By Kathi Kresol
This tragic story played out right on the streets of Rockford. It was March 24, 1922 and spring was just beginning to take hold.
Mrs. May Sorter and her son, Theodore, were being escorted by Amos Estes. They were making their way home from the Colonial Theater. Amos Estes lived in the same rooming house as the married Mrs. Sorter. May’s husband was in Indiana looking for work while she and her son stayed in Rockford. Rockford was convenient because May’s parents Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Thompson lived on Myott Avenue on Rockford’s west side.
May worked as a waitress at the Schrom’s Restaurant. She was an attractive young lady who definitely caught the eye of the men around town. One of those men was a dishwasher at Schrom’s. His name was Walter Kalamaka. Walter wasn’t from Illinois, in fact he was born in Hawaii in 1885.
Walter served in the Army during World War I. He worked as a laborer and spent most of the war stationed at Fort Dodge near Des Moines, Iowa. Records show that Walter came to Rockford around 1919. He lived in a rooming house at 528 Park Avenue.
Walter and May knew each other from the restaurant. May downplayed their relationship but letters found in Walter’s room led authorities to believe that the couple was romantically involved and in Walter’s mind at least, possibly engaged.
May did tell friends that Walter had proposed to her in February 1922, and he became enraged when she explained that she was already engaged to James Sorter. May was able to calm Walter down and she thought the matter was settled. May married James Sorter three days later in Indiana.
May came back to Rockford to work at the restaurant until her husband found employment. She told her landlord, George Hoffman, that she was frightened of Walter and he arranged for another boarder, Amos Estes, to escort her and her son to the theater.
Kalamaka must have been following May and mistook Estes for her new husband. He waited until they entered an alley in the area of the 600 block of Chestnut Street before he showed himself. He called to May and said he wished to talk to her. Amos answered him by stating, “If you want to talk to her, you’ll have to talk to me too.”
This seemed to aggravate Kalamaka and he shouted, ”Then by God, I’ll kill you both!” Kalamaka quickly pulled a revolver and aimed it at the couple. He shot May first, once in the side, and when she fell he shot her in the back of her head. Estes rushed forward and Kalamaka turned the gun toward him and fired, hitting him in the throat. Then the left-handed Kalamaka raised the gun to his own left temple and pulled the trigger for the last time.
Theodore, May’s son, ran screaming to the rooming house where he told the landlord that Walter was killing his mama.
At the same time Estes, who was not badly injured, made his way to a neighboring house to use their phone.
Police were called and the two survivors were loaded onto stretchers and rushed to the hospital. There was nothing to be done for Walter Kalamaka. He died in the street, not realizing that both of his intended victims would survive.
Kalamaka’s landlord and co-workers from the restaurant were questioned by the police. Not one of the witnesses could explain his actions. Walter hadn’t spoken of his relationship with May. They did see him writing a letter at the restaurant the night before the incident and stated that he seemed depressed the next day.
Coroner Olson took custody of Kalamaka’s body. It was during the examination that Olson found the letter the witnesses had mentioned. The letter was quoted in the paper. “Why live when life is a worry? My life was made unhappy by a woman I love and we will both pay the penalty.”
The bullet that Kalamaka fired into his head tore through his skull and came to rest above his eye. Coroner Olson held the body as long as possible. He hoped that Kalamaka’s family would come forth to claim his body. No one ever did and Kalamaka was buried in an unmarked grave at Cedar Bluff.
In a very strange twist, May’s sister, Mrs. George Herwalt, was also attacked in almost the same manner. On November 3, 1921 her husband, George, burst into the home at 421 South 1st Street. He pulled his revolver and fired a bullet into his wife’s head. Herwalt then put the gun to his own head and fired. Mrs. Herwalt recovered but George died immediately.