Welcome to True Horrors. In this space, we are going to examine a true murder case from history and see if you, our investigators, can catch the killer responsible. We will provide you with the background, the evidence, and three suspects to choose from.
This is a real case. These are real people. The names, places, and dates have been changed to obscure the specifics and to keep you, our investigators, from googling the solution.
The town of Mackinaw, Illinois is not the sort of place where kids go missing. It’s not the type of town where you have to worry about who your children are talking to. That all changed on the evening of June 14th, 1984, when the rural town of 447 souls was rocked by the disappearance of Marina (Mary) Ferris.
Mary was a vivacious 9-year-old who would wander the streets and stop to talk with everyone she came across. She was friendly with everyone she saw, causing her mother to worry that she was a little too trusting. She lived in a modest two-story home at the north edge of town with her mother and her stepfather. Her days normally consisted of going to Mackinaw’s elementary school, then spending the afternoons at either the corner store reading comics or walking along the Spoon River, which ran along the west side of town.
Mary always made it home before dinner. It was the one rule that she never ignored. Her mother and stepfather didn’t normally get home from their jobs in the neighboring town of Roanoke until around 5:30 pm, so she always found her way home by six. On this Thursday evening, as her mother made dinner for the family, they realized that Mary wasn’t in her room or playing in the garage like usual. Trent Sherwood, Mary’s stepfather, came home early from work that day due to a stomach bug, but he was locked away in his basement den and never saw Mary come home.
“[Mackinaw, Illinois is] not the type of town where you have to worry about who your children are talking to. That all changed on the evening of June 14th, 1984…”
The entire town hit the streets that night. Flashlights illuminated the dark fields surrounding the perimeter of the once-happy village. There was no sign of the girl in her normal hiding spots, but they continued to look anyway. The police force of Roanoke, only 7 miles away, was brought in to aid in the search the next morning.
Mary’s parents were distraught, but completely focused on finding their little girl. Trent spent the majority of the next few days leading the search parties, seeing as he, an avid hunter, knew the area just about better than anyone. Unfortunately for the team, the next few days were drenched in the usual Illinois summer showers, forcing them to slog through mud and wet crops. As they continued to search, news came from a Roanoke officer that something had been found, and that Trent and his wife needed to get home and stay put.
Mary’s body was found in the Spoon River near the small bridge that took you out of town on old US 39. She was nude, and she was weighed down by two cinder blocks tied with what looked like baling twine. There was evident bruising around her throat, and she had three stab-wounds to her abdomen. Due to her being found in the swift-moving river, any evidence of sexual assault was washed away and inconclusive. What was initially thought to be fish-bites along her upper thighs was eventually determined to be small, circular burn marks.
As police focused their search on the river and its banks, they came upon Mary’s backpack about 40 yards from where her body was found. It was not damaged, and nothing seemed to be missing from the pink pack. Police noticed that it was found across the river from a newly purchased property, so they decided to head over and check it out.
The owner of the home, which was currently under renovation, was not home, so police were confined to examining the yard and surrounding property. At the edge of the pasture, where it ran into the neighbor’s fence, they found an odd stain in the grass. After performing an Ouchterlony test, it was determined that the stain was blood, and it was human.
After Mary’s body was found, the entire town of Mackinaw became one large posse. They treated everyone as a suspect, especially “outsiders” or those new to town. State Police were brought in to assist in the case, and soon three suspects were singled out from the crowd.
Suspect “A”– Andrew Chambers
Andrew, a resident and schoolteacher in nearby Roanoke, was the owner of the property near where the backpack was found. His yard was where the bloodstain in the grass was found, about 60 yards north of his home. He recently purchased the home with his father, who planned on moving in after renovations were complete. Andrew was performing the majority of the work on the home, even extending the home’s foundation to accommodate his father’s desire for a large sunroom, so he was on location almost every day after school.
