Horrors!

It’s October, and we’re getting ready for Halloween here at the library. Starting next Friday we’ll be playing scary movies on Friday nights. Check our Website for the schedule. It’s mostly older horror films, like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Haunting, although one newer favorite, the spine-tingling The Others, is on the list.

While we’re thinking about horror here in Webster Groves, let’s recall that there is at least one notoriously haunted house in town: the house on Plant Avenue. In our archives we have a copy of the chapter from Hans Holzer’s 1970 book Gothic Ghosts that tells about the various spirits that visit residents of the house, and a copy of an old Echo, the Webster Groves High School student newspaper, that also covers the story.

But of course, this is not the only ghost story in town. Last year Patrick Dorsey published his book Haunted Webster Groves, in which he collects stories from people about multiple ghostly experiences in our city. From hauntings in homes to spectral appearances in places like the Theatre Guild and the Book House, Dorsey has collected a chilling assortment of real-life tales. The blurb for the book says that,  ‘Webster Groves, Missouri is one of the early suburbs of St. Louis, a place with a history that extends back to Colonial times and reaches across the Civil War right through to today. Some who lived that history have evidently remained…’

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

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The Juiciest Webster Groves Story Ever

While patrolling at 1 a.m. on a February morning in 1956, Webster Groves Police Sergeant Otto Piffel saw a lone young woman walking towards Highway 66. He stopped and questioned her, but she said she was headed to find a phone to call a taxicab, and she went on her way. A few hours later, around 2:40 a.m., Officer Piffel found a home on Ambergate Drive to be on fire. He radioed an alarm, and broadcast a description of the woman, who was soon picked up by Crestwood police.

Shot dead inside the burning house was Walter A. Siebert, a well-known Republican politician, whose nude body fell through the floor and into the basement while firefighters fought the blaze.

The woman, who was booked as Barbara Simpson, was also known as Jean and a number of other aliases. Upon questioning by police she admitted that ‘I killed him. Isn’t that enough?’ It turned out that her name was June Joy Milton, and she was a 28-year-old divorcee. She had met the 59-year-old Siebert, a widower, a year before and had been seeing him three times a week ever since. They had argued about ‘a traveling salesman,’ Milton claims he threatened her, so she shot him. She spent the next day removing items from his home, including a TV set and his cocker spaniel, before setting fire to the house to destroy the evidence.

Newspapers across the country were enthralled with the story, calling Milton ‘a brunette beauty,’ and ‘a svelte five foot three.’ The articles never seemed to list her age as the same. But the one thing they always reported the same were her declarations of how she was glad she shot Siebert, was glad he was dead. There were also frequent references to the bedroom argument in Siebert’s ‘swank suburban home.’

June Joy Milton was charged with first degree murder and first degree arson. She was subsequently acquitted of those charges, by reason of insanity. No word of what happened to the cocker spaniel.

The initial news article, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for February 13, 1956, complete with a photograph of Siebert and of Webster Groves Firefighters indicating the exact place where the dead body fell through the floor, is in our historical archives.

Acme Press

Recently we have been sifting through a lot of old archival materials at the library, classifying and cataloging everything we have that has to do with local history and filing it in such a way that people can find it. It’s a lot of work, but also very interesting.

One thing we kept coming across were numbers of an old newsletter simply called Acme Press. The issues were usually from the 1970s, and they were full of local news and announcements, advertisements for local businesses, and interesting historical tidbits about Webster Groves. But we only had a handful of these, and it looked like they had been published regularly for a number of years.

So last week we visited with the folks at Acme Printers-Lithographers to see what we could learn. Acme has always been owned and operated by the Rath family, and Joe Rath told us that his parents started publishing the newsletter at a time when there was no local newspaper covering Webster Groves news. The Webster Groves Advertiser ceased publication in April, 1971, and the Webster-Kirkwood Times did not start up until April, 1978. The Times ran as a monthly paper, then bi-weekly, and finally became weekly in spring, 1984.

The Acme Press ran from May, 1974 until October 1981, so it covered a number of years when there was very little other local news being done. It was always a 4 to 8 sheet newsletter, 8 1/2″ by 11″ format, almost always black and white, except for a late June, 1978 issue in glorious red, white and blue, and several December issues in the later years in festive red and green.

The very first issue covers the new addition to City Hall. Along the way we find news about local events like the dedication of the Old Orchard Gazebo, annual preparations for Community Days, exhibits at local galleries, the filming of the TV show Lucas Tanner, and much more.

The good news is that the Raths have donated a mostly complete run of the newsletter, and we now have it on our shelf for you to look at. Stop by sometime and take a look!