Musings about life on Earth in all its aspects…

A 67-Year Old Murder Case Revisited – Part 2. The Victims: Harold and Arline Smith.

Harold and Arline Smith “had always led the quiet and simple life that is typical of an Illinois town … [St. Louis Post Dispatch, Dec. 4, 1955, p. 6]. Yet they suddenly disappeared last Sunday [November 27th] night from their modest home near Lebanon, leaving behind them blood stains in every room and five bullet holes in the house.”

The Smiths had no children. They lived in a small four-room house Harold (a carpenter and “master cabinet maker” who worked for a building contractor) had built himself. The house was located “on Emerald Grange Road about 100 yards off U. S. Highway 50” [St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 30, 1955, p. 1] within “50 feet of Emerald Mound Grange Hall, a mile east of Lebanon” [Belleville Daily Advocate, November 30, 1955, p. 1].

His employer said that Harold was dependable, and “always on time.” The couple was not known to have any debt, they were not heavy drinkers. Harold was proud of the large picture window he had built into the living room, and the neighbors who live about 150 yards away across the road “could see them whiling the evenings away at complete peace.”

“The Smiths moved here about three years ago,” the neighbors reported, “…We thought a lot of them. They were very fond of our children, and were always lending a hand. We last saw them Sunday morning when my husband and his brother saw Harold out in the corn field picking up corn to feed his hogs. They never talked of anyone they might have been afraid of.”

Arline Smith’s parents, the Dressel’s, lived on their farm two miles north of Lebanon. They had farmed this land for 40 years, and their daughter was raised there. She was born August 26, 1920 at Lebanon, and had two sisters and a brother. She had attended Ridgewood country school, finished the eighth grade, then left to do housework jobs in the area. She married her first husband in 1940 when she was 20 years old, but there were domestic troubles, and she was divorced in 1942, when she took a job at a small arms plant in St. Louis. She was a member of the Scott Air Base fire department during the war, and at times drove a fire truck.

Harold was born December 11, 1925. His mother, Mrs. William Beck, lived in Belleville. “My Harold was born in Belleville and went to Jefferson School, then two years to Belleville High School,” she said. “When he was 14 he quit and did odd jobs around farms. For a while he drove a taxicab in Belleville. From 1942 to 1948 he was in the Navy. He always was a good boy. You couldn’t find a better one.”

Arline met Harold Smith in 1949, and they were married after knowing each other for six months. “They met at a dance at O’Fallon. They are just like kids, very happy. One wouldn’t go anywhere unless the other went too. After they were married they stayed at home pretty much,” her mother told reporters. She said “Arline never wanted for anything,” and recalled that when Arline and Harold had had dinner with them the previous Sunday, “they seemed happier than ever.”

Their happiness was not to last.

Roy Beckemeyer, 12 December, 2022

(To be continued)

A 67-Year Old Murder Case Revisited – 1. Introduction

Sixty-seven years ago this month, I had just turned 14 years old. I was a naive kid who had almost never traveled more than 50 miles from home and had lived his entire life in a truly tiny southwest-central Illinois village (population somewhat less than a thousand people), most of whose inhabitants depended on either farming or coal mining to make their living. Our father worked as a fireman (he shoveled coal into a furnace) at the local zinc smelter, which had originally been sited there because of the local coal mine. Beckemeyer, Illinois (named for my paternal great-grandfather, who immigrated to the US as a six-year-old from Minden, Prussia, in 1857) is located in Clinton County, Illinois, fifty-some miles east of St. Louis, Missouri. In late 1955, our locality was home to a brutal murder that rocked our world and led to folks who ordinarily left their houses unlocked to take precautions they never dreamed they would have to resort to.

In brief, on November 29, 1955, a young couple, Harold Smith, who would have turned 30 on December 11th, and his wife Arline, 35, were discovered missing from their home, a house just off Highway 50 a few miles east of Lebanon, Illinois, in St. Clair County, by a neighboring farmer. There were disturbing signs of foul play: bullet holes in the house and windows, blood stains, and signs their bodies had been dragged away. On December 10th, tips from farmers who had helped to get a car unstuck near their farms on the night of the murders led police to two wells nearly 15 miles apart north and south of Carlyle, Illinois, where the bodies had been dumped, and led them to arrest and charge Fillmore Young, a resident of Carlyle, with the murders.

