One of the great benefits of living in the Toledo area is our proximity to Lake Erie and all that it offers. It’s a recreational oasis known to every generation that’s been able to enjoy her waters. But the lake has also brought tragedy to many lives, and the story of the lake is littered with the tales of shipwrecks and drownings and mysteries. In Toledo, one of those sad tales shook the city for weeks after eight Toledo businessmen and public servants ventured out in Erie’s dark waters for a night of fun and never returned. To this day, it is not known exactly how they met their fate.
It was a Saturday night, June 14th of 1930, when eight men, most of them prominent citizens, boarded a fast party boat and set their heading for Pelee Island where they were to meet others for an Elks Club picnic. Since it was prohibition and Pelee was in Canada, where drinking was not banned, it can only be assumed these men were not anticipating a night of quiet sobriety, but neither were they anticipating the tragedy that befell them. They never made it to the party. Their boat was lost en route. For days after, a massive search effort was launched to find the boat and the bodies. On June 16th one of them was found near West Sister Island. It was that of the boat’s mechanic, 25-year-old John Hipcock. According an account from United Press International, his body was encased in a life-preserver and he was wearing only a light shirt and socks, leading investigators to believe the men had shed their clothes in a desperate struggle to save themselves. The coroner said he died of exposure and not drowning.
The other victims were identified as Internal Revenue Service Collector, Charles Nauts; Herbert Nauts, attorney and brother to Charles Nauts; Franklin B. Jones, former member of the Lucas County Board of Elections; Arthur Kruse, president of the Kruse-Berman Mortuary; Frank Miller, former city water commissioner; Henry Heinbush, assistant county engineer; and John Myers, the pilot of the boat.
The boat was discovered on Sunday the 15th, the morning after the crash and investigators said it was found in an upright position and the tow line was severed as if it had been cut by a knife. It was also reported that there was some tar on the prop and the engine was still in gear. Those clues lead to quick speculation that the boat was running at high speed, when it hit something in the water, flipping the craft and spilling the men out into the choppy waters of the lake. There was of course, some speculation that perhaps it was not an accident and the men may have run afoul of some murderous rum runners. At that particular time on Lake Erie there was considerable bootleg rum running between the U.S. and Canada. The area of the lake between Pelee Island and Ottawa County was especially thick with regular cargoes of the contraband. Confrontations between armed rum runners and coast guard patrols were not uncommon and sometimes gunfire was exchanged.
This is one of those stories that seems to have been lost to the dust of time. A piece of Toledo’s history that happened 80 years this June and while there are no plaques or memorials to these men or this moment in time, one can still hear the lapping waves of a lake that can be as merciless and it is seductive.
(I was able to locate the records of the Naut family and tax collector Charles Naut in the Center for Archival Collections at BGSU. The boating tragedy is recounted.)