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From DNA testing to the Dixie Mafia, we bring you new stories of true crime in American history. Join writer & host Benjamin Morris for exclusive interviews with authors from Arcadia Publishing, writing the hottest books on the most chilling stories of our country’s past.

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The Lake Michigan Triangle: An Interview with author Gayle Soucek

The Lake Michigan Triangle: An Interview with author Gayle Soucek

Sudden, violent storms and rocky shoals have claimed the lives of countless mortals foolish enough to brave the treacherous surf of Lake Michigan. But is there another, unnatural force at work? A force that spirited away a ship’s captain from a locked cabin without a trace? A force that caused a perfectly airworthy jet to fly into the waves, taking all its passengers to a watery death? Perhaps these tragedies are linked to numerous UFO sightings over the lake. Or perhaps a clue might be found in the prehistoric Stonehenge-like structures discovered deep beneath the crystalline-blue surface. Historian and storyteller Gayle Soucek explores the mysteries behind the area known as the Lake Michigan Triangle.

Gayle Soucek is an author, historian and freelance editor with more than a dozen books and numerous magazine articles to her credit, including Haunted Door County; Door County Tales: Shipwrecks, Cherries and Goats on the Roof; and Chicago Calamities: Disaster in the Windy City. Gayle and her photographer husband divide their time between their home in a Chicago suburb and a second home in Gills Rock, Wisconsin, directly overlooking the Death’s Door passage. It’s this proximity to the rich history and unexplained events that occur along the Lake Michigan shoreline that inspired this book on the Lake Michigan Triangle.

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[00:00:01.440] - Ben

Gail. Welcome to crime capsule. Thank you so much for joining us.

[00:00:04.860] - Gayle

Well, thank you for having me. I'm excited about the listening to what you have to say.

[00:00:10.460] - Ben

Well, we are more excited about listening to what you have to say and about this amazing volume that you have just published. Congratulations on the new book.

[00:00:21.250] - Gayle

Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun to write.

[00:00:24.790] - Ben

For our listeners, who are perhaps not familiar with some of your previous work as a historian, can you tell us about just a little bit about yourself and a little bit about some of your other books as well?

[00:00:35.440] - Gayle

Sure. I've been writing for many, many years. I've got a total of about 16 books out there now, but my proudest ones are the last six or so I've written for History Press. I've really enjoyed getting into history. I love to research. As a matter of fact, I probably end up down too many rabbit holes and should spend more time writing than researching. But some of my previous books were on the histories of some of Chicago's greatest department stores, some of the iconic places that we all know here in Chicago. And then I kind of branched out a little bit more into paranormal and other issues. I have a book on hauntings. I have a book on Chicago Calamities, which was also very interesting to write and touching on some of the major crimes in that. So Chicago history has been kind of my love.

[00:01:28.240] - Ben

It is a rich area, for sure. For those who are interested in the deeds and misdeeds of human souls, tell us, how did you come to write the Lake Michigan Triangle mysterious Disappearances and Haunting Tales. Now, you live in the area, and I have to ask, have you yourself disappeared?

[00:01:50.530] - Gayle

No, I'd like to some days, but it hasn't happened yet. Actually, I have a very strong history with Lake Michigan because not only did I grow up in the Chicago suburbs, so Lake Michigan was, of course, right in our backyard. But I also have a second home up in Door County, Wisconsin, right on the tip of the peninsula overlooking what's known as Death's Door, which is a place between Green Bay and Lake Michigan that probably has the most freshwater shipwrecks of any place in the world. And so it was some of the maritime law up there that really got me interested.

[00:02:26.890] - Ben

I have a close friend here in New Orleans who has a summer house, a little cabin, like so many people do, up on Door Peninsula, and he tells me that it is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. He has not said anything about these freshwater shipwrecks. My goodness.

[00:02:43.990] - Gayle

Oh, yes. It's covered by rocks. There's a lot of unpredictable currents, and it's part of the Niagara Escarpment that we all think of Niagara Falls, but we don't realize it comes up along the upper level of Michigan and a couple of the other states and comes down into Door County and becomes the Door County Peninsula.

[00:03:06.640] - Ben

So what was the origin for this particular volume? How did you come to write these particular cases and compile them?

[00:03:15.300] - Gayle

Well, I became first interested in some of the aviation crashes in my day job. I work in the aviation and aerospace industry, and I started researching some of the plane crashes and how odd they were compared to some relatively straightforward crashes. And that, combined with the maritime interests up Indoor County really got me thinking about Lake Michigan. Then I had heard that people had coined the term the Lake Michigan Triangle. But when I researched it, they talked about a very, very small area of the lake, and I kind of disagreed. I felt like there's a whole lot more going on in a whole wider area.

[00:03:55.160] - Ben

Now, we have a good number of listeners who are from the Midwest and who know this area fairly well. But for those listeners who are maybe not familiar specifically with the terrain and the geography that you're describing, can you just kind of verbally draw us a picture of the Lake Michigan Triangle itself, just for frame of reference?

[00:04:15.870] - Gayle

Yeah. The Lake Michigan Triangle, in my mind, goes from the base of the lake between Chicago and Indiana and all the way up to Lake Superior, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It encompasses that area. Again, the original one was much smaller. It went from I believe it was Manateoic, Wisconsin, to Lettington, Michigan, to Benton Harbor, Michigan. But that's just a very small fraction of the lake. And as I started researching, I found that there were things happening all over the lake that weren't captured within that smaller triangle.

