Just in time for Halloween: Famous local 'who dun its'

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • for The Review

With Halloween just around the corner it is well to remember that mysterious disappearances and happenings abound throughout the world, some on our very doorstep here are just a few to prove my point.

On March 19, 1940 an event occurred in Sheboygan that led the Sheboygan Police into an investigation that turned out to be one of the most bizarre and mysterious cases they ever handled. At the conclusion of most investigations questions are answered, solutions to mysteries are found, and guilty persons caught. This was not the case in the strange death of Ray Colbath. At the conclusion of this investigation more unanswered questions were generated than answers and no guilty person was found.

Ray Colbath age 30 was a quiet almost reclusive person, he led a very simple life, he was unmarried, had had few personal possessions, few friends and no enemies…at least that anyone knew of.

Ray lived with his sister and brother-in-law in the 1700 block of North 2nd. St. He worked mornings as a janitor at the old YMCA then located at 713 Ontario Ave. and afternoons at the First Congregational Church which formerly stood at 926 N.7th Street, just around the corner from the YMCA.

When not working Colbath was a familiar sight on 8th street, riding his bicycle at top speed up and down 8th street, for if there was anything in the world that Ray loved, it was his bicycle. Ray had saved his meager earnings for months, until at long last he had enough money to buy a brand new Schwinn bike. The bike he picked out had a knee action fork, a tank on the center frame, a horn, a light, and long streamers Ray added to the handle bars, it was his most prized possession.

The one character trait that everybody marveled at was Ray’s punctuality, Ray was always on time. He began work each day at the YMCA at exactly 8:00Am, and appeared at the church at precisely 1:00 Pm to begin his janitorial duties. He was never late for meals which he always ate at home. This quiet unassuming, soft spoken man was also known to always be polite, and respectful to the few people that knew him.

Later it was learned that for some reason Ray seemed to be depressed in the days leading up to his death, this may have been a contributing factor to his demise. On March 19, 1940 Ray was late for supper; normally this would not cause concern in most households to have an adult member of the family come home a few hours late. In Ray’s family it did. Both his sister and brotherin law waited anxiously for him to return, finally just after midnight the missing mans brother-in-law Erv Schienle went looking for him. Knowing that the last place Colbath would have been was the First Congregational Church, Erv checked there first. As Erv approached the church he noted that most of the lights were on in the building, and that Ray’s beloved bike was parked outside. Erv entered the building and checked out the church for Ray, as Erv searched he called out his name, but found nothing. Erv then entered the basement, and finally the boiler room. As he opened the boiler room door he was struck by a blast of heat and light that startled him. Looking toward the boiler Erv was stunned and horrified to see the door of the boiler was open, and from it… protruded a pair of legs. Nearby a pile of clothes that belonged to Ray lay in a heap on the floor. All that remained of Ray Colbath were his legs from the knees down.

The police were called. The investigation began. Had it been murder? Or was it a suicide? After tests were completed it was determined Ray had been alive when he entered the furnace. After a long and complex investigation the corner ruled that Ray Colbath had ended his life by his own hand. Many questions remained, could a man really throw himself into a white hot furnace? Or was it murder? But if it was murder than why hadn’t the murderer pushed the body all the way into the furnace? And why take off the victims clothes and leave them to be found? These and many other questions were never answered.

Many stories have been written of weird and unexplained happenings in an area off Florida known as the Bermuda Triangle. It is said that in this area boats and planes have disappeared in good weather with no evidence ever found as to why they vanished. UFO sightings are supposed to be frequent in the area. Many boats have also reported compass failures and unexplained trouble in the area.

Did you know that almost at our very doorstep a similar mysterious triangle is said to exist? The triangle I am speaking of is known as the Michigan Triangle. The boundaries are said to be from Ludington Michigan to Benton Harbor Michigan and then across the lake to Manitowoc and back to Ludington.

A very strange and well documented case is the disappearance of Captain George R. Donner of the lake freighter O.M. McFarland from his cabin while the ship was under way on April 28th, 1937. The McFarland had picked up 9,800 tons of coal in Erie, Pa. and then headed through the lakes bound for Port Washington.

Because it was early in the season the lakes and the locks in the upper part of the Great Lakes were still choked with ice which slowed the McFarland’s progress. Captain Donner had remained on the bridge many hours guiding his ship through the treacherous ice floes. When at last the ship turned into Lake Michigan the exhausted captain retired to his cabin, with the instructions that he be called when the ship neared Port Washington. Some three hours later as the Mc- Farland neared her destination the second mate went to the captain’s cabin to awaken him as instructed, but the captain was not there. Thinking that Captain Donner had gone to the galley for a late night snack the second mate checked the galley and learned that the captain had not been there. The mate as well as other sailors began an exhaustive search of the vessel, but to no avail. Captain Donner had disappeared! No clue as to what happened to Capt Donner was ever found; ironically the day Captain disappeared was his 58th birthday. The good captain’s disappearance is as much a mystery today as it ever was.

Believers in the Lake Michigan Triangle point out that the O.M. McFarland was in the Lake Michigan Triangle when Donner vanished.

Sightings of ghostly apparitions have been reported in several well known locations in Sheboygan, Kohler, Sheboygan Falls, Plymouth, Elkhart lake, Glenbeulah and Oostburg just to mention a few. On the next dark stormy night if you should be in the area of any of the above places…remember, we are not alone! Sleep well tonight.

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