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Much of the information presented here was obtained from the book "Tales From the
Trees" published in 1981 by Ailene Hayes Schneider.
Probably the most lasting tragedy in Minonk was that of the murder of little Ella Martin. The murder case had all the elements for a sensational story; sex, violence, vigilantism and the compassion of a local citizenry swept up by the emotions of the murder. Equally interesting is the convoluted and wordy prose used by the newspapers in reporting the story.
Ella Martin was the seventeen-year-old daughter of John Martin who had five children and lived on a farm one mile south of Minonk.
On October 10, 1879
Ella was walking home from church when she was encountered by a local blacksmith
apprentice by the name of Johannes DeBoer, a recent immigrant from Germany.
When Ella rejected the advances of DeBoer he became enraged and attacked her.
Below is a description of the attack as described in an account of the murder
in a book written by a firm from Dwight, IL. It reveals the unusual prose of
..."Where are you going?" She replied that she was going home and attempted to pass him. He said she could not pass, and at the same time made her an infamous proposal, from which her pure nature turned in disgust and against which she rebelled. She again attempted to pass and said she would scream if he did not allow her to do so. Thereupon he grasped her by the throat and hurled her backward to the ground at the side of the track. Bravely, she battled for honor, virtue and life, struggling against the fierce onslaught of the demon-possessed blacksmith, but he held her throat in a vice-like grip, and soon her struggles ceased.
Ella was stabbed and left to die by DeBoer. She lay at the edge of the cornfield near death until she was found the next morning by her brother on his way into town. She was taken to her father's house where she lay dying.
She managed to name DeBoer as the attacker. Marshal McGrail went to the blacksmith shop to arrest DeBoer and brought him back to Ella's deathbed where she identified him as the attacker. The local citizens became extremely upset when the news of the attack spread. Threats of lynching were made and so DeBoer was hustled off to Metamora and put in jail away from the mob. The next morning Ella died as described in the book about the murder.
Next Sunday morning at eight o'clock, the soul of Ella Martin passed away to endless rest. A weary week of suffering, surrounded by loving friends who gently ministered to her every want, cared for and watched over by her bethrothed, and then the Lord in His infinite wisdom and mercy sent forth the summons, and her spirit, pure and free, was borne away beyond the confines of earthly hopes and fears; away from earthly darkness and sin; up to the pearly gates and golden streets of the heavenly city, to dwell evermore in the palace of God. She is dead!
After learning of Ella's death, local men formed a vigilante group
and headed to Metamora where they demanded the head of DeBoer held in the
county jail. The jailer convinced the mob that they had transported DeBoer
to the Peoria jail because he had tried to set fire to his jail cell. This
disbursed the mob from Minonk.
Ella's funeral may have been the biggest funeral Minonk ever had. The businesses were closed and the schools dismissed. About 400 people went to the Martin house where the first services were held. Over one hundred carriages formed a procession back into town for the church services, which was packed to overflow. The services concluded with the following farewell song by the Methodist choir.
Farewell my mother dearest, farewell my brothers,
Farewell to all the loving friends of my heart;
Father will meet me, I'll be waiting to greet thee;
Far in the sunny clime where friends never part,
Farewell Ella, sweet loving Ella.
Oh! The Lord has taken darling Ella home to the sky.
DeBoer was quickly tried and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to be
hanged on March 10, 1880 in Livingston County. Here is a description of his hanging from
the book about the murder.
In the presence of fifty people DeBoer stood on the little platform with the rope around his neck; and while solemn silence sat like a pall upon them, the signal was given, the spring was touched, his soul passed out into the great beyond, and JUSTICE was satisfied. The execution was conducted in a very orderly manner and reflects great credit on Sheriff Hunter who had charge of the whole affair. Thus ends DeBoer!
After Ella Martin was buried in the Minonk Cemetery, a number of local citizens formed a committee to purchase a large monument for her grave. Shares were sold for 50 cents apiece and $700 was raised to erect a monument. The monument is very large and ornate and still stands in the Minonk Cemetery half way between the first two drives on the west, half way back to the north.
Johannes DeBoer before his hanging