MysteriYES

A comedy show in which two friends discuss a weekly mystery.

Little Lord Fauntleroy- MysteriYES

Today’s mystery came to light on March 8, 1921, and on that day, the Spanish Premier Eduardo Dato e Iradier was assassinated while exiting the parliament building in Madrid. That’s not today’s mystery, I just thought I’d inform you that that’s what happened on that particular day in history. But for good measure, I should let you know that also on March 8, 1921, Allied forces—the victors of World War I—took occupation of the German cities of Dusseldorf, Ruhrort, and Duisberg.

But today we will not be in Spain, nor will we be in an Allied-occupied version of Germany that at that point was still reeling from the harsh terms of the treaty of Versailles and ripe for the rise of the Third Reich, led by a charismatic Austrian leader named Adolf Hitler. We will actually be in the great state of Wisconsin, which is the part of the country where my mom’s family is from and where every word that comes out of a native’s mouth sounds like patronizing baby talk. And I’m going to be honest, I spent way too much time this week researching the phonological description of the North Central American English dialect (which is what they speak in Wisconsin and Minnesota), and especially how it relates to the North Midland American English dialect (which is what I speak).  None of this relates to the case in any way, but there’s a definite lack of information available in this case compared to some of our other cases, so I had to fill that extra time with something.

The town of Waukesha, Wisconsin is about twenty miles due west of Milwaukee and had a generous population of about 12,000 people back in the 1920s when our mystery took place. On March 8, 1921, the same day that Eduardo Dato e Iradier was assassinated and Allied forces took occupation of Dusseldorf, Ruhrort, and Duisberg, a quarry worker for the O’Laughlin Stone Company in Waukesha found the body of a little boy floating in a pond near the stone company. The boy was obviously dead, so the quarry worker called the police and they came out to investigate.

The boy was young, and investigators guessed that he was born sometime between 1914 and 1916, meaning that he would have been between five and seven years of age when he died. He was three feet, six inches tall and had blond hair, blue eyes, and was missing a tooth from his lower jaw as boys between the ages of five and seven tend to do. He was dressed in a manner that suggested an affluent upbringing, which was as follows: a gray Bradley sweater, size 6 Munsing-brand underwear (which was based out of Minnesota, suggesting the boy was from the Upper Midwest), black stockings, a blouse, and patent leather shoes with cloth tops. Reportedly, there was no overcoat found on the body or in the surrounding area, which was a bit odd, as the time of his death was determined to be sometime between the fall of 1920 to February of 1921, which would have been a very cold time of year in Wisconsin.

The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the back of the head, as if he were struck by some sort of blunt instrument. Investigators believed that his death had been a murder, only their investigation could not go much farther because no one was able to identify the boy and there weren’t many tests they could run on the body in 1921. The authorities displayed the boy’s body at a local funeral home hoping someone would be able to identify him, but both this and a $1000 reward brought forth no information.

This is somewhat understandable, I think, because at this time in history there was no social media or even broadcast television to get his face out to the public outside of the Waukesha area. The story could get disseminated via newspaper, I guess, but the only sketch that was made of the unidentified little boy isn’t particularly distinctive and may not have caught the eye of someone who knew the boy. Plus, when people have been dead for awhile, their faces swell, their skin becomes discolored, and their eyes begin to bulge out of their sockets, which can alter a person’s appearance quite a bit, so if a person isn’t expecting to see this, I could see how they might not recognize a loved one whose remains could have been floating in a pond for months.

A different male employee at the O’Laughlin Stone Company reported that five weeks prior to the discovery of the boy’s dead body, a woman in a red sweater and a man with no description given approached him, asking if he had seen a young boy around. The woman appeared to be upset and was crying, while the man was reportedly surveying the pond where the boy would later be found. After being told that the employee had not seen a boy around, the couple got into a Ford vehicle and left. They have never been identified or heard from again. Whether or not they were looking for the same boy that would be found in the pond five weeks later has also never been confirmed.

Inevitably the investigation into the boy’s identity and death stalled, as there was no one to claim the body and there was very little forensic investigation they could do in 1921. A Waukesha woman named Minnie Conrad raised money from people in the area in order to bury the child in a nearby cemetery, where Minnie would one day be buried herself. The boy was interred on March 17, just nine days after being discovered in the water. And in case you were wondering, also on March 17, 1921, the Soviet army crushed the Kronstadt rebellion, which caused a large number of sailors to flee to Finland.

Just a side note here, since the boy was never identified, he would come to be known as Little Lord Fauntleroy, because he was dressed like the titular character in Francis Hodgson Burnett’s 1886 novel called Little Lord Fauntleroy. Apparently that book is about an American boy who finds out that he is the heir to a British dukedom, so, you know, the story of my life. I tried to watch some of the 1936 movie version of the book, but it was very boring and not relevant to the case at all.

