Fromm Chronicles #1 – Cowley County, Kansas

Fromm Chronicles #1 – Cowley County, Kansas
Hallie Fromm – Slice of Life
  By – Sheri de Grom

I spent seven years investigating the murder of my aunt, Hallie Fromm. She died at the age of fifteen in 1924. Hallie was my mother’s oldest sister and—for whatever reason—not only was her name never mentioned by my mother but she was the best-kept secret in Kansas.

We visited her grave and decorated it each Memorial Day without fail. After all, most of my mother’s and my father’s family are buried in the same cemetery under the wide open sky in the flint hills of Kansas. On that day every year, Mom would say, “Hallie’s boyfriend killed her.” Her tone of voice told us not to ask additional questions.

Why am I writing about Hallie today? I think about her often. Would she have become a favorite aunt along with my Aunt Mae Lawrence? I’d like to think so. I also like to believe I have many of her character traits and personality quirks. Hallie was adventurous in a time when it wasn’t proper for girls to behave so and she lived and died for her dreams. She aspired to a life in a world larger than her imagination. Unfortunately, Hallie never had the opportunity to explore that world and sometimes I like to think her spirit traveled the globe with me.

Once I asked my mother to tell me what happened to Hallie and it went something like this: “Hallie and her boyfriend Leo wanted to get married and Mom and Dad forbade it. Hallie said she would run away to marry her boyfriend, but he shot and killed her.”

During my research of what really happened to Hallie, the most common story I was told had a slightly different twist: On an icy night in January, 1924, Leo showed up at Hallie’s home in the country. They had previously agreed that if they couldn’t have her parents’ blessings for their wedding, they would commit double suicide. Hallie’s parents refused to allow the marriage. Leo shot Hallie and then turned the gun on himself. Hallie was fifteen and Leo was twenty-four.

My research and continuing investigation into the mysterious circumstances of Hallie Fromm’s death led me to genealogical research dating back to 1817. I uncovered the layers of family secrets one at a time.

I took my genealogical research a step further and interviewed as many direct descendants as possible. I learned the most from acquaintances that had crossed the lives of members of the Fromm family. Their stories provided personal and historical information one could never find in a file. And many of those don’t match my mother’s account.

There’s more to come from the Fromm Chronicles in Slice of Life Monday Blogs. Mondays will also be reserved for several other series involving the military, mental health, sounds of silence, and other issues. Wednesdays are reserved for book reviews.

Have you ever had to know why something happened in your family? What do you do when you have more questions at the end of your research than you had at the beginning and there’s no one left to ask?

I still have a lot of questions about Hallie and how she really died. The sheriff or ‘the law’ as it was called back then was best friends with Hallie’s father and grandfather so he was never contacted. The grandmother allegedly gave a statement the following day but to whom, I’ll probably never know. I do know Jane Fromm, Hallie’s grandmother (and my great grandmother) forbade her son, Earl Fromm (my grandfather) to allow his daughter Hallie to wed Leo.

What I don’t know is who really murdered Hallie Fromm.

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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33 Responses to Fromm Chronicles #1 – Cowley County, Kansas

  1. I find this intriguing, the mystery of it being a secret in your family has to make it even more so. good luck with this. As the parent of amurder victim due to domestic violence (uncharged murderer) I can appreciate your wanting to solve this.

    • Len – My heart goes out to you and your loss. I read many of your posts last night and you write with such sensitivity on many subjects. I’m continually sorting through my tubs of research putting bits and pieces of my aunts story together. I’m discovering the behaviors that resulted in the tragedy were brought on by many generations of simply ignoring irresponsible behavior. I hope to post several Fromm Chronicles in 2013. They won’t take over my passions of advocacy for mental health reform, veterans, for the elderly, and other issues–but I also need to have closure on what really happened to Hallie. I think I know, but I need to prove it. Everyone has taken the Truth to their grave, if I don’t find the answer I don’t believe anyone else will care enough to learn the truth.

  2. Sheryl says:

    Whew, what a story. I think that it’s sad when the stories of vibrant people like Hallie are ignored (or glossed over) in family histories–and think it’s wonderful that you are researching her story. I’m looking forward to future updates on anything else that you find out. There are so many layers to this story–and the changing social norms since 1924 make it even more complex to understand. When I read what you wrote, one piece that I struggled with was the age difference between Hallie and Leo. Today a 24-year-old guy could quickly get himself into big trouble for having a romance with a 15-year-old girl–yet I know that there weren’t the hard lines back then about men dating (or marrying) minors.

