A 97-Year-Old Mystery
It had all the makings of a made for TV movie. On a stormy October night in 1920, Francis Korous, a 40-year old nurse from Salt Lake City boarded a streetcar for home and was never seen alive again. Numerous rumors floated around regarding her disappearance. A massive search effort took place and for almost three weeks no trace of her was found.
When her body was eventually found, instead of providing answers it only created more questions. This is the story of the disappearance of Francis Korous.
Who Was Francis Korous?
Francis Korous was born on November 10th, 1879 in Iowa. Her parents were from Bohemia (modern day Czech Republic) and had immigrated to the United States shortly before her birth. She moved with her family to Salt Lake City in 1903, and in 1906 she graduated along with her sister Rose, from the nursing program at St. Mark’s Hospital.
She continued working at St. Mark’s Hospital until she enlisted in the Navy (along with her sister) on November 7th, 1917. She served as a Nurse in the Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island until she was discharged on February 19th, 1920. Francis and her sister Rose returned to Salt Lake City to be near family, and Francis moved into the Y.W.C.A. in downtown Salt Lake City.
Last Seen Alive
On Sunday, October 17th, 1920 Francis spent the evening visiting her brother Yarrow and his family. She brought bags of candy for her nieces and nephews, and according to her brother and sister-in-law, they had a pleasant and uneventful visit.
Just before 9 pm, Yarrow walked Francis to the corner of Fourth North and Ninth West and watched her board the Ninth East street car. Francis’ trip would take her through downtown Salt Lake City and drop her off just across the street from the Y.W.C.A. on 3rd East and 3rd South. The map below shows the various streetcar routes in the 1920’s. The green dot represents where Francis boarded the streetcar, and the red dot was where she should have disembarked.
The following day when Francis failed to show up for work at St. Mark’s Hospital her family and friends became concerned that something was wrong. When they learned she never arrived at the Y.W.C.A. they feared that maybe she had been in an accident and was at a local hospital.
By October 20th, 1920 her disappearance made the front page of the local newspaper with police asking anyone with information to come forward. In the following days, numerous rumors would begin to swirl, with yet no sight of Francis Korous anywhere.
The Search For Francis
The police began operating under the assumption that Francis had been hit by a car and carried off. In the first few days, they believed she must be unconscious in a hospital somewhere. On the 24th a woman named Mrs. Mercedes LaBonde came forward and told police that on the night of Francis’ disappearance she heard “groans and gasps” of a woman at 9:39 pm. Mrs. LaBonde lived on the corner of 3rd East & 3rd South and said that it was difficult to see anything on the street because it was raining so hard.
She told police that she heard a man say “My God what have we done?!” and a boy said Oh look! Look!” and that was it. Police asked anyone with more information about this possible accident to come forward, but nothing came of it.
Two days later it was announced that there was a $100 reward for information leading to finding Francis. The reward was increased to $150 by October 26th, 1920 yet no new information was forthcoming.
On November 3rd, more than two weeks after she disappeared, local boy scouts began searching the foothills for any trace of Francis. Despite days of searching, no sign of her was found. There were rumors that she was spotted in Provo and also Ely, Nevada. Police checked all leads and came up emptyhanded.
A Boy And His Boat
On November 6th at 2:20 pm, 13-year-old Truman Pratt was playing with a toy boat in the pond at Liberty Park. He spotted a face floating in the water and thought it was a Halloween mask. He grabbed a piece of wire in order to snag the mask and get a closer look and noted that it was heavier than a mask should be. As he pulled it closer he realized that it was, in fact, the body of a woman.
Truman ran around the pond to the Liberty Park greenhouse to notify the parks superintendent Sydney Lamborne. Mr. Lamborne immediately notified the police, and Police Chief Burbidge quickly arrived at the scene. Chief Burbidge pulled the body out of the water and knew immediately they had found Francis Korous.
Francis Korous Found
When her body was recovered one of the first things police noticed was that her body did not look as if it had been in the water for the last three weeks. Her long black hair was tangled and full of mud and weeds, her black velvet purse was missing, and her high black shoes were on but were partially unlaced.
There was, however, an immediate clue to the possible cause of her death. Tied tightly around her neck and tied in a double knot was a piece of cloth.((The Logan Republican · Tue, Nov 9, 1920)) Francis’ body was taken to the Qualtrough-Allcott Undertaking Parlor to await a Coroner’s Inquest.
Over the last 3 weeks, while people were searching for Francis, there were two main theories that were being circulated. One was that she was kidnapped and murdered, and the other was that she committed suicide. Francis’ family and friends were adamant that Francis had not committed suicide. From all accounts, she was happy in the days leading up to her disappearance.
Both her brother and sister testified at the Coroner’s Inquest that her disposition had been cheerful and optimistic. Her brother testified that he walked her to the streetcar and watched her board. He went on to say that days later he sought out the streetcar conductor to ask about Francis. He testified that the conductor remembered her being on the streetcar and said that she asked to be let off at the Y.W.C.A.
During the inquest, the conductor of the streetcar in question testified. The conductor, Carl Warath, contradicted Yarrow Korous, by saying he did not remember anyone matching Francis Korous’ description boarding his car at Ninth West and Fourth North. He was shown Francis’ purse and the coat she was wearing that evening and said it wasn’t familiar to him. Carl did, however, remember being questioned by Yarrow Korous about his missing sister. The police were already suspicious of Yarrow because he was the last person to see Francis alive, and the testimony of the conductor added more suspicion on Yarrow.
