By Jolene Hawkins
Last week, this column looked back on the mysterious 1936 death of Christina Mary Jureller of Springville. Her body was found on the Indian Reservation, appearing to have been severely beaten, and it was discovered that she had been pregnant, despite being described by everyone that knew her as a home body who never left the house.
Christina’s brother-in-law, Harry Prentice, a former police officer with whom Christina lived (along with her sister/ Harry’s wife) dropped her off at the Springville train station, where she was seen boarding, but never seen getting off the train in her set destination of Lackawanna.
Strangely enough, a very similar case occurred involving Christina’s sister, Helen, who also lived with Mr. and Mrs. Prentice at the time of her disappearance. This week’s story picks up when the FBI was wondering if the two cases were somehow connected.
The reports were starting to come in; the marks found on Christina’s dress were that of a five point star in the center of the heel. A factory in Ohio made such a boot with a heel like that. It was estimated that over 1,000 pairs of those boots had been sold in the Buffalo area.
A driver from a trucking company says he saw a car parked near the top of the hill where Christina’s body was found around 9 p.m. on Wednesday night— a dark sedan with a stripe on the side and a trunk in the rear. Agents looked at Harry Prentice’s car, which matched that description. He was brought in and questioned. He also had a pair of the boots that had the same heel pattern as that found on her dress.
He claimed he had gone to Carl Seider’s hotel ( the Western House) across from the railroad station and remained there until just before noon. He went home for lunch, when his car got stuck in the mud for 1 ½ hours. He went back to the hotel, and talked to Joe Seider and Mike Weber until around 6 that night, returned home to eat, and then came back to the bar a little after 7 p.m. He denied knowing that Christinia was pregnant and said he had no idea who the father might have been. He knew of no plans for an abortion, and claimed that he himself had not been intimate with her. He also claimed he had nothing to do with Helen, the older sister’s, disappearance six years earlier.
During the investigation, it was reported by the Orchard Park Police that a man named William Dunn had information—that while he was waiting for a bus on the corner of Davis and West Quaker on Oct. 7 around 11 p.m., he noticed a couple arguing in a dark Ford V-8 coupe. The woman left the car, and he heard the man say he would agree to whatever she wanted. She returned to the car and it headed west on Quaker. Dunn identified the photo of Christina as the woman he saw. He did not get a good look at the gentleman with her.
At a service station down the road from there, the owner of the station, Ed Bain, said that a dark colored coupe had stopped, where a gentleman had purchased some ginger ale. He got a good look at the couple— she had been crying, her hat was off and they were using the glove box lid as a tray for their drinks. Bain also IDed a photo of Christina, and gave a description of the man with her.
With no evidence at the girl’s home to link her to any man, the authorities felt little doubt that she had met her death of an ill-fated association with someone who was responsible for her condition.
What about Helen Jureller? Although she was declared legally dead by the Surrogate Court in Buffalo, there is not one single record available to throw any light on the circumstances of her disappearance. Harry Prentice was the driving force behind the declaration, only two years after her disappearance.
Those that knew Helen said she was an attractive 22-year-old, dark haired and popular with everyone. She was employed as a waitress at the Melba Inn (New Canaan, Ct. where they lived) and Oskar Jacobsen, a cook at the same place, was very fond of Helen.
Harry Prentice did not like her dating Oskar, and was usually waiting for Helen when she got off work. One night, following a banquet, she did not finish her shift until 11 p.m.; a guest offered to take her home since he did not think a young lady should be out so late alone.
When they arrived home, a police car was there and Harry Prentice (remember, he worked for the police) got out of the car; he was mad. Harry took the girl by the neck and pulled her out of the car, and then yelled at the driver. Helen was dismissed from her job due to the pregnancy. Harry took Helen to the railroad station where she was going to visit some family. She did board the train, but was never heard from again. There was no evidence to implicate Harry Prentice.
Now you must make up your own mind… what happened? Who is guilty?
Come down and read more at the Lucy Bensley Center, 23 North Buffalo Street in Springville. The Center is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the second and fourth Sundays of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. For more info, call (716) 592-0094.