Tag Archives: Ottawa County

The Strange Story of Marie Lilly Bowers: Kidnapped and Found 14 Years Later in Genoa, Ohio.

Marie Lilly Bowers shortly before she vanished.

Marie Lilly Bowers shortly before she vanished.

Genoa, Ohio is quiet village. Not much noise, and not much big news.  So rarely does it ever make national or world news. It has happened, but not often. Once for the deadly tornado back in 1920, and another time for a sensational bank robbery nearly a century ago when the local druggist was shot to death. But perhaps the biggest local event that ever sent ripples beyond its village borders is one that few people today have ever heard of. It was a story so gripping that if it were to occur today, Genoa would likely have to endure a crush of TV crews and cameras all crowding each other to get the scoop. But there were no TV cameras back in the mid-1800′s, just newspapers and while they did report this story, its notoriety has faded along with the ink of the old news print.  The roots of this curious tale began to unfold in 1867 in Sandusky, Ohio with the kidnapping of a young three-year old girl by the name of Marie Lilly Bowers.

From family records it is written that on October 26, 1867, a neighbor asked Mrs. Martha Bowers if it would be okay of their three-year old daughter, Marie Lilly, could come to their house for a few hours to play. Her mother agreed and so Lilly left with the neighbor woman. She would never return. On her way home that afternoon, she vanished.  An immediate search was conducted by her frantic family members to no avail, and by the next day,  much of the city became involved in the search. It was recounted in family records that every “vault and cistern” was searched and even nearby “Sandusky Bay” was dragged for her body, but not a “single clue” turned up.  Days went by and still no sign of Marie Lilly Bowers.  Most of the major newspapers of the time carried the story of the missing child and the desperate search by her parents James and Martha Bower to find their precious “Lilly”. Many of the stories mention speculation that she had perhaps been abducted by a group of “gypsies” who were camped nearby.  Days passed into weeks and then months. Lilly was gone.

Newsartcle child lostMr. Bowers for years later would buy advertisements in papers around the country in a vain attempt to find his daughter. But to no avail.  Some leads were reported and followed, but in the end, all proved to be false.

Lilly's Parents. James and Martha Bowers

Lilly’s Parents. James and Martha Bowers

The only clues came in rumors and theories. The Bowers family even contacted Levi Stanley, the “King of the Gypsies” living in Dayton, and asked that he become involved, thinking he might be able to find out if any of “his people” had the child. Stanley reportedly became angry with the suggestion, although a child was brought forward as a possible candidate for the missing Lilly, but after Mrs. Bowers saw the girl, she knew it wasn’t her daughter.

The Bowers family, crushed and heart-broken, eventually left Sandusky, and moved back to the town of Hudson Michigan, north of Toledo, to a previous home where many of their children had been born.

What the Bowers’ family didn’t know, was that about 50 miles east of Sandusky, near the small Ottawa County village of Genoa, on the farm of James and Jeanette Calkins, an old “gypsy” man by the name of Jack Patterson began working for them about the time that Lilly had vanished in 1867.  Old Jack, the gypsy, would work during the day for the Calkins while leaving his own “tawny” children in a nearby hovel during the day along with a child of a much lighter complexion. It was Marie Lilly Bowers. As the story is passed down in the Calkins’ family records,

One day Mrs. Calkins hearing screams rushed into the hut and rescued Lilly from the stove where she had been placed by the other children because she had refused to do their bidding. Soon after this, old Jack brought the child to Mrs. Calkins’ home. She was clothed in nothing but an old coffee-sac. The Calkins adopted the child. She was given the name “Ida Bell”.

For the next 15 years, Ida Bell Calkins was raised as their own child, although, her new parents, James and Jennette Calkins always told her they were not her real parents and that perhaps someday she might find her real family, whoever and wherever they might be.

In the years that followed, Ida Bell Calkins grew up in rural Genoa and lived with her new parents, and her five step brothers on their 80 acre farm near the current intersection of State Route 51 and State Rt. 163. Because she was so young, probably about three years old, when she was abducted, she had no recollection of her own family or her name. Because there were no local papers at the time in Genoa, the Calkins family never saw the numerous stories about the missing girl from Sandusky.

By the time the young “Ida Bell” had grown to be a beautiful young woman of about 18 years, she had been schooled and raised to be a proper young church-going lady and traveled in “prominent circles” of friends. But Ida still wondered about her real identity and who her parents really were.  Strangely she always favored the name Lilly and wished that it had been hers. She loved the name so much that she often gave her pets the name of Lilly.

