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Monday, October 27, 2014

The Mysterious Death of Lake Ransom : Murder or Suicide?

Daily Inter Ocean, Chicago, 13 Feb 1882

The Chicago Evening Journal reported the Hinsdale tragedy...Mr. Lake Ransom, resident of 428 South Lincoln Street, was found dead by the side of the street on the morning of February 11, 1882 at the intersection of First and Lincoln Street.  Did he commit suicide, or was he the victim of a brutal murder?  The case has never been solved.  Let's look at the facts and review the investigation.

Lake Ransom was born on 5 June 1844 in Windsor City, Vermont, to Daniel and Lucy Edson (Lake) Ransom.  He was the descendant of Richard Ransom who served as Captain of the Connecticut Militia under Lt. Col. E. Storrs during the Revolutionary War.  Lake Ransom was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Daniel and Lucy Ransom had moved their family to Jo Davies County, Illinois by 1860.

Lake Ransom had served his country in the Union Army during the Civil War, in the 12th Vermont Company B unit.  He was discharged in 1863., Ramsom, Lake; 12 Regt. Vermont Infantry

He and Lucy Jane Bacon were married in Boston, Massachusetts on 25 December 1866., Massachusetts Marriages; Lake Ransom, Boston, 25 Dec. 1866

Lake was a General Sales Agent for a reaper company, the D. M. Osborne Company, which had a branch sales office and warehouse in Chicago after the Civil War.  According to the Western Massachusetts History , Volume 4, 1636-1925,  Lake Ransom was born in South Woodstock, Vermont, and he moved West.  He was a manager of the western division of the Osborne Harvester Company, in which he spent the majority of his career., Chicago City Directory, 1867; Lake Ransom, D. M. Osborne & Co.

Mr. and Mrs. Ransom had moved their familly to Hinsdale, Illinois, and took up residence at a fine home located at 428 South Lincoln Street.  The family appears in the 1870 and 1880 US Federal Census, at this address., Ransom, Lake, Hinsdale, Illinois, 1870

The Ransom family grew, and by 1880, consisted of five children : Albert, Charles, Clara, William and Louis.

FRIDAY EVENING, 10 February 1882

 Two shots were heard in the evening by a resident of Hinsdale, Mrs. J. W. Webster, who was waiting for her children to arrive home after spending the evening with neighbors.  She estimates it was about the time that the 10:30 p.m. train from Chicago had arrived at the Hinsdale depot. Charles Hinds said the he also heard a shot coming from the area in the evening as he was standing in front of the residence of Mr. Clark, who lived on First Street.

 Mr. Ransom was in the habit of riding the train to and from Chicago. He had been employed as bookkeeper for the Osborne Company for eighteen years until a month before the incident.   He usually rode the late train daily, and his family expected him home shortly after that time.  According to the Chicago Inter Ocean, the train conductor did not recollect him, nor did the other riders remember him leaving the train at the depot.  He could have rode in the smoking car, and departed the train at Lincoln Street, where the head of the train stops, to be nearer his home and he  could reach it sooner.   His wife waited for him until midnight, never to see him walk through the door of their home.


The body of Lake Ransom was found just before 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, at the corner of First and Lincoln Streets, just two blocks from his residence, and one block from the train depot.   Mr. Shannon, Mr.  A. M. Weir and Mr. J. W. Russell  take the morning train to Chicago. On their walk to the depot, they had observed the body, cold and rigid, laying on the back, next to a tree and the boarded sidewalk.  A hat was laying on the sidewalk, near the feet of the victim.  A revolver was found laying on the sidewalk, with two of the chambers empty. There was also a bag of shot found on the street near the body. The head was laying in a pool of blood, with a bullet hole to back of the skull.  Blood was trickling from the ears and nose. Part of the clothing near the arm and chest was smoldering.  As a crowd of residents surrounded the corpse, a neighbor hustled to the home of the victim and had broken the news  to Mrs. Ransom, who rushed to the scene and she was horrified at the state of her husband.  The body was removed by the police magistrate and officers to the Town Hall. Cornoner Cotton, of Turner Junction, was summoned by telegraph.


