On March 8, 1921, a workman named John Brlich made a ghastly discovery in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Floating in the O’Laughlin Stone Company quarry pond was the body of a boy who looked to be about five years old, dressed in a dark gray sweater, black stockings, and patent leather shoes. Brlich quickly reported his find to Waukesha County Sheriff Clarence Keebler. Keebler then contacted County Coroner L.F. Lee, and the two men drove out to retrieve the body.
Before an autopsy was conducted, county officers worked with the Milwaukee Police Department to initiate a search for clues to the boy’s identity. For lack of proper identification, authorities noted the boy’s shaggy blonde hair, brown eyes, and modish outfit, which led newspapers to dub him “Little Lord Fauntleroy.”
Detectives tried to determine how long the body had lain in the quarry. Their estimates ranged from a few days to six months. Quarry pumpman Mike Koker informed police that he had seen a young woman in a red sweater milling about the property on February 6, and that she had tearfully asked him if he’d seen a boy in the neighborhood. Koker further stated that the woman then joined a male acquaintance and peered into the quarry before driving off in a car.
The first official theory was that the couple had sent the boy off on his own while they made love, and that he had fallen into the quarry and drowned. The coroner soon dismissed that idea, however, when he found a laceration on the boy’s head, suggesting he had been hit with a blunt object. Moreover, the unusually small amount of water in the boy’s lungs suggested the killing occurred before his body entered the quarry pond.
Police received a small break in the form of David Dobrick, owner of Liberty Department Store. Dobrick claimed to be certain that the victim’s clothing had been sold in his store during a sale that past January. Then, another break came—this time pointing to a possible identification. A Chicago man named J.B. Belson insisted that the boy was his nephew, the son of his sister, Mrs. G.E. Hormidge. Belson claimed that his sister’s ex-husband had kidnapped their two children and threatened to kill them on numerous occasions.
Despite this information, no positive identification could be made. Area residents were called to view the body. Hundreds of people filed past a cold slab in the morgue, staring at the lifeless face of the young victim.
None of them knew him.
Then, police received word that the woman seen near the quarry by Mike Koker had committed suicide, and that she had done so in the same quarry pond. Police dragged the pond and set off dynamite in the hopes that the explosions would bring her body to the surface. No corpse was found.
A small committee of three men—Sheriff Keebler, C.A. Dean, and District Attorney Allen D. Young offered $250 for an identification of the boy and for information leading to the arrest of the presumed killer. The reward was soon raised to $1,000. Still, no valuable leads surfaced.
Time was running out; authorities they knew they had to lay the child to rest. Sheriff Keebler announced that the body would be taken to the Weber Funeral Home at 726 N. East Avenue and prepared for burial. A woman named Minnie Conrad organized a fundraiser among the citizens to help with costs.
At 2:00 P.M. on March 14, 1921, a small white casket adorned with a carnation was lowered into the ground at Prairie Home Cemetery. An unknown mourner had inscribed “Our Darling” on the casket lid.
Twenty-eight years later, in 1949, a medical examiner from Milwaukee suggested that “Little Lord Fauntleroy” may have been a boy named Homer Lemay (shown in the feature photo), who had disappeared around the same time. Homer Lemay’s father was questioned repeatedly about Homer’s disappearance. Lemay claimed that his son was left with a Chicago couple named Norton in 1921, who spirited away to Argentina and later mailed a clipping stating that the abducted boy was killed in an automobile accident. Police followed Lemay’s story to South America, but found no proof to validate his claims.
Pathologist E.L. Tharinger held a conference on May 16, 1949 and suggested an exhumation of the Fauntleroy body. He deferred to Sheriff Leslie P. Rockteacher and Coroner Alvin H. Johnson to make the decision. Ultimately, the nameless child was left undisturbed, to rest in peace. His simple gravestone reads: “Unknown Boy Found in O’Laughlin Quarry. Waukesha, Wis. March 8, 1921”
Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons