Voices from the Grave: Clinton St. Clair and the haunting of Winnebago County Jail

Clinton St. Clair, photo from Saturday, Jan. 22, 1910, “Morning Star” (Rockford).
Clinton St. Clair, photo from Saturday, Jan. 22, 1910, “Morning Star” (Rockford).

By Kathi Kresol
Local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events

The name of Clinton St. Clair has now been forgotten by most people in Rockford.  But that wasn’t always the case. For the better part of 1910, everyone in town knew the name.

Jan. 20, 1910, Mary E. McIntosh, an elderly lady who lived at 1239 W. State St., on the city’s west side, was found brutally murdered in her home. Her body was discovered by the milkman in the morning when he brought her milk. Police soon arrived at the home and were shaken by what they found.

Mary was one of those elderly women whom people shake their head over when her name was mentioned. The McIntoshes were well known in the city as hard working. Mr. and Mrs. McIntosh were always well dressed and their property well kept.

But after Mr. McIntosh passed away, things changed. Mary McIntosh became certain that people were trying to cheat her, and she began to hoard things in her home until the house was filled with junk.

Mary was a very old lady, and though she was considered to be eccentric by all of her neighbors, they could not fathom why anyone would want to horribly attack her with what looked like a dull-edged knife.

Police found a blood trail leading out of Mary’s house and down the block. At about the same time as this discovery, Frank Cronk, a local mailman, reported that he found an envelope with Mary’s name on it, containing two $10 coins.

The evidence all pointed to a man named Clinton St. Clair, and he was charged with the murder. Clinton confessed to the crime, telling the police that he had gotten drunk at a party and was walking home to School Street feeling very “low” because he was unemployed and had no money for his family.  He heard the stories about Old Lady McIntosh keeping a considerable sum of money at her house and decided to rob her.

Mary McIntosh fought him, and St. Clair knocked her over the head. He said he searched the house, but he only found $72. St. Clair had no answer for the police when they asked why he had mutilated Mary.

During the trial, St. Clair’s attorneys used his epilepsy as a defense, but St. Clair was found guilty and sentenced to death. He seemed reconciled to his fate, though men incarcerated at the Winnebago County Jail at the time would tell of Clinton’s pacing back and forth in his cell. He would talk to himself, sometimes breaking out in bursts of laughter or tears.

Clinton was hanged April 15, 1910, and buried quickly after his service at St. Mary’s. Only his brother and brother-in-law went to the funeral.

The police were probably satisfied with the whole process and were, no doubt, glad they were finished with the horrible case. That was not the end of the story, however.

Before long, police started to hear stories from the prisoners in the jail. All of a sudden, no one wanted to be alone in their cells. They reported hearing footsteps, as though someone were pacing in their cell. A man’s voice was heard, sometimes mumbling or laughing. Newspapers stated that the number of men in the jail was actually dwindling. While the police reported the execution was the reason crime was declining, the men in jail told a different story. They said it was because word had gotten out that the men incarcerated were afraid to be there. These prisoners had spread the story that Clinton St. Clair was still there in his cell, tortured by the crime he had committed, reliving his last few days on this earth.

Kathi Kresol is a local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events. Through Haunted Rockford, Kathi gives paranormal and haunted history tours and sponsors other paranormal events in and around Rockford throughout the year. For more of Kathi’s history articles, and for information about upcoming paranormal events, visit www.hauntedrockford.com.

From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue

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