Category Archives: Thriller Thursday

Thriller Thursday – Boy Scout Tragedy

Fifty-five years ago this weekend, what should have been a fun Boy Scout camping trip ended in tragedy for 15-year-old Richard Samuels. Richard was my seventh cousin twice removed, a fellow Wilson descendant, and had already experienced more than his fair share of hard times. He was born 25 July 1945 in Ogden, Utah, to Ariel Clifton and Mahala Verne (McFarland) Samuels. The family moved to San Francisco, and then sometime before 1951 Ariel and Verne were divorced.

In May of 1951 35-year-old Ariel suffered burns from a gasoline explosion in his car, dying a week later. According to Ariel’s obituary, he was survived by five sons and a daughter. Unless not all of the children were Verne’s, by 1958 four of them had also died. In August of that year, 43-year-old Verne died after an “extended illness.” Her obituary states she was survived by only two sons, Richard and Clifton.

Thirteen-year-old Richard was then taken in by his mother’s sister Willa and her husband, Lester Rose. He moved with them back to Ogden, possibly to 3376 Gramercy Avenue, a 4-bedroom home that had been built in 1956. The family was certainly living there by July 1961. The Ogden Standard-Examiner of July 4 that year details what happened to Richard in a front-page article just above one noting that Ernest Hemingway, who had died two days earlier, would be buried in the Ketchum, Idaho, public cemetery.

Richard, a student at Ogden High School and a member of the LDS church, had left Ogden at 4 a.m. on Monday, 3 July, with 10 other Explorer Scouts for a camping trip in the Uinta Mountains near Kamas. The trip was intended to last a week but in the end lasted less than twelve hours. The group camped near Buckeye Lake and half the boys left camp to gather firewood. One hundred yards from camp, they cut down a dead lodgepole pine tree. In falling, the tree knocked a limb loose from another tree, and this limb hit Richard on the head. He was taken to the hospital in Kamas but was pronounced dead on arrival from a fractured skull. Dr. John Kumagai stated Richard was most likely killed instantly when the limb struck him. A forest ranger examining the scene later estimated the tree limb weighed “about 100 pounds.” The other Scouts and their leaders returned home after Richard’s death, and Richard was buried Friday, 7 July, in Ogden City Cemetery.

This was not the end of difficult times for poor Clifton, either. Raised not with his brother Richard but in the household of a different aunt and uncle (his father’s sister and brother-in-law), Clifton was the elder by about six years. Less than a year after Richard’s death, in May 1962, it appeared that things might have turned around for the family, as 22-year-old Clifton married 20-year-old “lovely spring bride” Janet Gibbs. Two years later, though, Clifton’s foster father and uncle died at age 58 of a heart ailment. Then in 1967 Clifton and his “lovely spring bride” were divorced, with “mental cruelty” cited as the cause. Exactly what this meant is anyone’s guess, however, as all but two divorces noted in the newspaper with the Samuels’ noted the same cause.

In February 1973, at 28th and Harrison in Ogden, the car Clifton was driving struck another car broadside. Thankfully no one was seriously injured; the 19-year-old driver of the other car was hospitalized in fair condition, and his 17-year-old passenger was treated and released. Clifton, however, was cited for failure to yield and for driving under the influence. We can hope that things did finally turn around for Clifton following this incident. I found him one more time in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, this time in December 1977, purchasing land along with a second wife Kristine.

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Thriller Thursday – Death by Musket

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Any family history will have its share of tragedies. One of ours was that of Polly Waters, eldest child of Joseph and Celah (Sweeney) Waters, my 5G-grandparents. Polly was born 28 August 1799 in Lincoln County, Kentucky; thirteen or fourteen more children would follow later. I have limited information on William Waters, so it’s possible he may be the same individual as the youngest, Charles W., born 25 November 1825.

Sometime between 1803 and 1812 the family moved from Lincoln to Casey County; it was there my 4G-grandmother, Cassandra, was born in January 1814. She would never know her eldest sister, however. Sources for the date differ, but according to both the Waters GenCircles database and the research of Jay Sweeney, on either 26 September 1805 or 20 September 1808, young Polly was shot and killed when her mother attempted to start a fire using a musket, and the weapon misfired. Was this a common means of starting fires? My quick Google search didn’t help answer this question, so I’ll need to do further research. Regardless, one can only imagine Cassandra’s horror and grief as well as that of the rest of the family. Polly, aged either six or nine, was buried somewhere in Kentucky. Shortly after the birth of the last Waters child, the family moved to Morgan County, Illinois. There, in Pisgah, Joseph and Celah would eventually be buried, many miles from their first lost child.