    • Sheryl – Thanks for stopping in. I truly believe Leo’s mother had much to do with Hallie and her son getting together. I’ve researched this story for seven years and from what I’ve learned so far, Hallie was lonely and Leo was just coming back from the war. Her parents (my grandparents) via her grandparents (my great-grandparents) never approved of anything she did and she was a star pupil. She excelled at everything she did. Her biggest sin of all was that she wasn’t born a boy. How sad is that?

      • Sheryl says:

        Whew, it was rough for her. It’s so sad.

        • I have a newspaper clipping that over 500 people attended the funeral. Of course it was a country church and many had to stand outside in the miserable Kansas, January weather. I have Hallie’s hand stitched baby quilt – I found it in the bottom of my mother’s cedar chest. I’d never seen the quilt until about 20 years after my mom passed and I was home taking care of Dad. The quilt was like new and the hand stitching was perfect (the quilt itself was all in blue and white). How dare a pink and white one be prepared or even thought of. My grandmother, Hallie’s mother, died my junior year of high school. How I wish I could sit and talk with her about Hallie and the blue and white quilt. I’ve been told things where never the same for my grandmother after Hallie was born. Today, Hallie’s quilt is proudly displayed in our home for all to see and appreciate.

  3. Susie – I felt a little like I was chasing my self in circles . . . and then late in the seventh year of my investigation . . . I gave a clerk at the county court house a list of probated files I’d like to see. She told me there was one on my list she couldn’t release (and it was for a person I thought played a significant role in the murder). Would you believe, she or someone else saw fit to slip the probated file into the very large stack I’d asked for? I needed one of those tiny spy cameras. It was like hitting pay dirt as my husband likes to call it when he’s gold mining.

    • jbw0123 says:

      Intriguing! The photo of Hallie is terrific. She looks just how you describe her, like someone, even at 12, who was adventurous at a time when adventuring wasn’t encouraged in girls. Inspiring, too. Gave me a couple ideas right off the bat: my husband’s great aunt Ida — the source of my wedding ring — for one. Rumored to have never married her lover because “his wife was in an asylum”. Hmm. Sounds like a story!

      Hope to read more about your investigations and your family history.

      • Hi – Thanks for stopping in. I worked more on my Aunt Hallie’s murder just last night. Boxes and boxes of research surrounded me and I thought, “Hallie, please come help me with this.” I have all these bits and pieces of paper from 1922 into 1925 and Hallie was killed in January of 1924. I’m convinced what I learned from individuals outside the family rings truer than what I pieced together from my family. Oh, the secrets we like to keep. I’d love to know more about your Aunt Ida. Everytime you look at your wedding ring–you must wonder about her life.

  4. susielindau says:

    This could be on TV’s unsolved murders. With no forensics back in the day, so many got away with murder…
    Great story!

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  6. Sheri, I look forward to whatever you feel like sharing about this search. I’ve discovered infant headstones on both sides of my family that I’d never heard of before, but no murder mysteries.

    With my 96 year-old basically senile mother the only one of her generation left anywhere in my extended family, I have no one to turn to to ask questions. Which brings up a point. Since we bloggers are writers, I think we owe it to our kids and grandkids to write family histories to answer the questions they won’t think to ask until we’re gone. I’ve done that for my daughter and grandkids and may look again and revise it one of these days.

    • David – You are so right–the information must be written down and shared. I’m also learning pictures (if available) must be perserved as well as any other documents located. There’s so much I’ve located that I want to share with my nieces and nephews and I originally thought I would turn it into a manuscript–but realized the truth of Hallie Fromm would never be told in my lifetime. Therefore, I’ll implant it into my blog, the truth as I know it–with lots of tags. That way, anyone that wants to look, can. I’d never seen any of the pictures – and located them after talking to people I’d never heard of. When I do write a manuscript originating from this story, it won’t be Hallie’s story. I have to preserve Hallie’s story for historical fact finders. I found more truths than I really wanted to know. Thanks for stopping in.

  7. Betty Bolte says:

    Families are full of surprises and secrets, aren’t they? I don’t know of any murders in my family, but do have an unexplained gravestone with the name/age of an infant in the same family plot as my grandparents. My great aunt said she didn’t know anything about an infant death and certainly not associated with my grandmother. There’s more there to dig into as I have time, as well. And I, like others here, am looking forward to hear more about the details you did find. Maybe we can view your info with a dispassionate eye and suggest some other ways of looking at it. It will be fun to see!

