Suspicious Disappearance, part 1

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  • Post Category:Genealogy

My great-grandfather Otto Koehneke was the oldest of 5 boys to parents William/Wilhelm Koehneke and Mary Gerling. Otto and his brothers grew up in Chicago, Illinois.

They were all born within a few years of each other:

  • 1883: Otto
  • 1887: Alvin
  • 1888: Paul
  • 1892: William
  • 1898: Ernest/Ernst

In the image to the left, the only son I can positively identify is Otto in the bottom right.

Otto, my great-grandfather, married Melitta Bronn, started a family, and later died in 1970.

Alvin married Sophie Dierking, started a family, and later died in 1958.

Paul married Louise Burandt, started a family, and later died in 1956.

William married Edna Spoeri, started a family, and later died in 1972.

That leaves the youngest son, Ernest. From what I can tell there was nothing significant in his upbringing that may lead him to disappear (according to records, newspapers, family accounts)… though I will never know everything about his life. He was recorded as living with his parents and brothers in both the 1900 and 1910 US Federal Censuses. I have yet to find him in the 1920/30/40 US Federal Census collections.


Here’s what I’ve uncovered so far:

1900 US Federal Census

Illinois, Cook County, North Town, Chicago City
511 Sedgwick Street

Name: ——– (Koehneke) , Ernest
Relation to head of household: Son
Race: W
Sex: M
Birth Month: Apr
Birth Year: 1898
Age: 2
Marital Status: S
Birthplace: Illinois
Father’s Birthplace: Germany
Mother’s Birthplace: Wisconsin

Document obtained from Ancestry.com

1910 US Federal Census

Illinois, Cook County, Chicago City, Tract W3
1709 Sedgwick Street

Name: ——– (Koehneke) , Ernest
Relation to head of household: Son
Sex: M
Race: W
Age: 12
Marital Status: S
Birthplace: Illinois
Father’s Birthplace: Ger. Germany
Mother’s Birthplace: Wisconsin
Speaks English: Engl.
Occupation: None
Can Read: Yes
Can Write: Yes
Attended School: Yes

Document obtained from Ancestry.com

His World War 1 draft card from 1918 showed him living in Michigan, working as a Machinist, and most likely single (his mother was listed as his next of kin).

WW1 Draft Card

The following year in Sept 1919 in Michigan, he married a young woman named Anna Marie Marshall.

Marriage Record

My questions begin to arise following the newlyweds’ divorce just 6 months later in 1920. He was the petitioner and cited “extreme cruelty” as the alleged cause for divorce. His case was not contested and the divorce was granted.

Divorce Record

I did some Googling and found a blog about Michigan divorces — complete with source citations. It said the following about “extreme cruelty”:

… to qualify as extreme cruelty the misconduct had to be “of a most aggravating nature, entirely subverting the family relations by rendering the association intolerable. It is not confined to mere physical violence, which is by no means the worst injury that can be inflicted on a person of refined sensibility, but the grievance of whatever kind must be of the most aggravated nature to justify a divorce.” [22] Examples of extreme cruelty included “persistent circulation of false and slanderous reports derogatory to the wife’s character for chastity” [23], a wife accusing her husband “in public and private of infamous conduct. . . and calling him by vile and vulgar epithets, etc.” [24] and “consorting with and showing or expressing preferences for persons of loose morals and unchaste character of the opposite sex.” [24]

Full write-up and list of sources can be found here.

Without the narrative to accompany Ernest’s divorce record, there’s no way to know what exactly happened. We simply know the legal outcome: Divorce Granted.


The last thing I found for him was an anecdote that he attended his mother’s birthday celebration in June 1923. It stated that he was of Edgerton. This snippet was published in The Capital Times (Madison, Dane, Wisconsin, USA) on 22 Jun 1923, page 13.

Newspaper Clipping

Then… nothing. I have no record of him (yet) in the 1920/1930/1940 censuses. I have no record of a World War 2 draft card. Nothing to indicate subsequent marriages. No death record. No listing on FindAGrave.com. No passenger lists or manifests. And from my countless search combinations: no other mention in newspapers after 1923. My 2nd great uncle Ernest, 25-years old at this point, vanished.


Just like before… the only son I can positively identify is Otto on the far right.

Time for a quick timeline recap:

  • 1898: Birth
  • 1900: Lived in Chicago, Illinois with parents/brothers
  • 1910: Lived in Chicago, Illinois with parents/brothers
  • 1918: Lived in Detroit, Michigan
  • 1919: Married Anna Marie Marshall in Detroit, Michigan
  • 1919: Lived in Detroit, Michigan
  • 1920: Divorced Anna Marie Marshall in Hillsdale County, Michigan
  • 1923: Lived in Edgerton, Wisconsin
  • after June 1923: POOF. Gone.

This is all I have on Ernest’s suspicious disappearance for now. Next I’ll most likely talk to family members again to see if maybe a story or anecdote has been shared. And then… time for some SERIOUS sideways thinking.