By RICHARD BATTIN
A HALF-CENTURY AGO, FAST-GROWING FORT WAYNE WAS PARALYZED WHEN YOUNG WOMEN STARTED TURNING UP MURDERED, ALL THOUGHT TO BE VICTIMS OF A KILLER IN THE RAIN. NO ONE WAS ABOVE SUSPICION IN A STRING OF VIOLENT DEATHS OF LOCAL WOMEN IN THE 1940S - CRIMES THAT WOULD BAFFLE AUTHORITIES FOR YEARS.
It began, as so many dreadful stories do, with a shiver.
Adeline Haaga had a feeling something terrible had happened to her sister
Billie, and she was right.
It would take a few months before the shiver spread throughout the city,
but spread it would. For when Billie Haaga collapsed on the porch of a
Hartzell Road farmhouse on the rainy night of February 2, 1944, she dropped
like a stone into the calm pond that was Fort Wayne half a century ago.
Haaga's beating death was shocking news for World War II-era Fort Wayne,
but more shocks were to come.
By the end of 1944, two more young women would be beaten and strangled; in
1945, another two would die. It was a series of murders as horrific as any we
see in our own violent age and, for that simpler time, it was a cause for
''It looks like the work of a maniac," declared Police Chief Jule Stumpf
after the third murder.
''Officials believe it is quite possible that the killer is a Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde type of murderer," the Journal-Gazette reported. "He may be a
respectable man in appearance . . . with a dual personality that turns him
into a ruthless mad-dog."
''Everyone should be suspicious now," Captain of Detectives John Taylor
warned on WGL-Radio. "The next-door neighbor, the man downstairs, the
acquaintance down the street. Any of them might be our man."
As it turned out, four men came under prominent suspicion in the slayings.
Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh walked into the Kokomo police station late one summer
night in 1947 and confessed to three of the killings. Although he would spend
three decades in prison, much of it on death row, later investigations
indicated he probably didn't kill anybody.
Three other men would be charged in some of the killings over the next
three years. One was executed. One was tried and convicted but the conviction
was overturned. The third was never tried.
''No one is above suspicion," Sheriff Walter Adams told a frightened
community after the third murder. Men were picked up and grilled by
detectives. Police and sheriff departments received hundreds of reports
related to the murders.
It took three killings to stir the town to such a state of hysteria. There
was significantly less reaction to the first slaying by the "killer in the
rain," in the winter of 1944.
The country was in the third year of the war, and women in Fort Wayne were
following the advice of War Department posters that urged them to "Do the job
he left behind."
Wilhelmina Haaga, 38, was one of those women. She left a department-store
job in Chicago to return home to Fort Wayne and work in a defense plant.
She lived with her mother, Grace; her sister, Adeline; and her mother's
sister Sara, whom she called Aunt Sally, in a two-story frame house in the 700
block of High Street, just north of downtown. Wilhelmina Haaga's friends and
family called her Billie.
Haaga was born in Fort Wayne and lived here most of her life. She attended
St. Augustine's Academy and finishing school, then performed in vaudeville as
a singer and dancer for more than a decade. Most of that time she was
accompanied by her Aunt Sally.
During the Depression, Haaga came home to live with her parents. In 1936
she moved to Chicago. She returned to Fort Wayne in 1941 to work for Inca
Manufacturing, a division of Phelps Dodge on New Haven Avenue on the fringes
of the city's east side. Her father died the next year.
A devout Catholic, Haaga was active at Most Precious Blood Catholic Church.
She was director of a junior drill team there and a member of the Blessed
Virgin Sodality. She was an organist for the Daughters of Isabella.
Each day at noon, Haaga telephoned her mother from work to ask how she had
spent the morning. Relatives described Haaga as punctual.
On Wednesday, Feb. 2, 1944, Haaga talked to her mother and sister just
before she left work at 4:30 p.m. It was cold that day, with wet snow and
She told them she was meeting a woman friend downtown - that they planned
to go shopping and then to dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall. At 5:30 she
had a rehearsal for the drill team. She planned to meet her sister there, and
the two would go home together afterward.
Shortly after Haaga left work, someone reported seeing her get into a car
near the factory. Two other witnesses would later describe the vehicle as a
1932 or 1933 sedan.
Later, Haaga's sister Adeline would recall that when she heard her sister
was missing she had a strange feeling "something terrible had happened."
