The alarm was set for four in the morning. Of course if you are like me, anytime the alarm is set that early, you don’t get any sleep. One eye is closed and the other watches the hands turn on the face of the clock. Psychologists have a term for that, but I’ll be damned if I know what it is. What I did know, the day was about to dawn that we had all worked so hard for the last three years. The day was Tuesday, the date was 11/12/13. Some people may have taken that as a bad sign, an omen if you will. However, I embraced the strange date. This adventure had taken many twists and turns over the last couple of years. Why not have a once in a lifetime date to commemorate our final dig for the massacre victims. I’m sure some of the members on our team would disagree with what I have just written…. our final dig. Before I can explain why this was the last round in the chamber so to speak, I need to take you back six months from 11/12/13. We were dead in the water until early drafts of this book began to circulate. Let me tell you what happened when the right person read the story and then decided to make a call….
My cell phone rang just after noon on a brisk Sunday in late April. I was outside splitting firewood, the last of the year, or so I hoped. Looking down at the screen, I didn’t recognize the number. Generally (admit it, you do as well) I let those calls go to my voicemail. On that Sunday I broke my (general) rule and took the call. Herrin City Councilman Bill Sizemore was on the other end of our wireless connection. Scott, I have a copy of your book and I’ve read it…. Well, I thought to myself, we have reached the “event horizon” of our crusade. Up to this point in our journey I had always dealt with Mayor Vic Ritter. Professor DiNaso and Doctor Gutowski had met with Ritter as well. In fact, they had several meetings with Ritter over the winter and spring of the past year. All to no avail…. What was Councilman Sizemore going to say to me? What was the hand I was about to be dealt? Scott, I can’t speak for all the Council, however I think I can speak for the majority of them. None of us had any idea this was going on. Of course “this” was what I was hoping to hear. I’d always had a strong suspicion that Ritter had kept everything you have read in this book (and more) to himself. He had not shared what he had been told to the majority of the Council. Sizemore had just confirmed my long held suspicions. Now it was my turn. I had been dealt a full house, it was time to push all my chips into the pot. Before I could respond to the Councilman, Sizemore asked me what in the hell was going on and what could (he) the Council do about it. Now, I knew, if Steven and I could keep our wits about us and make our case to Sizemore and the rest of the Council, we would finish what we had started. And believe me, there were times that DiNaso and I had that very conversation. Would we be able to gain access to the cemetery? Find Molkovich and the rest of the massacre victims that had been lost to time, fading memories and apathy…. I spent an hour that day talking with Bill and ended by telling him to call Steven. I assured Sizemore that we (the team) could help the city thru their issues out at the cemetery. The phone call ended and I knew we had our foot in the door. Now, we needed to do two things. Shove the door the rest of the way open, then prove beyond any doubt what Steven and I had been saying (and writing) for the last three years was true.
Over the next few weeks after we had both spoken with Sizemore, Steven and I talked with other members of the Herrin City Council. To the credit of them all, they were very receptive to what course of action we laid out to them. In the summer DiNaso put a presentation on before the fully assembled City Council. He laid out in detail the problems in the cemetery and made the case that it was important (for many reasons) that the massacre victims be found. The Council agreed and voted unanimously to allow us to proceed.
There was a court order that Judge Eckiss had ruled on that had to be dealt with, before the Council would allow us to dig in the cemetery. It was actually a Writ of Mandamus and I knew it had no meaning to our project. However, the Council was taking city attorney Brewster’s advice and rightfully so. The summer passed as we waited on a hearing before the Judge. DiNaso asked me in the interim what I thought would happen in court. The Judge will ask us what the hell we are there for, I told him. Then he will tell the city the court has no opinion on the matter, one way or the other. I had been wrong and made mistakes during this “crusade”, but on this I would be proven one hundred percent correct. DiNaso lacked my confidence (maybe rightfully so) and started working on another route into the cemetery. He and I had discussed many times the need to locate family members of the massacre victims buried in the cemetery. We both knew if the Judge ruled against us, that we would still prevail, however that set back would just lead to more delays. And one thing that you can be sure of, Steven and I were both damned tired of delays…. Therefore, if we had a family that was related to one of the victims and we could convince them to claim their long lost kin…. Then we had another (quick) way into the cemetery. Of course as with almost everything on this project, that would be much easier said than done. Enter John Foster. The retired Sheriff was a well oiled machine when it came to tracking people down. We put our heads together and decided John should work his magic on Ignas Kubines. We had his death certificate and it had a few names on it. Granted, it wasn’t much, but it was enough for Foster…. The Sheriff located Kubines’s late sister’s grave in a cemetery in Chicago. From there he was able to track down living blood relatives of the murdered miner. Steven reached out to the family and told them the reason for his call. They agreed to sign the necessary paperwork, which put me on the road to Carterville. Williamson County Coroner Burke owned a funeral home in that quiet little town. I wanted to have a face to face conversation with him about a Disinterment/Reinterment permit. As always, Coroner Burke was helpful and took time to explain the process to me. I laid out what needed to be done to Steven and in no time we had our paperwork in order. Now, if we received a set back in court on Eckiss’s order, we had another way into the cemetery. Before I finish this Epilogue, now would be a good time to explain something. I had started out playing checkers with the Mayor of Herrin. I soon learned that if I was to have any hope of finding Molkovich, I’d better start thinking like a chess player. Checkers wasn’t going to get it done…. DiNaso and I , along with the rest of our team, spent a lot of time thinking two or three moves in advance. You may think that we suffered at times from paranoia. Maybe we did. But I firmly believe you wouldn’t be reading this, if we would have acted any other way…. at times.
