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Episodes: Blog2

Episode Two: Union Station

Union Station with the fountains going


One of the greatest means of transportation our country has ever seen. Hauling people, mail, and freight faster and more ecological than any other form of transportation out there, is it really that hard to understand how some people become obsessed by these moving giants?

There was a time, during the heyday of rail travel, where it was said, you cant get anywhere without going through Ogden.

And how right they were.

Thanks, guys, for your patience, Let me know introduce to you, Strange & Unexplained: Utah, episode 2, Ogden’s Union Station.

On March 8th, 1869 Union Pacific Railways rolled through Ogden, Ut on their way to Promontory point for the joining of the transcontinental rail, and the laying of the golden spike, a historic event which just celebrated it’s 150th anniversary. With a huge boom in rail travel coming to Utah, it became a fight to see which town would be named Rail City Utah. It came down to Ogden and Corinne. After years of duking it out for the title, Brigham Young finally stepped up and donated to huge parcels of land for the railways use, so long as the station was built in Ogden.

Later that year a two-story wooden building was built on the edges of the weber river to serve as the Union Station. However, this building was already home to several of the shorter line rails, and it had a quarter mile of wooden boardwalk that passengers needed to traverse just to get over the swampy marshy ground and into the station itself. It became clear very quickly that there was no way this situation could last.

In 1889 a new station, made of brick and in a Romanesque Revival Style and sporting a massive central clock tower was built at the end of what we now know as 25th street. The people had gotten their new station. It was massive compared to the old one, and it housed 33 hotel rooms, a barber shop, and even a restaurant. It was supposed to be a one stop shop for the discerning traveler.

But the people of Ogden weren’t happy.

As wondrous as the new building was, they hated what they thought was the outdated and unattractive styling. Many complaints were filed, but the answer was the same. The building had only just been completed. It was simply too early to be talking about a remodel.

Fifty-four years after it opened the door, the station burned.

It was late on the night of February 13th 1923 when a pair of pants left too close to an iron, caught fire. Before they could stop it, fire had consumed the entire inside of the station leaving only the walls and the clock tower barely holding on. Miraculously no one was killed or injured during the fire.

Seeing an opportunity to finally get what they’d been after for more than half a century, the people of Ogden used the fire as a means to demand a new building, a better building in an updated style from Union Pacific.

But the rail companies would not be talked into spending money they didn’t have to. So, a restoration effort was started while they struggled to keep things functioning as best they could in the meantime. Tents and tarps were set up to keep travelers safe from debris while also helping to Shepard them away from the worst of the damaged areas. They had been enormously lucky so far and had hoped to keep it that way.

But tragedy, it seemed, loomed just beyond those white tents.

Monday February 26th, 1923 started like any other day. Frank Yentzer, recently promoted to cashier at the station, left his wife Helen, and their two children at home and headed into work. He was cashiering outside that day under a white tent while the construction crews frantically raced to get the building repaired. It wasn’t easy working in a burnt out shell of a building, or having to handle customers and train problems from a tent in what must have been a chaotic construction zone. But it was his job, from everything I’ve seen and read, he was damn good at it.

Just after two that afternoon a roof support came lose and knocked into one of the cone shaped stones that were set at each of the four corners surrounding the clock tower. It went careening to the ground. Taking Frank and his white tent along with it.

He died instantly.

Two other people in the tent were injured, but only minimally so.

The people of Ogden used this tragedy as a springboard to launch an all-out assault of demands on Union Pacific. The clock tower had inadvertently taken the life of a young husband and Father. There was no way it could be put back to rights again. Begrudgingly, the rail companies agreed and tore down the old station leaving nothing behind but it’s foundation. Construction started again and new station was started, the one we know and love today, was completed in 1924 and dedicated on November 22 of that same year.

During its many decades of use the Union Station saw more than forty deaths ranging from Suicide to murder. Much of which is attributed to the fact that at the peak of its time, the union station saw 140 passenger trains a day. There were just too many people! And some of the worst kind of people used that day to day hustle and bustle of that hub to hide their crimes.

Here are some of the most notable such crimes.

On June 28th, 1913, the body of a twelve-year-old girl was discovered with her head smashed in and stuffed in a trunk on a mail train bound for Michigan. Based off several newspaper articles I found about the incident here’s what happened.

It was a bright Thursday afternoon, just four days after Frances Williams turned ten years old, her mother sent her to the grocery store alone and greeted her at the gate to their modest home as she returned. In a warm and affectionate way, Augusta Eckman, Franny’s mom, wrapped her arms around her young daughter and led her inside.

That was the last time Franny was ever seen alive.

Now I have no evidence that Francis ever went by Franny, but the more I learn about her, the more it feels right to me.

On the 28th, two days later, Augusta and one of her former husbands, C. L. Anderson, boarded the train in Salt Lake headed for Ogden. They were bound for Michigan. You see Mrs. Eckman had recently been left by her third and latest husband Gus Eckman. Before that she’d been married to C.L. Anderson, whom she’d been separated from for the last fourteen years, and her first husband, George Williams who was in the army and Franny’s father.

Now for those of you playing the home game with the math there, you’re not wrong. It does look like Mrs. Eckman was not the most faithful of brides.

Having only been back together for the last two days, Anderson and Eckman headed for their former home in Michigan. Unfortunately, they were forced to stop in Ogden, due to a lack of funds. But the trunk had been paid for and should have continued on to it’s final destination, undisturbed.

And it would have, if not for the smell.