[00:04:52.690] - Ben

Yeah. You have a diagram reproduced in your book, and if I can try to describe it, it's sort of a very tall, almost sort of skinny triangle where the two points, the sort of horizontal line, is at the very top. And then they both tapered down, down, down, down to a single point, which is the basin sort of the base of the lake, as you say. It's an unusual shaped triangle, isn't it?

[00:05:18.060] - Gayle

Yes, it is. It's long and skinny. And I do talk about it in the book. It sounds hypocritical because I named the book the Lake Michigan Triangle, but I really am not a fan of the concept of triangles. It catches people's attention, but it's too limiting. I mean, if you have something that happens 5 miles outside, does that mean it's not tied to the same phenomena? So I use that as a starting point. But I also explained that sometimes I go outside of even the triangle I drew because something nearby happened that I think kind of ties into the activity.

[00:05:52.390] - Ben

Sure. Nature, as they say, does not draw in straight lines, and nor do disasters, I suppose that happens in and around those areas. Now, you have a wide variety of cases are in this book. You have aeronautical, you have navigational, you have ocean born, you have some unexplained aerial phenomena and you even have a couple of cryptids thrown in there for fun. You branch out into the paranormal a little further than some of our previous authors in this particular series on the paranormal that we're doing right now. How did you decide exactly which cases to include in this particular volume?

[00:06:34.740] - Gayle

I tried to look at the things that had the most commonality. If I saw one or two quote unquote spooky or paranormal stories, I pretty much discarded those. But when I saw things happening over and over and over again that's when I felt it needed to be brought up. And also, as far as some of the UFO things, for example, the aerial phenomena some of those were spotted right after a plane crash or perhaps before it might be the cause of a plane crash, some people have felt. So I felt like I had to kind of branch into that and at least give that as a possible explanation.

[00:07:15.710] - Ben

So let's talk about those unfriendly skies, as you call them. You write at length about the accounts of planes that are going down really inexplicably Gale. There's no discernible reason in so many instances of these aircraft. Sometimes they're coming to Chicago, sometimes they're leaving the region. But for whatever reason it is, they just either disappear or they break up in flight or they crash for no apparent sort of reason. You write that in some cases flight recorders are retrievable and in many cases they are not. So why is Lake Michigan so treacherous for aircraft?

[00:08:06.820] - Gayle

Well, that's the interesting question. I kind of call myself a skeptical believer. I mean, I think that a lot of things that are made to sound paranormal or are made to sound very unusual have logical explanations. And I always try to rule that out first when I write, I noticed a lot of stories about different aircraft that went down. And when I researched them, there was a very obvious reason. There was nothing strange about it. What I do, I read the National Transportation Safety Board reports or before that, the civil Aircraft board which preceded it. And the ones that I focused on were mostly those that the authorities could find no reason for. And I found those very interesting because some of them, like you said, just made no sense. I mean, these were perfectly solid aircraft and there was no reason for them to go down.

[00:09:01.990] - Ben

I'm asking you as a researcher here is there a special classification in those archives or those logs for unexplained crashes? I mean, is there sort of a red stamp that goes on and that says this is the equivalent of an aviation cold case that has yet to be cracked?

[00:09:19.840] - Gayle

No, I'm not aware of that. Usually they give their opinion at the end of what may have caused it. And if it's clear it's mechanical failure, pilot error, they state that. But if they don't know, they basically end with something along the lines of not enough data to determine what caused this crash. I'm not aware of anybody doing any other follow up.

[00:09:43.540] - Ben

Sure. I was just thinking about a potential classification system that might be employed.

[00:09:49.270] - Gayle

Case for aviation. I like that.

[00:09:52.090] - Ben

Maybe that's your next book. Who knows? So you write in a very vivid phrase that the waters of Lake Michigan are really none other than an aircraft graveyard. What do you mean by that? And what attempts have been made to catalog or retrieve the metallic corpses that lie in this aircraft graveyard?

[00:10:21.490] - Gayle

There are dive groups out of Michigan that are trying to find and catalog many of these. What a lot of people might not realize is during World War II, lake Michigan was used as a training ground for pilots. It was closest they could come to to the ocean. Obviously they didn't want to be training pilots off the coasts of the country where they'd be more vulnerable to any attack. So they brought them inland and they trained them in Lake Michigan. So there are, I believe, an excess of 200 World War II aircraft that have gone into the lake through accidents and misfires, things like that. And there are groups trying to catalog them. And then, of course, we have these civil aviation crashes that happen with no explanation in some cases.

[00:11:14.210] - Ben

So how would you characterize the quality of the atmosphere in the skies for these kinds of exercises or this training? Of course, we always think of the skies over Texas and New Mexico and Arizona as what is the phrase? Kavu clear and visibility unlimited. Is that the right one? I'm probably getting it about right. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. But what difference do we see in the air, the turbulence, the sight lines of the air over Lake Michigan and the surrounding area?

[00:11:51.460] - Gayle

I think the issue with Lake Michigan is that due to its geography and the way that it's laid out against the prevailing winds, you can get very sudden storms that come out of seemingly nowhere. In past times it was much more critical. Of course, these days with modern navigation and modern communications, the pilots have a little bit more warning sometimes. But as we've seen, some of these crashes are pretty recent, so that doesn't always help.

[00:12:22.610] - Ben

Now you mentioned earlier that you work in the aviation field. How does your training assist you as a researcher to be able to deduce and to identify and to sort of smooth out the situation in each of these cases?

