Herald-Whig

Quiet parking lot hides ghost story of a vanished house

The City Vault in Woodland Cemetery is close to the graves of Joseph Rogers and his wife, whose bodies were stolen in 1883. | Photo courtesy of Quincy Public Library
By BETH LANE
Posted: Apr. 14, 2019 12:01 am

There's a quiet parking lot on North 12th Street beside the alley on the west side of the street between Broadway and Vermont. In 1883 it was the site of a brick house that became notorious for being haunted by the spirit of a man who seemed to fill all of the requirements to produce such a haunting.

The man was Joseph Rogers, who called himself an "Indian Doctor" and claimed to be 100% Osage Indian. Other opinions said that while he might have some Indian heritage, he was mostly of mixed black and white heritage.

"Indian Doctor" was a slang term applied to men practicing medicine using herbal remedies and without any official medical training. Often they sold patent remedies and other concoctions of dubious worth.

Rogers had previously been arrested and served time in jail for fathering a child on a "simple minded white girl," as The Quincy Whig noted in October 1883. Rogers tricked the girl into going into the woods to gather roots for a medicine he wanted to give her. The result was a child nine months later. He was arrested for bastardy and served time until he reached a settlement with the family.

Rogers had been married first to a black woman but divorced her to marry a white woman. His second wife became unhappy with the marriage and tried twice to end her life. One attempt was with poison, and a second time she tried to throw herself into the Mississippi River. The attempted drowning was stopped by a water works employee and was precipitated by Rogers wanting to move into a house on Front Street. Mrs. Rogers, according to The Quincy Daily Herald of April 11, 1883, said she'd "rather be food for fishes than board in a house on the levee."

Her husband agreed to find another home, and she ended up at the house run by laundress Mrs. Glover on North 12th Street.

Mr. Rogers was away a good deal, traveling and dispensing medicine, and Mrs. Rogers did not remain faithfully at home while he was gone.

Upon his return from Keokuk, Iowa, on Oct. 6, 1883, they had a violent quarrel in the kitchen of the boardinghouse. It was partially overheard by a young black girl named Fanny Remsen, who was in the house. Rogers had returned without money, and his wife had been stepping out while he was gone and now wanted a divorce. Rogers had evidently reached his limit. Using a .32 caliber revolver, he shot her in the back of the head and himself in the forehead. It is likely he had planned the event, as earlier in the day he had killed the family dog.

The Quincy Whig on Oct. 11, 1883, summed up the occurrence by saying, "Both Joseph Rogers and his wife were hard characters. As has been stated the woman was no account but the doctor was even worse. ... Altogether, while the affair is a horrible one, still the death of these two is no loss to the community."

This should have been the end of the affair, but there was an even darker chapter to come.

A hasty inquest was convened, and the two bodies were taken to Woodland Cemetery, where they were buried on the west side in Potter's Field near the City Vault. All of this happened on Monday, Oct. 8. The doctor and his wife were only in the ground one night before the grave was disturbed.

Mr. Wheatland, cemetery sexton, told Mr. Powers, president of the cemetery association, that the grave had been opened, and he believed the body was taken. It was the first such attempt at body snatching the city had seen in several years.

An immediate investigation provided the stuff of nightmares. Half of the double grave had been disturbed. There were numerous footprints "all of genteel boots or shoes and one pair being distinguished for their smallness," reported The Quincy Whig of Thursday, Oct.18, 1883.

Upon removing the dirt, a broken piece of casket was found at a depth of 2 feet, and digging farther uncovered the doctor in a seated position. The top of his casket had been removed and an attempt made to drag him out of the ground. For some reason, perhaps the loose earth had fallen back into the hole, or dawn was coming, or "even their foul hearts failed them before their work was consummated." The attempt was hastily covered up and left undone.

An investigation ensued, but the wagon tracks of the escape vehicle were lost in the street. A watch was set upon the grave and kept for a week. It was then considered that the bodies were no longer in danger of being stolen, and the watchmen moved to watch other graves.

On the next Sunday, two men searching for hickory nuts cut through Woodland Cemetery and decided to see where the Indian Doctor was buried. They noticed freshly disturbed dirt and some bloody bits of rag, and a trail leading down the hill to a fence. On top of the fence was some fresh yellow clay. This time, both bodies were missing.

Grave robbing was a terrible offense and punishable by time in prison, with no provision made to plead to a lesser charge or a fine. But bodies in demand for dissection were wanted as soon as possible. The Rogers burials had occurred over a week ago, and were no longer useful for that purpose. The garments they were buried in were left behind in the disturbed grave. Speculation ran rampant. It was reported that bodies also were missing from the Jewish cemetery and the Catholic cemetery on Broadway.

No one was ever caught. If ever there was reason for a haunting, perhaps this was one.

 

Beth Lane is the author of "Lies Told Under Oath," the story of the 1912 Pfanschmidt murders near Payson. She is the former executive director of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County.

 

Sources:

"A Double Tragedy," Quincy Daily Herald, Oct. 9, 1883, p.3.

 

"Additional Local News, She Wanted to Die," Quincy Daily Herald, April 11, l883, p.5.

 

"Body Snatching in Quincy," Quincy Daily Journal, Oct. 15, 1884, p.4.

 

"Grave Robbing," Quincy Whig, Oct. 18, 1883, p.4.

 

"Grave Robbing, The Bodies of the Indian Doctor and His Wife Taken from Woodland," Quincy Whig, Oct. 18, 1883, p. 1.

 

"Local Miscellany, Brevities," The Quincy Daily Whig, Oct. 10, 1883, p.8.

 

"Murder and Suicide," The Quincy Daily Journal, Oct. 8, 1883, p.4.

 

"On the War Path," The Quincy Whig, Oct. 11, 1883, p.1.

 

"Two Bodies Snatched Instead of One," The Quincy Daily Journal, Oct. 16, 1884, p.4.