Above: Map showing crime scene location and body dump sites of the Smith murders. Chicago Tribune, December 10th, 1955.

I was delivering the two St. Louis papers as my before and after school job back then, and between reading them and hearing regular updates on the news on radio and tv, the murders were on my mind, just as on the minds of most residents of our mostly rural county.

I had just begun my first year of high school at St. Joseph’s in Breese, Illinois, five miles west of my hometown, that September. Christmas was still a couple of weeks away, and it was on one of those mild December days, a Saturday, as I was walking to a friend’s house thinking about nothing in particular, when a car came behind me, screeching to a halt just a few yards away. It was full of older guys, probably high school juniors or seniors, none of whom I recognized. My mouth fell open, and I suppose I looked surprised and a bit scared.

“Hey, kid!” yelled the one hanging out the front passenger window. “You ought to be more careful where you go walking around alone. Don’t you know Fillmore Young is looking to fill more wells?” They all laughed, howled, and the car left a streak of rubber as it peeled off. I noticed it had Missouri plates.

That short encounter was my only real memory of much of what was then and may still be the most horrendous murder case to touch our lives in small-town Illinois. Evidently, it had also grabbed the attention of these big-city teenagers as well, and they had taken a joy ride out to see the sites and sights where it had taken place. Highway 50, a two-lane macadam road, our local lifeline, the road we took to St. Louis on our occasional trips to visit my mother’s sister or brother or to Cardinal’s games, was the road the murderer had traveled as he perpetrated his crime.

Above: Illinois Highway Map for 1955 showing portions of St. Clair and Clinton counties, Illinois pertinent to this story.

That brief encounter stuck with me over the years, long after I had forgotten many of the particulars of the murder. I recently did some digging using, and looked up the news coverage from back then. In the episodes that follow, I will recount the story of the murders of Harold and Arline Smith, and the story of how justice was eventually meted out to their killer.

(To be continued)

Roy Beckemeyer, 12-11-2022

Reading a Poem from Robert L. Dean, Jr.’s “The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing.”

Well, I finally got back to my plan to record and post readings from the literary works of folks whose work I admire. Today I am delving into perhaps the most lovely and lovingly produced book of ekphrastic poetry I know of – my good friend Robert Dean‘s book, The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, published in 2020 by Paul Bowers‘ Turning Plow Press. Pat and I are proud that Bob Dean dedicated one of the poems, “Up on the Roof,” to us and so I chose to read that poem as well as Bob’s personal inscription to us. Thanks so much, Bob. The book is based on Bob’s responses to Stephen Schroeder’s impressive art work, each poem accompanied by the painting that inspired it.

Turning Plow Press:

Stephen Schroeder’s Web Page:

This is a recording made 3 October 2022 and read on Facebook by Roy J. Beckemeyer.

Readings from Pat Beckemeyer’s Oh, I Pretend (Spartan Press, 2019)

I have begun a series of postings of me reading from poetry/literary books that I admire and posting them on facebook. I decide to also post them on my blog for access by those who do not use facebook. So will start by copying those postings here.

I had been planning for some time now to begin posting simple readings of work by people whose writing I admire. My wife, Pat’s 80th birthday yesterday (Sept. 21, 2022) seemed a good reason to begin with her 2019 book of poems, Oh, I Pretend (Spartan Press). Since the book came out just at the beginning of the Covid pandemic and Pat’s bouts with serious illness during that same time period, she has been unable to get out and read from it.

So here are three poems by Pat Beckemeyer, from her first poetry book: “A Man Is Gone,” “Rain at the Golf Course,” and “Oh, I Pretend.”

To get a copy of the book, you may order online from Watermark Books & Cafe, or contact me by Facebook Messenger.

Roy Beckemeyer reading from Oh, I Pretend – poems by Pat Beckemeyer.

From a Facebook posting of 22 September, 2022. Roy Beckemeyer 4 October 2022.