In 1882, as she was about to be married and assume a new married name, she was about to learn her real maiden name. The Gibsonburg Chrsistian Monthly of July 1910….wrote that Lilly’s real mother, Martha Bowers, still living in Hudson Michigan and, “never ceased to have faith that some day, somehow, God only knew when or how, Lilly would be restored to them. “

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Mrs. Bowers received word from friends in Sandusky that they had heard of a young woman in Genoa who might be the long lost Lilly.  Quickly letters were exchanged with the Calkins’ family in Genoa and Mrs. Bowers soon made the trip south to Ohio to test another moment of truth.  It was arranged that  during a picnic at the old GAR hall in Genoa(which still exists), Mrs. Bower was to look at a group of girls and see if she could identify her daughter. When she saw “Ida Bell”, she is said to have immediately picked her out as her daughter Lilly.  There was no reunion that day, however, for Mrs. Bowers was to visit the Calkins home the next day to reveal herself to the girl. When Mrs. Bowers was brought into the room with the girl..recognition was immediate.

“My mother”, repeated Ida. These were the first words Mrs. Bowers had heard her daughter utter since she was a toddler.

News Article from Reading PA, July 27, 1882

News Article from Reading PA, July 27, 1882

Further identification was verified by a birthmark on Lilly’s head and as Jeanette Calkins would later write,… “there was joy and weeping.” It was a miraculous mother and child reunion. After 14 long years, the misery and the mystery was over. Preparations were made at once for Marie Lilly Bowers to return to the family home in Hudson Michigan. Newspapers across the country began picking up the story and Genoa, Ohio was the place where this miracle story had taken place.

Within weeks after the reunion, Ida Bell, or Marie Lilly, headed back to adopted hometown of Genoa and to marry a local man by the name of Daniel Cunningham.  Curiously, within months, her biological baby sister, Edith Clara Bowers would also move from Hudson Michigan to Genoa to marry James Levi Calkins, Lilly’s stepbrother, with whom she had been raised.  Both sisters remained in the vicinity until their deaths many years later. Lilly and Daniel eventually relocated to Gibsonburg where they raised two children, while her husband Daniel worked in the oilfields of Sandusky County.  Lilly would later tell newspaper reporters  that she felt very fortunate having two caring sets of parents. While she was very happy to have reunited with her real parents, the Bowers, she held the “highest and tenderest” regard for the James Calkins family of Genoa and could not ever think of moving away from them and deserting them in their old age.  Marie Lilly “Ida Bell” Calkins-Cunningham lived in nearby Gibsonburg until she passed away at the early age of 45, in 1910 from a mastoid infection. She is buried at Gibsonburg along with her two children and husband.

 

Edith Clara Bowers Calkins, Lilly's sister.

Edith Clara Bowers Calkins, Lilly’s sister.

 

The Calkins family legacy does not end with Lilly’s passing, for Lilly’s sister, Edith Clara, who married James Levi Calkins, lived to be nearly a hundred years of age and died in the 1960′s in the Genoa area. She was well-known and well liked by all who knew her.

James Levi Calkns, Lilly's stepbrother in Genoa

James Levi Calkins, Lilly’s stepbrother in Genoa who would end up being her brother-in-law.

The Calkins family tree still stands tall in the Genoa area and still is growing. It now includes many well known local names such as Navarre, Early, Nagucki, Hesselbart, Schnapp and Bowland.

My Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Schnapp of Elliston for helping to track down this fascinating story of Genoa’s past.

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Once Notorious Area Madam Dies In Quiet Obscurity

Forty years ago, in 1972, Lillian (aka: Ginger) Tailford Belt, 53 years of age, was one of the most notorious women in Northwest Ohio.  As the area’s most famous madam and operator of an equally famous house of ill repute in Ottawa County, she and a small army of accomplices were facing a major federal indictment that included numerous charges, including tax evasion, white slavery and bribery.  It was a case that captured the public’s attention, offering a trial filled with steamy testimony, but also revealing the seamy and sordid underbelly of the prostituion trade and how the “Round the Clock Grille” on Woodville Road was able to evade criminal prosecution for so many years.  The revelations would eventually bring down the sitting Ottawa County sheriff James Ellenberger and sent former Ottawa county sheriff Myron Hetrick to prison for helping to distribute tens of thousands of dollars in bribes.

In the center of the stormy scandal was a striking blonde by the name of Lillian Tailford Belt. known by many as “Ginger”.  She was accused of running the operation for decades, since the 1950′s.  She was also linked to the notorious Rosie Pasco of Port Clinton who was reputed to have a run a similar operation for many years near Camp Perry during the war years when that area was home to thousands of lonely soldiers. Rose Pasco was also charged.  The evidence and testimony in the 1972 trial against Lillian and her co-defendants was  overwhelming. The federal agencies that orchestrated the case had done their homework.  Lillian Belt was convicted and sentenced to a four-year term at a women’s federal prison facility in Arizona, the state where she had been living in the years prior to the federal raid on the “Clock”.

