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Murder of Adele Born Williams at Chicago’s Drake Hotel

By | Rachel Brooks

Staff | Telegraph Local 

See | The New African Living Standard

Above, Google Maps captures the eighth floor of the Drake Hotel, the floor that in 1944 was the scene of Williams’ murder.

Chicago’s history of violence has a hall of haunted fame in the Drake Hotel. Made famous in part for the peculiar murder of Adele Born Williams in January 1944, the hotel still holds many secrets for the city. Chicago Mag stated that while the old Drake doesn’t get as much press as Congress Plaza, it still lay shrouded in infamous ruin. 

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Congress Plaza gets the raving yarns for its infamous Room 441 and the supposed ghost of Al Capone, the mobster who lost his life to syphilis after allegedly hiding his fortune away so lost that even he could not find it. It serves as a stark comparison for the equally eerie hotel built by John and Tracy Drake in the 1920s, citing Chicago Mag. The Drake remembers its own history of darkness. A Hilton-chain location, Drake Hotel has seen the graceful footsteps of the 20th Century’s most star-studded celebrities. On December 30, 2016, Drake joined the registry of America’s Historic Hotels. 

Murder of Adele Born Williams 

She was 58 years old in January 1944. She never got older. Mrs. Williams was considered a society matron in her last days. She was en route ascending to the eighth floor where her room in the Drake awaited. Her daughter was in her company, a one Mrs. Patricia Goodbody. They approached the room to find the door unlocked. 

This is where Mysterious Chicago Tours painted a picture of a bizarre series of events to unfold. For there, in the room on the Drake’s eight floor, Mrs. Williams would live out her life’s final scene.
A woman waited there. Dressed in a Persian black lamb coat. She later came to be known as “the Woman in Black.” She spoke no word to Williams or Goodbody. Rather, she produced an antique pistol. She fired two shots at Goodbody. They missed. She then fired several shots at Williams. A bullet made its impact with William’s head. The wound would prove fatal in a matter of hours. 

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Goodbody shrieked for help. The woman rose up, and passed by two men, who later said that they could and probably should have tripped her but for chivalry’s sake. Later reports would say that Goodbody descended the stairwell shouting, “Stop that crazy woman! She shot my mother!” This is citing the account by Mysterious Chicago Tours. 

In the many decades to follow the murder of Adele Born Williams, confusion has settle cement-like and theories lose traction on the ice of the cold, cold trail. 

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The murder of Adele Born Williams remains unsolved. The blogspot Haunt Jaunts describes the bizarre theories that police pursued following the murder. Some on the force thought Mrs. Goodbody had been responsible and blamed the whole thing on some mystery person. The trouble was, Mrs. Williams could speak on the verge of death. She stated that there was some woman there and described that she had a rose in her hair and that she was definitely wearing black. 

Then there was the theory that perhaps Williams and Goodbody had interrupted a burglary in process. 

Then, there was the belief that the woman had been the sister of Walter Brown. Walter Brown was a convict to whom the firearm used in the murder had been traced. He was serving a prison sentence at the time that Mrs. Williams was murdered. Yet, Brown’s gun had found its way to two sisters, named Ellen and Anna. Ellen was a desk clerk for the hotel. She was never charged because there was not enough evidence, aside from the gun that initially was in the convict’s possession, connecting her to the crime. More on that below. 

Historical Chicago and “paranormal” crime 

The Haunt Jaunts blog also entertained the theory that the woman who assassinated Williams was not, in fact, a woman at all. The blog alleged that perhaps the Drake Hotel’s history, troubled as it was with other alleged supernatural sightings, had led to a paranormal murder. 