Advent Day 24 – Completion – December 24, 2021

Day 24 – California Sparkling Wine, Brut Cuvee and Gouda Cheese

Here on Christmas Eve, the final Day 24 of my Wine and Cheese Advent Calendar, is a mirror image of Day 1: A white Brut Cuvee Sparkling Wine in place of a Rose, a Gouda in place of Edam. But a fitting close, bubbly to toast a fun and educational exercise, a simple Gouda that fit with a day of otherwise extravagant tastes like dark chocolate dipped cashews, spicy Lebkuchen cookies, chocolate chocolate-chip cookies, Aged English Stilton Cheese and Aged Cumberland Cheese from the hills of Tennessee.

Turned out canceling our in-person Christmas Eve festivities was appropriate as two of our grandsons tested positive for COVID this morning. Here’s hoping their youth and healthy vigor will see them through this (both are vaccinated). Prayers and positive thoughts on their behalf will be much appreciated. Pat and I did our little driving tour of Riverside this evening to take in the Christmas light and holiday decorations; we were pleased to see at least eight manger scenes in evidence. Three or more years ago we would have seen one or two in addition to ours at most.

To all our friends and acquaintances we wish you all the joy and love of the Christmas Season. Here is a link to a wonderful Dallas, Texas acapella quartet, “Kings Return,” singing their captivating and lovely arrangement of Ave Maria, which is certainly an exquisitely appropriate song for Christmas Eve:

~Roy Beckemeyer, December 24, 2021

Advent Day 23 – December 23, 2021

Day 23 – California Sauvignon Blanc and Red Leicester Cheese

Here, on the penultimate day of the Advent Calendar, we find to our utter amazement, that one of Santa’s prescient ALDI Elves, tongue in cheek or simply prognosticator par excellance, decides to repeat Day 13, which just happens to be the day of this series’ most pleasing and fulfilling pairing of the products of grapes and cows milk: California Sauvignon Blanc and Red Leicester Cheese! Just as fine as ten days ago, and a suitable Christmas gift. Danke schön!

As the Omicron variant of COVID 19 has surged and spread these past days and weeks, our confidence in the safety of spending Christmas Eve in the company of our daughter’s family and Pat’s sister and her husband Lori’s home (as has been our tradition now for many years, after missing the experience in 2020) has waned and we have once more postponed the pleasure of that treasured tradition. Jay and Shelley will be staying in Illinois, and we will relegate our Christmas Eve this year to a masked, safe-distanced, open-air porch visit sans hugs, sans kisses. As 80 year-olds with chronic illnesses, we opt for waiting once more (please, God, only once more) putting off tradition for safety. We will still bask in the sight of loved ones and the knowledge that we do indeed love one another: enough to forgo momentary satisfaction for future reward. Here is another Christmas card watercolor rendering for Christmas Eve, 2021:

~Roy Beckemeyer, December 23, 2021

Advent Day 22 – December 22, 2021

Day 22 – California Sweet Rosé and Mediterranean Gouda

Mediterranean Gouda and Pinot Grigio on Day 5, Med. Gouda and what is called a “Sweet” Rosé on Day 22. I actually found there to be just a residual sweetness to this wine, and it surprised me somewhat. I suspect that this cheese, with what my daughter called a “pizza” flavor (which does capture it rather well), would fare better with a hearty red wine, this pairing was not great, not awful, but definitely ok. And the calendar is winding down fast. Just two pairings to go.

No snow in the forecast this year, no white Christmas, not even a good chill wind – so, let’s go back two years ago, pre pandemic, when our dog Jenna was still with us (our daughter has her now), to see how happy Labrador retrievers are when snow graces us with its presence. After all, who can resist a smiling dog and snow at Yuletide? Happy Christmas to all the cats and dogs and their humans, too!

