In August 1913 one of the most sensational murders in Champaign county history happened. Still the story is little remembered today. The location was about a quarter of a mile northwest of what locals call the "Three mile corner". That is three miles south of Villa Grove IL., where route 130 intersects with the road to Pesotum, IL. Today the story begins with the suspicion that Harold Shaw has been a victim of foul-play.
Urbana Courier-Herald August 12, 1913
Man With Whom He Went for Short Ride Returns With Car and Makes Unsatisfactory Explanation — Borrows Spade at 3:15 A. M. and Disappears.
GUS PENMAN OF PHILO SUSPECTED
Officers Start Widespread Search for Man Accused of Slaying Youth — Friend Who Accompanied Shaw Is Confident That Latter Was Slain — Message Branded as Forgery.
Confident that Harold Shaw, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Shaw, 609 West Green street, was murdered for his automobile, between Philo and Villa Grove, the father for the past two days has scoured that part of the country in a vain hope that his fears were unfounded.
Today, shaking like a man with the palsy, and with grief pitiful to witness, he charged Gust Penman of Philo with being his son's slayer and turned the case over to the sheriff.
A crowd of men are searching the country between Philo and Villa Grove for a new made grave. The father has abandoned hope of ever seeing his son alive and is confident that the boy's body lies buried in some field. Penman, the suspect, has been missing since the night Shaw disappeared, after having been last seen in his company, when he (Penman) borrowed a spade from Newton Wimmer at 7 o'clock in the morning. He claimed he wanted to repair a fence where the cattle had broken through.
Evidence of Murder
Mark Henson, 706 West Elm street, this city, who accompanied Shaw to Philo, is of the same opinion as the latter's father, that Shaw was murdered and his body buried.
Here is the evidence upon which he bases this belief:
First, that Shaw has been missing since Saturday night when he never before has remained away over night without telling his parents of his plans. He was always considerate of their feelings and took especial pains to save them worry.
Second, that Penman, who had gone on a short ride from Philo with Shaw, leaving Henson in town, returned with Shaw's machine, but without Shaw.
Third, that Penman, at 3.15 the morning following Shaw's disappearance, borrowed a spade from a neighbor.
Fourth, that he was seen in Villa Grove at midnight Saturday, after he had brought Henson to Urbana. This is considered significant, inasmuch as he claimed to have taken Shaw to Villa Grove in the afternoon.
Fifth, that Penman, according to Henson and the father, is missing from Philo and no clue to his whereabouts can be obtained.
Sixth , that a typewritten message written to Penman from Hamilton, O., and signed "Harold" is branded as a forgery by Shaw's father. The message stated that the writer was visiting friends in Hamilton, and would soon proceed north. Mr. Shaw declares that his son knew no one in that city and had never been there.
Seventh, that a dispute over the Purchase of the car by Penman, before Shaw went to Philo together with Penman's mania for an automobiles may have furnished the motive for murder.
Henson Tells Story
W.T. Shaw the father, sat in the sheriff's office this afternoon, almost in a state of total collapse. He was unable to discuss the case at length and referred a Courier-Herald representative Mr. Henson, the last person, besides Penman who is known to seen Shaw.
"Do you think Shaw was murdered?" Henson was asked.
"I am sure of it," was the reply.
He then told his story as follows:
"Last Friday Gust Penman of. Philo, contracted for the purchase of Harold's Mercer car, but failed to come with the money on Saturday as he agreed.
"Saturday afternoon at about 3 o'clock, Shaw and I drove the car to Philo. There we met Penman as he alighted from the 5:30 Wabash train from the east. We said very little about his failure to keep his agreement at that time and accompanied him to the home of his parents, with whom he lives.
"Penman got out of the car and went into the house, remaining about fifteen minutes. He came out with his coat on but no hat. I wondered at this, as it was hot.
"He said to Harold 'Let you and I go for a little ride.
"I alighted and they started. This was about 6 o'clock in the evening. I grew tired of waiting, as, while there had been no understanding between Shaw and myself, I naturally thought the would return to bring me back to Urbana.
Penman Returns Alone
"At 8:15 Penman returned driving Shaw's car. He was alone.
"To my query, he replied that he had bought the car and had paid cash for it and that they had driven to Villa Grove where Shaw had taken a northbound train , announcing his intention of taking a vacation.
"I thought this very strange, as Shaw was without luggage, and anyway, it was entirely unlike him to leave that way.
"Penman brought me home, arriving at 9 o'clock that night."
No Clew at Villa Grove
Henson and the distracted father spent Monday at Villa Grove without gaining a clew. The day station agent remembered having seen a young man whom he thought might have been Shaw, at the depot, but was not sure. Their inquiries make it appear that Penman, after bringing Henson to this city, returned to Villa Grove and it is in the vicinity of that village that the father expects to find the body. A druggist in Villa Grove states positively that he saw Penman in that village at midnight, Saturday.
Was Postcard Forged?
The postcard addressed to Penman, which Shaw's father declares was not written by his son. reads as follows:
"Hamilton, O., Aug. 10, 1913.—
Hello, Gussie: Am visiting friends here but am going east in a few days to spend the summer. Will let you know my address. Don't forget to send that money as soon as you see your father.
Even the signature is typewritten and the father declares that the message is a ruse to delay the search for his son.
Penman, the accused, is twenty-four years old and a son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Penman, prominent residents of Philo.
Harold Shaw is about the same age and is a member of one of this city's leading families. It is said that he mistrusted and, in a way, feared, Penman.
Considering the facts, all who heard the story were compelled to credit the father's story. However, there is a faint hope that young Shaw may be alive. Stranger things have happened, and should the young man return, the situation will be most embarrassing for all concerned. But the boy's mysterious disappearance and the fact that he has not communicated with his parents, causes his friends to fear the worst. Penman was in Urbana Sunday and stopped at the Urbana Automobile Company's garage on North Race street. He was driving Shaw's care, and told Manager Cannon of the automobile company, that he had purchased the machine.
At 3 o'clock this afternoon four automobile loads of men left for Philo to search the fields between that village and Villa Grove. They were led by Deputy Sheriff A. M. Evans and Shaw's father.
Penman is sought for on a charge of murder, the card from Hamilton. Ohio, believed to have been mailed by him, furnishing a clew that leads the search in that direction.
Mark Henson this afternoon stated that Penmans' story that Shaw went on a vacation trip is absurd, as the latter was wearing an old blue, shirt and his automobile trousers, and had made no preparations whatever for leaving. He was even without a change of clothing.