[00:12:40.180] - Gayle

Well, I think it gives me because I have a greater understanding of how an aircraft operates and about the company that I work for deals with civil aviation. Most of the major carriers around the world I'm familiar with the larger jets and as an example, in one of my previous books about Chicago, Calamities, a writer had talked about a crash where an engine was ripped off and he managed to deduce. In trying to discover his own methods of figuring out what had gone on with it, he decided that the engine had fallen off, hit the tarmac and bounced back over the wing. Well, it's pretty unlikely, probably a ton would the tarmac bounce over the wing of a plane going about 107 miles an hour. At that point, what had actually happened is the engine ripped off, flew backwards, it was still under power of its own until for a few minutes, for a few seconds, whatever, of course, it ripped out all the hydraulics, but it didn't hit the tarmac and bounce. But it was still understanding of how.

[00:13:48.000] - Ben

Things can happen that is fascinating. That is really interesting. I can imagine that there is just a unique frame of mind that you are bringing to each of these historical cases which helps you see that in really vivid ways. Now, I want to ask you, the most interesting cases in your book are the ones where the aircraft disappears without a trace. Now. I'm not a pilot. But I know through spending many years flying as a passenger. As well as from the reading I've done on the topic. That this is hard. This is actually very difficult to do. To disappear without a trace in an aircraft precisely because there is so much information that surrounds registration. Flight logs. Communication between pilots and navigators. Air traffic control. Especially for regular civilian or military flights. We're not talking drug running. We had an author on our show earlier this year, Er Bills, who wrote a book in Texas about a vanished pilot who was suspected of having been forced into a drug running scheme. All off book, right? I mean, we understand how things can disappear there, but under the normal circumstance of events, when you are flying a plane, there are dozens, at the very least, of people who know who you are, where you're going, when you left, when you expect it to arrive, what your flight path is, etc, etc.

[00:15:30.490] - Ben

And it is just really difficult to disappear. And I don't mean to kind of harp on this point, but I'd like to stress it a little bit. And yet you have two cases in your book where this exact phenomenon occurred.

[00:15:51.070] - Gayle

Yeah, and it's not only that, but when you crash a plane into water, if you did it intentionally, it would be very, very difficult to hit the water and not leave a field of debris. Hitting the water at high velocity is pretty much like hitting cement. And of course, planes are made to be lightweight. They're made a lot of aluminum, a lot of composites. There's fuel on board that's going to rise to the surface. So it's very unusual when there's little to no debris in a crash, even if they find some later. It's very odd to not find a really pretty massive debris field.

[00:16:31.990] - Ben

So you have these two cases. They're about 45 years apart. Tell us about the first one, the 1953 case of what you call the dogfight with a UFO.

[00:16:46.120] - Gayle

Yes, that was a very interesting one. And this is one of those cases where I actually did go very outside my own triangle a little tiny bit because I thought it was so interesting. And there were a lot of ties to the area. But this happened. There was a military base on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and it's Kinross Air Force Base. The people I'm sorry. I'm stumbling here.

[00:17:21.860] - Ben

That's okay. Take it from the top. We can absolutely clean all this up. No, you're totally fine. You're totally fine. I do the same thing where I have to check my notes sometimes while I'm in the middle of getting everything in front of me. Don't worry about it. Don't worry about it.

[00:17:39.480] - Gayle

But this happened on a very cold and snowy night in November of 1953. There was an F 89 C Scorpion jet that was originally assigned to Truex Air Force Base in Madison, Wisconsin. And it was on temporary assignment at Kinross in the Upper Peninsula because some of their people were in training elsewhere. And they got a phone call that there were strange lights in the sky. And also radar operators were finding some strange blips that were unidentified. So the Scorpion was scrambled to go take a look, see what the target was. The ground operators on radar provided directions to guide the aircraft to this unknown intruder. And at about 8000ft, the pilot, a gentleman by the name of Felix Montclaw, reported that he spotted it and he was closing in on it. And I should say he also had a passenger. He had a second lieutenant who was working as his radar operator after Monclaw. And his radar operator said that they had spotted the unknown target and they were closing in on it. The radar operators on the ground watched as the two radar targets converged as Monco's plane converged with the unknown blip.

[00:19:06.790] - Gayle

And at some point, the two blips came together as one. Now, that's not uncommon in radar because if one plane flies above or below another, they'll combine for a moment, but they'll immediately separate. Well, in this case, they didn't separate. The one blip that was the unknown kept on going, and Monclose plane had completely disappeared off radar. There was absolutely no trace of it. They were unable to raise him, and.

[00:19:33.960] - Ben

There was no last radio communication. There was no signaling that was given.

[00:19:38.830] - Gayle

Of any kind, none whatsoever. Just that he was closing in on the target and he had it in sight. And they can't explain. I mean, if it had been a midair collision, you wouldn't assume that the other craft, whatever it was, would have been able to continue merely on its way unharmed. There would have been some debris there and they were just not finding anything.

[00:20:03.940] - Ben

How much longer did that unified radar Blip last before disappearing? Was there any mention of that in the records?

[00:20:12.520] - Gayle

I don't have a time frame, but it just continued north towards Canada and eventually disappeared off the screen. I don't know exactly how long it remained on the screen.

[00:20:24.860] - Ben

Sure. And no debris field from any collision there as far as you yes.

[00:20:29.010] - Gayle

They were never able to find anything and it made absolutely zero sense. And people tried to come up with different scenarios, but none of them really fit. I mean, if they'd had some sort of emergency, why hadn't they radioed for help? They searched for several, several days by boat and aircraft. They did ground searches along the lake coastline there to see if they had landed or crashed somewhere under the land, but they found nothing, absolutely nothing.