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Thriller Thursday – Winston Churchill

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There is always a thrill in discovering a famous relative. In this case, the relative in question is Winston Churchill – can’t you see the eerie resemblance?! Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, born November 30, 1874 at Blenheim Palace, was my half eighth cousin three times removed. I even visited Blenheim in 1994 while on a semester abroad program during my junior year at Sewanee (The University of the South). This was long before I discovered my familial connection to the Prime Minister through his American mother, Jeanette (Jennie) Jerome. Jeanette’s 6G-grandparents were William Gifford and Elizabeth Grant. William and his wife Patience Russell were my 10G-grandparents (William – Hananiah – William – Joshua – Ann – Joseph Davis – Cornelius – John – Lucinda Blanche – Carl Ozro Wilson – Blanche – Theodore Montgomery – me). Interestingly this means that Winston Churchill was also 6th cousin twice removed to another of my famous relatives: Lizzie Borden.

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Thriller Thursday – The Murder of Leroy Sinn

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Leroy Gilbert Sinn, my second cousin once removed, was born in Indiana in 1925. He was the son of Albert C. and Eugenie C. (Swing) Sinn. Eugenie was the daughter of Joseph G. Swing and Lydia Hoffmann and the granddaughter of Jacob and Christina (Schmidt) Hoffmann.

Leroy attended Valparaiso University and became a patent attorney. In March 1957 Leroy married Ivalou Kellam, and they had four children: Brian Thomas, Mark Allen, Eric Bradley, and Julie Ann. Leroy and Ivalou lived in Massachusetts and later moved to Oldwick, New Jersey.

In January 1996 Leroy had a leg infection which required his admission to Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey. It was there on January 21 that Leroy unexpectedly died. He was buried in Kouts, Indiana.

Nearly eight years later, on December 12, 2003, after a series of suspicious activities and deaths, hospital nurse Charles Cullen was arrested. He was 43 years old and charged with one count of murder and one count of attempted murder. During his interrogation, Charles Cullen stated he had killed more than 40 individuals during the past 16 years. He pleaded guilty in November 2004 and, to avoid the death penalty, offered to provide authorities with further details regarding his crimes. One of the crimes he admitted seven months later was the killing of Leroy Sinn as well as four other individuals at Hunterdon Medical Center. According to his confession, he injected Leroy with the heart medication digoxin, “And it was my intent to cause his death.” It is suspected that Charles Cullen may have killed many more individuals than he has yet named. Some believe it possible he may have as many as 400 victims and be the country’s most prolific serial killer.

Thriller Thursday – The Disappearance of Sena Roberg

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One of the stories that sparked my early interest in genealogy and family history is that of Sena Roberg. Born June 2, 1884 in Boone County, Nebraska to Anders and Agnette Roberg, she was the younger sister of my great-grandmother Sophie (Roberg) Wilson. My grandma, in relating to me the history of her family, stated simply that Sena had “disappeared” and that no one ever knew what became of her.

She appears in the 1900 census with her parents and brothers, apparently nicknamed “Sadie.”  Three years later she married Charles A. Johnson, born about 1873. On August 9, 1906 their daughter Esther was born. As has been detailed before, in October 1908 Charles traveled to enter a homestead drawing but never returned, having been run over by a train at the Oakdale (Nebraska) Railroad Yards. Sena was apparently expecting another child at this time.

In the 1910 census, Sena is again living with her parents and two daughters: Esther, age 3, and Clara, age 1. Research by cousin David Johnson reveals a history of legal disputes over Sena’s inheritance from her husband, guardianship of her daughters, and compensation demanded as a result of Charles Johnson’s death.

Sena married at least twice more – once to H. E. Fisher around 1911, then to a Mr. Evans (a traveling salesman) before 1915. I have yet to find her in any other census records. According to stories told by her sister Sophie, she later moved to Omaha, came home for a visit, then returned to Omaha to have minor surgery, and was never heard from again, in spite of newspaper advertisements attempting to locate her.

Her daughters on April 6, 1915 had been placed under the guardianship of their grandfather Anders, though they may have continued to live with a family named Bruland. I’m unsure what became of Clara, but Esther would marry John Bowen and remain in touch with her cousin, my grandmother, over the years.  Esther died February 23, 1997 in Nebraska.

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