Investigation of Williams’ killing 

The murder of Adele Born Williams seemed no sooner to be solved as it was the night it happened years after the fact. The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph followed up the incident a year and two days after the fact, on January 21, 1945. In a report by Peter Levins, it was stated that Mrs. Williams was a renowned socialite because she was the wife of a former diplomat to Japan. She was shot at 6:25pm, Wednesday, January 19, 1944. She was shot in Room 836. She died 25 hours later of a gunshot wound to the head. This is citing The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph in 1945. The paper mused upon the fact that the investigation of Williams’ killing was “neither bungled nor bushed” and that, due to the fact that Chicago had the finest investigators, it made no sense that the case had yet to be solved as of 1945. 

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph paints a more descriptive picture of the socialite’s life in the days before her death. Her marriage to the Japan diplomat Williams was her second marriage. She had previously been married to Edgar R. Born. She reportedly met Frank Star Williams in Japan and later married him. 

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph then went on to state that Mrs. Williams’ purpose at the Drake Hotel the night she was murdered was to set up a party in which both her husband and her ex-husband were guests of honor. The paper made a point of noting that relations seemed to be friendly between the current and former husband. Mrs. Williams’ was known as the “most lavish host” in Washington D.C. with her political connections. 

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Williams and Goodbody entered the hotel room and sat talking in the room for a while. They had both entered the bathroom but noticed nothing strange at that time. Then, Goodbody reentered the bathroom. The woman was hidden behind the bathroom door, partly concealed by a shower curtain. She stepped out and fired point blank at Goodbody. After she missed, she fired three more shots. One of these hits Williams’, fatally wounding her. 

It is a possibility, based on this description of the scene, that Goodbody was actually the intended target of this attack. Goodbody was married to Irish-born Lewis L. Goodbody. Goodbody was a native of Dublin, Ireland. Patricia Goodbody met Lewis L. Goodbody during a world cruise with her mother. It was on this same voyage that Adele Born Williams met her second husband, citing the paper’s record. 

Social ties of a socialite’s murder 

The Evening Star shared reports by the Associated Press on August 27, 1944. This report gave details of the questions asked to the gun owner’s sisters Ellen Bennet Larkworthy, aged 41, and Anna Valanis Minck, age 38. They were released on a habeas corpus hearing after their stories did not deviate from the initial statements they gave the investigation. The two women were held as suspects because the murder weapon, a .38 caliber Iver-Johnson hammerless revolver, was believed to have possibly been the same the convict Walter Brown had given to boyhood friend Policeman Adolph Valanis. The Associated Press here stated that it was actually Adolph Valanis who was the brother of these two women. Valanis was a gun-collector. Valanis denied that Brown had given him the pistol, which added further confusion to the narrative. Police investigations included Wilbert F. Crowley, the then-assistant State’s attorney, and other policemen. The policemen of that era tested a similar made .38 pistol and Iver-Johnson to see if the slugs they fired into the ground of a farm in Bloomington, Il matched the slugs retrieved from Williams’ remains. 

The Evening Star shared an early report on January 21, 1944  regarding Williams’ murder. Williams’ death was investigated by Dr. Thomas J. Coogan, the Drake Hotel’s then-physician. He was able to determine powder burns on Mrs. Williams’ face, chest, and left hand that indicated she had raised her hand in self-defense and was fired upon at close range. Police Lt. John Quinn also confirmed that Mrs. Goodbody, then-aged 28, had a powder burn on her forefinger. This would mean that Goodbody was also shot at from a close range. 

The Evening Star also reported that Mrs. Williams had a good number of enemies, but that her husband confirmed there was likely no “Jap-angle” motive in her killing. No racial descriptor was ever given for the murderer. It was only known that Mrs. Williams had some cocktails with “an attractive, dark-haired woman” just before she went to meet Goodbody at a hairdresser. 

Possibility that Patricia Goodbody was the initial target

From the record, Adele Williams and her daughter Patricia Goodbody were in their hotel room for some time before the killing. Goodbody was the first to be fired on. The mother appeared to have been killed in the fire that followed after. However, the mother was potentially lured by the suspect at the bar before the killing. 