[00:21:01.840] - Ben

So this was and you write in your book that, of course, different accounts and government files of unexplained aerial phenomena are in different stages of classification or declassification right now. Right. So how did you learn about this particular case? Had it already been declassified for public sort of viewing?

[00:21:28.240] - Gayle

I actually found it just in internet searches a little bit about it, but very little was known about it. I had to delve quite a bit deeper. But the people in the area haven't forgotten. As a matter of fact, they actually have a memorial to the pilot. It's not forgotten at all, but there's never been any good explanations for it. Project Blue Book actually, the paranormal, or I should say the UFO project by the US government actually was deeply involved in it. And they published a report claiming that the initial target was a Canadian C 47 that had managed to wander down into our territory. But that doesn't make any sense. The Canadian government has strongly denied it. There was a C 47 of theirs flying that night. He denies that he was ever anywhere in the vicinity. And again, if there had been a midair crash, that plane would have gone down too.

[00:22:29.290] - Ben

Of course, it doesn't explain how, in the event that there was another aircraft in the area, a known aircraft, the first one would still have disappeared.

[00:22:38.370] - Gayle

That just doesn't right, exactly. It doesn't solve the disappearance and it doesn't solve how a midair collision would leave one plane flying completely unharmed.

[00:22:48.490] - Ben

So let's fast forward to 1998, then. Much more recently, our radar has improved, our tracking has improved, our communication has improved, and yet we have another mysterious disappearance which you call the air show. No show.

[00:23:06.110] - Gayle

Yes, this one was very recent and it was really kind of eerie. Traverse City, Michigan, has a wonderful cherry cap. They call themselves the Cherry capital of the World, and they have a wonderful cherry fest every year. And as part of that, they do an air show. It's a week long event, and there's music and food and entertainment and everything, and people come out from all over to see this. They have things like the US. Navy blue angels, of course, a lot of flybys by, smaller, unusual planes. And on the 3 July, there was an aero albatross that was being flown by a veteran pilot, a guy by the name of Don Scholar, and he was going to participate in the show. He had a very unusual single engine jet. It was a high performance single engine jet that was developed in Czechoslovakia, and it was used a lot in eastern Europe as a military trainer. So it was an interesting plane. He also had a passenger in the rear seat who was a flight instructor at Northwestern Michigan college. And so there were two very experienced people in the cockpit. They both had plans for that evening.

[00:24:23.680] - Gayle

It was the pilot's 29th wedding anniversary, and his passenger had a high school reunion. So they had stuff to do. They were very excited. They wanted to participate really quickly in this air show. It was a first for both of them. So while they were waiting for their flyby opportunity, they were just cruising out over lake Michigan. And as they were talking with the air controllers for the air show, they indicated that they were about 27 miles out over the lake and heading back towards the airport. At that time, the radar showed the jet about the vicinity of South Fox Island in lake Michigan. The controllers gave them permission to head in. They asked him to call in when he was 5 miles out and said they'd tell him then how to enter the show pattern. And after a while, the controllers realized that the albatross wasn't on the radar anymore. They tried calling the pilot. They couldn't get a response. And immediately, because there were so many aircraft and things around, they were able to get a real they scrambled a really fast response. They had coast guard helicopters and everything, but they found nothing.

[00:25:36.840] - Gayle

And this was, you know, a beautiful sunny day not too long ago, and they were very well qualified. The plane did have parachutes and ejection seats, although nobody was clear if they were functional. But the weather was beautiful, and it was a very simple plane, a very reliable plane. There's just no explanation. If they'd had some kind of an emergency, why wouldn't they immediately radioed in? It made no sense. And they didn't find anything. To this date, they haven't found the plane. They don't have any debris, they don't have any oil slicks. There's no reason. It just seemed to disappear off the face of the earth.

[00:26:22.240] - Ben

Yeah, this one puzzled me, too, because the search area was quite small, if you think about it. Yeah, their last known location was so tightly prescribed that you just think, I mean, especially in the age of modern modern radar, for this disappearance to take place is just especially perplexing, isn't it?

[00:26:51.340] - Gayle

Yes. And there are people that will come up with explanations and say, well, this could have happened. One theory was that because it was a single engine jet, that it could have ingested a bird into the engine and the engine failed. But the thing is, even if that happens, the pilots have plenty of time to radio. It isn't like the engine stops and you fall out of the sky like a rock. There's a certain amount of glide ratio, even for a jet. There certainly time to instigate some emergency procedures. And even if you take all that aside, again a plane like that hits the water, there should be an oil slicker or a debris field.

[00:27:30.490] - Ben

Right. Have there been any recent attempts to try to locate the aircraft or anything in the past few years?

[00:27:39.880] - Gayle

I I believe they're still looking. Again, there's a lot of groups that do nothing but try and scour the lake for wrecks, especially aircraft. And I believe they're still looking, but it hasn't been found yet, to my knowledge, at all.

[00:27:54.790] - Ben

Let's turn our attention to not the skies, but the seas and our listeners, of course, as they hear these cases, they now have their marching orders. If they live in the area and they see anything suspicious sticking up out of the water, they know who to call. But let's take a look at the waters themselves. You write that the waters of Lake Michigan are a graveyard, not just for aircraft, but for boats as well. Why are the currents there, the aquatic currents? Why are they so treacherous? Well, a lot of that hold on that start take that from the top. You write that the waters of Lake Michigan are a graveyard not just for aircraft, but for ships as well. Why are those waters so treacherous?

