A Gruesome Find

Imagine you’re going about your day when you come across something completely unexpected. Something, well, gruesome. The following stories, culled from Marion’s past, demonstrate that even in the most mundane situations can take a horrific turn.

boys find human head headline medium
The May 21st, 1934, Marion Star headline.

What the Boys Playing in the Dump Found

On May 21st, 1934, five boys playing at the city dumping grounds on Marion-Agosta Road found a human head. The boys, all of whom lived on Bennett Street, notified police. The county coroner, Dr. Axthelm, examined the head and determined it had been discarded by a medical school. According to the Star:

 He expressed the opinion that it is an elderly woman, probably a Negro. The head and some of the preserved face muscles were covered with a coat of shellac, and the veins and arteries were filled with a colored paste to enable students to study them.

Dr. Axthelm planned to forward the head to the Ohio State medical school.

The Discovery in the Erie Rail Yards

Strangely, on the very same day as the human head discovery, railroad workers unloading sheet metal at the Erie yards discovered three men in one of the freight cars. Two of the men, Arthur Wells and Leo Shultis, both of Poughkeepsie, had died instantly when a load of metal shifted and fell on them. The third man, Thomas O’Brien of Boston, was found alive but later died from his injuries at the city hospital. The three men had met up in Sharon, Pennsylvania, and were hoping to make their way to Mitchell, South Dakota, where Mr. O’Brien had family.

This story appeared in the Marion Star during the Great Depression when it was common for men to ride the rails from town to town looking for work.

The Murder of Violet Elswick

On the morning of December 6th, 1953, at another dump just east of the Little Scioto River in Green Camp, an unnamed Marion man – a “junk man” according to the Star – and his son were picking through the dump when they spotted a hand “showing above a pile of rocks, tin cans and other debris.”

elswick mug shotThe hand belonged to 31-year-old Violet Elswick, and investigators soon determined that someone had strangled her to death. When investigators later picked up her husband, 37-year-old Bert Elswick, for questioning, he quickly confessed to the crime.

Both Violet and Bert had checkered pasts. Violet Elswick had served two years in the Marysville Reformatory for Women after she burned down a house near Martel. Bert Elswick had served time in a Maryland prison for armed robbery.

Though originally from the Ironton area, both had ended up in Marion, presumably to see if their fortunes improved. They didn’t. At the time of his arrest, Bert was only marginally employed doing odd jobs, mostly as a welder. The two were sharing a dilapidated 6’ by 12’ shack with a man named William Baker on the north side of the Little Scioto River in Green Camp.

According to the confession Bert gave to investigators, after spending the evening drinking in both Marion and Green Camp taverns, the two had gone to the dump, which was a few hundred yards way from the shack, to search for a bottle of wine they had hidden there earlier. They got into an argument, and Violet hit Bert in the nose. Losing control, Bert grabbed her by the throat and strangled her. After she slumped to the ground, he told investigators he sat there drinking wine for a time and “thinking what to do.” Eventually, he went back to the shack and passed out until investigators came knocking the next morning.

On March 26th, 1954, a common pleas jury found Bert Elswick guilty of manslaughter, and he received a sentence of one to twenty years at the Ohio Penitentiary. He died in 1985 at the age of 69 in Ironton, Ohio.

The junk man and his son were never mentioned again in any of the Star articles. However, one can only imagine that the image of what they found that morning stayed with them for a long time.

The Fetuses

At the turn of the century, it was not particularly unusual for the residents of Marion to chance upon the tiny, lifeless bodies of a fetuses. What follows are a few examples of these heart-breaking discoveries.

On November 22nd, 1894, the Marion Daily Star reported that a fetus has been discovered on the property of a man named Jacob Findling on Girard Avenue. The exact circumstances of the discovery – who made the discovery or how the details became public – are not given. The article only states that an “indignant” Mr. Findling, in a meeting with the mayor, had claimed that “his name and his family name had been connected with the find and he wanted to know if there was not some way to stop this talk and comment.” The unvoiced implication is clear: a fetus found on the Findling property suggested that someone – possibly an unmarried Findling family member – had been pregnant and either miscarried or had an abortion.

coroner order foetus buried
The April 1, 1908, Marion Daily Star headline.

Another very short article appearing in the March 11th, 1902, edition of the Star mentions that two fetuses had recently been found by boys playing “in the commons at the rear of Leader Street.” The article goes on to state that coroner Robert Ramroth was carrying out an investigation that had brought to light “some facts that may lead to something sensational.” Oddly, this is the only mention of either the discoveries or Mr. Ramroth’s investigation to appear in the Star that month. What (if any) “sensational” information Mr. Ramroth hoped to make public remains a mystery.

This last incident, described in the April 1st, 1908, edition of the Star is perhaps the most macabre. Farming Street resident Orville McCombs told officials that his wife spotted their dog with something in its mouth, and when he went to investigate, he realized that his dog was carrying a fetus. Unsure of what to do, he buried it at the rear of his property. Some of his neighbors later notified the police of the incident. In response, the chief of police sent a sanitation official as well as the county coroner to Mr. McCombs’ property to dig up the 4-month-old fetus. Apparently finding nothing worth pursuing, the coroner ordered the fetus re-buried. The final resting place of the fetus as well as where the dog originally found it are unknown.

Note: A special thanks to Dodi Mawer at the Marion County Historical Society who helped research this article.

The Marion Star, May 21, 1934
The Marion Star, December 6, 1953
The Marion Star, December 7, 1953
The Marion Star, March 26, 1954
The Marion Daily Star, November 22, 1894
The Marion Daily Star, March 11, 1902
The Marion Daily Star, April 1, 1908

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