 A large hole was found in the left arm of the garments, which still smoldered as if burned.  The flesh underneath the layers of clothing was blackened and blistered, as if burned. Perhaps that was a point of contact with a gunshot, however, no bullet or wound had been found.  The neck tie was still around the neck, but the collar had been pulled from the shirt.  The vest had been unbuttoned, and the familiar gold watch on a chain was missing from the body.  The watch had been presented to the victim by the employees of D. M. Osborne, and he never seemed to be without it, until now.  The pants pockets had been turned inside out, and the wallet of the victim was not on the body.

A bullet hole to the head, just behind the left ear, appears to have been the fatal shot that ended the life of Lake Ransom.  A large amount of blood and brain matter had come from the wound.

 The Hinsdale police officers searched the general perimeter of the incident and found cards and letters from the deceased strewn across the railroad track area.  The wallet of the victim was found nearby on the railroad track about a block away, completely empty.  Other cards belonging Mr. Ransom were found near the train depot.

Was the bag of shot used to knock Mr. Ransom senseless?  Or thrown to distract him while he was attacked and murdered?  Did he shoot himself once, unsuccessfully in the torso, and then again, successfully in the back of the head?  Would he have emptied his own pockets and tossed his personal papers and empty wallet?

Detectives Wiley and Elliott were hard at work trying to solve the tragic event.  Several tramps were found in the vicinity of the train depot, and they were arrested for questioning, but to no avail.


During the investigation, many people were interviewed :

Charles Cook, while visiting Western Springs on Friday afternoon, noticed vagrants shuffling along the railroad tracks headed for Hinsdale.

There were rumors, but no concrete evidence, that the tramps were actually at, or near,  the train depot in Hinsdale at the time of the arrival of the 10:30 p.m. train.

It was thought by the Coroner, that Mr. Ransom most certainly would have had some money on him on his way home from Chicago that Friday evening.  However, when the body was found on Saturday morning, there was no money or valuables on him. And, his watch and chain were missing. The Coroner also raised the thought that Mr. Ransom could have killed himself, and the tramps could have taken his valuables when they found his body in the late evening.

Dr. Fitch, brother-in-law of the Mr. Ransom, said he refused to believe that it was a case of suicide.  He believes that there was no reason for his relative to end his life, stating that he had been an honorable character in the community. His family relations were perfect. Though he severed his employment with D. M. Osborne company the month prior, he had ample resources, and he spoke of starting a business for himself in short order. Dr. Fitch also stated that finding the body in the way that it was, without valuables, most certainly points to foul murder.


Many facts were brought to light as the investigation moves to Mr. Ransom's business life:

Mr. Ransom quit his job at the D. M. Osborne Company early in January.

It was rumored that he gambled a bit, and lost heavily.  On the Tuesday before his death, his wife testified that she had given $1,500 to her husband, which he had gambled away in an attempt to win back his previous losses. He may have planned to kill himself so as not to disgrace his family.
His losses on the Board of Trade were estimated to be about $50,000 to $60,000.

It was revealed that he may have embezzled money from the D. M. Osborne Company, as he held a top position in the financial department.  He was being investigated by the detectives of the Osborne's insurance company in December of the previous year 1881, when the main warehouse in Chicago was destroyed by fire.   Fire investigators found that the supposed story of the incident being caused by burglars was not viable...the vault was broken out of, and not into.  The financial books were destroyed, and the company owner came to Chicago to investigate. Mr. Ransom had been suspected of being behind the incident, but they had no proof as of yet.

Police detectives think that Mr. Ransom overdid the job.  The bag of shot would have been useless as it would only have been used as a weapon by someone else against him, and hard to use on himself as a weapon.  The revolver was laying where it would have fallen if he used it on himself.  It was a very newly purchased gun, without rust or scratches. Mr. Ransom could have been responsible for emptying his own pockets, throwing his wallet and papers into the wind himself and disposing of his watch. They suspect that he was financially ruined and embarrassed, causing him to become despondent and planned his own demise.