[00:28:55.460] - Gayle

Well, a lot of it has to do with the shape and positioning of Lake Michigan. It's a long, narrow lake. It's oriented very much north to south, and the shores are parallel, so it allows the waves with the wind patterns to hit. Okay, here I go. It allows the waves to build up the other shore. And there's not a lot to diffuse the waves, so they can grow pretty large and they create a lot of strange currents, like longshore currents, as they're called, or riptides. Again, storms can come up very, very quickly. And some people think that the oceans are so treacherous and the Great Lakes are just big ponds, but it's really not that at all. The currents and the wave patterns in the Great Lakes can be much more treacherous than the ocean. Again, they're in a more confined area and they can build to great heights. There's been some theories lately about rogue waves. They've talked about mostly on the ocean, but they believe that they can exist on the lakes, too. And rogue waves are waves that I won't go into the scientific explanation, but generally they can grow to very great heights, much larger than the surrounding waves, and they can just envelop a ship.

[00:30:16.240] - Gayle

So there is some theory that some of those may exist on the lake.

[00:30:21.560] - Ben

Right, and that may contribute to the sudden disappearances as opposed to different kinds of weather patterns. Now, over and over you have accounts of vessels disappearing under all sorts of circumstances. And I came up with a kind of a taxonomy, a very brief taxonomy of kind of three main kinds of shipwrecks or disappearances. In your account, you have sort of the vessels that just completely disappear and no one ever finds them. You have the vessels that disappear and are later found, but in pieces, right? We know that they sank for whatever reason or there was a storm or a rogue wave, but the mystery sort of lasts only a little while before it's resolved. But then you also have cases where the circumstances of the disappearance are more human than anything else. The ship might even arrive in port, but there's no explanation why everybody is gone or the ship is found, but the people have disappeared. And that's perplexing too. I mean, I have to say, Gayle, I was a little spooked out by some of these as I was reading. What was it like researching these, where you do come across the alleged ghost ship of Lake Michigan over and over again?

[00:31:49.110] - Gayle

It is really interesting. I mean, I keep trying to dig deeper, and one thing I do is I spend a lot of time in the newspaper archives for stories from the day. Ships sink all the time in Lake Michigan, in all the lakes, I assume, and certainly not as much now as they did back when navigation was in its more primitive days. But what I tried to focus on are those that are really strange if they couldn't be easily explained away. Those are the ones that I delved deeper into and tried to get a little bit more idea of what possibly could have happened. And again, for most of these things, you can come up with a list of potential things that might have happened, but most of them don't make any sense. And there's always a yeah, but that just stops it from making sense.

[00:32:41.210] - Ben

You have a few celebrated cases which are very well known. There's the Rosabelle, which was built in 60. You have the Kimball, which was built in 1088. It disappeared and was only found 130 years later in 2018. You have the Western Reserve and the Guiltier, which are still unrecovered. The list goes on and on and on. I was curious with these very, very well known cases of prominent vessels, mostly trading vessels or sort of shipping vessels, what modern efforts, apart from the scuba divers, do we see to try to find the ones that have not yet been recovered or even sort of identified as their. General location, I would think, I'm no expert, but I would think we would have sonar, which could be useful. Right. Is that being deployed now?

[00:33:38.140] - Gayle

Quite a bit, yeah.

[00:33:41.140] - Ben

What methods do we have that weren't there before?

[00:33:44.810] - Gayle

Probably sonar is the biggest, but of course Lake Michigan is huge. I mean, it's more than 22 0 sq mi and that's a lot of lake. It's also very deep lake. There's parts where the water goes down, the water depth is more than 900ft. And again, the research vessels are going to have the same challenges sudden weather changes, storms that come up, so a lot of them can't spend a whole lot of time out there. So most of it, from what I've seen, is very small groups, you know, groups of divers and small shipwreck companies here I go. Small salvage companies that go after looking for shipwrecks and of course they're limited with their technology and their time, but there are new discoveries being made all the time.

[00:34:36.190] - Ben

Sure. I am a huge Antarctic exploration junkie from when I lived overseas for a number of years and sort of the polar expeditions that came out of the UK captured all of our imaginations. But, you know, of course earlier this year we found the Endurance right, shackleton ship, which was a massive historic find and that was done in conjunction with a group that operated remote operating vehicles. Right. I mean, so we now have unmanned vehicles which were not available at, of course, you know, generation ago. Have those been able to dig up any discoveries on the seabed of Lake Michigan? Is there any prospect of using the sort of underwater drones to help find these vessels?

[00:35:23.500] - Gayle

I'm not aware of that technology being used, but that doesn't mean it hasn't been. The problem is, even when the shipwrecks are found or some debris is found, it's not always easy to identify them. There's a case going on, I believe, still to this day. One of the holy grails of salvage on Lake Michigan was looking for Lake Rafan Robert De La Salle vessel, and it was one of the first recorded strange disappearances in Lake Michigan. And there's a group out of Michigan that claims they have found it, but then there are just as many opposing groups of archeologists who say they're wrong and it's not that. And this has been winding through the courts about who owns it, what responsibility there is, what it actually is they found. This has been winding through the courts in Michigan for something like ten years.

[00:36:14.520] - Ben

I believe, in the location go ahead.

[00:36:18.430] - Gayle

Yeah, I was just going to say it's not always as straightforward as you would think it would be. They don't just go down and go, oh, here's that aircraft or here's that plane. Sometimes they just don't know.

[00:36:29.060] - Ben

Right. And of course, the locations of these wrecks are very closely guarded secrets to prevent unauthorized treasure hunting and so forth.

