It's well-known in local history that the city of Willard was known as Chicago or Chicago Junction until 1917. A century or more ago there was a great deal of news from that corner of the county due to railroad activity bringing in so many strangers to the area. It was also the era when tramps were commonly found on trains and hanging around the yards. As soon as any crime took place, a railroad tramp was suspected and one was usually arrested and considered guilty until proven innocent.
On Aug. 14, 1899, the John Miller family lived three miles west of Plymouth and south of Chicago (now Willard, that is). About midnight a daughter, Amy Miller, heard a noise and looked out the window. Four masked men were standing in the yard armed with two revolvers and carrying a large post. They smashed in the front door but could not find the staircase at first. They finally came upstairs even though another Miller daughter threw a carpet sweeper at them. They shot back and narrowly missed her.
The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Miller, were tied up and told that if there was any noise made they'd set the house on fire and leave them in it. Three other women were tied up, too, and one was struck when she recognized one of the gang. The men found a small amount of money and then tortured Mr. Miller (aged 76 at the time) to reveal where he had more money. They finally left without more money.
Four suspects were arrested on a train in Shelby a few days later and identified by Mr. Miller and his daughter Amy, who said that if she'd had a revolver she could have shot all four as they broke into the house. After the robbery the four were alleged to have stayed around Willard for several days before heading for Shelby, where they were arrested.
At their hearing in Huron County Common Pleas Court the four produced evidence that they were elsewhere at the time, and so they were set free. A newspaper editor lamented that the perpetrators might never be found, but the Miller family always believed that the four who were arrested were the guilty parties.
While people were still talking about the Millers, Secret Service agents from Cleveland came to Chicago (Willard) and arrested two well-known citizens for counterfeiting. Ward Keesy and James Fackler were arrested on Aug. 24, 1899, for making and passing bogus silver dollars, half dollars, quarters and dimes. A special agent had been brought in from out of state to work on the case, and within a day or so had made contact with Keesy and had bought $15 worth of bad coins for $6. Shortly afterward he arrested Keesy while Fackler was arrested by Marshal McBride.
Both men were taken to Toledo to appear in Federal Court. Fackler had maintained his innocence, and the jury found him not guilty and he was released. Keesy pleaded guilty before his trial started and he was sentenced to one year in the Cleveland Workhouse along with a $100 fine. Many people had believed that Fackler was simply a follower of Keesy and there was some satisfaction that he was acquitted.
While Keesy and Fackler were waiting trial, another tragedy took place in Celeryville on Nov. 27, 1899. Marshal Conklin of Plymouth and Marshal William Smith of New Haven Township went to the home of Ezra Moore on Ohio 103 to repossess a buggy which Moore's son had bought and supposedly hadn't paid for.
They arrived and talked with Moore, who asked permission to get his coat. Instead, he stepped out the door with a shotgun and shot Marshal Smith dead, and wounded Marshal Conklin. Moore fled and never was found, although rumors persisted for years as to where he might be found and that he maintained surreptitious contact with his family.
All in all, 1899 was a bad year for the Willard/Chicago area.