~Roy Beckemeyer, December 22, 2021

Advent Day 21 – December 21, 2021

Day 21 – California Cabernet Sauvignon and Gouda with Mustardseed

On Day 17 Gouda with mustard seed was paired with red blend, a generic but hearty red. Today we meet it with Cabernet Sauvignon, and they each bow in respect, salute one another with raised epee, and join forces with me as the Three Musketeers of wine and cheese. A pleasant interlude, neither daring nor boring, but perfect for a winter day posing as anything but winter. Here’s to the Advent Season and all it implies, to the beginning of winter and the end of another year. Sláinte!

One house on our block brims over with Christmas exuberance every year. Nancy and Kevin spend days putting together their display of ebullience and magic. It is a kid’s dream of Christmas cheer, and attracts visitors constantly during these weeks at year’s end. Here’s a brief video to dazzle your eyes. How could Santa resist?

~Roy Beckemeyer, December 21, 2021

Advent Day 20 – December 20, 2021

Day 20 – California Moscato and Double Gloucester

Continuing our swing back through cheeses, here we find Day 10’s Double Gloucester paired with a white Moscato in place of the earlier Riesling. This Moscato again sweet and fragrant, white rather than the Red of Day 14, but finding in this cheese what the Red Moscato discovered in Mature Cheddar. In any event, the great texture and feel and the substantial depths of the cheese contrasted and complimented the swish of Moscato sweetness cascading over the tongue, each sip like the waves washing up on the cheese’s shores. How’s that for a salty metaphoric serenade to Advent?

Short day length, long nights don’t seem to make Christmas come any sooner when you are a child awash in the Season’s magic. The neighborhood has turned all atwinkle in the night, a lesser but perhaps more comforting display than the local botanical garden’s Holiday light show. Illuminations is truly spectacular and worth anyone’s time for an unhurried visit. Just watching the children’s reactions is heart-warming and a reason to take in the abundant visual and aural gifts of the Christmas Season. Here’s a family photo shot that was taken 5 years ago by our daughter, Lori, of Pat and me and Lori’s family at Botanica for the Christmas light show – four generations, from us to great-grandson Daxx (Koe was still just a twinkle in his parent’s eyes). Enjoy this time of family and faith and reflection and hope. May blessings and God’s grace befall us all.

~Roy Beckemeyer, December 20, 2021

Advent Day 19 – December 19, 2021

Day 19 – Winter Wonderland California Chardonnay and White Cheddar

Interesting fact for those inclined toward numerology or those tracking their Advent tastings of wine and cheese. On Day 19 we repeat the pairing of Day 9: Chardonnay and white cheddar. Fortuitous? Yes! If one had to be repeated, this was a wise choice! Significance of the 10-day spacing? The base of our numbering system? So glad we don’t use the hexadecimal system, as we would never have gotten back to this combination (any programmers out there who can recall making their way through dumps of hexadecimal numbers trying to debug a piece of code?). Enough of this hocus pocus hiddeley-piddeley wandering. It was great to repeat this pairing.

Especially after we went through the long and lovingly but almost endlessly detailed assembly of our batch of 2021 Lebkuchen. We have been making these cookies every year for over 30 years now. The dough is made by bringing molasses or dark syrup almost to a boil, dissolving brown sugar in it, then mixing in a whipped egg and lemon zest and then combining it into flour and cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves, then letting that dough age in the fridge overnight or a couple of days. The dough gets cold and stiff and needs to be that way to keep from flattening out as the cookies bake. So we pry a quarter of the dough from the bowl at a time, put the rest back, roll out a circle a quarter-inch thick, then cut rounds. Back they go into the fridge until we are ready to place them on a cool cookie sheet, adorn them with candied cherry halves and five blanched almonds each, turning them into little Christmas flowers, then bake them to a turn Then they cool on the sheet and rest 5-10 minutes until they can be lifted safely from the sheet. They cool some more, then we mix the glaze: Powdered sugar and white rum. Carefully glaze the top. Let it dry. Turn them over. Glaze the bottom. Let them dry. place them carefully into a tightly sealed container and then they go out to the breezeway where they can stay cool and protected from us until closer to Christmas Eve. An entire evening for two-dozen cookies. But Oh, So Worth It!

Pat turning dough rounds into flowers, Lebkuchen preparation 2021.

~Roy Beckemeyer, December 19, 2021.