She was right.
Shortly before 6:30 that night, Billie Haaga staggered in her stocking feet
up to the farmhouse of Arno Ridel at the north end of Hartzell Road.
She had been attacked near the Maumee River off South River Road, four
miles from downtown. The gravel road winds along the south bank of the Maumee,
looking today much as it did a half-century ago.
Haaga walked a mile and a half over rough ground to the Ridel farm before
Bruised and bloodied, she was rushed to St. Joseph Hospital. She died three
days later, on Feb. 5. The News-Sentinel reported the death of the "pretty
blond factory worker" and offered a $500 reward for information leading to her
Allen County Coroner Dr. Edgar Mendenhall ruled the death a "homicide at
the hands of person or persons unknown."
The autopsy showed she had been struck on the head at least five times with
a heavy object. Mendenhall said the killing blow crushed her skull from just
over the left ear to the top of her head.
She also had been choked. There were bruises on the neck and larynx, as
well as on her right arm and both knees.
At the back of the neck was a contusion and abrasion such as might be
caused by a person kicking her, Mendenhall said.
There was no evidence of sexual assault.
Detectives found Haaga's scarf at the scene of the crime along the south
bank of the Maumee. They determined she had been dragged about 200 feet down
to the river bank from the South River Road. One of her shoes was found 15
feet from the road. Her light brown overcoat was found in a depression about
40 feet away.
Her purse, with the wallet removed, was found a mile and a half from the
scene. Her wallet was found Sunday, Feb. 6, by a News-Sentinel carrier about
three-fourths of a mile from where Haaga was attacked. Robbery was discounted
as a prime motive, because the killer ignored Haaga's diamond ring and
wristwatch. Detectives found a pool of blood along the riverbank near where
Haaga apparently was hit. They speculated she then walked to a log about 100
feet east and sat or leaned on it awhile. They found another pool of blood
there. Her footprints followed the river, then went through a field to the
Footprints of the assailant showed that he walked toward the log in a path
diagonal to the road and then onto the road.
A resident of the River Haven neighborhood off South River Road told
sheriff's detectives that at about 4:45 p.m. on the day of the attack he was
pouring oil out of a pan near his garage when he saw a car go by.
It was driven by a man. There was a woman in the car, too. The resident
said the woman looked at him, turning to watch him until the car drove out of
sight. She had blond hair and appeared to be "very sober over something," he
said. She was wearing a light brown overcoat.
Forty-five minutes later the man said he was in his garage under his car
when he heard the "humming sound" of a car being driven fast. He got out from
under his vehicle in time to see the same car as before disappear around a
Two strange occurrences marked the case.
Haaga's body was taken to the Getz and Cahill Funeral Home, 2300 Fairfield
Shortly after midnight Sunday, Feb. 6, the phone rang at the mortuary. A
male caller asked Clarence Getz if this was the place where Billie Haaga's
body was. Getz said it was.
The caller said he was going to come out and take a look. Getz said he
couldn't see the body; the casket was sealed and the funeral parlor had closed
The caller yelled an obscenity at Getz and said, "I'm going to see her
before morning." Getz heard a woman's voice in the background saying "Keep
your ------- mouth shut," just before the receiver was slammed down. He called
the sheriff's department, and deputies were dispatched to the funeral home.
The caller never showed up.
On Feb. 24, the sheriff's department received an anonymous letter. Written
in pencil, it described the weight, height, complexion, hair color and eye
color of Haaga's killer. It also said where detectives could find the weapon.
No news reports indicate whether detectives pursued the letter.
By mid-March detectives had checked out and cleared at least five suspects.
Some knew the victim, they said. Others had reputations of being "wolves with
the women." No one was arrested or charged, and eventually the furor over her
death died down.
Five days after Billie Haaga died, Grace Haaga talked about her daughter
and the man who killed her. "No one is safe while he is at large," she said.
Three months later, Fort Wayne would learn she was right.
The evening of May 22, 1944, was rainy with temperatures in the high 60s.
Anna Kuzeff, 20, worked the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the General Electric
Supercharger plant on Broadway.
Every night at about 10:30, she walked the seven-tenths of a mile from her
home on the 2400 block of Fillmore Street north to Taylor Street to catch the
bus down to Broadway.
On this Monday night in May, she didn't make it.
