Death of Elfrieda Knaak still haunts Lake Bluff residents, 90 years later

LAKE BLUFF, Ill. — Chicago's northern suburb of Lake Bluff is a small town, founded as a Methodist camp meeting.

In World War I, it was named the most patriotic town in America for its efforts in helping the Red Cross. The movement for Prohibition started there.

Lake Bluff residents weren’t used to reporters and photographers descending on their small quiet town as they did during the week of Halloween in 1928.

On the morning of Oct. 30, Elfrieda Knaak was discovered in the furnace room of the Village Hall, naked and badly burned. She was barely alive.

It’s a story Kathy O'Hara used to teach to her eighth grade students.

"The idea of a burned woman, nude, found in our Village Hall was absolutely shocking beyond belief," she said.

One of her students was Kraig Moreland.

"Elfrieda Knaak almost hangs over our town like a dark cloud," Moreland said. "Salem had its witches, we had Elfrieda here."

Knaak was found on the 30th, and died in the hospital a few days later.

So what happened the night of the 29th? A coroner’s inquest ruled the death a suicide. But how could a woman stick her legs, arms and head in a furnace?

WGN's Larry Potash explores the backstory.

"Backstory with Larry Potash" airs Sundays at 8:30 p.m.