November 1, 2018

An Afternoon of Quiet Horror in Park Ridge

Today is El Día de Muertos, a day to remember the children who died before experiencing the joys and sorrows of adulthood. 

In 1957, a horrific incident took place in Park Ridge that no one ever speaks of today.  If you ask old-timers in the community, no one seems to remember the event at all.   It has been wiped from everyone's collective memory, which is surprising since it was a national news story at the time. On this El Día de Muertos, we are going to revisit this tragedy and remember the long-forgotten victims.

Richard and Beverley Puetz were married in 1951. They met at the University of Iowa and moved to Chicago for their respective jobs.

Richard in 1945.

Beverley in 1950.

Son Johnny was born in 1952, and, by 1953, twins Kerry Lynn and Debra Lynn were on the way.

In need of more space to accommodate their growing family, in 1953 the Puetz family purchased a Sears Puritan in Park Ridge.

219 Columbia Ave., Park Ridge.

Sears Puritan.

On January 2,1957, there was a minor fire in the house.  While the house was being repaired, Beverley took the three kids to Bonaparte, Iowa to stay at her parents' house. Richard stayed back in Park Ridge; he worked as the manager of Bramson women's apparel shop in Evanston.

Richard picked up his family in Bonaparte on Saturday, February 2. Initially, Richard would say that Beverley acted normally that weekend. Later, he said that his wife was suffering from a nervous condition, but was not under a physician's care.

In the early afternoon Monday, February 4, Richard called Beverley while he was at work. He said she sounded "happy", according to news reports. Richard called again around 5 p.m., and hurried home when no one picked up.

When Richard entered the house, he smelled gas and found Beverley in the kitchen unconscious, with her head in the oven. He dragged her to the rear porch and then called the police and the fire department.

The firefighters revived Beverley with an inhaler. Richard was unable to find the kids in the dark and shouted: "My children! My children!" to the police.

An officer went upstairs and found the three Puetz children dead in the water-filled bathtub--John (age 5), Debra Lynn (age 3) and Kerry Lynn (age 3). They had been dead for about two hours.

The bathroom of the Sears Puritan.

Police also found two notes written by Beverley in the kitchen.

The first note read: "Notice from Beverly Puetz. I drowned the children trying to kill myself but having trouble - gas, electricity, etc. Want police to know I did it because I can't handle myself. Been going for some time ... My husband, Dick, has been wonderful and is better off without me and the kids for I have them so mixed up I felt they couldn't be straightened out - nor myself."

The second note read: "To Dick, I hope you can build a new future. I have ruined all this - kids and you - all my own doing. You deserve so much better and I failed you and I couldn't go on."

Part of the note.

Beverley was sent to the Cook County Psychopathic Hospital. She was charged with three counts of murder the next day.

In an interview with police, Beverley said that she woke the children from their naps and proceeded to drown them in the bathtub. She attempted to drown herself in the tub as well. When this attempt failed, she tried to electrocute herself with a fuse box, drank ammonia, and finally stuck her head in the oven. Beverley told police that, "a feeling that I had nothing left to live for overcame me."

In an interview with the Park Ridge police, Richard talked about Beverley's possible motivations.
Deputy Coroner C.W. Richards: Has she been under a strain?
Richard Puetz: Well, she felt there were certain drawbacks to the children. Johnny's speech is not as good as it should be and...
C.W. Richards: Does he have a speech impediment?
Richard: Just slow. We did the right thing, we sent him to speech school.

Later in the interview:
C.W. Richards: The only reason I am asking you all this is because there has got to be a reason for this. I would like you to think this over to find some reason for this after we have left-- some big incident that could have brought this on.
Richard: Big incident--the fire, January 2nd. She left that morning;it was only charred but it was a shattering blow for a woman to have a home she cleaned and tried to keep nice, burned.

Beverley said that she had a feeling the children were "inadequate" and that they were becoming more inadequate. The only reasoning she could provide was that Johnny had a lazy eye, and Beverley noticed the twins may have had lazy eyes as well. 

The children were cremated on February 8.

Beverley was an inpatient at the Kankakee State Hospital until her sentencing on April 1958. She had a baby, Richard, while committed.

In April, a judge ruled Beverley insane and uncured, against the medical opinions of experts. She was found not guilty of murder and all charges were dropped. Beverley was moved to the Illinois State Hospital in Elgin.

Beverley had another son in April 1960, but I'm not sure if she was out of the hospital by that point. Psychiatric patients were being released much more quickly from Elgin in the late 1950's due to use of Thorazine and other psychotropic medications including antidepressants.

Beverley was definitely released by the fall of 1961 because she was living in Chicago. 

Beverley and Richard Puetz divorced around 1963. Both remarried. The two boys lived with Richard, their stepmother, and stepsisters.

Johnny, Debra, and Kerry--we haven't forgotten about you. 


Architectural Observer said...

This is perhaps the most tragic bit of old-house history I've encountered; very disturbing. I don't think that I will ever be able to look at a Sears Puritan again without recalling this tragedy. I can't imagine sticking a camera in the poor guy's face afterwards... just heartless.

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

Yeah, that photo was Associated Press but I didn't find it in many newspapers, and certainly not the Chicago ones. I think most publications chose not to run it.

Belmontian said...

Landed here while looking up Gordon Van Tine interiors, and now I'm going to be thinking about this story for a long time.

Sears Homes of Chicagoland said...

I know. You don't want to see the police files I went through.

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