The 90-degree heat was sweltering and the tranquil pond looked so inviting. Two country boys wriggled out of their clothes and took a dip.
Richard Call, 8, and his pal Chester Graves, 12, went swimming in June 1929 at a lake on Howard M. Call’s farm off Fishcreek Road in Stow. As they splashed about, they noticed something bobbing near the middle of the pond. It almost looked like …
Richard scrambled to get his father, who telephoned the Summit County sheriff. Deputy Bert Karg arrived and swam 200 feet to the spot where the boys pointed.
A nine-day search for Charles W. Chandler ended in 12 feet of water about a mile from his Darrowville home. His body was tied with rope and weighted with bricks. The deputy towed it to shore for the family to identify.
Chandler, 45, and his wife, Jane, 38, lived on a Darrow Road farm with their children Helen, 16, George, 12, Clyde, 10, Walter, 9, and Edward, 4. Chandler’s father-in-law, Alfred Moon, owned the land and lived on an adjacent farm.
Chandler had been missing from his home since disappearing before dawn May 30.
Pregnant with her sixth child, Jane slept that night in a different room. Charles had complained of the heat and went to sleep with his son Clyde in a front room.
The boy was jostled awake about 3:30 a.m. when his father got out of bed. Charles Chandler went outside for a few minutes, returned to the room and briefly sat on the bed. Then he left again, presumably to milk the cows as he usually did at 4 a.m.
When the family arose, Chandler had vanished without doing his chores. The kids looked around but couldn’t find him. After a day of wondering, Jane Chandler called the sheriff the next morning.
Deputies combed woods, fields and creeks around the farm, and enlisted 25 Boy Scouts from Stow and Tallmadge to aid with the search.
The disappearance was mystifying. Chandler was in good health and didn’t have any debt. He had been cheerful around his children and went about work as usual.
“We had no quarrel,” Jane Chandler told the Akron Times-Press. “Mr. Chandler never said a word about leaving. He had no enemies as far as we know and we have lived on this farm for 15 years.”
Neighbors disagreed with the housewife on one point: The Chandler family had troubles. One of the biggest disputes involved a farmhand who had boarded with the family for seven months before moving out in January.
When deputies questioned C.D. Hougland, 30, he admitted “having been friendly” with the lady of the house. He said she sent him three letters after he moved, but he returned them unopened. He later confessed that the two had an affair, which raised questions about the paternity of the baby she was carrying.
Jane Chandler reportedly admitted destroying a paper hidden behind a picture after her husband disappeared. The contents were not disclosed.
“If I knew anything that would help solve the mystery, I’d tell it,” she told a reporter. “But I don’t know a thing.”
Deputies said the farmhand gave conflicting stories about his whereabouts on the night Chandler disappeared. He said he was sleeping, fishing, hunting or driving, but he couldn’t remember.
According to one Darrowville neighbor, Chandler once muttered without explanation: “I’m afraid they’ll get me. They may bump me off.” Another acquaintance said the farmer had been troubled with family matters and said: “I can’t see it through.”
After pulling the body from the pond June 7, Deputy Karg discounted suicide. A feed sack containing three 10-pound bricks was tied to Chandler’s waist and chest. The knots didn’t appear to be self-tied, although the arms and legs were free.
Summit County Coroner M.B. Crafts theorized Chandler died before entering the pond because his lungs didn’t contain water. Dr. Frederick C. Potter, pathologist at Akron Peoples Hospital, suspected the presence of arsenic or mercury in the body.
“My examination and that of Dr. F.C. Potter disclose that Chandler did not drown,” Craft told reporters. “He was dead when placed in the pond. I am having a further analysis made of the kidney tissue in an effort to determine exactly what form of poisoning is responsible for his death, and the quantity administered.”
Darrowville was abuzz. Hadn’t Alfred Moon survived a mysterious poisoning a week before his son-in-law disappeared? Hadn’t his dog died of poison days earlier?
The farmhand denied any involvement, but said he left a bottle of mercury tablets at the home when he moved. Other suspects were questioned, but deputies kept coming back to the ex-boarder — until the case fell apart.
After a chemical analysis of Chandler’s lungs and kidneys, Dr. Potter decided that his earlier theory was incorrect. No poison was present.
“The absence of water in the lungs does not conclusively prove he was dead when he entered the water,” Potter said. “There have been cases when a sudden shock, such as that which might be caused by nervous strain or sudden immersion in cold water, causes throat muscles to contract. In such a case, Chandler could have died under water from asphyxiation.”
Coroner Crafts reversed himself, too, and declared the death a “probable suicide.”
According to the official sequence of events, Chandler carried rope, three bricks and a feed sack to the pond, tied himself up in the dark, swam to the center and slipped beneath the surface.
A month after her husband died, Jane Chandler gave birth to a baby boy. Harold A. Chandler lived only three months before suffering crib death. A congenital defect was listed on the death certificate, which also named Chandler as the father.
The baby was buried next to Chandler in Maple Lawn Cemetery at Darrowville.
Chandler’s widow remarried, moved to Kent and had two more babies before dying in 1933 at age 42. In her final days, she had rheumatic fever, an enlarged heart, pneumonia and a blood infection. She was buried at Maple Lawn between her baby son and first husband.
Chandler’s siblings never believed he killed himself. That’s a feeling shared today by grandchildren Jim Chandler, 62, of Ravenna, and Debi Chandler Heppe, 57, of Atwater. Their father, Clyde, was the last child to see Charles.
“We never talked about it in front of my dad,” Chandler said. “Of course, now I wish I had spoken up years ago.”
“He didn’t talk about it until he was older because it was hard on all of them,” Heppe said. “He never believed it was suicide.”
The subject was always hush-hush in the family.
“My aunt was 16 at the time of her father’s death,” Jim Chandler said. “I finally got the nerve to ask her in her later years and she said she couldn’t remember anything.”
In the 1970s, he went to the Summit County Coroner’s Office to ask for information on the case, but he said Dr. A.H. Kyriakides wouldn’t budge from the suicide theory.
It’s been 85 years since Charles W. Chandler’s death, and descendants have little hope of solving the case.
“We just want to know the truth,” Heppe said.
The secrets are buried at Maple Lawn.
Copy editor Mark J. Price is author of The Rest Is History: True Tales From Akron’s Vibrant Past, a book from the University of Akron Press. He can be reached at 330-996-3850 or email@example.com.