Monday, February 20, 2012
Who Murdered Dorothy Kelm?
by Robert A. Waters
On the afternoon of November 3, 1950, two miles south of St. Joseph, Michigan, Otto Kelm returned home from work. He found his two-year-old son, Arthur, crying in his crib, but his wife was missing. The day before, Dorothy had celebrated her twenty-first birthday, and part of the cake with white and pink frosting still sat on the kitchen table.
The residence on Cleveland Avenue overlooked Hickory Creek. Otto, a tool maker and army veteran, had built the home for his pretty bride three years before.
The Benton Harbor News-Palladium described the scene Otto discovered: “A fresh mar in the plaster near a television set turned partially on its side in the living room mutely testified to the struggle Mrs. Kelm put up for her life against her assailant.” A lamp had been knocked to the floor and some of Dorothy’s torn clothing lay scattered across the living room and kitchen.
Otto quickly called the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. That evening, searchers found Dorothy’s partially nude body submerged in the creek behind her home. News reports stated that “she was disrobed and her hands had been tied behind her back. Investigation showed a welt on her neck believed [to have been] caused when she was choked with some of the same cord that bound her hands. An autopsy indicated that although she had probably been fatally choked, she was still breathing when pushed into the creek.”
The purpose of the attack seemed to be an attempted sexual assault, but the coroner reported that none had taken place. About $20 had been stolen from the victim's purse, as well as a “Spanish war pistol” owned by ex-soldier Otto Kelm.
Investigators learned that in the early afternoon, Dorothy had spoken with her mother-in-law on the telephone. At about two o’clock, she abruptly hung up, stating that someone was at the door. Her husband returned home at 5:00, so there seemed to be a three-hour window during which time the murder was committed.
Since investigators found no signs of a break-in, they concluded that Dorothy had likely known her assailant. Deputies arrested a neighbor and her brother-in-law, but quickly released them. In addition, several known “sexual deviates” were rounded up and interrogated.
For more than a decade, the sheriff’s department actively pursued leads. Investigators questioned, polygraphed, and released dozens of suspects. In 1951, Willie Asbury, a migrant worker, was arrested. In 1953, Arthur Robertoy, an escapee from a nearby mental institution, was questioned. Both were released when detectives found insufficient evidence to hold them.
In 1957, Eugene Yetzke was indicted in the slaying. At the time of his arrest, he worked at a mill in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. However, in 1950, when Dorothy had been murdered, the suspect had lived in St. Joseph. Yetzke was eventually released without going to trial.
After that, the case went cold.
Who murdered Dorothy Kelm? Was it someone she knew, or a complete stranger?
Sixty-two years later, the murder of the beautiful wife and mother is still unsolved. Unless he died or was incarcerated for another crime, a murderer may have walked the streets of America, free as a bird, a time-bomb waiting to explode once more.
Posted by Robert A. Waters at 6:17 AM