Evelyn Oswald:The Case Of Siblings

On August 7, 1952, 13-year-old Evelyn Oswald and her 11-year-old sister, Virginia, departed from their Cheboygan, Michigan home to take their dog for a walk at an abandoned gravel quarry a short distance away. As their dog lapped at the shallow water collected at the pit’s base, their gaze snagged on something partially submerged near the water’s edge. A horrifying realization dawned on them as they drew closer to investigate; the object was a human foot, protruding from the sandy earth. Panic seized the sisters and they bolted for home to get help.

At the scene, police unearthed the remains of a young woman who was swiftly identified as 14-year-old Margaret Byrne. Margaret’s body lay buried beneath a thin layer of sand and gravel, topped with a makeshift shroud of flattened cardboard boxes. The shallow water pooling at the pit’s bottom had disturbed the debris, partially exposing her body. Margaret was found wearing only a pink bra, however a small suitcase found buried nearby contained several articles of her clothing. Detectives described the suitcase’s contents as “carelessly packed.”

An autopsy painted a grim picture of Margaret’s final moments. Extensive bruising on her arms and neck, a fractured sternum, and a blunt force blow to the back of her head, hinted at a violent struggle. Her ultimate cause of death, however, was determined to be strangulation. Weeks, the medical examiner estimated, had passed since Margaret’s life was coldly extinguished. Sexual assault was suspected, but never confirmed.

A high school sophomore, Margaret resided only two miles from the abandoned gravel pit. She lived with her parents, Albert, 41, a factory worker, and Loretta, 31, a part-time waitress, as well as her two younger siblings, 9-year-old Donna, and 11-year-old Raymond. Margaret had vanished on July 14th. Her family reported finding a note claiming she intended to visit her grandparents in Onaway, Michigan, roughly 30 miles away, to seek babysitting jobs. Despite her prolonged absence, however, Margaret was not reported missing until July 27th.

Suspicion immediately fell on Albert, who had a lengthy criminal record. In 1930, he was arrested for robbery in Missouri. After serving two years, he was released, only to be rearrested a short time later on another burglary charge. This time he was sentenced to four years.

In 1937, Albert moved to Flint, Michigan. That same year, he was arrested for forgery. Paroled again in 1939, Albert was arrested the day after his release and charged with statutory rape, after his relationship with Loretta, then 15, was discovered. However the charges were dropped when Albert married Loretta in January 1940.

In 1942, Albert was charged with larceny in Lansing, Michigan. He was sentenced to 2-4 years, however in 1944 an additional one and a half years were added to his sentence after a failed escape attempt from prison. He was paroled again in late 1944. Loretta and Albert divorced in 1945, however Loretta remained living in the home with Albert and their three children.

Brought in for questioning, Albert vehemently denied any involvement in his daughter’s death. He explained that when he learned Margaret hadn’t reached her grandparents, he simply assumed she’d found a babysitting job elsewhere, and had no reason to suspect she was in any danger. Describing Margaret as a “headstrong, but quiet and nice young lady,” he emphasized there were no problems at home, except for Margaret’s occasional threat of running away. After taking a polygraph test, Albert was released.

Questioning of Margaret’s neighbors and friends revealed a consistent picture; a responsible, well-mannered young woman who preferred solitude to social gatherings. Neighbors also praised Margaret’s babysitting skills, noting how much their children enjoyed her care. None reported any signs of trouble at the Byrne household.

The case remained at a standstill until, in late August, a neighbor, Earl Carlson, came forward with new information. Earl claimed to have seen Albert embroiled in a heated altercation with a woman outside the Byrne residence around 7:30pm on the night Margaret vanished. However, he now believed the “woman” to be young Margaret, who was described as large for her age, standing at 5 foot 7 inches and weighing around 140-150 lbs.

Albert was arrested and charged with Margaret’s murder. Testifying against him, Loretta claimed he argued when she wanted to report Margaret missing immediately. Loretta revealed she had been the one to file a missing person report two weeks later, without Albert’s knowledge. She further alleged physical abuse of the children and claimed Albert was an alcoholic. She concluded her testimony with a plea to the jury to “give him the maximum sentence.”

The case against Albert seemed ironclad, until a new witness emerged; Margaret’s friend, 16-year-old Fay Faircloth. Fay claimed she’d seen Margaret alive and well in Onaway, Michigan on July 16th, a full two days after she vanished from home. According to Fay’s account, Margaret was riding in the passenger seat of someone’s vehicle, however Fay could not identify the driver.

Despite the accusations, a jury found Albert not guilty in December 1952. Loretta, determined to move on, announced plans to relocate and remarry. True to her word, she settled in Drayton Plains, Michigan, with her new husband, Bacil Peters. Eventually, they made Florida their final home. Loretta passed away in 1972.

Albert moved to Chicago, Illinois. He passed away in the Fall of 1988.

Margaret was laid to rest in Onaway’s Hillcrest Cemetery. Her case remains unsolved.

Note: On Margaret’s Find a Grave page, the great nephew of Bacil Peters, Loretta’s second husband, wrote the following;

“Margaret Ellen Byrne is the daughter of Albert C. Byrne and Loretta Wade (m. Byrne, Peters). Margaret has three siblings: Raymond (b. 1941) and twins Donna and Donald (b. 1943).

In childhood Margaret and my mother, Barbara Bessie Peters, were best friends.

On July 14, 1952 Margaret was murdered. She was suffocated (strangled), her chest crushed (broken breast bone) and had a severe blow to the head. Her body “clad only in a pink brassiere” was buried and abandoned at a gravel pit on the outskirts of Cheboygan.

Her father, Albert C. Byrne, was accused and arrested for her murder. Albert steadfastly maintained his innocence. A trial took place and on December 16, 1952, shortly after 11 p.m., Albert was found “NOT GUILTY” by a jury of his peers.

Loretta and Albert had been divorced for several years but were living together at the time. Loretta had testified against Albert during the trial. After the trial Loretta was quoted in newspaper print that “She was going to Drayton Plains [MI] and remarry”. And she did… Loretta married my Great Uncle, Bacil Jay Peters.

But that is not the end of this tragic story…

There are those of us who know that Albert really is innocent; and know who the real murderer is, his proclaimed motivation, and that Margaret was likely his second young female victim. In April 2011 I contacted the Cheboygan Sheriff Department (specifically Det./Lt. Tim Cook), but all the players and witnesses are long dead, and they decline to pursue this case.

Rest In Peace Margaret Ellen Byrne”

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