The big day arrived. Our day in court. My confidence had not waned, but I could tell DiNaso was nervous. He hid it well, but I had worked with him long enough to know that he was happy we had worked out “Plan B”. I was the defendant in the case, so my attorney Bernie Paul and myself sat at one table. The city attorney (Brewster) and another lawyer sat at the other table. Long story short, the Judge spent thirty minutes or so asking the city what they thought they needed from the court. Nothing, I thought to myself, but I kept my mouth shut. I could tell from the first words the Judge spoke in court that day, I wasn’t going to have to say a damn thing…. The Judge told the city that he (the court) had no opinion one way or the other about the cemetery. The city could allow us to dig, or not. The court didn’t care. DiNaso was setting about ten feet from me in the jury box (the courtroom was packed) and he and I made eye contact. I gave him a slight nod of my head and he smiled. We were in business! Time to (finally) go to work….
I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “the third time is the charm”. Well, in a way, the third time we dug in the cemetery was a charm. However, it was the fourth dig that brings another phrase to mind…. “pay dirt”. The first couple of excavations brought mixed results. The first dig we uncovered an empty wood vault. The dirt above the vault had a glass embalming bottle that had been hidden from human eyes for at least eighty years. Foster (again) tracked down the origin of the bottle and came up with a date of 1932. Old, but not old enough. I wasn’t surprised by what we found. I was troubled by it, but not surprised. We were working in a potter’s field and it made perfect sense that someone would have been exhumed. A stranger dying (killed more likely) on the streets of Herrin and buried in the section of the cemetery “reserved for the poor and the unknown”. His friends or family (both) track him down and claim his body. What troubled me about this? How much of this history were we going to “uncover” before we found the massacre victims. We were in a mine field of old unmarked graves without city records to guide us….
Our second dig a few weeks later was a bust. Or as DiNaso had so famously told me three years earlier, at least you know where they aren’t. I’ll cut our team some slack on the second dig, the city had a funeral that day. Out of respect for the dead we quit work about ten in the morning and moved to the other end of the cemetery. We resumed later that afternoon, but produced no results in our search for the elusive Molkovich. Meanwhile, Ritter was doing everything in his power to get us out of the cemetery. The pressure that he was exerting was powerful enough that the City Council had to call for another vote for us to continue our work. The third dig put an end to the push back from Ritter…. Early in the morning we had uncovered another old unrecorded burial. This was the first (for us anyway) of finding a grave in a “sold” lot. A local television crew was filming our discovery. I wasn’t aware of it, but Ritter was standing about thirty feet away. I was down in the grave examining the vault, making sure that it wasn’t one of our “guys”. It wasn’t, it was a child’s grave. The owner of the lot had left this cruel world and was buried next to the child. I assume the space next to him was at some point going to be used by his widow. The problem, that space had a child buried there…. The media asked me what I had discovered and what I was going to do about it. Answering the first question wasn’t a problem. The second question was going to be a little tougher…. I told the television crew what they were looking at and what the ramifications were. That was all it took. Ritter (unknown to me) had witnessed that conversation between myself and the media. As we filled in the child’s grave, I noticed Ritter and DiNaso off to themselves. Ritter was doing all the talking and DiNaso was doing all the listening…. The one sided conversation ended and Ritter got into his automobile and left. I suppose he had seen (and heard) enough for the day. Steven came back over and joined us. I asked him what that was all about. DiNaso told me the Mayor of Herrin said we (probably not me) were doing good work and it needed to continue. As a matter of fact, the whole area needed to be checked…. Thanks Mayor. By the end of the day we had uncovered four more graves and another empty wooden vault. All in sold lots…. None of them our “guys”. Which brings me back full circle, to the beginning of this Epilogue.
Our three digs were in the southern end of block fifteen. There were only two areas in block fifteen large enough to hold the massacre victims. We had eliminated one of the two. About eighty feet north of where we were working was the other area. If that area did not contain the remains of the murdered men, well then it was time to face a horrible fact. They had been buried over and would never be found…. Grant Woods and Dr. Vincent Gutowski had done some probing and coring in that northern area of block fifteen a few weeks earlier. Based on what Grant and Vince had discovered that day, Grant made several more trips back down to Herrin from Charleston Illinois. Grant would work from daylight to dark coring and then spend the night in a local motel. After a few days he called and told me to come out to the cemetery. It was a cold windy Saturday morning in early November. I had worked with Grant on this project long enough to know that if he wanted me to come out, he had something worth sharing. I think I have found your “guys” he said…. He spent the next couple of hours walking block fifteen with me and explaining core samples he had collected. At the end of his presentation in the field, I will never forget what he told me next. I think this looks like the real deal, he said. He then went on to tell me something that I fully (painfully) understood. These guys have been so elusive over the years, that I hate to say its them, but if it isn’t them…. I don’t know where else to tell you to search. The morning of 11/12/13 we were going to find out if Grant Woods(and the rest of us) were right….
Professor Steven DiNaso in the background working on retrieving another plate.
Massacre victims found on 11/12/13. They were indeed buried in the potter’s field of the Herrin city cemetery on the western side of the fence in the 1922 photographs. The lots they were interred in had been sold in 1998 to an unsuspecting public. The men were buried in Block 15, and occupied parts of lots 13,14,15 and 16. I thought I should include the lot information in this book, so that ninety or so years from now, someone doesn’t come along and ask….Where are the Herrin massacre victims buried? Looking back on this adventure, I wouldn’t change a thing….Mistakes I made and all. As it turns out Molkovich was about eighty feet further north than I thought he would be. But he (and the rest) were found and that my friends, is all that really matters to me….