However, if one were to infer that Patricia Goodbody was the actual target of this killing, then one may consider that Williams was merely being staged to gauge what Goodbody’s plans and whereabouts were that evening. Williams had played bridge earlier that day before she met her daughter at the Pierre and Paul Beauty Salon, further citing Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph. 

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph also notes that Patricia Goodbody had perhaps stronger ties to Chicago as a city than her mother did. Her mother was throwing a party for her current and former husband. Former husband Edgar Born lived with his two daughters in the Churchill Hotel in Chicago. The first of the daughters, Elizabeth, had been divorced a second time. Particia Goodbody’s husband was away working as a financial exchange broker in what was then Bombay, India.  

Grounds for the Goodbody-as-initial-target theory

Goodbody was a young woman at the time of this incident, a mere 28, (born 1915, citing Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph). The suspect was described as a middle-aged woman. There is a possibility that if Goodbody was the intended target of the crime, then the crime was associated with the romantic interests of either party. The fact of Goodbody’s husband’s understood absence at the time of these events suggests the possible grounds for a convenient extramarital relationship. 

While it was not directly proven that Goodbody was herself unfaithful to her husband, one might compare the familial patterns to infer her attitude toward it. Her sister had been divorced multiple times during a historic period when divorce was less common. Likewise, her mother had been in two marriages at least. Using her mother and sister as examples, Goodbody would have come from a background where fidelity to one partner was not necessarily a  life-long guarantee. Given her close-knit ties to both her mother and her sister, one may infer that Goodbody would likely have some common worldview with them.  We can therefore infer that Goodbody would be of the psychological profile to engage in extramarital activity. 

 We can infer that an extramarital clash could be a more likely motive based on the facts that there did not appear to be a robbery element in this case. We make this inference based on literature by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit which states that motive typically combines elements such as victim/offender interaction, choice of victim, and forensic evidence, see FBI.gov. 

While ABC notes that women are driven more frequently by financial gain killings than by jealousy killings, one may infer a non-monetary motive by the assumed lack of burglary. In which case, three things happened in this scene. One, the motive was burglary that was botched when the pair returned. Two, the woman was hired to kill one or both of the women in the room. Or, three, Goodbody was the intended target and killing Williams was a secondary motivation. 

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We can lessen the probability of burglary as the motive because the robber would have had opportunity to do just that while the women were away at the salon, if the killer is the same as the one who spoke to Williams before her departure. However, a report from The World’s News (Sydney, Australia) stated that only a black pearl, an aquamarine, and a baum marten neckpiece valued as worth 200 euros at that time were missing out of the vast 42,000 euros worth of jewels and expensive furs in the room. 

If these items were taken and none of the others were disturbed, it infers the possibility that they had some sentimental value. The question remains, did they belong to Williams for a fact or were they property of Goodbody? In which case, they may not have been purchased but rather gifted, and the woman took them back. She would have had an opportunity to flee with such a small list of items before the women came back if she had called prior to knowing they were not in the room. Therefore, robbery was likely not her motive, but was rather an afterthought of her crime. This implies that she lingered in the room deliberately. 

The World’s News account also gives a slightly varying account that the woman had greying blonde hair, whereas another newspaper stated that Williams met with an attractive dark-haired woman earlier that day. This could imply that the two women were not the same, or that this detail was altered. 

The World’s News report also stated that the family insisted Williams had no enemies despite the possibility that she could with her social status. Likewise, greed-motivated murder would be unlikely as the woman’s will was left to her daughters who were both well-to-do. 

While assassination is also a possibility, why did the murderer wait until Goodbody was also present to commit the crime? One could infer that if the woman who met with Williams at the cocktail bar is the same woman who sprung the blitz attack in the hotel room, then she could have used another vector of killing. It would likely make more logically convenient sense for her to have incapciated in some way, such as through drugging of her drink, before Goodbody ever arrived at the scene. 

