Scary stories, sometimes based on true events, are a big part of Halloween. And in Dixon, there’s a chance the story of Bloody Gulch Road will be among those told.
A.K. Thompson had heard and told those stories growing up in Dixon. But she also spent time researching what actually happened for her book, “Relentless, Envious Death: The Biographies of Katherine Shaw Bethea and Solomon Hicks Bethea.”
“I remember, when I was a little girl, at sleepovers, people would say, ‘Oh, Bloody Gulch Road. What happened?’” she said. “We’d speculate and everything. It was sort of this urban legend or whatever. And then when I came across the original reporting in the Telegraph, it was actually scarier than what any of us came up with as kids.”
On Sept. 18, 1885, 18-year-old Frederick Thiel’s body was found by a farmer named James Penrose near a farm just south of Dixon. His cattle, which he was crossing near the spot where Thiel’s body was, had reacted to the body’s smell, Thompson said.
Thiel’s throat had been slit so severely his head was nearly detached, said Thompson, who researched the event from articles published in the Telegraph. Thiel also had his skull crushed in, several defensive wounds and some fingernails removed, she said.
The spot where Thiel’s body was found, Thompson believes, is less than a quarter mile west of South Galena Avenue and about 100 feet south of Bloody Gulch Road, near a stream at the bottom of a gulch.
Several days after Thiel’s body was found, Joseph Mosse, 21, was arrested for killing the Bible salesman.
Mosse, a French-Canadian living in the area, was represented by Solomon Hicks Bethea, who later donated the land for KSB Hospital.
Bethea took the case because Mosse was poor and spoke little English, Thompson said, adding that she believes Bethea thought Mosse was innocent, a belief she’s taken on since writing the book.
Several witnesses were called by the prosecution and said they had seen Mosse walking that night with a spade in his hand, Thompson said. He also was the last person seen with Thiel.
Mosse was convicted of the murder Jan. 29, 1886, and sentenced to life in prison. But a month before his 26th year in prison, he was released after stopping an assault on a prison guard, who later said Mosse was a model prisoner and good person, Thompson said.
He was released from prison on Christmas Day, but it was explicitly stated by the board releasing him that it wasn’t a Christmas present, Thompson said.
“After he was released from Joliet, [he] was never to be seen or heard from again,” Thompson said. “I think he was like, ‘I’m out of here, back to Canada. I’m done.’”
Among the reasons Thompson believes Mosse was innocent is that about 2 weeks after Thiel’s murder, while Mosse was in custody, a similar murder of a Bible salesman for the same company for whom Thiel worked was discovered and reported in the Telegraph, she said.
“The fact that that was never ever mentioned [at the trial], I mean, I just find it to be incredible,” Thompson said.
About the book
A.K. Thompson's book, "Relentless, Envious Death: The Biographies of Katherine Shaw Bethea and Solomon Hicks Bethea," is available at the KSB Hospital gift shop and Books on First, 202 W. First St., for $19.95.