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A century ago, a brutal murder put Aurora in the spotlight

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Updated: March 17, 2014 11:29AM



On Feb. 16, 1914, a century ago today, a pretty young Aurora woman was brutally murdered in St. Nicholas Cemetery, within yards of her parents’ Ohio Street home and less than 20 feet from a large stone monument that bears her photograph and now marks her final resting spot.

Judging from the old yellowed newspaper headlines, it had to be one of the most sensational crimes in the early 20th century.

With good reason.

Theresa Hollander was only 20 when her father Louie found her bloodied body near a shed in the cemetery directly across the street from the Hollanger’s small, tidy home.

Theresa’s eyes were open, her hands clutched and frozen but her body still warm.

What made the crime, two days after Valentine’s Day, even more sensational, was that Theresa was buried less than 20 feet from where she was murdered. And her former boyfriend, a 23-year-old recently-married Austrian named Anthony Petras, was charged with the crime.

Theresa had spurned his advances, according to police, so Petras stalked and killed her with a wood beam used to lower coffins into the ground.

Coverage of the murder, funeral and trial that drew more than 1,000 spectators into the Geneva courtroom was colorful and sensational. Vivid accounts described the shrieking, sobbing mother; an unconcerned, almost callous defendant who whistled and sang in his jail cell; and a bizarre midnight re-enactment by Aurora police that included five women’s accounts of an “Austrian madman” on the loose.

Despite reporters referring to the accused as “the murderer” and headlines that all but had Petras hanging from the gallows, the trial ended in a hung jury. And a second trial concluded the same way.

There was no third trial for lack of funds, and Theresa Hollander’s killer was never brought to justice.

What makes the story even more fascinating is that Theresa’s widowed aunt left her own 9-year-old daughter in Germany to come to Aurora to help her grieving sister cope with this horror. And she eventually married Theresa’s bereaved boyfriend, Nicholas Felner.

David Kline, 72, of Aurora knows all these details well because his mother Grace was that young daughter who joined her mother in America.

Kline says all through his childhood he rarely heard his grandmother Mary talk about the murder. Nor did his stepgrandfather Nick, Theresa’s grieving beau at the time of her death, who became a successful carpenter and built many homes west of Lake Street.

So as the 100th anniversary approached, Kline began doing his homework. And the more he discovered from archived accounts and tattered newspapers, the more he realized how tragic this tale really was.

Kline, retired manager of the Turner Club and East Side Social Club, ended up buying the Hollander house, where his great-aunt Marie once sat by the window overlooking the cemetery as she stitched Theresa’s childhood clothing, including her confirmation dress.

“I will never sit at that window again,” she told reporters.

Kline lived in this house for only a couple years … and he wonders how Theresa’s parents, who had repeatedly announced they were going back to the old country to escape the memories, could have stayed so long in their home.

Perhaps the answer lies where the bodies also lie: A few feet from the crime scene … eternally close to their beloved Theresa.



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