The inquest then turned its attention to the condition of Francis Korous’ body. Two physicians who performed the autopsy testified that she did not die by drowning. She had no water in her lungs. The physicians believed that her death was caused by strangulation, due to the ligature found around her neck. They also stated that her body was “frozen” into a sitting position, leading them to believe she was strangled while sitting on a chair or in a car. It was their opinion that floating in the water would not have caused her body to assume that position.
They also believed that her body had not been in the pond at Liberty Park for the last 3 weeks, but that she had been dead for a couple of days before her body was found. Police theorized that a woman must have been involved as the two-foot-square piece of cloth came from a woman’s undergarment, but did not come from the clothes that Francis was wearing.
Official Cause of Death
In 1920, there were not many tools available to help determine how someone had died. On Francis Korous’ death certificate the cause of death states: “Francis Korous came to her death feloniously by an unknown method between dates of October 17th, 1920 and November 6th, 1920 at the hands of person or persons unknown to us.”
Despite the results of the coroner’s inquest stating that Francis had been killed, the police, and a couple of members of her family still wondered if Francis had committed suicide by ingesting poison. They surmised that as a nurse she would have been familiar with the medications that could be used to cause death in high doses. Not only that, but she would have had access to these medications. They had the contents of her stomach sent to the State Chemist, Herman Harms for analysis.
Upon examination, Francis’ stomach was found to be completely empty of food. There was a very small amount of red liquid. The state chemist said that death would have occurred approximately five or six hours after her last meal. His analysis came back negative for any known poisons, however, the red liquid could have been caused by the ingestion of a large amount of red colored pills or candy.
The odd thing about this was that her brother and sister-in-law stated they ate a large meal at around 6 pm on the night she disappeared. The meal consisted of meat pies, mashed potatoes, corn, apricots, bread and butter, and plain cake. They said that Francis did not eat any of the cake, or any of the candy she brought for her nieces and nephews.
Reading all the newspaper articles regarding her disappearance, it was clear that her brother Yarrow, was a suspect from very early on. Mainly because he was the last person to see her alive, and there was no one to corroborate his story that she boarded the streetcar for home.
On November 11th, 1920, Salt Lake City police held Yarrow for questioning in Francis’ murder. By all accounts, he was extremely cooperative throughout the whole investigation.
Police believed that because her stomach only contained a small amount of red liquid, and no evidence of a large meal she must have been held somewhere for days before she was killed. They felt that all aspects of this crime were premeditated. If the police thought that Yarrow had a motive for her murder, it was never shared publicly.
Three days later Yarrow was released from police custody with no formal charges filed. The head detective on the case stated that Yarrow was as anxious to find answers as they were and had answered all of their questions willingly and without hesitation.
The Gray Giant
Around the same time that police were questioning her brother, they received disturbing reports about women being attacked in the vicinity of the Y.W.C.A. Four days after Francis disappeared a woman was accosted by a man after crossing the street in front of the Y.W.C.A and heading east.
While walking past an empty lot that was partially blocked by a large billboard a man dressed in a gray suit and hat grabbed her from behind and carried her behind the billboard. She said she was too scared to scream but managed to kick and struggle enough that she got out of her coat and went running. The man did not follow her out of the darkness of the empty lot.
When she was relaying her story to the police she told them she noticed an empty parked car at the end of the empty lot and thought it might be connected to her attacker. The following day, a woman living across the street from the Y.W.C.A. found a ladies coat on her front porch. She took it to the police station for someone to claim and they returned it to her a few days later when no one claimed it. It wasn’t until the lady that was attacked went to the police when they realized the coat that had been turned in, must have belonged to her.
A few days after the first attack, another woman was attacked by this same man just a short distance away. This woman was walking near 1st South and 4th East around 10 pm when she was picked up from behind by a man who attempted to carry her off the lit sidewalk into the darkness. When she began to scream the man promptly dropped her and took off.
The man was described as being 6′ tall, 180lbs, clean shaven and wearing a gray suit and gray felt hat. His height and the monochrome color of his outfit earned him the nickname the Gray Giant in the papers. Not much is mentioned of him other than one newspaper article. It doesn’t appear that he was ever captured, or if he was it didn’t make the local news.
Police did say that they didn’t believe he was involved in Frances’ death because she showed no signs of a struggle, no bruising or other marks were found on her body.
What Happened to Francis Korous?
Francis Korous was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery on November 11th, 1920. Her funeral was attended by hundreds of people. People that knew her through her nursing career, and also people who had been following her story in the news. Following the final report from the state chemist, the mystery surrounding Francis’ disappearance and apparent murder faded from the news.
One of the things that interest me about this story is how different the outcome might have been if Francis lived in the current day. Police used every method they had available at the time to try and solve her murder. They ran tests to see if she could have walked into the pond herself. They determined that because her shoes were untied and no mud was on her tights that she had not walked into the pond herself. She was placed there. The mud was so thick on the bottom of the pond that had she walked it was certain she would have lost her shoes.
We will never know what truly happened to Francis. Was she accidentally hit by a car in the storm and the panicked driver tried to hide and ultimately dispose of her body? Was her brother involved for some unknown reason? Why was there no food in her stomach if she died the night of her disappearance? Was the Gray Giant involved with her death and he escaped capture?
Someone knew what happened to Francis, and ultimately they took that information to the grave.