It was the end of June, headed into July, northern Utah can see temperatures in the high nineties all the way up to the low hundreds. In the back of large metal tube, speeding along the trails in that hot Utah sun, there was a odor most foul emanating from that trunk and Union Station officials insisted it be opened and investigated.

What they found both shocked and appalled them.

A clerk named Homer Greenwell was sent to investigate. Inside, Franny was naked, her hair still in ribbons and braids, stuffed upside down in the trunk, a part of her head concaved. It was clear she’d been dead for some time as well as the fact that she had been abused before that death occurred.

Detective George Wardlaw was sent to investigate along with Judge W. H. Reeder, and Elijah Larkin, the undertaker. A fun thing to note, my mother maiden name is Reeder and from what I can tell most Reeder’s in the Utah area are related to me somehow. I’ve been coming through my family tree on ancestry and haven’t found the good judge yet, but I haven’t given up yet.

As they started their investigation, they noted the abdominal scar from a previous surgery, the obvious signs of strangulation and long-standing abuse.

Based on eyewitnesses and the name on the ticket for the trunk, the detective was able to locate both Anderson and Augusta and bring them in for questioning.

Augusta immediately began to cry. She broke down and admitted to having killed her daughter.

What she told detectives is this, for months she’d been unable to find work, going from one struggle to another, becoming increasingly depressed as each new endeavor failed. When she heard from her ex, she decided the best thing to do was to rid herself of the encumbrance her daughter had become to her.

At just ten years old, this woman viewed her child as burden, a stone thrown around her neck weighing her down. And there was simply no room for that kind of hassle in this new life she was planning for herself. So, she chloroformed her daughter, and stuffed the body in a trunk. At one point she tried to convince police that Franny had been sick and that she was doing the child a kindness. After removing the body and doing a full investigation the on the site call stuck.

Franny had been murdered violently, chocked or hung, but a mother who just couldn’t be bothered to raise her anymore.

After questioning them both, it also became clear the Anderson had no knowledge of what had happened to Franny. He was later released.

Frances Violet Williams born June 20th 1903, died June 24th 1913.

I wish I could tell you this was the only such death to roll through the Union Station, but that wouldn’t be the truth.

Enter the Ogden City Union Station Death Trunk.

Wednesday March 19th, 1924 was a typical day in early spring. A dock worker by the name of Alexander Brown was already having a trying day. After dealing with an irate dog during the ride, and a truck that set his skin crawling, he was happy to have finally arrived in Ogden. As he exited the train car he slipped and nearly ate it on the wooden floor of the car.

Getting his feet back under him, he stopped to see what had nearly taken him out.

A pool of blood was spreading out from the trunk that had been giving him issues all day. He called for an investigator for Union Pacific and the trunk was opened. Inside the body of a woman was wrapped in two carpets and surrounded by clothing and other household items. The police were promptly called, and the name Death Trunk was coined.

During his questioning, Brown told officers that there was something unusual about the trunk and that a dog that was being shipped had lost its mind when it was tied to the trunk. Eventually having to be moved. Once the woofer was away from the truck and quieted right down.

The trunk had been shipped from Denver to a town called Weed California, Ogden was just a pit stop on the way to its final destination. According to the ticket the trunk belonged to a man named John J. Smith at 4144 Clay st.

Naturally this information was proven to be false and the hunt for the owner of the trunk commenced. Ogden City police accompanied the trunk back to Denver where they began to question the local operators about the trunk. It didn’t take to long to find the man they were looking for.

Fred Janssen of 4124 Clay street had dropped off the trunk Friday March 14th and no one had seen his wife since the day before. The woman in the trunk was Isabella Mary Janssen from Pittsburg. She had been married to Fred for about five years. Based on the things the police found at their home, she wasn’t leading a very comfortable life.

During his questioning Fred claimed that his wife was trying to kill him so he had hired a “Mexican” air quotes there, and paid him $150 to kill his wife while he waited in the next room. As the investigation went on, it was discovered that Fred had two life insurance polices on his wife totaling a thousand dollars. After a little more pressure was applied, Fred finally confessed.

Thursday March 13th, as his wife knelt for her nightly prayers, Fred took a hammer to the back of her head. But Isabell didn’t die. So he strangled her. And when she still refused to die, he shoved a handkerchief down her throat and put her in the trunk. The police believe she was still alive when the trunk was loaded on the train.

He was arrested and sentenced to life in prison.

While Union Station might be plagued with tragedy and disaster, no single disaster stands out more than the Bagley Train disaster of 1944.

It was a cool early December morning, the last of the year. The Pacific Limited had left Chicago at 10 am the previous morning and had separated into two segments some time after that pushing the passenger car ahead of the mail truck. A thick fog rolled in overnight, covering the stretch of train track called the Lucin Cutoff that was a stretch of track running through the northern section of the great Salt Lake. With nothing but lake on either side of the track, there was no break for the fog, nothing to help keep sight lines on the track clear.

An unusually long and heavy freight car had been experiencing some technical difficulties that night and been forced to slow their pace to a near crawl. They’d put the call out to all other trains on the line, warning them about the reduced speed and visibility.

At 5:14am, the mail portion of the Pacific Limited, having somehow been uninformed about the significantly slowed pace of the two train ahead, barreled into the passenger train shooting forward into the next creating a cascading effect of train cars shooting forward and sliding off the track, into the muddy embankment of the Great Salt Lake.

Help was scrambled as quickly as they got word, but with accident on the rails, with nothing but lake on either side, it was slow coming. Track had to be cleared, inch by inch before they could get to the worst affected areas and the people trapped there.