NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Tuesday September 19th 2017

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Case remains cold 104 years

More than 300 people came and helped close out our fourth season in the cemetery with the “Horrors of Dracula.” Other than the mosquitoes, it was a perfect night--beautiful weather and a big, bright Harvest Moon. Look for our season opener next Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to all of you who have supported the cemetery in so many ways. By Tim McCall

More than 300 people came and helped close out our fourth season in the cemetery with the “Horrors of Dracula.” Other than the mosquitoes, it was a perfect night–beautiful weather and a big, bright Harvest Moon. Look for our season opener next Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to all of you who have supported the cemetery in so many ways.
By Tim McCall

BY SUE HUNTER WEIR

At 5:50 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25, 1912, a man checked his suitcase at the Milwaukee Road Depot. The following morning Carl Soder was on his way to work when he found that same man lying dead behind a billboard in an empty lot on 23rd Street and Lyndale Avenue South. He had been shot through the heart. An old-fashioned revolver, a Marlin 32, was at his feet. The coroner ruled his death a suicide.

The “mystery man,” as the local papers dubbed him, was wearing a tailor-made suit and had a gold watch and chain, a penknife, a stickpin, his luggage claim check and $106.27 in his pockets. All of the labels other than a few laundry marks had been removed from his clothing. He had a handkerchief monogrammed with the initial “R,” and the letters L.E.E. were inked on the inside of his linen collar.

The coroner set about trying to find out who this man who had gone to such great lengths to hide his identity was. His best clue—and it wasn’t a very good one—were the letters L.E.E. but he wasn’t sure whether those were three initials or the man’s last name. He settled on trying to find a missing man named Lee and appears not to have tried to find a missing man whose last name began with the letter “E.”

One of the first people that the police asked to view the body was Albert Savage. He was a strange choice and perhaps that reflected how much pressure that police were under to find the man who had killed Alice Mathews on the night of March 23rd. (See Alice’s story in the June 2010 Alley Newspaper). Savage told police that he had seen a man following Alice on the night that she was murdered but his testimony had been largely discredited because his timeline didn’t fit the facts. Still, if the mystery man turned out to be the man Savage claimed to have seen, the police would be able to declare Alice’s murder solved. But Savage was sure that this was not the man he had seen.

Another man, W. N. Patterson, suggested that the mystery man was Robert Lee, someone he had known for twelve years but hadn’t seen in the past two years. After looking, he thought that there was a resemblance but wasn’t absolutely sure. The police telegraphed Robert Lee’s parents in Wisconsin but nothing came of Patterson’s tip.

As the days went by the police kept receiving tips–most of them vague–but they had little else to go on. They had retrieved the man’s suitcase from the train station but it didn’t offer much information except for the fact that it was new and that it had been made in Chicago; that prompted the Minneapolis police to contact the Chicago police to see whether anyone had reported a man named Lee missing. Again, they came up empty.

On Sunday, March 31st, the coroner announced that if no one had come forward to claim the mystery man by the following day that the county would take charge of the burial. The unidentified man was buried on April 1st but the police and coroner still held out hope that someone would come forward to claim him.

They received at least three more tips. One woman told the police that she thought that she knew who the man was but refused to tell them the names of his parents because “they were prominent people and she did not wish to cause them any notoriety.” She said that she would notify them herself but apparently nothing came of it. Another tipster, this one anonymous, told police that the man was from Ashton, North Dakota, but when the police inquired it turned out that no one there had ever heard of him. The third tip had some promise because it might at least help to explain the relatively large sum of money that the man had in his pocket when he died.

J. J. Hall from Andover, S.D., thought that the man might be Ralph Lee who was suspected of embezzling money from his employer in Philip, S. D. Soon after it was discovered that some money was missing, Lee disappeared. Hall described Lee as being “a well built man, five feet eight or nine inches in height, with blue or gray eyes, dark brown hair, a high forehead, fair complexion and small ears.” He gave Lee’s age as 33. The description sounded like a match so the police forwarded a picture of Lee to Hall but once again nothing came of it.

The Minneapolis Tribune made one last effort to solve the mystery. On April 4, 1912, they ran an ad that read “Do you know L.E.E.?” No one came forward and over a century later he remains unidentified. His death certificate lists his name as “Unknown Man.”

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