When asked about the speculation of Mr. Ransom having embezzled money from the company, Mr. Osborne stated that the company had completed an investigation of the matter but found no evidence that Mr. Ransom had been dishonest.  He was employed Mr. Ransom for over seventeen years, and felt confident of his abilities.  Mr. Ransom had been the general manager of the Chicago location up to 1 January 1882, and handled over a million dollars each of the nine years in that position.  Mr. Ransom had been investing in produce, and had been losing money on such ventures.  Mr. Osborne felt that it was not to his liking, and asked Mr. Ransom to cease his speculating, or give up his position with the company.  He had showed a desire to stop, and assured the company that he would never engage in another deal on the board.  After a while, it was found that he continued his dealing with the board, and he was asked to submit his resignation.  He did submit his resignation to take affect on 1 January 1882.  It was estimated by the company that Mr. Ransom has lost some $10,000 to $12,000 of his own.  It was felt that he never squandered money belonging to the firm, and was believed to be honest by nature.  He had admitted  that he became infatuated with speculating.

When asked if it was thought that Mr. Ransom was responsible for the fire which destroyed the company  warehouse, Mr. Osborne stated that there was no cause for any such supposition.

Further questioning revealed that Mr. Osborne felt that Ransom had committed suicide, He felt that his demon was the gambling on the Produce Exchange, which produced much remorse.  He reported that his former employee's salary was about $5,000 annually, and then increased to $6,500 when promoted to management.  He felt that Mr. Ransom never used any company funds in his speculating.  He was a very economical man, and he seemed to spend frugally with his personal living expenses.  It could hardly be possible that Mr. Ransom could have taken thousands of dollars from the company without our knowing about it.


The examination was performed by Dr. Skear of Chicago, and under the direction of Dr. J. C. Merrick, of Hinsdale, who was the foreman of the Coroner's Jury. The results were as follows :

The external examination showed that there was burning through the overcoat, undercoat, vest, shirt and undershirt and to the skin on the left side to the skin on the left arm, cooking the flesh in a area of seven by nine inches.  The top of the pants and underpants were slightly burned on  the left side.

Blood was oozing from the left nostril and both ears, more from the left ear.  Skin was burned and charred over the left side of the body, but not blistered.  Rigor mortis was well advanced.  The body looked well nourished.

The bullet wound to the head was one inch above the left ear, large enough to admit the little finger.  On the edges of the scalp near the wound the  bone was driven inward.  The hair was not burned.  There was a bruise on the upper lid of the left eye and lower lid of the right eye.  There were also slight bruises on parts of the body.  When the scalp was removed there was found additional bleeding.  The skull fractures extended from the wound to the area of the eyes.  The bullet was found crushed from end to end.  There was considerable bleeding into the ventricles of the brain, which otherwise looked healthy.

In opening up the chest, the flesh was cooked to the ribs, affecting the lower portion of  the left lung and a portion of the spleen.  All other organs were perfectly healthy.


In the Illinois State Daily Register on 3 March 1882, a reward is posted


The following article was printed in the Daily Inter Ocean, 22 February 1882.  The persons mentioned as Mr. and Mrs. Scott were the sister and brother in law of Lake Ransom : 


News articles appeared through out the nation regarding the mysterious death of Lake Ransom :

Trenton Gazette, 16 Feb 1882

Denver Rocky Mountain News, 14 Feb. 1882

Rockford Daily Register, 13 Feb 1882
More articles were posted in Kentucky, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and many other city newspapers.


I have found two Chicago Evening Journal funeral notices for Lake Ransom, as follows:


Mrs. Lucy Ransom did not apply for the Civil War Widow's Pension until 1908.  Notice that she filed for the pension when living in Massachusetts, not Illinois.  The life insurance policy that her husband had for $27,000 probably supported her until this time...., Ransom, Lake, widow's pension file card


What do you think?  Who was the person to have met with Lake Ransom at the Sherman House?  What happened to the $1,500 that Mr. Ransom was to have withdrawn from the bank....remember his wife said that she gave him the money.  What happened to his gold watch?  Was he really innocent of being involved with the warehouse fire?  

My question : Was Lake Ransom left or right handed?  If he was right handed, it would have been hard for him to shoot himself behind the left ear.  But, it would have been easier for him to shoot himself in the left side.  

The case is still unsolved.....over one hundred years later.

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