THE BOY IN THE WATER
WISCONSIN'S MYSTERIOUS "LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY"
The morning of March 8, 1921, was a chilling one in Waukesha, Wisconsin. John Brlich, an employee of the O’Laughlin Stone Company, was out near the quarry pond when he spotted something unnerving in the water – it appeared to be the body of a little boy. He took a closer look and his blood went cold. It was a little boy, about five-years-old, wearing a dark gray sweater, block stockings, and patent leather shoes. Brlich ran back to the stone company’s office and called the Waukesha County Sheriff Clarence Keebler and told him of the grim discovery. The sheriff contacted County Coroner L.F. Lee, and the two men drove out to the pond.
Before an autopsy was conducted on the body, county officers worked with the Milwaukee Police Department to start a search for clues to the boy’s identity. They could find nothing revealing about him, but did make a note of his shaggy blond hair, brown eyes, and dapper outfit, which led newspaper reporters to dub him “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” a character in a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The sentimental book was a “rags to riches” story that featured pen and ink drawings of the title character in formal clothing inspired a fashion trend for little boys in the early twentieth century. It was hugely popular and inspired a number of film versions that delighted audiences across the country.
But the story of the “Little Lord Fauntleroy” of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was no happy tale. To this day, the boy has never been identified and his murder has never been solved.
The police were baffled. Detectives tried to determine how long the body had been in the quarry. Estimates ranged from a few days to six months. A quarry worker named Mike Koker told police that he’d seen a young woman in a red sweater around the pond on February 6. When he asked her what she was doing, she tearfully inquired if he had seen a boy in the neighborhood. Koker added that the woman had joined a male companion and the two of them had walked around the quarry for a few minutes before driving away in a car. Detectives theorized that the couple had sent the boy off on his own while they made love in the car, but he had fallen into the quarry and drowned. The coroner dismissed this theory after he found a deep cut on the boy’s head, suggesting that he had been hit with a blunt object. Also, after finding very little water in the boy’s lungs, he stated that the boy was already dead when he was put into the water.
A small break in the case occurred when the police were contacted by David Dobriock, the owner of the Liberty Department Store. Dobrick was certain that the clothes the boy had been wearing were sold in his store during a sale back in January, less than two months before. Then, another break came, this time as a possible identification. A Chicago man named J.B. Belson insisted that the boy was his nephew – the son of his sister, Mrs. G.E. Hormidge. Belson stated that his sister’s ex-husband had kidnapped their two children and had threatened to kill them on several occasions. When the police checked into the situation, they found the Hormidge children were alive and well.
The boy’s picture appeared in newspapers all over the Midwest, but no identification was made. Area residents were called to view the body. Hundreds of people filed through the morgue, looking at the lifeless face of the child – but no one recognized him.
Rumors claimed that the woman in the red sweater – seen by Mike Koker – had committed suicide at the quarry where the boy’s body had been found. Police dragged the pond and set off dynamite in hopes that the explosions would bring the body to the surface, but no corpse was ever found. It turned out to be just another false lead in a case that was growing colder by the day.
Several local officials -- Sheriff Keebler, C.A. Dean, and District Attorney Allen D. Young -- offered a $250 reward for information that might lead to the boy’s identification and his killer. Others offered additional funds, raising the reward to $1,000, but it was never claimed. No new information was discovered.
Out of options, Sheriff Keebler announced that the boy’s remains would be taken to the Weber Funeral Home to be prepared for burial. A woman named Minnie Conrad organized a fundraiser to help with the costs. At 2:00 p.m. on March 14, 1921, a small white casket was lowered into the ground at Prairie Home Cemetery. An unknown mourner had inscribed “Our Darling” on the casket lid. Abandoned at the end of his life, he had been embraced by the entire town after his death.
There is a mysterious epilogue to this story. In 1949, a medical examiner from Milwaukee, E.L. Tharinger, suggested that Waukesha’s lost boy may have been a child named Homer Lemay [the photo that accompanies this story], who had disappeared about the same time the boy in the water was found. Homer’s father was questioned repeatedly after his son’s disappearance, but Lemay claimed this Homer had been left with a Chicago couple named Norton in 1921. They had taken the boy to Argentina and later mailed a clipping back to the states that claimed the boy was killed in an automobile accident. Police followed Lemay’s story to Argentina, but found no proof to validate his claims.
Dr. Tharinger held a press conference on May 16, 1949, and suggested an exhumation of the unknown boy in Waukesha. He deferred to Sheriff Leslie P. Rockteacher and Coroner Alvin H. Johnson to make the decision and they decided to let the boy rest in peace. The nameless child remains in that quiet cemetery today under a simple tombstone that reads: “Unknown Boy Found in O’Laughlin Quarry. Waukesha, Wis. March 8, 1921.”