The Strange Drowning of Cora Belle

lady in waterBy Kathi Kresol

Cora Belle Addams was 18 years old when she died in 1886 and even though Cora died so long ago, she became very real to me. We all have met girls like Cora: vain, self – absorbed, spoiled. At least that was the impression the newspaper described her. But that wasn’t the whole picture-for that I would need to explore further.

The story in the paper starts off with a disappearance of this girl from her home on the East side. It gives all the information about her family. They lived in a brick row house on the east side on South Main Street. (The east side Main Street is the present day Madison Street. It also mentions that her parents might be considered over indulgent because while other girls of her age (and circumstance) worked out of their homes and earned wages, she was not required to do this.

The story takes place in April 1886. Cora is described as “a young lady of prepossessing personal appearance, tall but graceful in form. Her hair was light brown, her eyes were large and blue.”

Everything seemed good in Cora’s life, she had a fellow by the name of Frank Schicker whose family owned the Schicker’s East Side bakery. They had been friends for four years and the families supposed that they might eventually marry.

When the police questioned Frank for information about Cora he said they had not seen as much of each other recently. A few weeks prior, they had attended a German masquerade together and Cora insisted on dancing with another man. This understandably made Frank mad and he told Cora she shouldn’t be dancing with this married man. Frank said the day that Cora went missing she had returned the ring that he had given her as a Christmas present. Frank also mentioned that he didn’t think Cora cared enough about him to hurt herself over their quarrel.

Cora also mentioned this married man to her mother. It seems the evening that she went missing she had run into this man on the way back from returning Frank’s ring. The mother told her not to talk to this man again. Cora just laughed at her.

So who was this strange man that Cora insisted on speaking to? His names was Al Reeves. He ran a saloon located close to Cora’s house. Police questioned him and at first he said he didn’t see her. When the police said they had a witness who saw them together, he admitted that he had spoken to her and she mentioned she was going far away and that he would never see her again.

And that was it…the police talked to everyone who had seen Cora in the days surrounding her disappearance and she told a few people that she was going away and her mother didn’t know. Everyone mentioned that she seemed in really good spirits and except for the above there was no reason anyone could fathom that would cause Cora to run away.

The next morning, the police found foot prints a little way from Cora’s house on Main Street. The foot prints were tiny and thought to have made by a woman. The reason they even noticed the footprint is they led right into the river, in fact they could be seen in the water to about 8 feet off shore. Cora’s parents were beside themselves with worry as they awaited news of their daughter.

They waited for agonizing eleven days.

On April 24, the newspaper claimed, “The body of Cora Belle Adams has arisen from its watery grave and the sorrowing friends have laid it to rest in this cemetery.” Because of the strong spring rains the body had floated 20 miles downstream to a place between Byron and Oregon. The two men who found were on a fishing expedition when they found the body caught in a tree limb.

The paper stated, “In eleven days the water had committed sad havoc with the fair face of the girl who had left home and friends so strangely. Even her father could find on the bloated body and discolored features no semblance to the daughter whose loss he mourned.” The father and Frank actually went to the site where her body was found and brought her back to Rockford in a wagon.

What would make a seemingly happy girl walk out into a river? It is difficult to research stories from so far in the past. It takes hours of sifting through old newspapers, and city directories. But stories like Cora’s make it all worthwhile, my only regret is that her parents never knew the truth about their daughter’s death. Cora’s death was not the suicide it appeared to be.

Kethi greenwood 4Kathi Kresol has been organizing paranormal events for the past eight years. Her life-long passion for anything odd and unusual has led her to pore over long forgotten newspapers, books, and journals. She collects and shares the stories of fascinating people who have called this area their home.


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