could have going to the movies, getting the nice clothes and shoes and visiting Lake Michigan and the Lincoln Park Zoo.
It conveys promises of the nice presents at Christmas and registers a complaint about the relatives who were caring for the girls.
“I don’t see why the deuce the Welsheimers want you,” he adds. “They can’t take of you and clothe you and give you the education you need. So come home with Aunt Lulu, you and Anjean, and I will be your best friend.”
Laying down the lawThe court was not amused.
Awarding permanent custody to Jesse E. Welsheimer of Urbana, the judge made it clear that relatives from both sides of the family would have reasonable access to the children.
The judge also made it clear there was an expectation of civil behavior from all.
“Neither side of the family, maternal or paternal, (is) to do anything to said children that will tend — in any manner whatever —to prejudice either of said children against any of their relatives or families.”
The children, the judge ruled, had been through enough.
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0368.
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