Three women from La Porte,
Indiana, a town about seventy-five miles southeast of Chicago,
took a train into the city on December 30, 1903.
One came home.
Forty-year-old Ella Wachs
and forty-one-year-old Susie Lefmann perished;
twenty-five-year-old Nettie Mae Dickhut survived –
though reports of her death at the Iroquois
continued for several years after the fire and are
sometimes reported by contemporary history
enthusiasts who come across the early, erroneous
reports of death at the Iroquois.
Ella Flentye Wachs (b. 1863)
Ella was married to Casper A. Wachs (1862-1945).
She was an Indiana native. Ella and her husband may
have been estranged in 1900; though still married,
he was living with his brother’s family in Penn,
Indiana. After Ella’s death, he remarried and moved
to Gary, Indiana where he worked in a steel mill. By
1930 he was widowed again and living with his
sister’s family and raising chickens for a living.
Ella’s body was identified by her brother, Frank
Flentye (b. 1878). Funeral services were conducted
at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in La Porte, IN by
Rev. Father Messman.
There was another Flentye at the Iroquois fire but I
have not found evidence that the families were
related. (Walter Flentye, from a wealthy Glenview
family, testified at the coroner’s trial.) An Indiana native, Ella was the daughter of
Christopher Christ / Chris Flentye (1834-1929), an
engineer, and Abigail “Abba” Usselman Flentye
(1840-1907). When Ella’s jewelry went missing after
the fire, her father took on the Chicago police
department (see story below).
Susie B. Woods Lefmann (b. 1868)
Susie married Charles F. Lefmann (1861-1919) in 1884. I did
not find evidence that they had children. Charles
was an alderman in La Porte, and a prosperous
businessman. He and a brother, coffee
importer/distributor of St. Louis, Julius Lefmann,
had interests in the Summit Hill Mining Company in
Taviche, Mexico. Both Susie and
Charles were born in Missouri. Her parents were from
Kentucky and Virginia; his from Germany. Susie
was buried in the Pine Lake Cemetery in La Porte
following a private funeral at the Christian Church,
conducted by Rev. George Hicks.
Nettie / Nellie Mae Dickhut Lawless (1879-1961)
Mae was a self employed milliner from Quincy,
Illinois where she lived with her brother and
sister. She was an Illinois native and, like Ella
Wachs, the daughter of German immigrants. John
Dickhut and Eleanor “Nellie” Sibilla Booth Dickhut
had six children, of which May was the oldest. Eight
years after the fire she married a widow, Charles C.
Lawless (1873-1949), who had two children. Mae and
Charles had two children of their own. She is buried
along side her husband at the Quincy Memorial Park
in Quincy. Nothing is known about Mae’s escape from
the Iroquois theater. Her association with Wachs and
Lefmann was likely related to Charles Lefmann also
being a milliner.
Christ Flentye versus Chicago police department.
Various early February, 1904 newspapers reported
that Chris Flentye, Ella’s father, gave evidence
against officer William Gibbons. Flentye said that
when his daughter’s body was received at Buffum's
morgue the jewelry her jewelry was removed and
placed in an envelope that was numbered to
correspond with her body. When the envelope reached
police headquarters, however, the number and
contents were missing, Officer Gibbons’s explanation
was that the envelope had been rifled when he put It
down to wash his hands. The stolen valuables
consisted of one ring, set with three diamonds;
earrings, with opal and diamond settings; an enamel
watch and one Marquise ring with diamond center
surrounded with pearls.
February 11, 1904, La Porte Herald newspaper
“Mr. Flentye accepted $500 in cash and signed an
agreement whereby he would redeem the jewelry should
it be recovered and restored to him within a year.
"Probably no stranger story has ever been written
here than the detailing of the disappearance of the
gems, the activity with which the police sought a
settlement of the matter and the willingness with
which they paid $500 for jewelry on which Mr.
Flentye placed a value of $400.
"It may be an old story to the Chicago police, and
it indicates, as previously told in The Herald,
undoubtedly a systematic organization among the
police to rob people. This charge has been made time
and again in some of the Chicago papers, but if an
investigation is started the dust is thrown in
somebody's eyes and then the matter is dropped.
Undoubtedly there were scores and probably hundreds
of instances where jewelry belonging to persons who
were killed or injured in the fire that disappeared
and in most cases the owners or the relatives
dropped the matter.
"Mr. Flentye was of a different make-up. He had some
proof of the fact that a policeman last had the
jewelry and he pushed the case to a point where it
was apparent that somebody was going to prison. In
order to save the man, Mr. Flentye was asked to
place a figure on the valuables, the negotiations
being handled direct by the captain in charge oi the
Central police station. This the La Porte man
refused to do upon his visit to Chicago week before
last, at that time giving the police another week in
which to recover the jewelry or suffer the
consequences. When the time was up Mr. Flentye went
to Chicago, but in the meantime he had concluded to
accept a cash settlement, with the understanding
that efforts to find the valuables should be
continued and that in the event of their recovery he
would redeem the gems. Although the jewelry was in
the possession of Officer Gibbons when it
disappeared, Mr. Flentye had no dealings with him,
all the negotiations being with the captain of the
station, a very significant fact. After a few
minutes' conversation and a statement from Mr.
Flentye as to what he would do, the captain offered
the La Portean $500, which was acceptable, whereupon
the officer opened a drawer in his desk and pulling
out five $100 bills handed them to Mr. Flentye. The
latter signed the agreement, which the captain had
his stenographer draw up at the direction of the La
Portean, and then the captain expressed his thanks
for the amicable adjustment of the case.
"The captain then called in Officer Gibbons and said:
‘Officer Gibbons, thank Mr. Flentye for what he has
done for you.’ The policeman stepped up to the La
Portean and said, ‘I thank you very much for what
you have done for me. I appreciate the fact that the
jewelry was in my care and that it was up to me to
produce or make good. I shall always remember your
kindness.’ Mr. Flentye then left, stating Mr. Flentye
did not want money but the gems which were keepsakes
of his daughter, but it became apparent to him that
the police could not or would not produce the
jewelry and so he thought it best, after due
reflection, to accept the offer that was made. The
supposition is that the gems were pawned and
afterward could not be traced.”
Reading between the lines, it appears that Ella’s
father had an unnamed information source who
implicated Gibbons. That would have strengthened
Flentye’s case but he was a scrapper and may have
pursued it regardless. Flentye lined up with dozens
of other victim’s families in filing a wrongful
death suit against the Iroquois managers, resolution