Still looking for Bobby Franks

The Wolf Lake 1924 murder mystery continues…

Reader Margie Black has kindly sent me some photographs of the crime scene where Bobby Franks’ body was found:






A closer view of the first photograph reveals writing across the bottom, but in reverse. It is easy enough to mark photographs with something hot, for instance a soldering iron, but it takes practice and one has to write quickly.

But is the photo actually reversed, or did someone notice the original was reversed and correct it in subsequent prints? If the photo is actually reversed, then all the photos are reversed, and the pole was to the right of the culvert, not the left. Two of the other photos do have reversed writing, so that’s not out of the question.

Here is the first photo reversed, to read the writing on the bottom:


Darkening the caption makes it easier to read. It says “121 ST. PENN RR WHERE BOY WAS FOUND”.

For comparison, here is where Indian Creek flows out of Wolf Lake today. More about Indian Creek here including some links to maps. A satellite view of the area superimposed with likely location of lakes from a 1903 survey map is here

Wolf Lake previously emptied east into Lake Michigan.  The photo looks east to the refineries on the Indiana shore. There is a small spillway over the whole of the creek, some sort of device for spawning salmon, and a decorative pedestrian bridge at the end.

So where was the culvert? Not anyplace that is recognizable today, although there are plenty of clues for further research, for those with the time and energy.

Clue #1-the writing on the first photograph above shows the location of the culvert as 121 ST. (a street that would be east-west if it existed) and PENN RR (a north-south line) if someone can find out where the Pennsylvania line was in 1924.

I searched for the location of the Pennsylvania railroad once with no immediate success, although there are surely old railroad maps available online somewhere. There are only two possibilities for the railroad tracks–the tracks that run through the middle of the lake, and the old railroad right-of-way on the west side of the lake that has been made into a bike/pedestrian trail, where the deer in the previous post were found.

Although 121st Street doesn’t exist, 118th  street (as the Wiki calls the location of the culvert) does, at least today, and there should be plenty of old maps to show whether it existed around 1924. Today there is a small shopping center on the location off of O Street, anchored by the grocery chain store Pete’s Fresh Market Supermercado.  The east end of 118th ends at the old railroad right-of-way, but a path continues east into the park, and eventually leads to the high ground that was once the Nike missile site. This is all public land, connecting to Egger’s Park on the north, and part of a continuous foot trail system that is maintained by various entities.  121st St. would probably be about at the northern shore of the lake, although it is said the lakes are much lower than they were years ago, maybe as much as 15 feet, before the steel mills and the draining of the wetlands.

Identifying the railroad should be enough by itself to determine the location of the culvert.

Clue#2– the inflow to the lake.  The body was said to have been discovered after a rain, when the water flow washed it out of its hiding place.  Presumably the water flowed downhill and the body appeared at the outflow of the culvert.  So which way did the creek flow in those days and where was the lake’s inlet?  It looks to me like Indian Creek was quite a bit south of where it is now, on the southwest side, and certainly not the north side of the lake where 121st Street would be, so what flowed where?  Again, there are maps that might reveal this, the whole of Chicago being well surveyed and excellent tract by tract records kept by fire insurance companies.

Clue#3–the body of water in the first photo above.  If the photo is not reversed, it looks like Wolf Lake taken from the west, somewhere in the direction of Avenue O, and means the railroad was also near Avenue O and west of the lake.  Or was the photo taken looking east towards the now defunct Hyde Lake from the spot the locals now regard as the culvert’s location?

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