It’s time I told you what I have discovered about Molly Zelko.
And what better time than Sept. 25? It’s been 64 years and yet, I feel like I have breaking news in this very, very cold mystery.
I just need the right people to listen ... and care. Because witnesses have told me where she was buried.
Amelia J. Zelko was a newspaperwoman who suddenly vanished after leaving the office of The Spectator, a weekly newspaper serving Joliet and Will County from 1927 to 1965. She vanished 64 years ago on the night of Sept. 25, 1957.
Molly had been threatened and told friends, family and associates that she was afraid. But more than one person also heard her shrug it off with words such as, “If they get me, I’ll kick off my shoes.”
The morning of Sept. 26, they found her car parked in front of her apartment building and nearby were her two black pump shoes. But no sign of Molly. And so began the mystery, the whispers, the speculation and a lot of folklore about Molly Zelko.
The dominant theory is the Mob took Molly out. The Spectator was not afraid to openly take on corrupt politicians and gambling. For years, the fire and passion at the newspaper came from publisher Bill McCabe. His role as a crusader often fell into the shadow cast by Molly. Molly’s influence at the paper increased in 1948 when McCabe was beaten by thugs. He never completely recovered.
The Molly story was an obsession for years with Herald-News reporter John Whiteside. He pulled me into the story to help write a 12-part series on Molly in 1978. (I have posted the full series and more at MollyZelkoMystery on Facebook.) Since 1978, the story haunts me as it did Whiteside, who died in 2005.
There is a lot of detail that I should share, what we left out in 1978 and what I have learned since then. I hope to do that with a book. But here’s my dilemma and what’s churning behind the scenes.
This book isn’t a simple recap of Molly stories, packed with bits of bio and fascinating history and some famous names. I am not just writing about a cold case now in deep freeze. I feel like I am actually working the case.
And how do you write about a mystery when you keep finding clues? The Molly story is a living, fluid, breathing thing ... sitting in my lap. And there are facts I have not shared with many, but perhaps, it’s time. Because I do need help.
I have evidence that strongly suggests Molly was murdered and buried under Stryker Avenue on Joliet’s west side.
In 1978, Whiteside and I found a woman who lived on Stryker Avenue in 1957. On the night Molly vanished, this woman saw four men drop a woman’s body into an open ditch along her street where a sanitary sewer line was being installed. She was terrified, kept the secret and moved away a few months later. She told us her story and recounted the incident twice under hypnosis.
In 2018, I talked with that woman’s daughter and son living in Tennessee. I wanted to know if their mom told them her story and if they thought it was true. The daughter said she knew it was true because she also was in the room that night and saw what her mother saw.
In September 1986, Whiteside wrote a column on the anniversary of Molly’s disappearance. It was a Hail Mary to anyone who might have answers to come forward. It worked.
A man who was working that sanitary sewer project on Stryker Avenue wrote us two letters and agreed to be interviewed. He was told to leave that ditch open on Sept. 25, which he said was unusual. The next day, he came to work and the ditch was covered. He was told to just forget it. I have confirmed that he told the same story to his family.
There’s a bit more that I cannot share yet, but it all points to Stryker Avenue. I have shared all interview transcripts with a cold case squad in the Will County Sheriff’s Department, which includes a representative of the state’s attorney’s office. I am still pursuing, but nothing is happening.
I understand the hesitation. There is no one to prosecute in this case anymore. Digging up Stryker would be intrusive and expensive and would have to be done carefully. And what if there’s nothing there?
But ... what if there is a body there? Time would not wash away all the evidence.
The Zelko family has been helpful and supportive of my efforts, but I think they never expect to find out what happened to Molly.
It’s hard for me to tell them that no one cares. So, in some ways, this column also is a Hail Mary.
I am hoping someone does care. Someone who literally can dig for answers. City, county, state ... someone who has the authority to make this happen.
In the meantime, I am slowly working on a book. A book that needs a proper ending.
• Lonny Cain is the retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa and was a reporter for the Herald-News in the 1970s. Email him at email@example.com or mail to The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.