The mysterious death of Svea Olson
Everyone who knew Svea Olson said she had chosen the right career. Svea was in her second year at St. Anthony’s School of Nursing. Her roommate and patients all stated that Svea’s natural cheerfulness brightened up whatever room she entered. Many of the bedridden patients at the hospital claimed that Svea had a special gift of bringing hope to those patients that had none.
Svea was busy with school but she always made time for her friends and family. On Tuesday, September 18, 1923, Svea left St. Anthony for one of her regular visits to the family’s home on 9th Street. Her parents, John and Maria Olson were well known in the Rockford Community. They moved to Rockford in 1896 from Sweden. John first obtained employment in the furniture factories before he and Maria opened the Olson Restaurant on 14th Avenue.
The visits with Svea’s family always passed too quickly and she seemed reluctant to leave that night. Her sister offered to walk with her to the 7th Street car line and the girls chatted on the way. Svea caught the 7th Street car and turned around to smile and wave goodbye to her sister, neither of them knowing it would be the last time they would see each other.
Later that evening at around 10 p.m., the staff at St. Anthony was startled by a man walking into the emergency department carrying a woman in his arms. They questioned him about his name and the identity of the girl but he had no answers for them. They grabbed the girl to transfer her onto a gurney and the man fled.
The girl was beyond all help and she was pronounced dead immediately. The staff recognized her as one of the student nurses and an investigation into her last hours began. Svea roomed at the nurse’s quarters and her fellow students were questioned. They all stated that Svea had no enemies or boyfriends. She was a dedicated daughter and student that spent her time with family or on her studies.
Coroner Fred C. Olson worked hard to determine the cause of Svea’s death. There was no trace of drugs, poison, or liquor in her stomach or blood. Her family reported that she had some issues with heart palpitations but nothing that was of any concern. The 24-year-old girl had no marks or other signs to indicate violence. The doctors and investigators were completely baffled by her death.
Police pleaded with the public for some information into the identity of the man in the car. Several witnesses stepped forward to say they saw a car matching the description the St. Anthony staff had given. They stated they saw the car stop alongside women that were walking in the area of 7th Street. They couldn’t hear the conversation but saw the women shaking their head as if declining an offer for a ride.
Family members and friends all were certain that Svea would never accept a ride from a stranger. The investigation into the death ground to a complete halt very quickly. The police and coroner worked on the theory that Svea had been picked up in the car and some struggle had occurred that resulted in her death. The family was left with only questions and no relief for their loss.
Svea’s funeral was on September 22, 1923 in her family’s home on 9th Street. Over 2,000 people came through the house to pay their respects. Over 1,000 traveled to the Scandinavian Cemetery for the graveside service.
Finally, in late November of 1923 police got a break. Robert Wells came forward to testify that he was walking in the neighborhood on that night in September when he spotted a man in a car matching the description given. The unidentified man pulled his car to the curb on East State Street just past the intersection of 7th Street. He then jumped out and ran to the sidewalk where a figure was on the ground. Wells approached the man to see if he could offer assistance. The man asked Wells to help him get the girl to the car. The rescuer stated that he saw the young lady collapse. He offered to drive the unconscious girl to St. Anthony Hospital where she would receive medical assistance. Wells helped the man place the girl into the car and watched him drive away.
The police and coroner decided that Wells was telling the truth and filed Svea’s death as natural though they never found the exact cause of her death or the man who brought her to the hospital. They stated that she probably suffered issues with her heart even though they found no damage during the autopsy. The family would never know what happened to this beautiful, young girl who gave so much to everyone she knew.