Judith Mae Andersen

Photographs courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Investigators examine the oil drum containing the remains of Judith Mae Andersen
that was found Aug. 22, 1957, in Lake Michigan.

Aug. 28, 1957

Seek and ye shall find, and so it is with the Judith Mae Andersen case. Delving into the archives of the Chicago Tribune revealed answers to some of my questions, but although the information brings certain details sharply into focus, others have been covered with a frustrating veil of shadows.

Judith, 15, disappeared about 11:15 p.m. on Aug. 16, 1957, after leaving the apartment of a girlfriend, Elena Abbatacola, 16, to walk home.  Boaters found a 55-gallon drum containing Judith’s torso, minus the head, right arm and left hand, floating in the Montrose Harbor area of Lake Michigan on Aug. 22, 1957. A 5-gallon bucket containing the missing body parts was found in the harbor Aug. 24. The remains were in an advanced state of decomposition from being in the water and from being exposed to the hot sun as the metal containers floated in the lake.

Police failed to find anyone who definitely saw Judith after she left the Abbatacola home. Alleged sightings at other locations not on her route were eliminated by police.

The victim’s family:

Judith lived in a house at 1520 N. Lotus Ave. with her parents, Ralph W. Andersen, 43, and Ruth A. Andersen, 44, and two of three brothers, Robert, 19; and James, 12. Her father, Ralph, was a foreman at a bookbinding firm, Robert O. Law Co., 2100 N. Natchez Ave., where her brother Robert was also employed. Her mother was a homemaker. Judith’s oldest brother, Ralph C. Andersen, 21, was stationed in the Army in Virginia.

The victim:

The Tribune described Judith as 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighing 150 pounds, with blond hair and blue eyes. She was active in athletics at Austin High School, according to her father. “She was helpful around the house, she was obedient and she was strong, much stronger than the average girl,” Ralph C. Andersen said. She was “a swell gal,” Robert Andersen said. She was confirmed on Palm Sunday 1954 at St. Peter Evangelical and Reformed Church, 5448 Diversey Ave.

Kenneth Blevins, who dated her, said Judith was “a girl with ‘a good mind, serious, and with a pleasant personality and a sharp sense of humor.’ ”

Terry Johnson, one of Judith’s close friends, said she and Judith often took rides with boys they met at the Dairy King Soft Freeze, a neighborhood snack bar (see below). Several times a week, they went riding with boys for an hour or so, Terry said.

She later defended Judith’s reputation, saying that Judith “would never thumb rides with boys and she wouldn’t get into cars with strangers. Neither of us would, nor ever did, those things.” She added: “Only once can I remember Judy getting into a car with a boy she didn’t know. I knew the boy and had to talk Judy into accepting the ride.”

Although neighborhood boys were attracted to her, “Judy wasn’t interested in them,” Terry said. “The only time she wanted a boy was for a special occasion, like a dance.” Terry said: “Judy was shy around boys.”

The witness and her family:

Elena Abbatacola, 15, and Judith had been friends for some time and worked as telephone solicitors for a modeling company in downtown Chicago. Elena lived in the second-floor apartment of a two-story brick house at 1019 N. Central Ave.,  with her widowed mother, Mary, and six of her brothers: Leo, 30; Joseph, 27 or 28, a sheet metal worker; William, 23; Philip, 19 or 20; Nicholas/Nikolas/Nickolas/Nick, 18; and Robert, 14. John, 25, the owner of a neighborhood pizzeria, lived at 5427 Ohio St., with his wife.

According to the Tribune, Nick Abbatacola was constantly supervised  by the family after being convicted at the age of 15 of molesting a young boy who was a family friend. The Juvenile Court committed Nick to the Chicago State Hospital on April 12, 1955. He was discharged May 28, 1956, but had to check in periodically before receiving his final discharge May 25, 1957, the Tribune said. Nick once called the Andersen home and asked Judith for a date, her father said. “Judy refused him and she said he told her: ‘Oh, you’re falling for that sailor.’ We didn’t know the sailor [presumably Kenneth Blevins–lrh],” Ralph testified at the inquest.

John Abbatacola told the Tribune that he had been arrested in 1955 on charges of assaulting a man who “had been bothering Nicholas.”

