THE HUNDLEY MURDERS 1893, he had committed murder. At that time, Hundley had killed a music teacher in town, but was acquitted by a jury after pleading the “unwritten law,” meaning that he had murdered the man who had been sleeping with his wife.
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John Charles Hundley was a prominent wealthy citizen of Carbondale at the time of his death. He had been the mayor of the city in 1907 and 1908 and enjoyed many friendships and business acquaintances throughout the area. But Hundley’s life had not always been perfect. In fact, in 1893, he had committed murder. At that time, Hundley had killed a music teacher in town, but was acquitted by a jury after pleading the “unwritten law,” meaning that he had murdered the man who had been sleeping with his wife. The incident led to him divorcing his wife, which caused bitter feelings between him and his son, Victor. Although the problems between them had been supposedly been settled years before the elder Hundley’s death, some witnesses would later claim that the quarrel continued. This led to Victor becoming the chief suspect in the murder of his father.
Hundley remarried a few years later and in 1915, he and his wife, Luella, purchased a lot at the corner of Maple and Main Streets and constructed what became their sprawling and luxurious home.
Luella Hundley was the daughter of Ruffin Harrison, one of the founders of the city of Herrin and the owner of numerous coalmines in the region. She was the sister of George Harrison, president of Herrin’s First National Bank. She was said to have been an accomplished musician and very involved in local charity work. Perhaps for these reasons, she was regarded as having no enemies, which made her murder all the more puzzling.
The lives of the Hundleys were destroyed just before midnight on Wednesday, December 12, 1928. Investigators believed that Mr. Hundley was murdered first. His body was found in an upstairs bedroom, dressed only in a nightshirt and socks. He had been shot six times from behind by a .45-caliber revolver. His face had been ripped apart as the bullets exited his head. Mrs. Hundley was killed downstairs. She had been shot twice in the back of the head and once in the heart. She had been shot in a rear stairway, up which she had apparently started to climb in order to aid her husband. Her body had rolled into the kitchen and a pencil was resting next to her left hand. An unfinished letter on the table in an adjoining room was mute evidence of what she was doing when she was alarmed by the shots that killed her husband.
According to newspaper reports, police officers called by neighbors across the street who heard the shots being fired, arrived at the scene of the crime within minutes. Chief of Police Joe Montgomery told the press the following morning that robbery seemed to be the most likely motive for the murders, even though the house was not disturbed when officers arrived. The only evidence that pointed to a robbery of the house, which contained valuable artwork, expensive furnishings, and a large amount of cash, was the discovery of an empty pocketbook on the floor near Luella Hundley’s body. Neighbors told police that they believed the purse was kept in a writing desk downstairs. For this reason, and others still to be discovered, the police soon began to believe that there were other, darker motives for the crime.
On the morning of December 13, police investigators thoroughly searched the Hundley House. Tracking dogs were brought in and placed on the trail of the killer and four times, the dogs led their handlers straight to the home of John Charles Hundley’s son, Victor, a prominent coal dealer in the city.
Investigators believed that the killer might have been known to Mrs. Hundley because it appeared that she had opened the door and let him into the house, as she would have done, even at that late hour, for her step-son.
Victor also seemed to have a motive for the murders. At an inquest that was held that afternoon, Joab Goodall, a friend of the Hundleys and the last person to see them alive, testified that the elder Hundley had recently told him that he planned to make a new will and disinherit Victor “because he was no good.” A bitter feud had long existed between father and son and, while allegedly patched up, it had possibly flared into existence again. If this was the case, then Victor Hundley stood to lose a great amount of money if his father changed his will. With an estate worth more than $350,000, Victor would be left with only his trust fund, which amounted to less than $15,000.
Goodall also told the coroner’s jury that the Hundleys had been in excellent spirits when he visited with them on the night of their murders. They were planning a motor trip to their winter home in Florida and they planned to leave on Sunday. Goodall left the Hundley home around 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday evening and stated that Mrs. Hundley had locked the rear door behind him. Officers who arrived at the house four hours later found this door unlocked.
Another neighbor, Olga Kasper, who lived next door to the Hundleys, testified at the inquest that she had heard the fatal shots fired and had seen the lights in the house turned off immediately after. She said she heard someone running past her home, coming from the direction of the Hundley house and toward Victor’s house, a short time later. The person was so close to the house, she said, that they stumbled against a radio ground wire.
Investigators from the Jackson County sheriff’s office searched the route described by Mrs. Kasper and followed it to Victor Hundley’s home, which was just 200 yards away. Along the path, officers found several slips of paper that were presumed to have been lost in flight. One paper, dated December 5, was a notice of the termination of partnership of Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Hundley with Victor Hundley in his coal business. Another paper was a bank deposit slip, the back of which bore notes that figured out the interest on a loan that amounted to $532. The note was in Luella’s handwriting and at the top of the paper was written “Vic.”
