When two itinerant horse traders were charged in 1894 with “a nameless crime” – apparently sodomy and child sexual abuse – their presumed victim, a seven-year-old boy, went to jail as well.
“The details of the story are too indecent for publication,” the Illinois State Register said in a brief story published April 10, 1894, “but if what these men charge against each other is true the crime is the most revolting that is ever known to have been committed in this city.”
Charles Maar (or Maaer, as his name was spelled in other accounts) and Joe Joles each swore out warrants against the other. Maar was Joles’ assistant in the horse business. Joles and the boy, identified as Johnnie Cooper, likewise filed complaints against each other. (Although newspapers of the time were too decorous to reveal the exact nature of sex crimes, they had no compunction about naming juveniles, whether victims or perpetrators of crimes.)
The parties have been with Joles’ son-in-law and wife, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Lee, camped at Enos’ pasture in the west part of town (the area today is Duncan Park, formerly Douglas Park – ed.), and have several old crow-bait horses which they keep to trade on. …
Maar charges that Joles has been carrying on his depraved practice with himself and the boy for several months, notwithstanding that the boy is only seven years old. When arrested, Joles, the police say, admitted to them that he was guilty, but alleged that Maar had been doing the same thing.
Joles and Cooper were taken to the Sangamon County Jail. Maar was held in the Springfield City Jail. Joles said the boy’s father, a Peoria resident, had “given” the boy to him to adopt, the newspaper reported.
The boy don’t (sic) know who his parents are. He was almost heart broken when seen by a State Register reporter at the jail, and cried to be permitted to return to the tents. He appeared to have great affection for Joles, and it is evident from his age and inexperience that he did not voluntarily make the complaint against his foster father. … (Joles) denies he is guilty of the crime charged, and says it is a scheme of Maar to get the horses, wagons and camping outfit. He says the little boy is his nephew.
The Register followed up when court hearings were held the next day. Although some officials seem to have expressed concern about Johnnie Cooper, Sangamon County clearly had no procedures for dealing with children in such circumstances, and it showed in the confused proceedings. Both Joles and the boy were represented by attorney Joe Grout (??-1892).
Officer Marren swore out a warrant Tuesday for the arrest of Maar and Cooper, charging the same offense as alleged against Joles. They were arrested and placed in jail, and were brought out to testify, previous to their own hearing, against Joles before Justice Langston. After Justice Connolly saw Officer Marren yesterday he inquired what had become of the boy. The officer said that Mr. Grout would produce the boy in the morning, which he did for his preliminary hearing. Maar’s trial was commenced first and he was bound over to the grand jury in the sum of $500. The boy gave testimony against Maar, and before taking his oath, the justice asked him his age, which he said he did not know. The justice then asked the boy if he knew the nature of an oath, and if he swore to a lie where he would go. The boy replied, “To the bad place.” He gave his testimony in a very reserved manner, seeing to be very much afraid of his uncle, Joles.
Grout argued that, under state law, a child under 10 couldn’t be charged with a crime. Justice Connolly, the first judge in the case, disagreed, according to newspaper reports, so Grout asked that the case against Cooper be transferred to Justice Langston (neither the Register nor the Illinois State Journal gave the judges’ first names).
A short, separate article on the same page of the newspaper reported that Langston dropped the charge against the boy. In the process, Langston rebuked “all concerned in getting him arrested,” the Register said.
Joles was released on $200 bond. Maar’s bond was set at $500. He couldn’t afford to post it, so he remained in jail.
The case, however, vanishes from the newspapers after that. If the charges were ever resolved, the results went unreported, and neither Maar nor little Johnnie Cooper are ever mentioned again.
Joe Joles, basketmaker
Joe Joles, however, remained in Springfield. In one of the arrest stories, he was reported to own a house and two acres of land near Eighth Street and Sangamon Avenue. Not too far away, Joles Avenue today runs between 11th Street and Peoria Road two blocks south of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The name probably derives from the family of Mary Ann Joles (1807-1901), who city directories show lived at 2127 Peoria Road in at least the 1890s. Chances are good that Joe Joles was related to Mary Ann’s husband Henry, who died in 1880, but the exact connection is unknown.
At any rate, in 1916, Joles was the subject of a four-paragraph feature story in the Register, headlined “Art Supports Creek Home of Joe Joles.” Here is the full text.
Joe Joles, aged 65, an Englishman by birth, has perhaps a more unique means of livelihood than any other man in Sangamon County.
Joles is a basketmaker, an art which he learned in England and which has made for him enough money to enable (him) to establish a permanent home on the banks of a small creek a short distance north of Calvary cemetery. For a number of years he found it necessary to live in a tent, but finally he became able to build a small frame home.
Joles, his friends say, traveled all over America and made several trips back to “the old country” before he finally returned to the United States and “settled down” north of Springfield. In this vicinity he is known as “Uncle Joe the Basket Maker.”
Each year he plants willow shoots beside the creek. In the fall the willows are gathered and during the winter months are dexteriously (sic) made into various kinds of baskets. These he sells during the summer.
Joles’ basketmaking income apparently was shaky – newspaper records show him as a frequent recipient of county assistance to buy groceries in the 1910s and ‘20s. In 1917, he sued the city of Springfield for $1,500, charging that sewer work had damaged the willow trees he relied on for basket material. Again, newspapers don’t report the results of the suit.
Joles died at the Western State Hospital for the Insane in East Moline in 1934. He was 88 years old.
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