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  • Dale C. Maley

Murder remains unsolved

The 1940s were the heyday for Fairbury area Native American artifact collectors.

Ten avid collectors formed the Fairbury Archaeological Society in 1941. One of the charter members of this club was Marion Knott.

The story of the Marion Knott family began with his sixth great-grandfather emigrating from England to Maryland before 1705. Francis Knott (1649-1705) married Eleanor White (1652-1705) and lived in Maryland. The Knott family remained in the Maryland area for several generations before moving to Kentucky and then to Peoria.

The parents of Marion Knott were Loren Albert Knott (1872-1949) and Mary E. Hillard (1880-1961). Loren and Mary Knott had nine children. One of their children was Marion Russel Knott, born in Peoria in 1904.

In the 1910 Census, Loren and Mary Knott lived in Forrest with their four children. These children included Marion, Alma, Raymond, and Earl Knott. Loren Knott's occupation was to repair railroad cars. By the 1920 Census, the Loren Knott family had moved to a farm in PleasantRidge Township. The family had increased to six children, and the son Marion was 15 years of age.

In 1929, Marion Knott married Miss Ethel Hill of Weston, Illinois. Marion was 25 years of age when he married Ethel Hill. Miss Ethel Hill was between thirteen and 15 years of age when she married Marion Knott. Dr. Charles S. Davies officiated the wedding in the Fairbury Presbyterian Church. She was the daughter of George B. Hill, a Weston blacksmith. The bride was attended by Miss Juanita Hornsby and the groom by Burbon Downing.

In the 1930 Census, Marion Knott reported that he and his 16-year-old wife Ethel lived with his parents at 405 West Cherry Street in Fairbury. Thirteen-year-old Marjorie Knott, Marion's sister, and eleven-year-old Lloyd Knott, Marion's brother, lived in the same home.

After seven years of marriage, Marion and Ethel Knott divorced in 1936. They had no children. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This bombing was the start of World War II for America.

Shortly before the Pearl Harbor attack, the Fairbury Archaeological Society was formed. This group of Fairbury men held a meeting every two weeks. They studied Indian lore in the cold winter months and took field trips in the warmer months. This group sponsored and conducted seven special meetings attended by artifact collectors from Central Illinois. Benjamin Nussbaum was President of the Fairbury Archaeological Society. Vice-President was Burbon Downing. Edgar Zook was Secretary, and Wade Simmons was Treasurer. The group had a total of ten members. Marion Knott was one of the charter club members.

In late 1942, Marion Knott and his brother Lloyd A. Knott enlisted in the Army Quartermaster Corps. Lloyd Knott served until he was discharged in late 1945. Marion Knott only served seven months until he was released in 1943. Marion reported that he was 65 inches tall and weighed 133 pounds when he started military service.

After his military service, Marion Knott moved from Fairbury to Seneca, Illinois. He then worked for about 20 years as a carpenter for DuPont Chemical Company. In June of 1944, Marion married for a second time to a woman named Irene. They were married in Eureka, Illinois. After just one year of marriage, Marion filed for divorce from Irene. He claimed she had slapped him in the face and struck him with a broom. In Marion's divorce request, he asked for custody of their daughter Bonnie Jean Knott. The divorce was eventually granted, but Marion did not get custody of his daughter.

May of 1948 proved to be the most exciting discovery ever made by the Fairbury Archaeological Society. Six miles north of Fairbury, where the South Fork joins the North Fork of the Vermilion River, a burned-out structure was being excavated for a new house. When some artifacts were found, digging was stopped. P. C. James, the landowner, permitted the Fairbury Archaeological Society to excavate the site carefully.

Edgar Zook, Marion Knott, Guy Slater, Clinton Harris, Willis Harris, Jr., and Don Merrill of Fairbury participated in this archaeological dig. This group carefully used trowels, whisk brooms, and spatulas to excavate the site. They also took measurements and photographs of the project. They found a human skeleton on its left side, its knees flexed and facing the southwest. Evidence indicated the person had suffered a violent death. A two-inch gash, which a blunt-edged weapon could have made, was on the right side of the skull. The lower jaw bone was also broken.

Other artifacts at the site indicated the burial dated back to the Woodland culture, which existed between 500 A.D. and 1,500 A.D. On the skeleton's right arm was a crude, leaf-shaped arrow of quartzite and the middle part of a flat drill. Beneath the skeleton was a five-inch split-bone awl. The awl was very sharp and highly polished from much use. The skeletal remains and the artifacts were donated to the Illinois State Museum.

In 1954, Marion Knott married Margaret C. Parker in Ottawa. Her first husband, Earl McIntire, had died in 1951. Marion was 49 when he married 51-year-old Margaret Parker. In 1975, Margaret died at the age of 72.

In 1980, seventy-six-year-old Marion Knott went missing from his Seneca home. A couple of days later, a farmer found his body under a pile of hay after the farmer noticed some of the hay had been moved. An autopsy found Marion had died from cardiac arrest caused by a brutal assault. Marion was found to have broken ribs, a fractured jaw, and a broken femur. The police speculated it might have been a robbery case because Marion was known to carry large amounts of cash. Within a few weeks of the murder, local authorities administered a polygraph to their only suspect. The suspect passed the polygraph test, and the police had no more suspects.

Marion's extensive collection of Native American artifacts was sold at a public auction at the Ramada Inn in Ottawa held a few months after his death. After 43 years, the murder of one of Fairbury's most avid collectors of Native American artifacts remains unsolved.

(Dale Maley's weekly history article is sponsored by Dr. Charlene and Doug Aaron)

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