On the day of Mary’s disappearance, Andrew was at the home working from 3:30-5 pm. He claims that he saw Mary walk past his driveway at about 4pm, heading towards her home. He told police that he did not speak to the young girl, but he did wave to her. This is contradictory to the statement given to police by the town’s mail carrier, who mentioned that he saw someone matching Andrew’s description speaking to Mary in the street around that time. Andrew mentioned that when he saw the young girl, she looked worried. She behaved like she was hurrying up the street. A few moments after she passed, a white car slowly drove by, following her.
When asked for an alibi, Andrew stated that he left the home around 5pm and went straight home. This alibi was corroborated by his wife, who mentioned in her statement that he ate dinner, graded some papers, and went to bed. He stayed home in Roanoke all evening. When confronted with the blood on his property, Andrew stated that he did not know what the police were talking about, but that he was “always cutting himself” while working in the home.
“After Mary’s body was found, the entire town of Mackinaw became one large posse. They treated everyone as a suspect, especially “outsiders” or those new to town.”
Suspect “B”– Alex Krouss
Alex was yet another “outsider” that the town of Mackinaw saw as a suspect. He was a 28-year-old unemployed man who moved into town to live in his cousin’s basement. His cousin’s home was located across the street from the corner store, where Mary spent her last afternoon on earth.
Alex always made the townspeople nervous, simply because he had nothing to do all day. His only task was to take his cousin to and from work in Roanoke in his white Buick LeSabre. For the remainder of the day, he would sit on his porch chain-smoking and listening to the radio. He would walk over to the corner store a few times a day, just to find someone to talk to.
Police, after their initial interview with Alex, ran a background check and found something unsettling in his file. Alex recently moved to Mackinaw from Yuma, Arizona, where he spent the last 10 years serving a sentence for Aggravated Sexual Assault of a Minor. After asking him to verify his whereabouts on the 14th, Alex told police that he left the house about 4, or 4:15pm to pick up his cousin from work. This alibi could not be corroborated, due to his cousin staying late to work a double, getting off work at 9:00pm. When confronted with this contradiction, Alex stated that he got the days mixed up, and that he was asleep from 2:30pm that afternoon until 6:00pm.
Suspect “C”– Trent Sherwood
Trent, Mary’s stepfather, was the final person considered for this crime by the Illinois State Police. Many people in the town, including Mary’s teacher and her friends, mentioned to police that she was terrified of Trent. She told stories of his drinking on his days off, and how he would wrestle and fight with her and her mother whenever they crossed his path.
Trent was home on the 14th, after leaving work with a stomach ailment. Trent admitted to police that it was actually a fierce hangover he was fighting, so he spent the majority of his afternoon in his den, drinking to fend off the worst symptoms. He stated to police that he was in his den, drinking in the dark until dinner was ready and they noticed that Mary was missing.
Mary’s mother, Jan Sherwood, told police that she arrived home from work at 5:30pm, like usual, and never saw Trent or Mary until she finished making dinner. The door to Trent’s den was closed, so she assumed he was in there the whole time. When she had finished cooking and left to find her family, she found Trent in the garage, tying a rolled tarp together with twine.
During her interview, Mrs. Sherwood became skeptical of Trent’s whereabouts during that afternoon, and mentioned to police that he was an avid hunter, with a large knife collection. She also stated that “Trent made her nervous when he drank” and “When he was in the bag like that, he was capable of anything”.
“Was it Suspect “A” The Teacher, “B” The Convict, or “C” The Stepfather? We will reveal the truth behind the horror in the next Behind the Screams article, coming soon from Nightmare on Film Street.”
Someone in the town of Mackinaw, Illinois killed little Mary Ferris. We need your help, investigators, to find out who did this and bring him to justice. Head over to our Twitter page, or our official Fiend Club on Facebook and let us know who you think did it. Was it Suspect “A” The Teacher, “B” The Convict, or “C” The Stepfather? We will reveal the truth behind the horror in the next Behind the Screams article, coming soon from Nightmare on Film Street.