Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Staged His Own Disappearance

Arthur Edwin Jenks disappeared on the night of 12 July 1934 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Four days later his abandoned car was found on the side of a state highway, it's left front door torn by bullets and blood stained. Deputy sheriffs learned Arthur's wife, Lillian Mabel (Koch) had filed for divorce two days before he disappeared. What happened?

Arthur was born in Elkhart County, Indiana, to Samuel Edward Jenks and Bertha "Birdie" Krontz on 31 May 1906. He grew up in Butler, Indiana, was a high school athlete and graduated in 1924. At the time of his disappearance he was 29 years old and worked for the Wabash Railroad. Before marrying Lillian, he had been married previously and had a son.

Arthur Edwin Jenks class photograph; courtesy of

His second wife, Lillian, was questioned by the deputies and told them she believed Arthur had staged his own disappearance and abandoned car to cast suspicion on her. For whatever reason the deputies believed her but came no closer to solving the mystery until late August 1934. Arthur wrote to his parents and told them he was staying with a sister in Fort Wayne.

Lillian's divorce suit was heard on 12 September 1934. The court awarded her a divorce decree and restored her maiden name. She told the court Arthur "struck and cursed her numerous times during their marriage," which lasted twenty-one months.

That wasn't Arthur's first brush with divorce. He married Bessie Irene Matson on 8 December 1926 six months after she graduated from Waterloo High School. They had a son in 1928 but divorced in February 1932 after Bessie claimed "her husband had an ungovernable temper and frequently cursed and absued her, struck and beat her." Bessie was awarded $2 a week in child support. In August 1933 Bessie was back in court attempting to receive $40 in back child support.

Article from 30 November 1931 Garrett Clipper; image courtesy of

Arthur was not finished with marriage, however. He married Elizabeth Caswell, my grandmother's first cousin on 12 May 1936 in Peru, Indiana. Elizabeth was born in Missouri to Robert Caswell and Margaret "Maggie" Muir, who was the younger sister of my great grandfather, Robert Muir. Elizabeth grew up in Danville, Illinois, where her father worked as a miner. After their marriage Arthur and Elizabeth lived in Danville. They raised two children and Arthur worked at a variety of jobs, including in the coal mines, as a state policeman, and as a dock man at Merchants' Delivery.

Arthur Edwin Jenks died 1989; Elizabeth in 1995. They were interred at Lake View Cemetery in Hertel, Wisconsin, where their daughter lived, and share a headstone.

After Bessie Irene Matson and Arthur divorced, she married Harley Earl Spence (1902-1974). After his death she married Peter William Urban (1901-1998). Bessie died 4 January 1998 and was interred at Waterloo Cemetery, Waterloo, Indiana.

Lillian Mabel Koch married Henry Clayton McKee (1900-1970) in 1941, but they divorced by 1943 when Henry married again. Lillian then married Frank Ellsworth Clouse (1891-1969). Lillian died on 14 October 1981 and was interred at White City Cemetery in Spencerville, Indiana.

The research for this story was conducted by Sarah Semple.


  1. Replies
    1. He was quite a character that's for sure and not in a good way. It makes me curious as to what type of marriage he had to my grandmother's first cousin.