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The Chicago Daily Tribune reported in an Extra Edition on February 2, 1921 that the ‘poor boob’ known as the Ragged Stranger now had a name-
“Although the identification is not yet official, three women who viewed the body of the ‘poor boob’ declared it to be that of Keesee, a former soldier, carnival wrestler, and freight handler who sometimes went by the name Edward Morgan. All three women declared the body to be that of the missing Keesee.”
“’I’m sure that is Earl’ exclaimed Mrs. Ippendorn when she saw the body. ‘He visited us in Danville after he got out of the army and later left to work in Rockford. That was about a year ago. He was a sergeant in the army but was refused permission to go overseas because of his broken left ankle. If I could see the left foot I would be sure.’”
The police took Mrs. Cora Ippendorn to the morgue to see what they hoped was the body of her nephew Earl Keesee.
Mrs. Ippendorn told the police that Earl had wrestled in carnivals under the name Edward Morgan before he was drafted and had previously tried to enlist but had been denied due to having a childhood ankle injury that hadn’t healed properly. It was this bad ankle that was the clue to everything for Mrs. Ippendorn and the police. As they viewed the body, the police, Mrs. Ippendorn, her sister Miss Beath, and her neighbor Miss Campbell all saw a noticeable growth on the left ankle.
Strengthening the ID, Miss Beath remarked on the clothes, “Earl was at my house for the last time on March 20, 1920. I remember the clothes he was wearing at the time. He had on these same gray trousers and this blue coat.”
In addition to the three ladies identifying the body as Keesee, a man named John Winterburg contributed to the identification; he said a man he had wrestled in Pullman in 1916 fit the description of the Ragged Stranger. He couldn’t remember exactly but was pretty sure his name was Morgan.
The police thought they had their man identified.
“Hey, Keesee, you’re dead!” Someone shouted when the alive and breathing Earl Keesee walked into a Rockford, Illinois soda parlor the day after his aunts picked him out in the morgue.
Keesee told his story to a Rockford newsman- “I didn’t know anything about this business until today. I just arrived in Rockford Tuesday night and went right to bed. This afternoon I dropped into a soft drink parlor where I’m well known. When I walked into the place all the fellows began hollering, ‘Hey, Keesee, you’re dead! I got pretty sore and then one of the proprietors showed me a morning paper. Say, you could have knocked me over with a feather. That aunt of mine is all wrong about my bum foot. She said I had a deformed left foot. That’s the wrong one. It’s the right one. I’m going right up there to set those people in Chicago straight.”
Earl Keesee stated that he was not the Ragged Stranger.
Every once in a while the police lucked out, depending on your point of view, and the identification unraveled before their eyes. Such was the case with Joseph Ahrens. Identified as the Ragged Stranger by his mother, Mrs. Sophie Lipps, her identification was immediately called into question by her friend and neighbor Mrs. F.W. Koopman, “This woman has bobbed up and claimed the body of that man just to collect insurance carried by her own son, who has run away from home.”
Mrs. Lipps denied the charges, “Untrue. He is my boy. I know it, and anyway, the insurance is only $250 (about $3,000 in 2018 dollars). How could you know my boy as well as I? I know him by his teeth and the vaccination mark on his left arm. His face does not look just like the face of my boy but I know him.”
Mrs. Koopman in an effort to shine a light on the matter told the assembled officials, “She drove her own boy away from home, anyway. He used to run errands for me and the body that lies out there, is not that of Joseph Ahrens, her son.”
The two women squared off hurling insults at one another until Assistant State’s Attorney Milton Smith, who was witness to the identification, could step between the two women like a referee separating two pugilists. “Break away! Time!” The attorney pleaded.
Mr. Smith turned to what he hoped would be an impartial judge of the situation, Mrs. Helen Wollschllinger, daughter of Mrs. Lipps, “Would you say the body is that of your brother?” he asked of her.
“I believe it is, but I don’t want to have anything to do with my mother. The features of the body resemble my brother’s. My brother left home about the time of the murder.”
Sensing the room turning against her, Mrs. Lipps made a prudent statement.
“Alright. I’ll go now and won’t claim the body any more. I don’t want any trouble.”
In the meantime, a stack of affidavits were signed by a dozen men that swore that Joseph Ahrens was the man on a slab in the morgue. Mr. William Reinhardt avowed that he had employed a young Ahrens over two years prior in a leather tannery and was able to identify by his prominent teeth. Ahrens was also identified by Philip Lipps, his step-father, foreman of Gutmann & Co. leather manufacturers. Eleven other men, mostly tannery workers, swore as well that they were sure that that the body before them was Joseph Ahrens.
Promising as it was, like so many others, the identification would crumble in seconds when the very alive and very well Joseph Ahrens returned to Chicago.
“He resembles me remarkably and I can understand how the mistake occurred. There is a resemblance in the eyes and hair. I am going to buy the poor fellow a wreath. I hope they identify him.”
The police had to be at the end of their rope. Twelve upstanding members of society with no financial gains to be gotten or anything to benefit from; went to the morgue, looked at a body, and swore that body was that of a coworker. Then, a day later, the man they swore they knew and saw dead before them, walked through the door.
Like Earl Keesee before him, Joseph Ahrens declared that he was not the Ragged Stranger lying in the morgue.
As the trial for the murder of the Ragged Stranger approached, the police had still not been able to pin a name on him. Not wanting to delay the trial, the State’s Attorney Robert Crowe, prepared for Chicago and Cook County’s first prosecution of a John Doe murder victim. To the prosecutors, they didn’t need a name. They had a body, a motive, and a confession.
“Wanderer will be tried for the murder of ‘John Doe’ pending establishment beyond doubt of the victim’s identity. If the identification becomes a matter of official record before the trial starts, or at any time during its progress, the court simply will be asked to permit the insertion of the real name of the victim in the indictment.”
Was no one going to give this stranger a name?
Blog Post 21 coming Friday, August 10- It's Deja Vu All Over Again
Podcast Episode #4 released Monday, August 6- Carl Wanderer Goes to Trial
This project aims to fill in the gaps where there is unknown, correct false narratives that 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.
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