Judith was also friends with Linnea/Leanna “Terry” Johnson, 15, 1743 N. Luna Ave. Sometime after July 27, 1957, Terry introduced Judith to Kenneth Blevins, 18, 4447 Carroll Ave., who was on leave from the Norman, Okla., Naval Air Station, where he was learning aviation mechanics.

On one date, Kenneth and Judith played cards at Terry’s house and made another date for Aug. 10, a Saturday. On their date, Judith, Kenneth and Terry walked to the Abbatacolas’ pizzeria, 4753 Madison St. Terry left about 9 p.m. and Kenneth and Judith walked to a home near Kostner Avenue and Fulton Street where Elena was babysitting. Elena, Judith and Kenneth went to a drugstore at Madison Street and Pulaski Road and took a bus because it was raining. Elena got off at Augusta Boulevard while Kenneth and Judith got off at North Avenue and walked to Judith’s home.

Kenneth and Judith talked on the porch, then he left. On Aug. 11, she saw him off at the railroad station before he returned to Oklahoma. Nancy O’Brien, 222 N. Kenneth Ave., whom he apparently also dated, was there as well. Kenneth said he kissed Judith goodbye.

On Aug. 15, Kenneth said, he got a call from Nancy asking whether he was going to marry her or Judith. He said he was going to marry Nancy. “After I hung up I changed my mind. So I wrote Elena and told her to tell Judy I didn’t mean what I said,” he told the Tribune. This incident was later reported to have occurred on the night Judith disappeared, but that appears to be an error.


Undetermined, presumably blue-collar, middle class and white. The Andersens moved in about 1954. Ralph C. Andersen and Robert Andersen said they weren’t aware of any teenage gang activity but didn’t know much about the area.

Victim’s last known movements:

On the night she disappeared, Judith was wearing tan toreador trousers, a white sleeveless blouse, black sweater and white, flat-heeled summer shoes with no socks, the Tribune said. She was wearing a sterling silver chain and crucifix, and carrying an opaque yellow cigarette case and small blue wallet.

Before her remains were found, there was speculation that she might have gone to Oklahoma to visit Kenneth, but she did not take the $25 she had in the bank and left $5 on the dresser in her room. According to Elena, Judith had 15 cents on the night she disappeared.

Judith’s usual route home, according to Elena, was: Leave 1019 N. Central Ave., walk north and turn right on Le Moyne Avenue, walk east until reaching an alley behind the homes on North Lotus Avenue and walk up the alley to reach her home at 1520 N. Lotus Ave. Elena said that she usually walked partway home with Judith but did not do so on the night Judith vanished. Ralph said he often warned Judith not to use the alley.

On the day Judith vanished, Elena met her about noon after getting out of summer school classes at Austin High. Nick Abbatacola picked them up in his blue 1953 Dodge sedan and drove them to the home of an aunt who lived on Huron Street. They dropped Judith back at home about 3 p.m.

After eating dinner and getting dressed to go out, Judith left home about 6:55 p.m. and arrived at the Abbatacola home about 7:15 p.m. About 7:30 p.m. Judith and Elena visited the Dairy King Soft Freeze stand, 5756 North Ave., owned by the Blandi family. They had a soft drink and played records.

[According to Josephine Blandi and her grandmother Anna Alfano, 2314 W. 75th St., Elmwood Park, Elena and Judith were at the Dairy King about 7 p.m. with a group of teenagers. “They had a soft drink and went outside and sat on some refuse containers in the rear until Mrs. Alfano told them not to loiter there,” the Tribune said.

[Josephine said Judith and Elena returned to the Dairy King about 9:30 p.m. with Nick Abbatacola, who was driving his 1953 Dodge. Josephine said Judith, Elena and Nick stayed until the Dairy King closed at 10:15 p.m., but didn’t notice if they left together. Elena later disputed this story.]

Elena said she and Judith returned to the Abbatacola home about 8:30 p.m. or 8:45 p.m., according to the Tribune, after stopping at a grocery store to buy potato chips and ginger ale.

Except for Elena and Robert, the rest of the Abbatacolas were out of the home. Elena’s mother, Mary, was at the pizzeria owned by Elena’s brother John. John said Nick was also at the pizzeria that night until early the next morning. Nick said he was at the pizzeria from 4 p.m. on Aug. 16, to 4 a.m. on Aug. 17.

