Cora: Wheat and Chaff (11)

 

His reasons are as two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff: you shall seek all day ere you find them, and when you have them, they are not worth the search. — The Merchant of Venice

When Cora Stallman’s inquest resumed on the last day of August 1925, it had been just three days since the last adjournment, but a full month since her death.

She had died at the zenith of summer; now, the people were looking toward fall. In Arcola, the broomcorn harvest was under way. Threshermen and hired hands were in high demand. The county fair was in two weeks. And for some, a new school year loomed.

Out on her sister’s farm, Cora’s cottage stood empty under the receding sun. When its screen door banged in a late summer wind, or the last swallows dipped between the porch pillars, she was no longer there to notice.

Cora was gone, but the business of her death remained unfinished. If the investigation itself were a tended crop, it too must be brought in for the year.

Continue reading “Cora: Wheat and Chaff (11)”

Cora: The Party Line (10)

Thursday, Aug. 27, 1925. Coles County, IL

Untangling the events of Cora Stallman’s last day alive is no simple task.

The most obvious solution would be to get sheriff’s records or a transcript of the inquest testimony. Many years ago, I contacted the Coles County coroner’s office, hoping to do just that. The coroner himself was kind enough to search for me. Sadly, nearly all documents related to Cora’s case had disappeared in the intervening decades. “Sometimes the basement floods,” he said with some regret.

Continue reading “Cora: The Party Line (10)”

Cora: Anna and Thomas (4)

The farmer takes a husband.

Anna
Whatever path Cora Stallman followed into Coles County, Illinois, it was her older sister Anna who had cleared the way.

Anna must have been formidable. I’ve only found one photo of her, and you can barely see her face. At Cora’s inquest in late August 1925, she told the news photographers not to take her picture — and they obeyed.1

Continue reading “Cora: Anna and Thomas (4)”

Cora: Her Life Before (2)

Cora Stallman died on a farm, but she lived most of her life in the city.

Continue reading “Cora: Her Life Before (2)”

Cora: The Discovery (1)

Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 1-2, 1925. Humboldt, IL.

The story, as Thomas Seaman told it many times that bewildering summer day, to the sheriff, the coroner, the undertaker — it went like this:

This wasn’t his farm; it belonged to his wife, Anna. She was out of town and he was just staying here to help his sister-in-law, Cora Stallman.

On Friday night, Cora was in the farm’s cottage (or maybe the main house) and he slept on the cottage porch. He got up at 6 AM to milk the cow. He came back to the cottage and called for Cora but got no answer. Concerned, he searched the cottage, the main house, and the field. More concerned, he walked to the house of Anna’s hired hand, Boston “Bos” Lilley, and asked for help.

The two men spotted Cora at the bottom of a half-full cistern, next to the cottage. Using a wooden clothesline prop, they maneuvered her body out of the cistern and onto the grass. She was fully dressed, wet, and not responding. They tried to resuscitate her, but without luck. Water might have come out of her mouth. Bos went to call for help. Another hired hand, Ed Landreth, helped Thomas carry the dead woman into the farm’s main house.

By noon, the farm was buzzing with the sheriff, detectives, the coroner, the undertaker, farmhands, reporters, and others. All day long, cars on the farm road kicked dust into the August sunlight.

Continue reading “Cora: The Discovery (1)”