[00:36:38.970] - Gayle

They might be stripped and just damaged beyond repair. On the bright side, Lake Michigan, the waters are very, very cold, just above freezing for many months of the year. And because it's fresh water, a lot of these wrecks are very well preserved. It's not like being in the ocean where they degenerate relatively quickly. We're lucky enough that when we do find these wrecks, some of them hundreds of years old, they're still relatively intact.

[00:37:09.260] - Ben

I'd like to ask you, Gail, the same question about the ships as I did about the planes, which is you have a couple of cases in your book where individuals or vessels themselves disappeared really without explanation at all. And the one that the bone that is in my crawl, let me put it that way the one that really just stuck in my gullet as I was reading was the case of George Donner from 1937, who was a captain aboard the Macfarlane was the name of the vessel. Now, my father was a navy man and he saw all sorts of things on his ship and had all sorts of stories that he brought back from Vietnam. And a story like this would, I think, have unnerved even him because of how firm was the chain of command aboard ships. Right. How just sort of tightly interlinked every part of a working vessel is. And as I was reading this, I sort of thinking of my dad. What would he have made out of this? Tell us about George Donner. And I'd have to warn our listeners. This one's weird story.

[00:38:38.130] - Gayle

Yeah, this was one of probably my favorite stories, and I'd hope that I'd find some missing key that I could come up with an explanation, and I could not, no matter how much I researched it. This happened in 1937, and the ship was the Om McFarland. It was a coal carrier, and it loaded up with about just almost 10,000 tons of coal in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was headed for Port Washington, Wisconsin. And the weather was decent. I mean, there was no real problem as it went through. As the ship navigated through Lake Euron heading towards Lake Michigan, there was a lot of ice, late winter ice that was left. And it was kind of tricky. Navigating it was kind of exhausting, kind of finding your way through the picking your way through these ice fields. And Captain Donner had been at the helm for a long, long time. He was pretty tired. But they made it through the streets from Lake Europe into Lake Michigan. And when they got to Lake Michigan, they found it relatively ice free and waters were calm, weather was decent. So Donner was exhausted. And it was his birthday, by the way.

[00:39:48.260] - Gayle

He was looking for some celebration that night, I'm sure, but he was exhausted. And because the weather was calm and everything seemed nice, he decided that it was time to take a rest. So he handed the control of the ship over to one of his officers and told them that he was going to take a brief nap in his cabin, but he wanted to be the one to bring it into port at Port Washington. So he said, so wake me if you're approaching Port Washington, and I'll bring it in the rest of the way. So everything was fine as far as the crew knew. He went straight to his cabin, locked the door, and took a nap. Well, as they approached Port Washington a few hours later, as they approached Port Washington a few hours later, the second mate headed to his cabin to knock on the door and awaken him as he had requested. And he got no response. So he thought, well, maybe he's deeply asleep. He pounded kind of louder, and he pounded harder and called out his name louder and still no response. He became very concerned that maybe the captain had taken ill.

[00:40:55.300] - Gayle

So he ran and got some more crew members, and they forced their way into the cabin, and they found it completely empty. Not only empty, but no sign that he'd been in it at all since that morning. His bed was neatly made, and his shaving things from the morning were carefully placed away. So it didn't look like he'd even been in the cabin, much less how is the door locked without him in there? They immediately started a search of the ship to see if he was anywhere that they could find him. And after searching the entire ship, they found no trace of him. They went back, they searched the waters. They did everything they could possibly do to try and find out what had happened to Captain Donner. And they came up empty. There was absolutely no hint. It was like he had disappeared into thin air. They went into port and told the authorities, and the authorities began searching the water. He was never found. And nothing about it, nothing about the disappearance made any sense whatsoever. He wasn't suicidal or depressed. The portholes in his cabin were much too small for a human being to fit through, so he couldn't have, like, climbed out a porthole.

[00:42:04.990] - Gayle

The door was locked from the inside. Now, I've heard some people say, oh, that's just not true. The door really wasn't locked. But even if it wasn't, what had happened to him, he was an experienced captain in calm water. He wouldn't have just fallen off the side of the ship, especially with other members of the crew not knowing. So it's been a mystery to this day. His body never turned up. They don't know what happened to him. He just disappeared from a presumably locked cabin.

[00:42:32.810] - Ben

Every time I try to think of a counter explanation like you just offered, again, my father's experience in the navy just none of them satisfied. Absolutely none of them satisfied, especially when you have a sane, sober, sort of experienced sailor right which maybe is a little bit of an oxymoron. I mean, I'm willing to grant that, but no, I mean, when you have someone who is absolutely in command of his vessel right. And who has no reason to disappear, sort of secret life that he's trying to pursue, I mean, you wouldn't do it while you were on the open water. If you have a secret life, you pursue it when you're in port. Right. So it's just that none of these things really make sense. It's so strange.

[00:43:27.540] - Gayle

Yeah. And, I mean, he had planned on bringing the ship into port. I mean, there was nothing that indicated any kind of an issue with him. So it just doesn't make sense. Pretty much. From what I've read about him and what I've been able to research, I would pretty much completely rule out suicide. And as far as an accident, I mean, sure, accidents can happen, but again, this wasn't a violent storm where the boat was being tossed about or something. I mean, this was a calm, simple voyage, one that he had made hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. So it's very, very strange. And again, the fact that the body never turned up, I mean, not in every case, but in most cases, if somebody drowns, the body eventually washes up on shore.