  8. Every family has a mystery! Mine was the death of my dad’s common-law wife. Her children swore she wasn’t suicidal and her choice of ‘drug’ was very suspect, especially to me as an adult. Genealogical research is wonderful though. I reunited with my mother’s family as a result of research and Facebook! We’ve had a reunion and I have a stepfather!

    • That’s one terrific result Mary! Facebook for a murder in 1924 hasn’t led me anywhere–my investigation has been all footwork – but rewarding. A big mystery right now is that my grandparents had a baby boy the first year they were married and no one thought to mention that fact to me until I was 55. I’ve always found that fact intriguing. I’ve since located the hand stitched baby blanket my grandmother made for the baby and have it in my possession. It’s as good as brand new. I have it draped over an antique high chair (covered in lead paint of course) – in the light of day. It’s the only way I can think of to honor what would have been my uncle if he had lived.

  9. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman says:

    I agree that it is a good story for a book. How tragic that she had to die so young. I look forward to reading more of what you find out.

  10. Sheri … this is a wonderful post … the stuff great stories are made of … and I hope you one use it as the basis for a book. What really happened to your aunt? How will you uncover decades of details that has been blurred by perception and deceit? Can’t wait to see where you take this 🙂

    • Hi, Florence. I’ve been sitting on my research for a few years now. From time to time I’ll pull the tubs of information out of closets and pick up the pieces and know Hallie’s story must be told. Hallie’s story may turn into a book – at this stage of my life, it’s time for me to share what I know for sure — future generations of the Fromm family deserve to have the facts.

  11. Kitt Crescendo says:

    If Hallie’s story were in my family tree, I’d be curious enough to start digging, too. I look forward o reading what you find. I can’t imagine finding answers after all these years will be easy. It almost reminds me of “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”. Thanks for taking us along on this tragic family mystery.

    • Kitt – Thanks for dropping by. I’ve been doing intense research on Hallie’s murder for so long, I knew I had to start sharing the information somewhere. I wanted to pass the information I have along and decided my blog was the best place to put it out to the world. I knew Hallie’s death was tragic, but I felt something else was going on behind the scenes that no one was telling me or anyone else. After 7 years of intense research–I think I have an answer but — my answer is up for grabs.

      • Well, regardless of where your research takes you, thank you for taking us with you on this voyage…and I hope, at the very least, this helps you find closure. And Why is it that I’m half afraid to read what answer you think you have…that it will be heartbreakingly sad. Not that murder isn’t already tragic.

  12. Wow! My sister and I were just talking the other day about how it wasn’t until we were in our 40’s that my dad told us that his mother was murdered by her husband! Why did he wait until we were way past the time of being considered “mature” to reveal that truth? And then yesterday my sister found a picture of a house and on the back it said it was my dad’s house on Merced Street in Los Angeles. He told us he grew up in Santa Paula! She actually found (by using a magnifying glass) the address of the house because it was painted on the curb in front. I Googled the address and described what I saw on Google Maps and it was the house! Now why didn’t he tell us that either? Weird.
    I look forward to hearing what you find in your investigation.

    • Patti – Hold on to that information. If you wish to share the information, put it on the web somewhere and tag it so others doing research can find it. When I was in Kansas doing research–I had next to zero internet service and no cell phone connection. I’ve learned so much by asking questions, having doors slammed in my face, people not knowing if they could trust me with their stories, etc. I’ve learned more than I ever actually wanted to know about 8 generations of my family–but it also helps me understand who I am as a woman today. I can tell you, law enforcement was the least helpful of anyone in my search for information. Hallie’s murder is still being covered up.

  13. Mae Clair says:

    Wow. What a tragic and intriguing story. It’s amazing that you uncovered what you did. I think Hallie would be grateful for all the work and care you’ve put into tracing her life and, ultimately, her death, trying to give her closure.

    I love family history, and learning what motivated people in times long past. I’ve done a little research on my own family but would love to find the time to do more. I love history in general–old photos, weathered tombstones, and imagining the lives of those who came before. I can’t wait to see more of your Monday posts on this subject. It resonates strongly with me!

  14. Amazing story and I wonder if you’ll ever get to the truth. I hope so. I can’t wait to read more.
    My family is from all around the world. My Mom from the Dominican Republic and my Dad from Toronto, Ontario. However, we’ve always lived in New Brunswick, Canada so that meant, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with my extended family, more specifically my grandparents. I have always wondered about their lives, how they came to be where they were etc…but have never embarked on researching it. This post inspires me to maybe dig a little deeper!!!
    Can’t wait for more Monday posts Sheri!!!!

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