Voices from the Grave: The legacy of Leo Carlson

By Kathi Kresol
Contributor

There are no records left to tell how the young couple met. But one thing was abundantly clear, Leo Carlson loved Celia. They were young when they married in 1908. Later, Leo’s friends would say that he would speak often of his young wife’s beauty. That was in the beginning, of course, before trouble came to the young couple.

Leo made his living as a carpenter and it was this, as well as the close proximity to Celia’s family in Janesville, that brought the couple to Rockford. They were thrilled to find a nice apartment at 414 Market Street. The apartment was large and the young couple decided to rent out the extra rooms.

Celia made friends quickly and asked Leo if they could rent the extra rooms to some of her new companions. The young ladies were all single and the extra income would save the couple money. Leo agreed and four girls moved in.

Leo had a very good job as a carpenter but the hours were long and Celia found herself alone in the evenings. The other girls would invite Celia to join them when they made plans. At first Celia refused; eventually, the young girls’ pleas convinced Celia to join them.

The neighbors in the area began to gossip about the girls’ comings and goings and the word eventually got back to Leo. At first, he ignored the talk as just gossip but one night the girls brought the party back to the apartment and the police were called. The landlady confronted Leo and Celia and demanded that the roommates leave. Leo agreed and carried it one step further by stating that he did not want Celia to see the girls anymore. This caused heated arguments between the couple.

Leo’s friends would say that the turmoil at home changed Leo. He became angry and his drinking increased which led to more fighting between the couple. This cycle continued until Celia couldn’t tolerate it any longer. She decided to leave Leo and move to Janesville with her mother.

Celia didn’t leave empty-handed, though. She took all the furniture and withdrew the money from the bank account. Leo became a broken man. His friends became concerned and claimed Leo became obsessed about the wrongs committed by Celia.

In late August of 1911, Celia filed divorce papers, claiming their differences were caused by Leo’s drinking, cruelty and jealousy.

On September 24, 1911, a month after Celia left him, Leo went to his favorite local pub and his friends were relieved to see their friend back to normal. He spent the evening talking of his plans for the future.

The next day dawned with the promise of a beautiful fall day. Emily Sitzkow was Celia’s mother and she rose early that day. She was startled by a knock on the door. Emily probably wondered who would be knocking on the door at such an early hour. Her surprise grew when she opened the door to find her daughter’s estranged husband standing before her. Emily would state later that she hesitated for just a second before she opened the door. She had no idea that this single act would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Leo entered the house and Emily showed him to Celia’s room. He woke Celia gently and asked if they might talk. She rose and began to dress. She stood in front of the mirror to fix her hair and Leo moved behind her. Celia had no time to register the pistol that Leo put to her head in one swift movement.

The sound was loud as Leo pulled the trigger. He lowered Celia’s body softly to the ground. Emily, hearing the loud noise, was standing in the hall when Leo rushed at her. Leo pointed the gun and said, “I’ve got a good notion to put a bullet into you, too!”

Emily stopped in her tracks and Leo raced into an adjoining bedroom. He raised the gun to his head and fired.

The police soon arrived and found Leo dead and Celia just barely alive. She clung to life for four hours before losing the battle.

This already strange case took another turn when a letter that was found on Leo was printed in the local papers. The letter explained the reasons for Leo’s desperate actions and put the blame for this horrible crime on Celia.

Celia was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, Wisconsin while Leo was buried at Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Rockford. Neither grave is marked.

Local historian and author, Kathi Kresol, will present other stories of Rockford’s true crimes and ghostly legends on Friday at the Hope and Anchor Pub at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and registrations can be made at hauntedrockford.com.

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