[00:44:13.090] - Ben

Right. And of the counter scenarios that came to mind okay. As he was going below decks, was it possible that he slipped and did fall overboard? Yes, that's possible. But then you have to assume that he would have made no effort to be rescued, to swim alongside the ship, to yell, man overboard, to make a commotion, to get within view of whoever was on sentry duty. You look at the ship itself. I mean, it's a large ship, but you can actually see very well the photos that you have. It's so unusual. That could not have happened. It just doesn't seem plausible. Even if the engines produce enough sound to drown him out, still his commotion in the water would have been visible. It seems like it's a puzzle.

[00:45:14.460] - Gayle

Gale yeah. And it had a large crew, so it's not like there was one guy at the helm and nobody watching. I mean, it was a relatively large crew. People were around. I mean, it was in daylight. None of it makes sense.

[00:45:29.060] - Ben

Well, again, our listeners know exactly what to do if they find themselves on the open water of Lake Michigan. Keep your eye out just in case he's still out there swimming. The last case that I wanted to ask you about is we have not discussed any cases that are, in fact, crimes yet. We've discussed some very strange things, but we have not actually looked at any of which have involved criminal activity. And so I wanted to ask you about the one case in your book which has the clearest trajectory of law, order, justice, and injustice here. And it's a curious one, because, Gail, you write that in the case of Lydia Davis in the HeartsAll from 1880, there was a crime, but there wasn't a crime. There was not a legal crime that was committed, but there was a moral crime that was committed. And even with inquests and so forth thereafter, the boundary there was very fuzzy. And would you just tell us what happened with the Heart Soul? It's a really tragic story and I'm sorry to have to bring it up because of the tragic nature of it, but it's important, I think, to understand what was going on in seafaring vessels at that time and just give us a sense of what happened there.

[00:47:00.610] - Gayle

Yeah, this was a very sad story. I included it because it struck me so deeply, even though it's really not a mystery, we're very clear on what happened, but it was so heartbreaking and so indicative, I think, of the things that could go on at that time, but I just felt kind of compelled to include it. But the Jayhazard Hartzville was a ship that sailed here. I go. I'm sorry. The Hartzville was a wooden I'm sorry, I'm confusing myself here. Let's start over.

[00:47:40.310] - Ben


[00:47:41.740] - Gayle

Get my man in the hearts of it. Okay. The Heartfelt was a 130 foot wooden cargo schooner and it was moving from it was sailing from Port and Lance and Lake Superior at the base of the Quinoa Peninsula, and it was loaded with 495 tons of iron ore, headed for the Franklin Furnace Company, which is in the namesake town on the eastern Lake Michigan coast. And it was a very pleasant trip. I'm sorry.

[00:48:18.190] - Ben

Take your time.

[00:48:18.880] - Gayle

Yeah, take your time. Okay. It was heading for the Frankfurt Furnace Company, and on board was a woman named Lydia Dale, who was the ship's cook. She was very well loved. She had previously worked for a Toledo merchant as a cook and a housekeeper, and wanted to try her life on the water, if you will. So she kept the crew well fed and again was well liked. She was a very happy woman. By all accounts, an excellent cook. And on a Monday in October 1880, the Heartfelt sailed from the tip of the Kiwano Peninsula in Lake Superior with this 495 tonnes of war, and headed for Frankfurt. As they went through, the waters were very calm. It was an uneventful trip. As they got right outside the harbor in Frankfurt, the captain decided to drop anchor and wait for the night, because the harbor was very narrow and it was dark, and he didn't really want to try and get through the very narrow sand bars and shoals that were through there. He didn't really want to navigate them at night, so they dropped anchor and figured that once the sun rose, they would sail in the rest of the way in the morning.

[00:49:38.510] - Gayle

Well, around 06:00 a.m. That morning, a real sudden winter storm hit. It was rain and snow and hail and sleet, and it started to pound the ship terribly. It blew into a full blown gale and as the waves started tossing the ship around, the crew tried to get it facing into the waves, but they were unable to. They were being side swiped by all of this and the ship started to break apart. Well, they were only 300ft from shore and a young boy spotted this ship struggling right offshore and ran to get help. And pretty soon all the Chinese people came to help. There was a very, very steep bluff there, so it was kind of difficult for them to make their way down to the beach, but they did. They chopped down trees, tore down brush so that they could make it to the beach and try and send some help to these guys, to the ship that was struggling. They sent somebody on horseback to head to a lifesaving station at Port Betsy, which was about 10 miles away. Frankfurt had its own life saving station, but it was manned by volunteers and they didn't have very much equipment at all.

[00:50:50.970] - Gayle

But to let the crew know that they were getting help, they actually took burning logs and spelled out lifeboat coming on the bluff, which I thought was pretty creative. Well, eventually they did get help from port fees. They brought along what was known as a liegun. And what these are, they were used very extensively back then. They're small cannons that shoot a line, a lifesaving line off, and it can shoot up to about 700 yards offshore.

[00:51:20.740] - Ben

It's really amazing. As I was reading your account, I thought what they basically brought out is a harpoon cannon, right? Exactly. I wasn't clear if it was shoulder mounted or if it was sort of placed on the ground, but they're firing this giant harpoon at the side of the ship in order to get a rescue line established. It's incredible. It's ingenious.

[00:51:45.610] - Gayle

Yeah, they were like little rolling cannons. They were on big wheels and they could drag them out onto the beach. And the explosive charge, it was a black powder charge, could shoot this line so they could send him to swimmers or to a ship. So in this case, they were able to hit the ship and the crew secured the lifeline between the ship and the shore. And then there's a couple of different ways they could evacuate the ship. The most common was what they called a breeches boy. And what it basically was was a life ring that you could actually step into and sit into, like a pair of old time breeches. And they ride you across this line, sort of like ziplining today, but probably not as much fun.