Victor Hundley was brought in for questioning and subjected to seven hours of interrogation by Sheriff William Flanigan and his investigators. His house was also searched and a bloodstained khaki shirt was discovered. Hundley claimed that he had been wearing the shirt when he was told about the crime. Police officers awakened him and told him that his father and stepmother had been murdered and asked him to come to the house. While he was wearing the shirt, Hundley said, he had picked up the body of his stepmother. According to investigators, Hundley had never touched the body, so the blood had to have come from somewhere else. Suddenly, Victor recalled that he had been wearing the shirt while quail hunting and that was where the blood had come from.
Victor denied that there was any trouble between him and his father. They had gone through some troubles in the past, he admitted, but that was all over. He told investigators that on Wednesday night, he had been home all evening, reading and playing with his son. He had gone to bed early and was awakened by the police. Hundley also admitted that he owned a .45-caliber revolver, but he claimed that he had recently loaned it to his father. A search of both of the Hundley’s houses failed to turn up the gun. To this day, it has never been discovered.
After hours of exhaustive questioning, Victor broke into tears and cried out, “Oh my God! This is terrible!” He again swore that had had nothing to do with the murders. He was taken home, but was placed under house arrest as the investigation continued.
On December 15, immediately following the funeral of the Hundleys, Victor was arrested for their murders. While the coroner’s jury was unable to name the killer, Fletcher Lewis, the state’s attorney, believed that he could prove that Victor was guilty in a court of law. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work out that way and on December 31, Lewis was forced to let Victor go. He filed a motion during Hundley’s preliminary to dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence. The judge sustained the disappointed prosecutor’s motion.
Lewis made a statement to reporters after the hearing. “While the facts and circumstances learned from the investigation amply justified the holding of Victor Hundley and the filing of a complaint charging him with murder… I have decided to prosecute this particular case no further,” he said.
Then, he added, “I feel quite sure that the atrociousness of this crime will compel the conscience of the person who committed it to someday make public his guilt.”
But Lewis was wrong. No one ever came forward and the killers of J.C. and Luella Hundley were never found. The case languished in limbo for a time and then was relegated to the “unsolved” section of the city’s law enforcement files. There were many who believed that Victor Hundley had gotten away with murder, but they could never prove it. Victor never spoke of the crimes again and he continued to live on in the Carbondale area for the rest of his life. Eight decades later, the murders of Carbondale’s former mayor and his wife remain unsolved.
And perhaps, for this very reason, many have come to believe that their spirits do not rest in peace.
The Hundley mansion at the corner of Maple and Main streets remained empty for two years after the murders. The only physical reminder of the horrific crimes that occurred there was a bullet hole in a wall near where Luella’s body had been found, but the memories of that night remained in the minds of people in town.
The house remained vacant until 1930, when it was purchased by Edwin William Vogler, Sr. He bought the house and all of its contents from the Hundley estate. It remained in the Vogler family until 1972, when it was sold to a family named Simonds, who converted the huge residence into a gift shop with apartments upstairs. In 2000, it was sold to Victoria Sprehe, who ran the gift shop for five years before selling it to make more time for her young son. It was later turned into a bed and breakfast for a time.
Rumors that date back many years claim that the Hundleys still haunt this house. A number of the past owners and tenants in the building have had strange encounters that they are unable to explain. One former resident told of loud knocking sounds that reverberated in her room at night and the faint sound of the downstairs piano as the keys tinkled by themselves. Her family also recalled hearing footsteps going up and down the stairs, as if perhaps the killer of the Hundleys was doomed to repeat his walk to J.C. Hundley’s bedroom again and again.
Former owner Victoria Sprehe said that whenever she was alone in the house, lights would turn on by themselves, as if someone were watching over her. She said that she believed that Luella’s ghost followed her home from work on at least one occasion. Walking into the empty house, she heard pots and pans clanging and noticed that lights were on in the kitchen. However, she noted, “It’s not like a scary presence. It’s a very peaceful vibe.”
Perhaps it’s not a scary presence, but it could be unnerving. Sprehe was sometimes bothered by a door that opened by itself and by footsteps that she heard walking on the stairs – the same stairs where a previous family also reported disembodied steps. Tenants who lived in apartments on the upper floor also told stories of the creaking stairs and what definitely seemed to be the sound of boots, or heavy shoes, clomping on the wooden risers. One tenant laughed and stated that this was only the sound of the old house settling and then lost his grin when he admitted that he had never heard of a house that settled in just that way.
Victoria Sprehe’s daughter, Nina Bucciarelli, also recounted odd incidents in the house, like the front porch swing that would move by itself, even when there was no wind. Sprehe’s husband had also noticed this odd occurrence. Nina had her own explanation for the swing’s strange movement. “As night, if you drive by the porch swing, it’s just swinging away. I think Mr. and Mrs. Hundley still like to swing at night,” she said.
And perhaps she’s right, because if the stories of the past decades are to be believed, the Hundleys have not yet departed from the house they called their own – and the place where their lives were taken away too soon.
An excerpt from Troy Taylor's book, BLOODY ILLINOIS.
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Originally posted 2017-12-24 23:15:29.