Shortly before noon Tuesday, a neighbor, Glenn Timmis, was driving his son
home for lunch from Study School. He spotted Kuzeff's body in a field.
Police were summoned to an area that was then just within the city's
western limits - about where Portage Middle School is today. About 100 yards
south of Taylor Street, Kuzeff had been grabbed and dragged into a field on
the west side of Fillmore, less than a half mile from her house.
Her neck was fractured, indicating she had been strangled. She had been
beaten on the face and neck. There was a puncture wound under her chin.
Bruises on her nose and mouth indicated she had been struck with great force.
One upper front tooth was broken halfway down from the gumline. She had been
raped, apparently after she was killed, the coroner said.
Police believe Kuzeff's attacker hid behind a log and jumped out at her as
she walked by. Trampled grass behind the log and in a spot 100 feet into the
field indicated she fought furiously.
Kuzeff's face was matted with blood and there was blood on her arms.
Buttons were torn from her overall-style uniform, which was ripped down the
front. Her bra was torn and pushed up around her neck.
Her saddle shoes were found in the field about 50 feet west of Fillmore
Street. Her handbag and lunch sack were found closer to the street. The lunch
sack was split but still intact. It contained the lunch prepared by her
stepmother, Irene: a peeled orange, two carrots, some lettuce and two pieces
of rye bread.
The handbag contained a small purse with $1.36 in change. It also held
several candy bars, two mirrors, a lipstick, powder puff, compact, pins,
pencils and an eraser.
And it contained a matchbook with a message from the Toledo Bible company
printed on the cover: "This book of everlasting safety matches will guide you
through the Valley of Death."
Anna Kuzeff was a graduate of Central High School, class of 1943. In school
she belonged to the Girls Club and the Girls Athletic Association. A few years
before her death she had a "crush" on a boy, her family said, but it didn't
work out and she didn't see anyone after that. She spent most of her free time
at home or at the Neighborhood House, a community center on John Street.
Kuzeff's stepmother told police Kuzeff recently had complained about a man
bothering her at work. She warned Kuzeff to be careful. "You better tell your
foreman about him," she told her stepdaughter. "The man might be dangerous."
Kuzeff promised she would, but neither of her foremen recalled her telling
them anything about a bothersome man. Kuzeff did not identify the man to her
A 15-year-old Journal-Gazette delivery boy told police he had seen a
stranger in the neighborhood on several occasions. He saw nothing unusual the
day Kuzeff's body was found.
Two women who also worked at G.E. passed the area about 10:45 the night
Kuzeff was killed - it must have been just after Kuzeff was grabbed.
They told police they had heard nothing.
''We were making a lot of noise ourselves," one of them said. "We couldn't
see a thing it was so dark. We stepped in one of those (pot) holes and we
screamed and squealed and thought somebody would be calling the police."
A little more than three hours after Anna Kuzeff's body was found, an
employee of Essex Wire spotted a man's body floating in the St. Marys River,
just north of the Swinney Park Bridge.
The dead man was Clyde Scherrer, 54, a janitor who had lived in the 2300
block of South Calhoun Street. He had worked at General Electric, just like
The obvious question was whether his death was connected to Kuzeff's. The
newspapers said his body was found just three-quarters of a mile from the
woman's. In fact, it is more than twice that as the crow flies.
There were scratches on his body and face. There were also teeth prints on
the middle finger of his left hand, said Deputy Coroner Dr. D. R. Benninghoff.
Measurements were taken of Kuzeff's teeth. (Remember, one had been broken.)
Captain of Detectives John Taylor almost immediately announced there was no
connection to the Kuzeff case.
Benninghoff said Scherrer had been in the water six to eight hours before
he was found. There was no identification on the body.
Scherrer's wife, Millie, told police she had last seen her husband at 1
p.m. Monday, May 22. Scherrer worked 3 to 11 p.m. at General Electric. Millie
Scherrer and her sister were leaving for Bluffton that afternoon She said her
husband was in good spirits when she left.
Millie Scherrer and her sister returned home about 7:30 that night. The
newspapers were on the front porch, and the light was on in the kitchen. Her
husband hadn't eaten the lunch she had prepared for him before she left.
General Electric reported that Scherrer hadn't worked that night - or all
of the previous week, in fact. A guard at the plant said he'd heard Scherrer
was "mowing grass for some well-to-do people instead of working at the plant."