Over the years, there were reported sightings of a woman in red, wearing a heavy veil, leaving flowers at the boy’s grave. It is suspected that she may have known the boy somehow, but apparently no one ever thought to approach her and question her about this. And, of course, by now, it’s probably too late to find out if she knew anything about the boy’s identity.

This case had no leads for almost thirty years until 1949, when a medical examiner from Milwaukee put forth a theory regarding the boy’s identity. This theory was actually born out of another mystery being uncovered 15 miles east of Waukesha in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa.

On June 16, 1948, a woman named Cecilia Lemay disappeared from her Wauwatosa home. She was the third wife of a man named Edmond Lemay and the two had been married for five years before she went missing. Before her disappearance, Cecilia had been planning to move to Newark, New Jersey with Edmond, as he had gotten a job there with better pay.

After Cecilia disappeared, her neighbors began to wonder where the housewife went, and Edmond came up with a few different explanations for them. He told one neighbor that she had gone to Canada to visit a sick aunt, but he also planted a note in his home that read: “I’m going west with Bill. Cecilia.” Lemay would later admit to writing the note to prove to neighbors that Cecilia had left on her own and to indicate that she had been dissatisfied with his salary and married life in general. However, Cecilia’s friends, who believed they knew Cecilia pretty well, decided this was unlikely and called the police to report that she was missing. A search for her began on September 9th of 1948, and investigators believed foul play was involved in her disappearance. And, by the way, also on September 9th, 1948, a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers named Rex Barney threw a no-hitter in a 2-0 win over the New York Giants.

A few days after Cecilia vanished, Edmond decided to go ahead and move to Newark without his potentially endangered wife, where he had bought a house with a different woman named Eva Clark, who pretended to be his wife sometimes and also claimed to be his housekeeper other times, which is very suspicious behavior if you ask me. These two also wrote letters to Cecilia’s work, saying that she had moved to New Jersey all of a sudden and would no longer be working there. After being called out for this, Edmond claimed that he and Eva had done this to cover up for Cecilia after she allegedly left him, so that her workplace would not be caught off-guard when she didn’t show up. You know, because apparently Edmond is such a do-gooder and cares about that sort of thing.

On September 13th of 1948, four days after the search for Cecilia began, Edmond was questioned regarding Cecilia’s disappearance and repeatedly denied knowing anything about what happened to her. However, a polygraph suggested that he was being deceptive with his answers. And then, strangely, on September 16th, Edmond apparently began his own investigation into what happened to Cecilia, but I think that may have just been to make a show of his own innocence.

Edmond would later be arrested for forging his wife’s signature on her payroll checks so that he could cash them while she was missing, which is more suspicious behavior. Edmond would not be found guilty for forging his wife’s signature and was let go after the investigation into his wife’s disappearance stalled. Cecilia has never been found to this day. You know what we should say about this? It’s a mystery, so mysterious—but not too mysterious, because I’m 95% certain that Edmond was responsible for her disappearance.

Now, you may be wondering what in the gosh darn heck a missing woman in one town has to do with an unidentified dead boy found almost 30 years earlier in a different town? Well that’s a great question, but first, Willy, let’s tell our listeners a little bit about our sponsor.

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If you’ll remember, earlier I told you that Cecilia was Edmond’s third wife. Edmond was married to his first wife until she died of tuberculosis in 1919. The two had a son named Homer Lemay, who was born in 1914. After the first Mrs. Lemay died, Edmond reported that he left his son Homer in the care of some family friends named Mr. and Mrs. James Norton. I’m not sure if this is some sort of de facto foster care placement or something, but Edmond claims that his son was no longer living with him after his wife’s death. Sometime in 1920 or 1921, the Nortons apparently took six-year-old Homer to Argentina on vacation, which is a nice thing to do for a child who isn’t yours. Since Edmond seemed to no longer be involved in little Homer’s life, he did not go on this trip with his son.

Edmond reported that his son Homer died in a car accident in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and that he didn’t actually find out about his boy’s death until the Nortons sent him a clipping from a South American newspaper chronicling the accident, which is a really bizarre way to tell someone their child died while they were in your care. However, when investigators looked into Edmond’s story, they could find no accounts of the boy’s death in Argentina, even though Edmond claimed that at least one newspaper had covered the story, since the Nortons had sent him a clipping about it. Investigators were also unable to confirm the existence of any family friends named the Nortons who would have taken Homer to Argentina, which, like so much of Edmond’s behavior we’ve seen thus far, is very suspicious.

I guess like the situation with Edmond’s missing third wife, nothing happened to him as a result, even though the circumstances of his son’s disappearance were incredibly suspicious.

