Gruesome Deaths

Causes of death were not always recorded in the parish death/burial records. In some volumes, natural causes like tuberculosis, diphtheria and other common diseases of the time were not included. While some of these deaths may qualify as gruesome if painful and protracted, this essay will focus on unnatural causes of death. The most common of these include drownings, falls, or being killed by trains.

With respect to trains, one can imagine the bustling industrial-revolution age with many trains moving goods and people around the city. While trains spurred the growth of the American economy, many met their end by a run-in with a train. One can imagine a child playing on the tracks or maybe even someone's suicide.

Drownings likely were the result of not knowing how to swim. As many of these occurred in the summer, one can imagine a joyful day by the river or on the lake that turned tragic. Judging from the gap between the date of death and ultimate burial, the body was not always found immediately.

The Iroquois Theater fire of 1903 claimed many lives, but I identified only one Pole among them (so far). His name was John Kwasniewski (Kwasuiewski). More Poles died in the Eastland boat disaster of 1914. Shootings, stabbings, and hangings aroused my morbid curiosity. The church records do not go into details, but follow-up research turns up interesting stories.

Martin Panko of St. Stanislaus B&M parish in Chicago was shot. He was killed by a policeman while being arrested for attacking a woman. Martin had previously confessed to attacking more than 20 women. While not confirmed, an officer of the same name shot and killed another person.

Michael Mikus (Mikughi and Mikucz are how it has been indexed in public databases)of St. Mary of Perpetual Help parish in Chicago was murdered by his wife. His wife and John Waszek were arrested in connection with the crime. She was acquitted.

Ann Muller (Miller) of St. Josaphat parish in Chicago was murdered by her husband John. Their two children were also slain. John was hanged for his crimes.

Lawrence Serafin (Serapin) of St. Stanislaus Kostka parish was stabbed and died days later. His assailant was Stanley Lewandowski who was acquitted.

A Frank Lewandowski of the same parish was hung for the murder of his wife (Frances) after a quarrel.

One of the most unsettling cases was finding that a Frank and Edward Czaplewski had been hanged on the same day. As I looked at the page where their deaths were recorded, I noticed that a Philip Somerling was hanged on the same day. Thomas Schultz along with the three previously mentioned men were convicted of robbing and murdering Fred W. Guelzow, Jr. "They took his silver watch and chain, then killed him, mutilated him horribly with bullets and knives, and cut off a piece of his leg and put it in his mouth." Two others were involved in the incident but received life sentences in prison. All told, there were five executions that day. A fifth man had been executed for an unrelated crime. The narrative seemed to be less about the victim, Fred Guelzow, and more about the executions. Certainly grisly accounts helped sell newspapers but also called into question the use of capital punishment in what might be inferred as assembly line fashion.

Research Sources
This section describes the research methodology for finding the information shared above.
The Iroquois Theatre fire and Eastland tragedy are described. These are updated sites-- the original website had information on both events.

When I saw that the Czaplewski brothers had been hanged, I immediately began to suspect that it was for a serious crime. I Googled the name but came up with no relevant results. I searched on Many times when I use that site, I get too many results back that do not seem to have any order or relevance to them. This time, my search turned up a record for Frank Schablewski with the correct death date and address. I had not previously thought to search for that spelling. I did not find a death record for his brother Edward when I used the new spelling. I still did not find any additional details using the new spelling. My breakthrough came when I noticed on the same image in the parish death records that Philip Somerling also died on the same day by hanging. A search on his name turned up results that linked him to the Czaplewskis. I used the homicide database using the Schablewski and Czaplewski spellings and found nothing. Instead, it has the name as Shiblawski. Edward Czaplewski had not been found because he was known as Ewald Shiblawski. This database is where I found that Thomas Schultz was also involved in the crime and executed. There are also online almanacs that list executions. The quote recounting the gory details is from pages 71 and 72 of an online book. I haven't read the book (published in 1921). From the little I did read, the tone seemed to suggest that immigrants were naive and frequently interpreted American ways incorrectly. In other words, the criminals were imitating what they read in novels and in movies. There is also a reporter's recount of the hangings. A summary of the case is found here. There is a prison record of Leo Suchomski who was also charged in the murder. It shows that at one time he escaped. A photo of Leo with Frank Kita who also was sent to prison can be found here. Once at that website, you can also search and find a photo of the Shiblawski brothers. Another source is Cook County Coroner's Inquest Record Index, 1872-1911 which would include even non-homicide deaths.

There are many other sources like newspapers that were used in researching these events but many rehash the same information.