Millie Scherrer said she didn't know her husband hadn't been going to GE.
He'd been leaving the house at his regular time, 2 p.m., and returning as
always around midnight.
When she last saw him on the afternoon of May 22, in fact, he had his GE
badge on the left side of his shirt, just like always, she said.
There was no badge on the corpse. Police found a pocket knife, two keys, 55
cents a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, two sticks of chewing gum and a white
handkerchief with an Army laundry mark.
On Saturday, May 27, 1944, Dr. Mendenhall officially ruled that Clyde
Scherrer killed himself for "reasons unknown."
The search for Anna Kuzeff's killer, meanwhile, continued.
Shortly after her slaying, three men were taken to Indianapolis for lie
detector tests. The relatively new device wasn't yet available in Fort Wayne.
In June, detectives grilled a magazine salesman from Saginaw, Mich. He was
freed after a polygraph examination.
In October, a 19-year-old ex-sailor from Elgin, Ill., under indictment for
two rapes in that city, confessed to Kuzeff's slaying. He said he had come to
Fort Wayne because he had heard it was a "fast city" with plenty of girls and
Detectives doubted his story. He claimed on the afternoon of the slaying he
had seen the movie "Casablanca" at a Fort Wayne theater. The 2-year-old movie
wasn't showing at any city movie house that day. A month after his confession,
it was proved he was at work on the day of the slaying.
Police assumed one man killed both Kuzeff that spring and Haaga the
previous winter. A summer slaying would soon be added to the list.
The body of 17-year-old South Side High School junior Phyllis Conine was
found in a field of weeds along a country road in Aboite township on Sunday,
Aug. 6, 1944.
She had been reported missing two days earlier when she failed to meet a
girlfriend at a downtown movie theater. She had been strangled. A blow to
the head had crushed her skull, but the coroner speculated she was hit after
she died, because of the absence of dried blood where the body was found.
Her clothing had been torn from her body. Lab tests failed to determine
conclusively whether she was assaulted, but detectives, nevertheless, believed
she had been raped.
Lying near the body was a man's tan trench coat, size 38, with grease marks
all over it and blood on one lapel. The collar and cuffs were frayed. The left
pocket was badly worn and detectives speculated the killer was left- handed -
assuming, of course, the coat belonged to the killer.
Sheriff Walter Adams testified at the inquest that there were no sign of a
struggle or blood where the body was found, suggesting she had been killed
somewhere else. "It looked like someone had just walked into the weed-grown
field, dumped the body, walked around and left," he said. The location was off
Yohne Road, eight miles southwest of the city. The victim's emptied purse was
found a mile and a half west of the site.
Conine was found by two brothers - Wybourn Foulks, 37, and Glenn Foulks,
39, both of Fort Wayne. They had stopped by the field around 4 p.m. to shoot
at a crow they spotted across the Little River Ditch.
The brother noticed a shoe and umbrella lying between the road and a wire
fence bordering the field. They saw strips of cloth flapping in the wind on
the barbed wire. They walked to the fence, looked into the field and say
Phyllis Conine's body.
The trail of the victim's clothing led from the field to the body. First
came the other shoe; then a white slip; and, close to the body, her brown-and-
white-checked dress and a blood-stained head scarf.
Phyllis Conine was active in South Side athletics and worked on the school
paper. She belonged to the Girls Athletic Association. She was a girls sports
reporter on the school paper, The South Side Times, and was going to be girls
sports editor in her senior year. She played piano and liked public speaking.
''She was a good student, and she would want you to mention that," said her
mother. "Her main interests were her school activities and athletics."
Because she was believed killed somewhere else, possibly within city
limits, both the Fort Wayne Police and Allen County Sheriff's departments
worked the case.
The cumulative affect of the three murders threw the town into "fearful
discord." Police Chief Jule Stumpf said his department would remain on 24-
hour emergency call until the murderer was arrested.
''We have no idea from what walk of life this killer may hail," said
Sheriff Walter Adams. "No one is above suspicion until he checks out clean
with us. No one with unaccountable scratch marks - and shaving isn't a good
excuse - is exempt. He should be reported. We'll clear him if he's innocent."
Six men were immediately hauled down to the police station and grilled in
the killing. Most were picked up because they had scratches on their faces.
Rumors of dead girls being found ran rampant all over the county.