However, like I said earlier, that Milwaukee medical examiner came out in 1949 and suggested that Homer Lemay could be the true identity of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Homer disappeared shortly before Little Lord Fauntleroy was found, and while Edmond claimed his son died in South America, there is no evidence of this whatsoever, so it is conceivable that Little Lord Fauntleroy is, indeed, Homer Lemay. And if you look at the picture of Homer Lemay, he does kind of like look the sketch of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Although, to be fair, Homer Lemay doesn’t have any particularly distinctive characteristics, so to say that this one boy looks kind of like this other boy isn’t really saying all that much.

As near as I could tell, before he disappeared, Homer lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is about twenty miles away from Waukesha. So the going theory is that Edmond—who we’ve already decided is a rather nefarious character—did not want to raise his son as a single father. But, instead of turning custody of the boy over to some family friends called the Nortons as he claimed he had, Edmond whacked his son on the back of the head with some sort of blunt object. As intended, the boy died and his body was dumped in a pond in the nearby town of Waukesha. And, if Little Lord Fauntleroy was murdered by his own father, it makes sense why he was never identified by family members.

There has never been any conclusive evidence to legitimately link Homer Lemay to Little Lord Fauntleroy, although the circumstantial evidence is certainly compelling. I read in a newspaper headline from 1949 that there were talks of exhuming Little Lord Fauntleroy’s body, but I wasn’t able to figure out if this actually ever happened, although I don’t think it did.

This theory seems like it’s pretty clean, but it does leave us with some unanswered questions. For example, who was the couple that approached the quarry worker five weeks before the boy was found? Edmond’s wife was dead, and I doubt he would want to draw any attention to the fact that his son was missing, since the boy was allegedly in Argentina. I’ve seen some speculation that this couple could have been the Nortons, but since there is no evidence that the Nortons actually existed, I find this unlikely.

Another unanswered question we have to deal with if we accept the Homer Lemay theory is, who was the veiled woman visiting Little Lord Fauntleroy’s grave? It couldn’t have been the boy’s mother, since she died in 1919. It could be explained that she was another family member of Homer’s (perhaps an aunt or a grandmother) who knew what happened to the boy, but who didn’t want to come out with the information, either because she wanted to protect Edmond or because she was being threatened by him to stay silent. It’s still baffling to me that rumors about the woman could spread without anyone choosing to ask her who the heck she is.

The Homer Lemay theory isn’t the only theory out there about this case, though I’ll admit that it’s the only one that has any real circumstantial evidence to it, however little. But we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the other theories about how this boy came to end up dead in a pond.

There’s one theory that suggests that the boy was playing in or around the pond, which may have been in a quarry—I couldn’t quite tell—when he was struck in the back of the head by falling rocks from the quarry. This theory would then suggest that the couple met by the quarry worker were the boy’s parents, who were frantically looking for their son after he either wandered off or didn’t come home when he was expected to. The man was reportedly surveying the area where the boy would eventually be found, which might suggest that this was the area from which the boy went missing.

I think this is an enticing theory because I think some people would rather believe that a boy died accidentally instead of being murdered and dumped in a pond. However, I think this is unlikely because the boy was fully dressed, and if you’re playing in a pond, you’re probably going to remove some of your clothing—at least your shoes and socks. I guess the reason why he would have been fully clothed was because his estimated time of death was in the fall or the winter in Wisconsin, and I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Wisconsin during that time of year, but it is very cold. However, because it was the fall or winter, I think it’s unlikely that the boy was playing near the pond at all, especially because he didn’t have an overcoat on, nor was it found nearby. If he was going to play near the pond when it was probably so cold, you’d think he would be wearing an overcoat. Also, if the boy had been playing near the pond when he died, how come his parents—who obviously knew he was missing in that area if they were searching for him—never came forward to claim him?

But the best reason I think we can disregard this theory is that, if the boy was killed by falling rocks and fell into the pond, he would have been floating in the water when the parents were searching for him and he would have been found. This happened five weeks before the boy was found, and I find it hard to believe that the body was floating there for five weeks before it was finally found.

A similar theory is that he was playing above the pond and fell into the quarry, landing in the water where he would later be found. However, I think this is even less likely than the previous theory, since the only documented injury was to the back of his head. If you’re going to fall into a quarry, you’re probably going to have quite a few injuries to various parts of your body. And again, why would you be playing outside in the Wisconsin winter without an overcoat? And why didn’t his parents—who we would assume had searched the area—claim the boy’s body as their son? And then who was the woman in the red veil, and why did she feel the need to conceal her identity?

