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Waterman train wreck victim's grave
found 30 years later by daughter
By Barry Schrader.................................December
Breese of the Joiner History Room in Sycamore had a question
for me recently. "Do you remember the Chronicle story you
did in December 1970 about a fatal train derailment near Waterman?"
I acknowledged I had gone down to Waterman Corners the next day
to see the wreckage and wrote the front page bylined article
in the December 9 Daily Chronicle, but wondered why she would
ask about something that far back in my memory.
Sue then told me the story that had taken some 30 years to bring
closure for a daughter named Leona who had lost track of her
father when she was only 10 years old and living with her mother
Three men "riding the rails" in a boxcar had been killed
in that 1970 pileup when a 49-car freight jumped the track near
Routes 23 and 30 a mile east of Waterman just before midnight
December 8. Cleanup crews came across the bodies the next day
among the jumbled pile of railroad cars and cargo. Since they
were not "paying" passengers there were no records
of their names.
One of the deceased, William Jackson Hanks Jr., 31, had some
ID and the coroner was able to notify his family. He was eventually
interred at Harrisburg, Illinois. A second man could not be identified
by then-County Coroner Paul Van Natta and so he was buried in
the DeKalb County Cemetery, once known as the "pauper's
cemetery," next to where the old County Home was located.
Now it is adjacent to the parking lot for Michael's crafts store.
The third victim also had no identification but had a tattoo
that seemed to tie him to the US Navy. By matching his dental
records it was determined he was Denny Lee Greene, 35, with no
known address. He had served during the Korean War aboard both
the USS Southerland and the USS Dixie. After the war he was divorced
and had become estranged from his family in Washington state
so they were not aware of his death and did not find out until
Since Leona was only 10 at the time of her father's death she
had known little about him. But as an adult she decided to try
and trace him by contacting various county coroner's offices.
Her search paid off when she got a positive response from DeKalb
County. An email from her in 1999 pleading for help in locating
his gravesite was turned over to the Joiner History Room and
Sue took up the hunt. She and her husband Bob Myers found the
grave in the county plot one winter day in early 2000, partly
covered by snow. They then contacted the daughter who was very
grateful for their help and wanted to travel to DeKalb and visit
his final resting place. She had since moved to St. Louis so
was within driving distance. But it took her until September
2001 to finally be able to make the trek to DeKalb County where
Sue met her and they drove to the cemetery. Sue pointed out the
gravesite and stood back as Leona went to the small stone for
an emotional farewell to her long lost father. She placed some
flowers there and wondered aloud why there was no military flag
holder that veterans normally have beside their graves where
the US Flag is placed each Memorial Day. It is 2007 now and still
the only reminder of his military service is a small 4 x 5 inch
flag stuck in the ground nearby.
In a thankful email to Breeses in 2002 the daughter wrote that
"finding the grave has now given me inner peace." She
has since moved back to Washington to be near family.
There are several other graves and markers in that little cemetery
where the tombstones are etched with the word "unknown"
showing a date of death only. There will probably not be any
more found loved ones as most of the graves are decades old and
any close relatives are most likely deceased. But at least this
one grave now has fading flowers beside it and someone knows
their father is buried there.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115