A 25-year-old Boone Street woman who was reported missing turned up in
Huntington, where she had gone to spend the night with relatives.
A 21-year-old married woman was reported missing Sunday, Aug. 6, the day
Conine's body was found. She was found the following Wednesday parked in a car
in Swinney Park with a man other than her husband. She said she had gone to
Van Wert with some friends.
More than 500 reports were phoned into the police department. The Journal-
Gazette reported getting 45 calls an hour the day after Conine's body was
Conine's friend, Barbara Criswell, said she had telephoned Conine at 2:30
the Friday she disappeared and arranged to meet her in front of the Paramount
Theater downtown at 3:45 p.m. Criswell said she was late, not arriving until
4:10 p.m., but Conine wasn't there. She said she waited until 5 p.m. and then
called Conine's parents.
''I suppose I'll always wonder if it might have been different if I had
gotten to the theater on time," she said later. "I don't suppose I'll ever get
over thinking about that."
Playing at the "healthfully cool" Paramount on East Wayne Street that day
in 1944 was "Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble," with Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone and
Fay Holden. Andy was at college being torn between two girls, twins, that he
couldn't tell apart.
Strangely, after the murder - and five years later, at Franklin Click's
trial, - Criswell testified that she was meeting Phyllis at 3:45 p.m., but it
came out that show times for the movie that day were 3:30, 5:35 and 7:40 p.m.
Conine's mother said she called her daughter from work at 9 a.m. and 12:30
p.m. that day. She asked her to take some lace downtown to get it matched.
That was the last time she talked to her daughter.
Conine was not the kind of girl who would get in a stranger's car, her
family insisted. Perhaps her slayer was a school acquaintance or other friend.
But detectives said a high school boy wasn't capable of such a vicious
Her father would later speculate that his daughter got in the killer's car
because she thought it was a friend of the family. They had a friend who drove
a black Chevy, he said.
The killer drove a black Chevy, detectives would learn later.
It was raining on that fateful afternoon.
Conine left the family home in the 900 block of Kinsmoor Avenue, heading
for Creighton and Calhoun streets, and apparently she got in someone's car
while waiting for the No. 4 streetcar to take her downtown.
The Phyllis Conine case was not without its own strange turns.
A 10-year-old girl said she saw Conine in a car at Jefferson and Van Buren
streets Friday afternoon. The car was heading west. "She knew me and she waved
at me," the girl said.
One man said he saw Conine in a downtown tavern Saturday night, Aug. 5 .
The man said he knew the Conine family well and that the girl had come to his
table and talked to him for a moment. Two other people claimed they saw her
When her body was found Sunday, Aug. 6, the coroner said she had been dead
at least 48 hours.
The manager of the Paramount Theater said he saw Phyllis Conine in his
theater at 4:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4 .
A saleswoman said she saw her at Wolf and Dessauer's department store
downtown shortly before that.
Reacting to the town's outrage and fear, the City Council on Tuesday, Aug.
8, authorized a $15,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of
the killer of Haaga, Kuzeff and Conine.
It would be years before anyone would try to claim the money. Before then,
there would be at least one more killing in the rain.
Early on Tuesday, March 6, 1945, a policeman checking stores downtown
heard low moaning from an alley behind the 600 block of South Calhoun Street.
The policeman found Dorothea Howard, 36, of the 1200 block of McClellan
Street, lying semi-conscious. She was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where
she managed to say her name before collapsing into unconsciousness. She died
11 days later from what the coroner said was an abscessed lung. She had been
Dorothea Howard had moved to Fort Wayne with her Army husband, Jack Howard,
from Mesa, Ariz., in the summer of 1944. Her husband had been assigned to the
base at Baer Field.
They took a room on McClellan Street, but Jack Howard was often confined to
the base. That left Dorothea Howard alone many nights. She spent some of them
drinking in downtown bars.
It was raining on and off the night of March 5. Dorothea Howard was seen
drinking with a soldier and a civilian at Elmer Keirns Beer Parlor at 124 West
Keirns said Howard had had enough to drink and refused to serve her. She
argued with him awhile, then got up and left the bar. The soldier followed.
She was found at 3:30 a.m., lying naked in the cinders and grime of an
alley between Columbia and Main streets, her shoes and stockings beside her.
The rest of her clothes were 250 feet away.