Another clue in the Bobby Franks murder mystery

Nearby Wolf Lake has been the scene of numerous crimes, but one that continues to haunt the imagination is the murder of Bobby Franks in 1924.  In particular, people like to speculate about the location of the culvert where the body was found. (I wrote about it here and here.)

I have received via email another clue to the location of this culvert–a small map that appears to be quite old.

I have no idea what this is from. It’s not drawn to scale,  but it has an incredible amount of detail, mostly of landmarks that no longer exist…house, hotel, etc.

Everything has changed since 1924.  The water levels have changed, wetlands have  have been drained, and the flow of the lake has been reversed to empty into the Calumet River to the west instead of Lake Michigan to the east.  An interstate highway cuts through the east side of the lake on the Indiana side, and a Nike missile site has been built and torn down on the north shore of the Illinois side.  The outlines of concrete missile bunkers can still be seen in the ground on the hill overlooking the lake. They are visible from satellite.

But a few things are the same.  The state line.  The railroad embankments. A few city streets: 106th street and 112th street.

So where is it? Impossible to tell, but you could probably get close. Today we have satellite images at our fingertips and image editing programs.  If you crop the images at 112th street at the top and the north shore of the Illinois side of Wolf Lake on the bottom, and distort the satellite image a bit, it starts to look like the proportions of old map.


To make it easier to compare the two images, I’ve marked the state line in blue and the railroad outlines in red, and also labeled 112th street. The railroad on the east is still there and the railroad on the west is now a foot trail that follows the old route of the tracks and is quite visible from satellite. The only missing pieces of information are the locations of the 1924 shoreline, now that the lake may be lower by as much as 15 feet and of the “drainage ditch” marked on the old map.

The culvert was at the intersection of the drainage ditch and the western train tracks.

The old map shows the drainage ditch constructed in an east-west orientation; I’m going to stick my neck out and say it flowed east into the lake.  So, the rain that dislodged the boy’s body washed it to the east of the railroad tracks, where it was then visible to someone on a passing train. The east side of the ditch is near the intersection of the state line and the railroad track that bisects the lake. The west side of this drainage ditch is marked as the location of the infamous culvert where it meets the other railroad track.

There are three possible locations for the drainage ditch.

1) Where the present day road is, between the shoreline and the Nike missile site .  In this case, the infamous culvert would have been at the place where I photographed the deer in the previous post, where there is a short footpath from the lake road to the old railroad path.  I think this is unlikely, as there is now marshland next to the road. (See previous photo of the north shore road looking east towards Indiana with the railroad that intersects the lake in the distance. The autumn cattails, that usually grow in ditches and  standing water, are evident on the left side of the road. )  I think this area would have been completely underwater in 1924.  But maybe not. The intersection of the state line with the tracks does not look all that different.  But then you get into the question of all the buildings–house, hotel, whatever.  There would not have been much space for them next to the water, with a road as well. A ditch is unlikely on the very top of the small bluff.   It is also unlikely that a ditch would be built on the shoreline and paralleling a lake, when the water could be much more easily routed directly into the lake at the west end. I think the buildings pictured on the old map were on the crest of the hill, and the road as well, with the ditch to the north of that.

2) The ditch might have been parallel with the present day 118th Street. Today there is a foot path from 118th Street to the trail on the old railroad embankment and another trail leading east towards Egger’s Woods, and if you go south a little, towards the Nike missile installation. I have never followed this path very far, the gang signs and drunk teenagers I have seen here from time to time don’t encourage me to venture  into such a remote a place alone, but it does look very much like the terrain from the photos of the discovery of the body–a sort of high pasture.  There is a line of trees on the left of the path–and from satellite it looks like a very straight line–that may indicate a place where water (from an old ditch?) might be more available.  The main thing that favors the 118th street theory is the curve in the railroad tracks. On the old map, the culvert is pictured at the curve, and the curve is here.  It’s now an industrial corridor with high voltage lines that cross where the path curves.

3) The theory I favor at the moment is that the culvert was somewhere between 118th and north shore of the lake.  The old photos are marked 121st Street, not 118th.  From satellite, there is a straight dark line, presumably a tree line, slightly north of the old missile site, that could indicate an old ditch.  The location is roughly at the guerrilla book exchange, which I wrote about here (03/07) and here (05/07) and finally here (9/08) (image).  This area is quite swampy, even now, as soon as you step off the path, so maybe the culvert was further to the north after all.

Maybe an old map would help, maybe not. If the culvert was by 118th street, why did the photos say 121st street?  Was that an approximation or an official location?  Was 118th Street even there in 1924? It should be easy enough to find out. Chicago has been well mapped by the fire insurance companies, and historical maps of the East Side neighborhood (directly north of the lake), and Hegewisch (to the south and west of the lake) should be in an archive somewhere. I think the originals are in the Chicago Public Library.

Walking around might yield some clues too.  What about those straight tree lines that you can see from the satellite image?  Are they the remains of an old ditch?  And the old Indiana road–where does that connect now, and is there any sign of a ditch on the east side?  For further reference, here is wikipedia on Wolf Lake (with latitude and longitude coordinates on the upper right corner that you can click to find satellite images). A map of the Burnham Greenway trail system is here; the paths leading north from Wolf Lake are real enough, any paths leading south are purely hypothetical as yet. Here is a map of William W Powers State Park, the area closely surrounding the lake.

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