ELYRIA — The sister of a priest was murdered in the rectory of a German Catholic church in Lorain in 1903.
Only three people were known to be at the church — the woman, her brother and another priest.
The murder, which was never solved, made headlines across the area. Psychics were brought in to help solve the crime. Hounds were brought in to find the perpetrator.
And fingers were pointed as to why the crime wasn’t being solved.
At the time, the area had a large Roman Catholic population, but Protestants ran the city. Accusations of religious prejudice were thrown about.
Rumors that the woman and her brother actually were husband and wife circulated.
And it all happened just down the road from where you live, or perhaps just next door to where you shop.
That’s the allure of the book “Murders, Mysteries and History of Lorain County, Ohio 1824-1956” written by Don Hilton.
“I’m not a crime writer,” Hilton admitted. “I’m a storyteller. The only reason I’m really interested in the murders is because they are really good stories.”
It’s also why he sticks to murders from the distant past.
“I’m always aware that I am writing about people,” he said. “If I get too close to the present, I get really uncomfortable that I could be writing about someone’s father or brother or someone still alive. If I’m writing about a great uncle, I’m OK with that. For the most part, these things happened so long ago that they are forgotten. Nobody remembers this stuff.”
It may be family lore for some, but even that gets a bit sketchy going back so far in history.
Like the story of a woman killed in Grafton in 1937.
“The trial was a mess,” Hilton said. “Three men confessed. The police were certain one of the men was guilty, but he was found crazy, so he was not tried. They sent him to a psychiatric hospital in Lima. After that happened, police found another guy committing a crime in the same way, and thought he might have done it. But the way the newspapers and the courts handled the case was just a circus.”
This is Hilton’s second foray into the historical murder genre. He stumbled onto the topic while doing research on another book in his native Crawford County, Pennsylvania. Altogether, he has written six books — one novel, two books on boating, two books on murders, and an eBook on web design.
“I was doing research on Conneaut Lake, writing the definitive passenger boat book, when I stumbled onto a murder no one knew anything about,” he said. “I set it aside and continued working on my book, but stumbled onto another and then another. And then I thought, ‘If I really looked, I wonder how many I would find.’ “
Hilton finished his original book, and then went on to research the murders in Crawford County.
When he moved to Oberlin, he started looking for something to do when his wife suggested looking into the murders here.
“She said, ‘You already wrote a book about the murders in Crawford County, and that was pretty popular. How hard could it be?’” Hilton recalled.
“Yay, how hard could it be,” he responded.
Hilton got his answer five years later, when he finished the book.
In some regards, it was much easier to do because all of the legal records are more accessible here. On the other hand, he had a lot to learn about the area.
“Had I put everything I found in the book, I could have written two volumes,” he said. “But when I handed it to my editor, he said, ‘No way.’ So, I literally cut it in half. It’s way better now — much more entertaining and much tighter.”
“Murders, Mysteries and History of Lorain County, Ohio, 1824-1956” combines legal records, newspaper articles, and story-telling to produce a unique, fast-paced mix that’s equal parts who-done-it, true crime, courtroom drama and history lesson.
“We have a tendency to look back and romanticize the past as being a gentler, simpler time,” Hilton said. “None of that’s true. In the late 1800s, there were 45 murders here. Per capita, that’s many times higher than it is today. The technology to kill was the same as it is now. The difference is in the process of tracking and finding that person. You see a lot of unsolved crime back then. The unsolved ones are the ones that really pulled me in.”
With more than 250 killings throughout Lorain County, they may just pull you in, too.
Hilton, who has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in geology, has done freelance writing for magazines, but spent the majority of his career in computer support, where he worked at Oberlin College and Moen. He is now retired.
Hilton, and his wife, Kathleen Sikora Hilton, are the parents of Evan Hilton of Richmond, Virginia, and Kasha Hilton of Chicago.
He is currently noodling with a couple of ideas for his next writing endeavor.
Until then, you can get a look at the underbelly of Lorain County on a tour developed by Scarlett Transportation that features the crimes from Hilton’s book.
“And at the end of the tour, I’m there,” Hilton said. “You get to meet the guy who wrote the murder book.”
Tours are scheduled for April, May and June.
IF YOU GO
- WHAT: A Tour of Murders and Mysteries of Lorain County by Scarlet Transportation and Adventure Tours, Avon
- WHEN: Tours are scheduled for April, May and June
- WHERE: Pick-up is at Sugarcreek Restaurant, 5196 Detroit Road, Sheffield
- COST: $20 per person
- FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO PURCHASE TICKETS: Call (440) 695-0419.
- NOTE: “Murders, Mysteries and History of Lorain County, Ohio 1824-1956” is available for purchase at www.amazon.com; the Lorain County Historical Society, 284 Washington Ave., Elyria; and at the Spirit of ’76 Museum, 201 N. Main St., Wellington. The book also is available through the Lorain Public Library. For more information about Don Hilton, visit www.dhiltonbooks.net.