Mrs. Harwood Knows
I know who killed the Schumacher boy.
Lillian Harwood lived with her husband, James, next door to my family for several years when I was growing up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb just west of Milwaukee. Mrs. Harwood was generally a good-natured older lady who served as a school crossing guard at the corner of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa Avenues between Wauwatosa East High School and Lincoln Elementary.
She loved kids and enjoyed gregariously telling me and my three younger brothers to “make all the noise you want!” or “You’re one of the good ones!”
There were times, though, when Mrs. Harwood did or said things that kind of made you scratch your head. These days, we would say that she might have been getting Alzheimer’s. Back in the 1970s, we just thought she was kind of crazy—usually a harmless, odd type of crazy, but crazy nonetheless.
She once washed her car with a garden hose…the inside of her car. When a basketball accidentally got tipped over the fence from our driveway basketball court into her backyard and my brothers or I went to her back door to ask if we could retrieve the ball, we were never quite sure which Mrs. Harwood would answer the door. More often than not, it was the one who was happy to see children at her door. Sometimes she wasn’t quite so together. Once, when my brothers went over, they heard the rock band Foreigner’s “Head Games” blaring from her kitchen radio. Mrs. Harwood asked them if they liked the pretty Christmas music. Crazy, but harmless crazy.
However, there were also these rare times when, as a young boy, I felt like I needed to keep my distance. Mrs. Harwood would occasionally slowly patrol the sidewalk in front of her house on the 8100 block of Hillcrest Drive with flushed cheeks and an intense glare in her eyes. She would eyeball every car parked on the street that she didn’t recognize and look us in the eye, saying things like, “They look in my windows at night” or, “I know who killed the Schumacher boy.”
Over the course of a few years, Mrs. Harwood told me that the police knew who killed the Schumacher boy and that it happened near the Menomonee River and the railroad tracks around Hoyt Park. When I was about ten or twelve years old or so and heard her say things like this, I mostly chalked it up to her being an old lady who either misinterpreted things she’d seen or heard or was being paranoid and crazy…or both. But the statements she made about the Schumacher boy started me wondering because my father had bought our house at 8118 Hillcrest Drive in 1969 from a man named Art Schumacher.
I started asking myself a lot of questions. Did Mr. Schumacher have a brother or a son who was killed? If so, did the police know who killed him? Was Mrs. Harwood insinuating that there had been some sort of coverup? Was this just some figment of her imagination, or did she really know who killed the boy?
I asked my dad, and he said he didn’t know if Art Schumacher had a brother or son at all, much less one who had been killed. Being a young kid, I was too unnerved by Mrs. Harwood’s demeanor when she mentioned “the Schumacher boy” that I never asked her for any more information. I’d just mumble an “uh huh” and go about my business.
I kept going about my business for the next thirty-five years or so. I got married and had kids, and through it all, every now and then, thoughts of “the Schumacher boy” (if there ever really was such a boy) would creep into my head.
Around Christmastime in 2009, when I was visiting my parents’ new home in Brookfield, I finally decided to find out once and for all if anything Mrs. Harwood said about this boy was true. An online search produced a photo published in the September 16, 1925 Milwaukee Sentinel of a casket being carried out of a Wauwatosa house. A headline above the photo read “Bid Schumacher Boy Farewell,” and the photo caption read in part, “Arthur (Buddie) Schumacher, murder victim, leaving his home on Alice Street, Wauwatosa, for the last time after funeral services yesterday.”
Oh my gosh! There really was a Schumacher boy who was killed. The accompanying story shed little light on the circumstances of the boy’s death. But the more I dug, the more I found out just how much of what Mrs. Harwood said about the Schumacher boy was indeed true, or at least how some people could have come to some of the same conclusions that she had.