At 10 p.m., Elena and Judith began watching a movie on TV (either “Stallion Road” on WGN-TV Channel 9, which ended at 11:30 p.m.; or “Secret Agent of Japan” on WBKB-TV Channel 7, which ended at 11:45 p.m.). A month after the killing, the paper disclosed that three of Robert’s friends had also been present that night: Eugene Todd, 14; Ralph Scumacci, 13; and Frank Sciliano, 14. The three boys said Judith made a somewhat clandestine phone call during a commercial about 10:15 p.m., but Elena said this wasn’t true. The three boys left the Abbatacola home about 10:30 p.m.

[In some reports, Judith supposedly asked if she could make a long-distance call to Kenneth, but was told she couldn’t.]

At 10:45 p.m., Leo Abbatacola arrived at the home and went to bed.

According to the Andersens, Terry Johnson called about 10:50 p.m. to talk to Judith, but she wasn’t home.

Judith called her mother at 11 p.m. to see if she could stay until the movie ended but was told no. She left the Abbatacola home about 11:15 p.m. and was never seen again. Before she left, she made plans with Elena to accompany her and Nick to the dealership where Nick bought his car.

At 11:45p.m.-11:50 p.m., Judith’s father, Ralph, began calling the Abbatacola home to check on Judith, but got no answer.

“I got my son’s car and rushed over there then because we couldn’t understand the silence,” he said at the inquest. “I rang the bell. This is a two-story brick house. The Abbatacolas live on the top story. I could see lights on up there. I knew the bell rang up there in their hall because I could hear it.

“Nobody answered. I couldn’t hear a sound or movement.”

Ralph returned home about midnight. At 12:02 a.m., Ruth called the pizzeria and talked to Mary.

“Mrs. Abbatacola told us Elena was at home and sound asleep. We told her we had been to the house, had seen lights, rang the doorbell.

“Mrs. Abbatacola told us Elena was a heavy sleeper and couldn’t be wakened by the phone. She said it was so late she wouldn’t answer the doorbell either. We hung up and phoned another girl, a friend of Judy, [this would be Terry–lrh] in hopes that she might know where our daughter might be. By now it must have been 2 or 2:30 a.m.,” Ralph testified.

Ralph continued calling the Abbatacola home, but go no answer at 12:15 a.m. or 12:30 a.m.

Mary Abbatacola arrived home about 1:30 a.m.

Ralph called the Abbatacola home at 2:30 a.m. and talked to Mary, who awakened Elena. Elena said Judith left about 11:15 p.m.

“We called back to the Abbatacola home. We asked for Elena and were told she was asleep. I demanded they get her up so I could talk to her,” Ralph testified. Elena told him Judith left after calling her parents. Elena said she offered to walk partway home with Judith, but Judith said: “Oh, never mind. It’s late. I’ll jump on a bus. I’ll call you tomorrow about noon.” [Recall that she supposedly had 15 cents–lrh].

At 3:25 a.m., Ralph contacted the Austin police station to report Judith missing.

About 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 17, 1957, Edwin Thomas, 53, and his wife were fishing on the east pier of the harbor. “A car drove down the gravel road from Montrose Avenue alongside the harbor,” Thomas said. “It stopped about a block from us, across the harbor, made a U-turn and then stopped a few feet from the harbor edge, on the grass which borders the drive.

“Someone wearing a light shirt got out of the car and flashed a flashlight back and forth along the seawall for four or five minutes. Then the car drove away.”

“About half an hour later, he said, another car or possibly the same car came back down the drive. The car stopped at the same place, then backed up toward the harbor. Thomas and his wife saw the rear lights blinking off and on as the driver applied the brakes.

” ‘We heard two big splashes and we thought some people from the car had dived into the lake,’ said Thomas, ‘but then the car door slammed and the car took off in a great burst of speed.’

“As the auto passed near a streetlight, they observed that it was either a hard top or a convertible with a light colored canvas top.”

Boaters discovered the oil drum Aug. 22, 1957. The remains were originally identified as belonging to a victim in her early 20s, perhaps younger. On Aug. 24, 1957, searchers saw a 5-gallon bucket about one foot from shore. It contained the head, right arm and left hand.

Judith was identified by matching a fingerprint from a religious picture in her room (described on the Internet as an image of Jesus) with the victim’s left index finger. Her dentist, Dr. Mitchell Juliussen, compared Judith’s dental X-rays with the victim’s teeth and also made the identification. Hair from Judith’s comb was matched to the body, and nail polish found in her room was matched to nail polish on the victim’s toes.

