Thursday, April 30, 2020

HGB Ep. 334 - The Murder and Haunting of Helene Knabe

Moment in Oddity - Aliens Turn Soviet Soldiers to Stone

When the Soviet Union crumbled, many of its KGB documents found their way into public spaces. One such document that I found at from their reading room shares an event reported by the KGB that is unbelievable if true. The KGB materials claim that a low flying spaceship in the shape of a saucer appeared above a Soviet military unit that was out doing maneuvers in Siberia. The group fired a missile at the UFO and brought it down. Five humanoid looking creatures that were short with large black eyes and bulbous heads, exited out of the downed UFO. This is already really weird, but it gets even more bizarre. These men were attacked by the aliens and all were killed, but two. These two claimed that the five aliens merged into a single object that was spherical shaped and then began to buzz and hiss and glowed a bright white. That light seemed to flare and explode and the soldiers that were exposed to it were pertrified. Twenty-three men were turned to stone that proved to be the same composition as limestone! The busted UFO and petrified men were taken away to a secret lab in Moscow. This CIA document also claimed that there are photographs to go with the report and one CIA agent said that this was "a horrific picture of revenge on the part of extraterrestrial creatures, a picture that makes one's blood freeze." The report doesn't say what happened to the aliens, but clearly they had no ship to take them away. Aliens morphing into a weapon that turns humans to stone is not only terrifying, it certainly is odd.

This Month in History - The 1974 Super Outbreak

In the month of April, on the 3rd and 4th, in 1974, 148 tornadoes ripped through much of America, earning the name "The 1974 Super Outbreak." Spring is the time of year when these storms rip through the Midwest. An outbreak is typically categorized as 6 to 10 twisters and there can't be a break of more than 6 hours between reported tornadoes. This would be the second-largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. It was actually the largest until 2011. It has always been the most violent. Thirteen states were effected: Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, and New York. Ontario in Canada was also hit. Thirty of the twisters hit the upper categories of E4 and E5 and caused roughly $843 million in damages, which would be $4.6 billion today. This was dwarfed in 2011 when that super outbreak had 362 tornadoes. That also occurred in April.

The Murder and Haunting of Helene Knabe (Suggested by Michelle Rooney)

Helene Knabe was ahead of her time. She became a doctor in the early 1900s and her specialty was in treating sexually transmitted diseases. She lived in the Delaware Flats in Indianapolis, Indiana and this is where she would breathe her last. Helene was murdered and to this day, the identity of her killer is a mystery. And that may be why her spirit is at unrest. Join us as we share about the history of the Delaware Flats, the life of this amazing woman and her tragic murder. 

Indianapolis had a street car system that helped get people living in the outer edges of town into town for work. The Delaware Flats apartments were located with a block of similar apartments in the 400 and 500 blocks of North Delaware Street. These apartments were designed by architect Charles A. Wallingford and completed in 1902. The Delaware Flats is three stories tall with a basement and low-pitched roof and was done in the Beaux-Arts and Neoclassical architecture style. There were eighteen, five bedroom flats. In 1911, contractor Lynn Millikan purchased the Delaware Flats for $46,250. That same year, Dr. Helene Knabe would be murdered in the Delaware Flats.

Dr. Helene Knabe was born in Ruegenwaelder-Munde, Germany, Prussia, which is now part of Poland in 1875. This was a time of struggle for power in Prussia with the monarchy receiving a lot of push back. This was also a time of not much freedom for women and when Helene decided that she wanted to become a doctor, she knew she was going to have to go somewhere else because Prussia would not allow it at the time. Here early life had been a very tough one. Her father had left her mother when she was still a baby and then her mother passed away and so she was raised by her uncle. So in 1896, she moved to Indiana because she had heard that women could go to medical school there, but she needed to make some money and learn English. So she spent four years as a seamstress and doing household things for the upper class and in turn they taught her English. She entered Butler University to prepare for medical school in 1900 and later that year she attended the Medical College of Indiana. The courses were tough, but she maintained above a 75% grade and dissected every body part presented to her even as she continued to work to pay for her education.

The professors were so impressed with her that one of them placed her as curator of the pathology museum and eventually she was instructing some underclassmen. Obviously, since this was the early 1900s, it was unheard of for a woman to be teaching men and many did not like this, so we think that says something about her. Not only was she so successful that her professors pushed back against this resistance, but she also was that good at being a doctor. She graduated as one of only two women in 1904. People described her as a vanguard and this was only one of the reasons. Dr. Knabe was a bit of an artist and she started providing illustrations to medical books and she continued to work as curator of the museum. And even though she wasn't paid to do this, she worked as a professor at the school. In 1905, she became the first woman to be appointed as a deputy state health officer in Indiana.

