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A LOOK BACK: The Springville Murder Mystery

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By Derek M. Otto

The recent grisly discovery of human skeletal remains nearby in the town of North Collins is a reminder of a time more than 80 years ago when a similar discovery was made. The discovery of a body on the Cattaraugus Reservation eventually led to Springville being in the center of a federal murder investigation and later featured in the national media. The following is my retelling of the mystery from True Detective Mysteries, a national mysteries periodical from 1937.  Before the television shows like America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries, periodicals like True Detective Mysteries offered rewards for information leading to the solving of cold cases.

In the 1930s, Southwestern Boulevard was the main East West corridor highway in Western New York; today it is US Route 20.  The portion that ran through the Cattaraugus Reservation was very secluded. Native-Americans did not build up along the main highway preferring to stay deeper into the reservation.

On a relatively warm Friday, October 9, 1936, George Wright, a toy maker, and Jack Ettinger, an employee, were driving along Southwestern Boulevard and decided to pull over on the side and have lunch.   Being warm, they decided to walk back off the road to a shadier spot.   While sitting there, one of the men noticed something white under some leaves, it was Ettinger who discovered the body and went back to the car to tell Mr. Wright.

As reported: “What’s the trouble?” asked Wright of Ettinger.

“I just saw a dead girl,” replied Ettinger.   

Without hesitation, the two drove to the nearest gas station. At the time, this was the White Horse Service Station.  They called the State Police barracks at Wanakah.  When the State Police arrived and made an as assessment of the situation, they realized that body was on the Cattaraugus Reservation.   The Federal Bureau of Investigation would have to be notified.  The Reservation was federal property; any crime committed on Federal Land was investigated by the FBI.

While investigating the area around the body, trooped and G-Men, as FBI agents were called at the time, discovered that there was no struggle.  Footprints in the hard clay soil matched the mysterious woman’s shoes.   They found her hat underneath her body and blue tip matches were found around the body.   There were also dust prints of heel marks on the lady’s dress. The fabric was cut off and sent to a lab in Washington. The body was sent to Buffalo for an autopsy.

While the investigation continued, news flashes were sent around describing the body of the unknown woman: “She was five feet five inches stall, 120 lbs., grey eyes, dark brown bobbed hair; age twenty five to twenty eight… Dressed in a black coat, black dress, black stockings, black shoes and a black felt hat.”  News also reported that she had two rings on her body— one with the initials CMJ and another with the initials SAS.   Over 20 inquiries were made to view and identify the body at FBI headquarters in Buffalo, but to avail, no one could identify the body.   At 10 o’clock that evening, a call from Springville came in a man by the name Leonard Jureller who said that the woman sounded like his sister, Christina Mary Jureller, and that she went to Saint Aloysius School in Springville.   The family went to Buffalo to identify the body.  Those who went were Mrs. Harry Prentice and Mrs. Sylvester Smith, married sisters of Christina.   They positively identified the body.

The family said that Christina had left her residence at 39 Waverly Street, Springville, where she lived with her older sister, Edythe, and Edythe’s husband, Harry Prentice, on Wednesday morning, October 7, 1936.  Harry had driven Christina to the railroad station in Springville, and she planned to visit her niece Ethel in Buffalo, and to visit another sister, Mrs. Kightlinger, in Salamanca.  According to Ethel Prentice, she wrote her and told not to come.  Mrs. Kightlinger said she had not made plans for her and was not expecting her. Christina’s mother, Mrs. Selzler, has been an invalid for two years and had no idea of Christina’s whereabouts.

Investigators learned from the family that Christina “was a home girl. She never left the house for a date or was known to date any men. She only went out to go to church or the movies, sometimes she would visit the neighbors.”  The investigators were confused from the autopsy.  The thing they learned about Christina was that she was six months pregnant!   

The investigation would involve her brother-in-law, Harry Prentice, who was the last to see her in Springville.  He said that he was in Springville all day helping Carl Seider at his bar, and then driving him and getting the car stuck in the mud, went home and ate, and then went back to the bar, stayed until 2:30 in the morning and drove Seider home. Investigators verified his alibis and he was clear.  Other witnesses could positively identify Christina with a man in a dark colored coupe.  Even though Harry Prentice had a coupe, it was a Dodge, and people remembered seeing a Ford.

Even more startling was the fact that the dust imprints from the dress were from a man’s heel with a distinct star pattern.  The G-men discovered that the Ohio manufacturer of the shoes determined that about 1,000 pairs were in the Buffalo region.  Guess who had a pair? Harry Prentice.

The plot thickened more when it was discovered that there was another sister, Helen Jureller, who had been living in New Canaan, CT with her sister and brother-in-law, Harry Prentice, in 1930.  Prentice was a well known police officer in New Canaan. It was also known that he would follow Helen to and from work and even spy on her from a phone booth where she worked as a waitress and cook.   The last time she was seen was when Harry Prentice dropped her off at the train station. To everyone’s surprise, she had been pregnant too. There was no evidence or investigation in New Canaan, and the Surrogate Court eventually declared Helen dead and her mother received $500 insurance payment.

With all evidence pointing to Harry Prentice, no charges were ever filed.  His alibis cleared and Christina’s mother died about a month after her disappearance, believing Christina died in a car accident.  This lead to the article in True Detective Mysteries offering a $1000 reward for information.   Today the mystery is still a cold case and all other players in the case are dead.   With media coverage from Buffalo, Christina was interred in St. John’s Cemetery in Boston, NY.

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