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Unsolved Mystery: The Skeletons of Grape Island

Last week's post about the sale of the notoriously haunted Getter's Island in the Delaware River brought to mind another spectacularly spooky island, this one situated in the Kankakee River, about ten miles south of Joliet, Illinois.

Grape Island, at first glance, is hardly worthy of notice. It's a tiny speck of land, overshadowed by its much larger neighbor, Bardwell Island, and easily overlooked by most boaters and fishermen. However, this tiny island has a chilling history that dates back to the days before the Civil War.

In those days, the island was occupied by an early settler named Steele, who was a hunter and trapper and was generally known throughout the region as something of a mean-spirited recluse.

In 1861 Steele was visited by a fellow named Burrington, who had departed from Momence, Illinois, with $10,000 to purchase cattle for the U.S. army. Steele offered Burrington lodging for the night at his tiny house on Grape Island. He was never seen again, and in the morning his horse was found roaming the nearby swamps.

Although Steele was the prime suspect, there wasn't enough evidence to charge him with any crime and the matter of Burrington's disappearance was forgotten. But the following year, it was reported that Burrington's wife and daughter had gone missing. The local settlers decided to take the law into their own hands, and one night they dragged Steele out of his house on Grape Island kicking and screaming, with the intention of hanging him.

The hermit was thrown into a makeshift jail to await his fate, but somehow managed to escape from his confinement and flee from the vicinity, never to return. The house on Grape Island, meanwhile, fell to ruin. Reportedly haunted, the house was avoided by most travelers and outdoorsmen, though it became a popular destination for morbidly curious adventure seekers.

Decades later, in the summer of 1905, it was determined by local authorities that the delapidated house was a threat to public safety, and Steele's former home was torn down.  Workers made a ghastly discovery, however; inside a hidden compartment behind the cellar wall, five human skeletons were found.

It was believed that three of the skeletons belonged to Burrington, his wife and his daughter. But who were the other two victims had Steele murdered? Unfortunately, this a mystery that will probably never be solved.

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