She was a pioneer in Indiana when it came to rabies too. This newspaper article from the Palladium in July of 1906 highlights this part of her career:

Dr. Knabe became the Superintendent for the State Board of Health in 1908 and she left the board shortly after that to start her own community practice where she offered services many times for bartered goods. The doctor worked with a variety of epidemics and pushed for better sanitation. And although she was expected to do more, she was never paid what she was worth. But she loved this and her passion had her traveling all of Indiana recommending sanitation practices and educating. Part of that education was in sex education, which was very taboo at the time. There were many who were outraged that she was teaching about sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent them. She focused much of her efforts in communities with People of Color. There were some other things that she was outspoken about that probably put her in the crosshairs. When she left the State Board of Health she said that they "expected an employee in the laboratory to have a man’s brain, but be paid a woman’s salary."

A brilliant career came to a tragic and gruesome end on October 25, 1911. Dr. Helene Knabe was found murdered in the Delaware Flats by a colleague named Katherine McPherson. Dr. Knabe had a slit to her throat that was clearly dealt by not only a strong person, but this killer had skill with a knife. The killer had started on one side of her throat, taking care not to cut her carotid artery, and continued to the other side of her throat, pressing deeply and hitting her spine. The doctor then choked to death on her own blood. She had a bruise on her thigh that suggested a struggle. The coroner ruled that she had been murdered, but the police initially dismissed this and went forward with this as a suicide. They actually believe that she had slit her own throat in this way. Nothing had been stolen from the flat, except for a silk kimono that the doctor had been wearing, and the murder weapon was missing. Which clearly means we had no suicide here.

The police didn't have much to go on when they finally decided to pursue this as a murder. To complicate matters, McPherson had waited almost an hour before calling police and the crime scene had been contaminated by several people. The first person they treated as a suspect was a witness who was a black janitor who lived below her. His name was Jefferson Haynes and he lived in the basement with his daughter and a housekeeper. He told the police that he heard footsteps above him and three screams, but that he was too afraid to investigate. They decided to arrest him and hold him, but they could find no motive other than their own bias. So they released him.

Another theory was presented that perhaps a man having an extramartial affair had killed the doctor to silence her. This theory was put out in an article by the Brazil Daily Times on October 27, 1911:

In April of 1912, a sailor came forward claiming that he had slit the throat of Dr. Knabe. His name was Seth Nichols and he claimed that he had been paid to kill her for $1,500. Whoever this person was, he had joined Nichols at the Delaware Flats and watched as Nichols killed the doctor. The police listened for a while and the sailor did have a sister in Indianapolis, but they eventually decided he was lying. Although, Nichols wife did die in a similar way. A favorite spot for Dr. Knabe to visit in the few hours when she wasn't working was the German Cultural Center called Das Deutsche Haus. This is today the Athanaeum and the Rathskeller and one of the places said to be haunted by the doctor's spirit. She had gotten into a heated debate with a man at the center and some people thought this carried over into the murder. Had he killed her because of the fight? The police eventually tossed out this lead as well.

The case was growing cold at this point and a group of female doctor friends of Dr. Knabe, hired a private investigator. This was Detective Harry Webster and based on his research the police had another suspect. The police arrested Dr. William B. Craig. This was a local man with a successful veterinarian practice. He also had being Dr. Knabe's fiance. Their romance was not a well-known fact, which seems weird. Those that did know about it claimed it was volatile. The story goes that the engagement was called off a few days before the murder and that Dr. Craig planned to marry another woman.  Nobody really knew about the engagement, but Dr. Knabe had ordered a dress. When the police talked to his maid, she told them that Craig had left the morning after the murder with a bundle of stuff that the police thought was evidence. And she had also heard Dr. Knabe and Dr. Craig arguing. An undertaker named Alonso Ragsdale was found to have the bloody silk kimono that Dr. Knabe had worn while she was murdered and he claimed that Dr. Craig had paid him to remove the kimono from the scene. Both men were charged and the prosecutor claimed that the neck wound pointed to a veterinarian as the murderer because it was similar to a "sheep nick" or "sheep cut."