Because of the “Clock’s” location at the corner of Woodville Road and Fostoria Road, about 5 miles northwest of Genoa,  I actually knew Lillian. Not well, but during the mid-60′s while I was a carryout boy at a popular Genoa grocery store where Lillian and her two children often shopped for groceries.Not just for their River Road home near Elmore, but also for the women who worked and stayed at the “Round the Clock”whorehouse.  It was my job, at times, to deliver groceries to both locations. My education in the ways of the world began early. It was always hard for me to believe that the local law enforcement agencies didn’t know what was going on there, when as a 16-year-old, I knew, and so did everybody else.

So for me, it was not just journalistic curiosity, but also personal inquiry, that led me to recently wonder whatever happened to Lillian Pasco Tailford Belt. What happened after she left prison? Did she ever come back to Ohio? Was she even alive?  That I assumed was not probable, given that 40 years had passed since the trial and she was at least 30 years my senior. I just assumed she had probably gone to her final reward many years ago. And after some Internet searches, I did confirm that she, in fact, had passed away, but just a few years ago, in 2009, in her beloved Phoenix at the age of 90.  The obit was really just a short death notice. I’ve been unable to find any other information, nor was there any mention of her one-time public celebrity in Ohio. Even the Toledo Blade missed the event.  Her final days merely yielded a short notice in the Phoenix paper and a schedule for the funeral service. It appears that she must have lived out the balance of her life after the Toledo court case(over 35 years) in relative obscurity in Paradise Valley, Arizona.   Now as a storyteller by nature, this has bothered me. I wish I could have had the chance to have listened to and documented her life story. All of the stories and colorful memories that had no doubt  grown in the garden of her most unusual life.  One can only surmise that Lillian had much more to tell, much more to reveal, more more to have riveted our attention, beyond what had surfaced in the Toledo trial. What a story – still untold.

Today, as I pass by the corner of Woodville and Fostoria roads, the old “Round the Clock” truck stop and house of ill-repute is long gone, burned down and replaced, ironically by a bank. Nothing left on the corner to remind us or future generations of what took place there. How on so many nights, the parking lot at this rural outpost, would be filled with a fleet of yellow taxi cabs from Toledo who brought out men day and night for sample of what was NOT on the menu , how the red hand on the big neon clock on the otuside of the white aluminum siding would blink round and round in circles as an invitation to stop in and see for yourself what earthly “delights” were to be found up the back stairs.   But 40 years have passed.  The “clock” has now stopped. For good. Along  with a moment in time that lives only for those who remember.

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Filed under Toledo area crime news

Area Coast Guardsmen Nabbed In Bootlegger Bribery Case

This story happened 80 years ago this week and took place against the backdrop of rampant rum running on Lake Erie. The Toledo area and the Western end of Lake Erie was the primary corridor for gangsters who were trying to smuggle booze into the United States after prohibition closed off all the legal trade in wine, beer and whiskey sales in the U.S.

(Toledo, OH) — January 18, 1930. Four Coast Guardsmen from the Port Clinton Coast Guard station are charged with allegedly accepting a bribe of $2,500 from a rum runner who was smuggling illegal booze from Canada into the Toledo Harbor. Three of the men were being held in the Erie County jail in Buffalo New York and the fourth suspect was being sought.
The story was reported in numerous newspapers around the nation and it was also reported that three other Coast Guardsmen were implicated in the case, but were only being charged with desertion.

According to an AP article, a rum runner named “Courtney” had given the men $2500 in cash to release his speedboat after they encountered him in Toledo. But then later, he was picked up again and that’s when he told authorities about his earlier bribe payment to the other Coast Guardsmen.

Author’s note. My Uncle, Louis Hebert, who was the commander of the Marblehead Coast Guard station during the era, often stated there was a “treasure” of of illegal whiskey and wine at the bottom of western Lake Erie. Many of the rum runners, while being pursued by Coast Guard boats frequently dumped their payloads overboard and sent large amounts of high priced scotch, whiskey and other spirits to the bottom of the lake. Uncle Louis was even quoted in a wire service article several years later in which he predicted that the lake would become the popular hunting grounds of future treasure seekers. I’m not sure if that ever came to pass but there were stories appearing from time to time about people being caught by authorities trying to recover the submerged contraband.

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Filed under Toledo area crime news