[00:52:27.040] - Ben

A little more uncomfortable and a little colder around the waistline.

[00:52:31.160] - Gayle

But they realized that was going to be too slow. So they also had something called a surf car, which was like this little metallic cigar shaped thing that could hold like, two or three people, and it was watertight, and they could zip this along the line and send that out to the boat. So they brought the surf car out and brought a few crew members. But the crew members told them that there was a woman on board, and the rescuers on shore said, well, put the woman in next. You know, women and children first, of course, so you wanted to save the women. So they went back out, took another run with the surf car, and came back and two more male crew members, and they said, okay, we've absolutely got to get the woman. Well, long story short, this went on and on and on, and the story kept changing. The woman's very sick. The woman can't come, the woman's incoherent, blah, blah, blah. But as it turned out, they rescued all the men off the ship. They never put the woman onto the surf car, even though they kept promising to. And pretty soon it was too dark.

[00:53:38.220] - Gayle

They could do nothing to save her that night. What they had done is apparently she was a very heavyset woman, and it had taken sailors to get her up from the below decks because she was very nauseated and kind of confused and obviously shaken by what was happening. But what they did is they lashed her to the mast of the ship to keep her upright and just tied her to the mast, but they never put her on the surf car. They cleared the whole ship of all the crew, but the captain said defensively, well, she's as good as dead anyhow.

[00:54:14.140] - Ben

I could not believe it when I read that. When I read that in your book, I just thought, no, surely not. And yet it was indeed the case. Yes.

[00:54:22.120] - Gayle

And the crowd on the shore was just going nuts. They were yelling and insisting that they put the woman on board. And some of the crew members said, oh, she was already dead. And there was just nothing they could do that night because it was too dark. So when the next morning arose, they went to look to see if they could help her. And the rescuers were horrified to see that during the night, the storm had torn all the mass off along with her body. There was nothing left. They did recover her body, and they were trying to be sympathetic and believe that perhaps she had died, as the crewmen told her. But on the autopsy, they found that she had drowned. So when the mast had torn off and she had been pulled into the water, she had drowned. At that point, she'd been alive through all the horror of it, and they had never worked on the surf car for rescue.

[00:55:10.610] - Ben

So let me ask you this, Gail. This is redolent of a story that would be told 60 years later a murder on the Orient Express, where it's not one person who's guilty. The entire train car is guilty. And I'm so sorry to our listeners who have just spoiled Agatha Christie for you, but, you know, you should have seen it by now anyway. You know, every single one of those men who prioritized their own safety over hers was guilty of that act. And yet you write that there's the tragedy of her death and then there's kind of the double tragedy of the fact that legally this was not, in fact, a crime under the laws at that time. Can you explain that?

[00:55:55.560] - Gayle

Yes, it wasn't considered a crime. I mean, I guess it didn't fall into any clear bucket of what they had done wrong. People were very disgusted. There was an inquest that was called. But most of the crew, just rather than face all the public anger for their treachery, they just dispersed. They disappeared. And so nobody was ever held accountable for it. Of course, they were scorned, and there was a lot of public anger, but nobody ever had to pay for it. So the poor woman died being frozen and drowned just because of the cowardice of the men that she trusted, that she served to take care of. The one kindness that happened is her previous employer. When he heard what had happened, she didn't have any family left in the country. And when her previous employer heard that what had happened and that she had died, he requested that the body beat returned to Toledo where he lived, and he paid all expenses and gave her a proper funeral and burial. So she did at least have that kindness after death. But, I mean, she wasn't shown much kindness during her life.

[00:57:06.710] - Ben

No. And I had to sort of stand up and walk away from the desk after reading that particular account, let my own anger at what had happened sort of abate before I could resume reading. But it really is something. Let me ask you a happier question here, Gail. All these stories and many, many more are found in your book, and there are some surprises, shall we say, in the later chapters, which I won't spoil for our listeners. But if listeners want to learn more about you and this book, how should they go about doing that? Where should they find you?

[00:57:52.600] - Gayle

They can either look on Amazon my books are all listed on Amazon. Just search under Gail Soca. That's so Ucek. Or they can reach out to history. Press Arcadia. And again, they're the publisher of six of my books, and they can get a rundown of everything I've written there and a lot of great titles at History Press. I've been very, very, very blessed to work with them because they're a wonderful publisher and they get some of the most interesting stuff I've ever seen.

[00:58:23.960] - Ben

Yeah, well, let me ask you this last question. What are you working on now?

[00:58:27.940] - Gayle

I'm kicking around right now, doing a book on forgotten Chicago amusement parks. Right now, Chicago had a ton of amusement parks. The most well known was Riverview. But there were some that were strictly designed for people of color, or I should say strictly cater to people of color. There were some very, very ancient, I shouldn't say ancient, but very old kind of prototypes for amusement parks. And of course, they're all gone today. And I think it's a pretty interesting story about what's lost to history. Those are some happier times. Those will be a lot happier to.

[00:59:04.510] - Ben

Write about then shipwrecks and disappearances and lives lost on the open waters. Well, we will look forward to that for sure. And in the meantime, as you are working on that, please don't disappear on us, would you?

[00:59:21.400] - Gayle

I'm very careful. Long, lake, Michigan. I'll tell you. I don't get too cold to the shore.

[00:59:26.510] - Ben

Right. Good deal. Well, thank you so much for joining us on Crime Capsule. This has been a real pleasure to have you.

[00:59:32.520] - Gayle

Thank you so much, Ben. I've really enjoyed it.

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