The two hotels in question, the Churchill and the Drake, are within two minutes drive time of one another by today’s mapping estimates. The potential for an overlap of daily observation between the suspect and Goodbody as the intended victim can occur in this case with some familiarity. A jealous woman could have observed Goodbody’s daily life from the vicinity even long before the incident at the hotel room. It is a possibility then that the public nature of Mrs. Williams made her a convenient secondary victim. The papers and police forces would likely pin all motive on the prestigious status of Mrs. Williams and forget the fact that Goodbody was fired upon first and with what appears to be intent based on Goodbody’s scene description.

One may also question the reason why Goodbody would pursue the suspect before attending to her mother, who lay bleeding on the hotel floor from a wound to the head. It would appear to be more instinctive for Goodbody to have attended to her mother before she gave pursuit all the way down the stairs. Is it possible that Goodbody gave pursuit of the suspect because she recognized her and was compelled to follow her thus? 

Was Ellen Bennet guilty?

The Muncie Post Democrat made note of the fact, in a report posted on September 1, 1944, that mysterious calls were made from the Drake Hotel to a restaurant Goodbody and Williams frequented. One of the calls was made on January 2 from Room 190, a room occupied by the key clerk Ellen Bennet who had “run afoul” the law for previous use of a gun in armed robbery crimes. She had held up a dress shop in 1939 for which she was placed on probation. 

The second call to the room where Williams was staying was made three hours before her death when she was not present in the room. It would be possible that the murderer would have called the room to see if anyone occupied it before attempting to break into it. In the event that it was empty, they could easily slip inside and hide themself among the shower curtains. 

The question remains whether the caller was, in fact, Ellen Bennett. 

One fact that sticks out staccato to the whole of the crime is the circumstantial convenience of pinning Walter Brown’s gun to the case. Valanis denied the allegations made by Walter Brown, who himself as a convict could be considered an unreliable narrator, that the gun was in his home as of 11 years prior to the crime. Brown had alleged that the gun was left at Valanis’ house as a gift within 11 years of the murder. 

Other factor is that of the Belvidere Daily Republican’s account of the murder weapon on August 25, 1944. This account states that the allegedly gifted gun was a .25 caliber automatic pistol. This is a direct conflicting statement to other press reports that the gun was a .38 caliber pistol. This further inferst that pointing to Mrs. Bennett as the likely suspect is a conclusion of convenience. 

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Why also would a police officer grant his known gun-woman sister a firearm for “target practice”, assuming that he was a law-abiding conscientious member of Chicago’s police force? 

It appears to be convenient to use the word of a convict and pin the crime on a known felon. The antique guns were discarded and broken into pieces at the crime scene. With the capacity of the gun to be trafficked in 11 years time to many owners, the investigation appears to have erred by focusing on the firearm itself and not the suspect behavior at the scene. 

Who was “The Woman in Black?” 

If the Woman in Black was not Ellen Bennett, then who was she? If one infers that Goodbody was the initial target of the crime, on the basis that she was the one first-fired upon, then one might look at her Goodbody’s social circle near the time of her mother’s killing. Goodbody lived in the Churchill Hotel with her father Ed Born at the time. If one infers that the murder of Adele Born Williams was the secondary-target killing of a crime born from passion, then one would need to eliminate Ed Born’s immediate associates and their wives. 

Ed Born was described as an affluent clothing manufacturer. Therefore, the people he would have associated with immediately would have been in the apparel industry. It was not officially stated on the record which clothing company Ed Born worked as an executive for. However, a woman with a Persian lamb fur coat would likely be tied to affluence or to the apparel industry. World Trade in Commodities had this further listed as a hot demand item of the 1944 era with Dominion imported furs trading above $10,000. The value of her attire and the nature of Ed Born’s line of work suggests that the Woman in Black was possibly the wife or female relation of one of his clothing manufacturing associates. 

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