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The mystery of the horrific and strange death of a book saleswoman from Illinois

This occurred in the small town of Lake Bluff, Illinois, USA, on the morning of October 30, 1928. A worker descended into the basement boiler room to light the furnace and found the body of a woman leaning against the furnace. The woman was covered in terrible deep burns, had no clothes on, but she was still alive and conscious.

Purification by Fire
In the hospital, it was revealed that her name was Elfrieda Knaak, she was 29 years old, worked as a book saleswoman in Chicago, and also taught children in Sunday school. When asked how she got these burns, she repeated, “it’s all my fault” and “I did it all myself.”

She then recounted that her “sense of faith, purity, and love” compelled her to thrust her hands and feet into the fire to “prove her faith in the spiritual” and make herself “worthy of her astral lover,” as well as to “purify herself and dedicate herself to God.”

Yes, it sounds like a reason to call a psychiatrist, but in those years in the USA, séances of mediums, spiritualists, Tibetan spiritual practices, etc., were extremely popular. So the police weren’t particularly surprised. Even when Elfrieda began to recount how she started “purifying herself by fire” and saw hands beckoning her from the flames.

However, investigators didn’t quite believe that the woman had inflicted these terrible burns on herself. The thing is, the door to the boiler room was locked from the outside when the worker arrived in the morning. But when they directly accused Elfrieda of this, she said that the door was closed behind her by a “mystical hand.”

Conflicting Testimonies
Elfrieda’s burns were very serious, and her condition deteriorated rapidly. Shortly before her death, she suddenly confessed that there was another woman with her in the boiler room, with whom she made a “suicide pact,” and who left the room after Elfrieda began to burn.

But then she changed her testimony again, saying, “They did it,” and adding, “Frank betrayed me.” She didn’t disclose who “they” were.

When she was in her death throes, her brother Elvin visited her, to whom she again recounted the first version of what happened to her. That she was there alone and went there alone, that someone gave her the key to the boiler room, and that there was a woman who “can clarify everything.” But she didn’t have time to name the woman before she passed away.

Bloody Prints and the Second Woman
The coroner and his assistants still ruled Elfrieda Knaak’s death a suicide, but police detectives were more stubborn and continued to investigate the case.

They found that the furnace was too high for a woman to insert both her legs into it without the help of a stool or chair. They also discovered a bloody palm print on the door, as well as blood-soaked footprints leading up and down the stairs to the boiler room.

Upon examining Elfrieda’s body, it was found that before or after the burns, she had been severely struck on the head, and a strong electric current had passed through her body.

In Elfrieda’s purse, they found a letter from a woman named “B.E. Lok,” containing what they called a “religious discussion.” It turned out that both Lok and Elfrieda were followers of the religious movement (cult) “New Thought,” which, in addition to Christianity, preached “mind healing,” as well as astral projection and “spiritual purification.”

Lok’s real name was Luella Roe, and the police soon visited her for questioning. Roe explained that Elfrieda felt “fanatical admiration” towards her, as if she had been hypnotized, but she either didn’t know or didn’t disclose any details that could help clarify Elfrieda’s strange death.

Astral Lover

The investigation revealed that on October 29th, Elfrieda, who worked at a shop in Chicago, left work around 5:00 PM, and at six o’clock she was seen at the station, as she was planning to travel to Lake Bluff for a business meeting. She bought two train tickets – one there and one back, and then made two phone calls.

Later, by nightfall, she was seen arriving in Lake Bluff, and this is the last known information about her movements before receiving the terrible burns in the boiler room.

However, still alive, while in the hospital, Elfrieda confessed to the police that a certain Charles W. Hitchcock lived in Lake Bluff, with whom she had a “pure astral love.”

“Hitch pulled me out of Hell about three months ago,” she told them, adding that on that evening, she came here specifically to meet with Hitchcock.

The police thoroughly interrogated Hitchcock, but he categorically denied any involvement in Elfrieda’s death and stated that he had no romantic relationship with the woman at all. It also turned out that a few days before the incident with Elfrieda, Hitchcock seriously broke his leg and was still bedridden. So, he had a 100% alibi.

The Oddities Don’t End There
A month passed after Elfrieda’s death, and the Lake Bluff police suddenly received a letter from a resident of Texas, whose name was not disclosed in the media. In the letter, he called himself a “student of occult mysticism” and directly stated that he helped Elfrieda burn herself alive.

The police tracked him down and even arrested him, but during interrogation, he was suspiciously quickly declared mentally unfit and sent to a psychiatric clinic. What happened to him afterwards is unknown, but he was hardly more insane than the other characters in this strange story.

Then investigators tried to clarify who Frank was, mentioned by Elfrieda, but the only suitable person with that name was a violinist named Frank P. Mandy, who was Charles Hitchcock’s apartment neighbor. During questioning, he responded as if he had never seen Elfrieda at all and knew nothing about her.

Several more months passed, and in the same state of Illinois, but in the town of Evanston, a girl named Helen Friedrich attempted to commit suicide by throwing herself into a large kitchen hearth. She received severe burns but survived, however, in the hospital, she cried and constantly said that she “turned out to be too much of a coward to go through with it.”

Investigators also discovered another suspicious episode of self-immolation in the furnace, which happened four years before Elfrieda’s incident. A 50-year-old woman named Addie Shitsley was found burned to charcoal in the furnace of her Ohio home, and everything indicated that she had climbed into the furnace herself.

Addie’s remains were not found immediately because she was of very short stature and little remained of her in the furnace. Moreover, her remains were found deeply inserted into the furnace, so when one of her sons first opened the furnace damper, he didn’t even see any charred bones…

Whether there was any connection between these three suicide attempts is unknown. Perhaps at that time in the USA, there was indeed some cult that compelled women to “purify themselves” through fire, or all these were completely unrelated incidents.

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