Still no real answer to decades old Lake Erie tragedy - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Still no real answer to decades old Lake Erie tragedy

(Source: WTOL) (Source: WTOL)
TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) -

This week 87 years ago in 1930, the residents of Toledo were keeping vigil on one of the most tragic and mysterious tales in the city's history.

What transpired that week in June shook the city for weeks after eight Toledo businessmen and public servants ventured out in Erie’s dark waters for a night of fun and never returned. To this day, it is not known exactly how they met their fate.

It was a Saturday night, June 14th of 1930, when eight men, most of them prominent citizens, boarded a fast party boat and set their heading for Pelee Island where they were to meet others for an Elks Club picnic. Since it was prohibition and Pelee was in Canada, where drinking was not banned,  it can only be assumed these men were not anticipating a night of quiet sobriety, but neither were they anticipating the tragedy that befell them. They never made it to the party.

Their boat was lost en route. For days a massive search effort was launched to find the boat and the bodies.

On June 16th one of the bodies was found near West Sister Island.It was that of the boat’s mechanic, 25-year-old John Lipzgach. According an account from United Press International, his body was encased in a life-preserver and he was wearing only a light shirt and socks, leading investigators to believe the men had shed their clothes in a desperate struggle to save themselves.The coroner said he died of exposure and not drowning.

The other victims were identified as Internal Revenue Service Collector, Charles Nauts; Herbert Nauts, attorney and brother to Charles Nauts; Franklin B. Jones, President of the Acem Coal Co. and former member of the Lucas County Board of Elections; Arthur Kruse, president of the Kruse-Berman Mortuary; Frank Miller, former city water commissioner; Henry J. Hainbuch, assistant county engineer; and John "Rib"Myers, the owner and  pilot of the boat.

The 26-foot wooden speedboat was discovered on Sunday the 15th, the morning after the crash and investigators said it was found in an upright position and the tow line was severed as if it had been cut by a knife.

It was also reported that there was some tar on the prop, which had been bent, and the engine was still in gear. Both of the left and right windshields were shattered.

Those clues lead to quick speculation that the boat was running at high speed, when it hit something in the water, flipping the craft and spilling the men out into the choppy waters of the lake.

There was of course, some speculation that perhaps it was not an accident and the men may have run afoul of some murderous rum runners.

 At that particular time on Lake Erie there was considerable bootleg  activity between the U.S. and Canada.  The area of the lake between Pelee Island and Ottawa County was especially thick with regular cargoes of the contraband. Confrontations between armed rum runners and coast guard patrols were not uncommon and sometimes gunfire was exchanged.

Those  fears led to a bizarre twist to the story when members of the Nauts family and the Coast Guard insisted that the men had been kidnapped by rum runners near Ward's Canal and were being held for ransom.

President Hoover and local officials ordered an armada of federal agents and Coast Guard boats on the area near the Canal and around the town of Bono for a possible showdown with the kidnappers.

After a search of the nearby swampland, nothing was found and the investigators returned to their theory that the boat may have hit an obstruction in the water and flipped over. 

The story of these eight men and their watery fate is one of those stories that seems to have been lost to the winds of time and while there are no plaques or memorials to these men, for the family members and those who knew them, the mysterious tragedy is not forgotten.

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