The last theory I want to touch on is that Little Lord Fauntleroy was not Homer Lemay, but was a boy who was kidnapped from somewhere else, murdered, and then dumped in the pond in Waukesha. According to this theory, if the boy was from far enough away, this could explain why he was never identified, because maybe the news of the boy’s discovery never made its way to the family. I mentioned it earlier, but the boy was most likely from the Upper Midwest because his underwear was from a Minnesota-based company, but even if he was abducted from Minnesota or even another part of Wisconsin, there’s a fair chance that news of his discovery may not have made it to the family.

I don’t know that I buy the stranger abduction theory, though. For one thing, a death blow to the back of the head could suggest that the boy might have been comfortable enough with his killer to turn his back to him, but I’m not sure if this would have happened if he was abducted and killed by a stranger. It certainly doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, but the injury suggests to me that the boy knew and trusted his killer.

Another reason I don’t know that I believe this theory is that the boy was fully dressed and there was no documented evidence of sexual assault. While not all child abductions and subsequent murders are sexually motivated, it seems fair to me to say that a majority of them are. There’s nothing that I read that would suggest any sexual element to this crime, which casts another shadow of doubt on the stranger abduction theory.

And then of course, that pesky couple causes problems with this theory as well. If the boy was abducted from far away, who were these people and why were they searching for the boy in Waukesha, so close to where he would later be found? It seems unlikely to me that, if these were the boy’s parents, they would frantically search for their son so serendipitously near the spot where his body would be discovered if he was, indeed, from far away.

I stumbled upon a few other theories or unpolished attempts at theories on the internet that got a little wild, so we won’t go in to any more of those. So let me outline what I think is the most likely explanation of the crime.

The boy was found fully dressed, but without his overcoat, which likely should have been worn if the boy were to be outside during the fall and winter months in Wisconsin, when it is estimated that the boy died. This suggests to me that the boy was inside, perhaps in his own home, when he was murdered. If this is the case, it’s a little interesting that the boy is fully dressed in his own home. When I’m at home leisurely, you’ll be lucky to get me to put on socks, much less the almost formal layers this boy is wearing. I suppose the family could have been going out that day or just gotten back from somewhere, which could explain why the boy was all dressed up. Or I guess it could have just been the culture of the time or the family to be that dressed up at home.

Additionally, I think the fact that the blow was to the back of the boy’s head suggests familiarity with the killer, as if the killer could have been a family member who the boy trusted. If someone in the family was responsible for the boy’s death, it makes sense why they or anyone else in the family wouldn’t have come forward to claim the boy’s body. Now, a blow to the back of the head by no means confirms that the little boy knew and trusted his attacker. He could have been snuck up on by a stranger or told “turn around or I’ll kill your whole family.” But I do think that it’s fair to suspect that the injury at least suggests that the boy knew his attacker.

I’m not necessarily saying that Little Lord Fauntleroy was Homer Lemay, but I think that a boy who was killed by a family member seems like the most likely explanation. There is no sign of overkill, torture, or sexual assault on the boy, which suggests that the blow to the head was merely a functional necessity to cause the boy to die. If Little Lord Fauntleroy was Homer Lemay, then most likely he was killed by his father Edmond who, after his wife died a couple years before, may have decided he was no longer interested in raising a boy by himself. Edmond dumped the boy’s dead body twenty miles away in Waukesha, and then invented a story about his son dying in South America, which would have been a lot easier to pass off in 1921 than 2017, as evidenced by the fact that no one batted an eyelash at the story until almost thirty years later when authorities realized that there’s no evidence to suggest that this major event actually happened.

The couple seen five weeks before Little Lord Fauntleroy was found doesn’t really fit with this theory, and it really doesn’t fit well with any of the theories, which makes me wonder if it is even related to the Little Lord Fauntleroy case at all. I mean, just because a couple was searching for a boy five weeks before a boy was found dead doesn’t necessarily mean it was the same boy. The couple could have asked the man if he’d seen their boy, and then driven off and found him later, and then it was a completely different boy who was found in the water five weeks later. I don’t believe that the couple and the missing boy are necessarily related. It would be a pretty big coincidence if they weren’t, but coincidences happen all the time, so we shouldn’t dismiss something simply because it’s a coincidence. Although, to be fair, I don’t think we should accept something on the pretense that just any coincidence is probable or even possible.

Oh, and about the woman in the veil? I think she could either be a family member who knew about what happened to Homer, or just somebody who wanted to honor the boy and maybe play up the mystery factor a little bit. Or perhaps the woman never actually existed in the first place and the reported sightings of her were mere urban legend. Either way, I don’t think her identity is all the important to solving the case. It’s just a somewhat spooky footnote to an unsolved and—at this point— probably unsolvable case.

So that’s the story of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Any new insights to bring to this nearly century old case?