Quite a few years back, I was reading a book on the haunted houses of Chicago when I came across the last thing you want to find in such a book… your home address.
My upstairs neighbor Chuck had knocked on my door one Sunday morning at 11:59 on the eve of Halloween. He held a book in one hand; an enormous whisky and coke in the other; and made his way to the couch before kickoff of the noon Chicago Bears game. The book was tossed on the coffee table and I was told to check out the dog-eared page.
Bear football obviously took priority however, and the book sat ignored until halftime.
With the Bears leading the Lions, 13-3 at the half, I went out and sat on the front stoop, to take a look at the book. It was titled More Chicago Haunts from Chicago writer Ursula Bielski and the dog-eared page was for a chapter titled, Campbell Avenue Haunts. Interesting… I thought, seeing as how I lived on Campbell. The next page, even weirder, was a picture looking down the block I lived on. Seven paragraphs later, jumping from the page at me, was my address.
The chapter went on to tell the story of a double murder committed in our vestibule, the very vestibule I was sitting just a few feet away from. The book went on to tout tales of ghosts, being seen or heard, both inside and outside our house, and my own interaction with a spirit, will be discussed in a later post. While I had typically never been a big fan of ghost stories myself, I was fascinated by the Ragged Stranger story and I wanted to know more about the normal, rather than parnormal, facts of the story.
Going back inside I tiptoed through the vestibule with a new-found reverence for the tiny foyer. The Bears game was paused on the DVR and whisky was refilled for neighbor Chuck, while I did a quick Google search about the Ragged Stranger and Carl Wanderer. News clippings and photos of Carl, his wife Ruth, and the Ragged Stranger were printed and stuck to the fridge; not a day has gone by since, where this tale hasn’t stared me in the face.
Over the years, I delved deeper into the story. I found multiple narratives that contained striking contradictions. Newspapers headlines the day after the murder, hailed Carl Wanderer a hero, for avenging his wife’s slaying. Three weeks later, he was in jail for murder. A quick look at Wanderer’s Wikipedia page, seemed to conclude that he killed his wife, and the Ragged Stranger, because he had a girlfriend named Julia… Or maybe it was a homosexual lover named James.
The Ragged Stranger, an unwitting dupe to Wanderer’s diabolical plan, laid in the morgue for over a year, repeatedly misidentified. At least 16 men, were at one time or another, thought to be the Ragged Stranger. Was he Al Watson… Or Eddie Ryan?
The Ragged Stranger was front page news in 1920 and 1921, from The Seattle Star to The Palm Beach Post. My research is taken from hundreds of newspaper articles, and dozens of books. Court files thought to have been long lost to a fire were found. Weeks of sitting at the Newberry library, staring at microfilm, led to eyeglasses for your humble author. Military records from the US Army, as well as from our neighbors in Canada, were studied. Contacts were made with UK historians and several interesting facts in the story come to you from across the pond.
I have tried to use only facts that could be backed up by multiple accounts; you will read examples of how single accounts have been spread like ‘Chinese whispers’, and been erroneously reported elsewhere, and then repeated over and over in the ‘copy and paste’ world we live in. Contemporaneous reports will be compared to some narratives that shockingly didn’t emerge until over 50 years after the crime happened. These narratives will be discussed and how they went off the rails will be explained for you to make your own informed decision on what to believe.
This project aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct false narratives where they have branched away from the truth, and most importantly… to entertain… and enlighten…
It has been sourced from research for my upcoming book…
Kisses for Julia, Bullets for Ruth: The Mystery of Carl Wanderer & the Ragged Stranger.
By the way… the Bears would go on to beat the Lions in overtime that day, on a Charles ‘Peanut’ Tillman, interception return for a touchdown. The win pushed the Bears past the Lions, into first place, and put them on their way to the playoffs. Happier days those were for us Bears fans.
But enough about sports, this is a Chicago true-crime story- The Mystery of the Ragged Stranger.