There was not much evidence, not even circumstantial. A bloody fingerprint in Dr. Knabe's apartment was never taken for evidence. Obviously, fingerprinting was pretty new at this time, but it still was something being used. Witnesses left town and disappeared and the housekeeper refused to testify. Did they not subpoena people back at this time? Due to lack of any real evidence, both Alfonso and Dr. Craig were acquitted. The main thing that became very clear through the investigation and prosecution is that Dr. Knabe was treated more like someone who deserved what she got than a victim. Was this just a random act of violence or was she targeted for being a strong-willed woman who demanded to be treated as an equal and believed in teaching people how they could safely keep themselves healthy in their environment and when having sex? Or was she targeted for being a lesbian? There are those who believe that she preferred the love of women and she was considered masculine. No one was ever convicted and the case remains unsolved to this day. Dr. Knabe was buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis in an unmarked grave. Her case file was destroyed in a flood in 1977. In 2016, Nici Kobrowski published the book, "She Sleeps Well: the Extraordinary Life and Murder of Dr. Helene Elise Hermine Knabe." In it, she concludes that Dr. Craig was indeed the killer. The author also paid for a headstone for Dr. Knabe. That's awesome!

After the murder, Lynn B. Millikan decided to rebrand the Delware Flats as a hotel. This would be Hotel Barton with a main lobby, kitchen and dining room on the first floor. Renovations included fireplaces, decorative mirrors and egg-and-dart molding to the lobby and some guest rooms and adding decorative mirrors and fire places. Since the basement could not be used for rooms, Millikan turned it into a commercial space. The hotel changed its name to Barton House Hotel in the early 1960s, but the hotel was on its way out and by 1966, it was a nursing home. The Salvation Army eventually turned it into low-income housing. And through all of this, there were stories of unexplained things happening. The first floor here is incredibly haunted. Dr. Knabe's spirit has been seen here, particularly in the area where her apartment had been located. But in other areas, residents complain of lights turning on and off by themselves and disembodied footsteps are heard nearly everywhere.

As we mentioned before, Dr. Knabe enjoyed hanging out at the Das Deutsche Haus, which is today the Athanaeum. This place reminds us of the Cuban Club inside. The doctor loved dancing and eating here, but this was also a location where medical classes were conducted as well as autopsies. The autopsies and dissections were stopped overtime when there was a grave robbing scandal that was revealed. In 1902 alone, 315 bodies were stolen in three months and two dozen people were arrested. It was such an issue in Indianapolis that when John Dillinger was buried there in 1934, his family had several tons of concrete poured on top of his burial to keep grave robbers out. The Athanaeum is located at 401 E. Michigan Street and was built from 1893 to 1898 in the Romanesque style. It's a gorgeous red brick building with flattened columns on the front of the building, pillars and arches. There was a gymnasium, bowling alley, ballroom, restaurant and, of course, beer hall. A fireplace inside features Dante's Inferno. Today, the restaurant is now The Rathskeller and a YMCA occupies the gymnasium and there is the Basile Theater. The new version of the Ghost Hunters visited this location in October of 2019.

The president of the Athenaeum Foundation is Craig Mince and he said, "Since my first day on the job, all I've heard about from the staff and tenants of the Athenaeum are stories of all the spirits that call the building home,” Mince said in a statement. “Me being a bit intrigued, and a tad scared, I felt like I wanted to know more about the spirits and their stories. Having heard that A&E was resurrecting 'Ghost Hunters,' I felt like there was no better team of folks to help us get to the bottom of this mystery." Shannon Poole who works in the building described to the Ghost Hunters her experience of seeing a shadowy ghost from the neck and shoulders up. Craig told Greg and the crew that people feel very uncomfortable in the attic where costumes used to be stored. There was no explainable EMF in this area. A spirit in there did use the EMF to communicate with the crew.

There are ghost tours that go inside the building too and have even hosted overnights in October. One of these tours is hosted by Unseen Press, which is co-owned by Michael and Nici Kobrowski. They claim that people have seen shadow figures in the theater and heard disembodied whispers. A dancing couple has been seen on the stage in the theater and the woman is always wearing a blue dress. Paperwork goes missing and tables that were set and ready for service the night before are found unset the next day. One of the spirits here is believed to belong to a man named Jolly Werner who had been drinking too much and fell into the fireplace and died. He is generally seen in the restaurant. And, of course, the restless spirit of Dr. Knabe has been seen here as a full-bodied apparition in the east section on the first and second floors. She was seen in the building as soon as two weeks after her death. Back to that EMF communicating in the attic, the crew asked if it was a female and it confirmed twice that it was female. The spirit also confirmed that it taught about health and that it was a teacher and a doctor.

What happened to Dr. Helene Knabe was horrible. She was in the prime of her life, only 35, and she had been incredibly successful in her career when someone robbed her of that life. No one was brought to justice. This would definitely cause a spirit to be restless. Is Dr. Knabe's ghost haunting these two locations? That is for you to decide.

Show Notes:
Great article on Dr. Knabe:

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