The gunshots:

Judith was shot in the head four times with a .32-caliber revolver. Two bullets went into the brain while one entered the back of her neck and the other was in her left jaw. News accounts report powder burns around one of the bullet wounds. The Tribune says that one of the nonfatal bullets split into two pieces, leading investigators to think that there were five bullets. Only three entry wounds could be found for the four shots, but the paper said the body’s condition might have obscured one of the entry wounds. According to the coroner’s report, death was instantaneous.

Several news accounts say the killer used “old ammunition” and speculate that two of the bullets failed to penetrate Judith’s skull because the gunpowder had degraded due to age.


Medical examiners looked for material under her fingernails but did not find anything useful, the Tribune said.

Stomach contents:

No solid food was found in Judith’s stomach. Analysis of material in her lower digestive tract found traces of peach and plum skins, potato remnants, fish, peas and wheat–probably from a piece of chocolate cake, the Tribune said. Time of death was fixed at roughly 12 hours after her last meal, which was at 6 p.m.

Decomposition prevented any determination of whether she had been poisoned or drugged. There was no evidence of alcohol.

Bruises, scrapes and other injuries:

No evidence of hemorrhages was found. Medical examiners found no signs of a struggle and no evidence that she had been sexually molested.


Examiners said the dismemberment was not done skillfully and was “the work of an amateur without any knowledge of anatomy.” The killer apparently used a sharp knife, a saw and possibly an ax. Examiners said it would take one to two hours for a lone individual to cut up the body in this manner.

 The metal containers:

According to the Tribune, the larger drum, containing the torso, originally “had been 36 inches high but the top one-third of the drum had been cut off with a torch and the rough edge folded over about 3/8 of an inch. The drum apparently had been used as a waste receptacle in some factory or office.

“The killer apparently had cut several vertical slits down from the top of the drum to a depth of six or seven inches, apparently by using a chisel and hammer. After the torso was placed in the drum, the cover was forced down on top of the torso and held in place by bending over the sides of the drum.”

The Tribune later reported that the drum smelled of kerosene or fuel oil and showed traces of body tissue, rust, iron and sand. It had been “reconditioned,” detectives said. It was cut down using heavy shears rather than a cold chisel, detectives said later.

Still later, the Tribune said the drum was cut down to a height of 28 inches and was 22 inches in diameter. It was marked “STC” in 2-inch letters and “SNP” and “188548” in letters and figures 1 inch high.

Junk dealers said that scrapyards packing metal for shipment overseas often used old drums and sealed them in the manner used by Judith’s killer. “Not one person in a thousand would think of packing something like that,” said a manager for one of Chicago’s biggest refiners and smelters. Drums of scrap metal being shipped domestically were typically sealed with a piece of burlap secured with a wire. Only drums of scrap metal being sent overseas were sealed by pounding the sides over the top to secure the lid.

Police learned that railroad workers sometimes used such cut-down drums as tool containers. The method was also used by servicemen in the Pacific during World War II, one crime lab investigator said.

Investigators eventually revealed that the drum had contained lard oil, often used as a lubricant and coolant in machine shops–for example, in cutting stainless steel–as well as in making typewriter ribbons and carbon paper.

The drum had been used once for regular oil, then refilled with lard oil and sold between 1949 and 1951. Judging by residue on the interior of the drum, it had been stored on its side and drained of oil at regular intervals, about 5 to 10 gallons every six to 12 months, police said. It was probably emptied about 1956 and upended, but never cleaned out. Investigators speculated that because the oil was drained infrequently, the drum was used in a small machine shop.

Still later, the Tribune reconstructed the method used to cut down the drum:

“He set the drum on its side and took a hatchet with a curved blade,  like a Boy Scout hatchet. The drum had two reinforcing ribs circling it, a third of the way from each end. He held the hatchet along one of the ribs and struck it with a hammer to make a starting cut.”

However, the killer swapped ends after noticing that cutting the drum in that spot would leave a drain hole in the remaining container, so he switched ends and began cutting again.

He “sliced into it, rapidly working his way around to sever the one-third section,”  the Tribune said. [He apparently cut away a ring of  metal about 10 to 12 inches high and 22 inches in diameter–lrh]. His next task was cut down the lid so that it would fit inside the rim of the drum. “He held a cold chisel with a 1-inch blade in his left hand along the top and struck it with the hammer. At the end of this cut he made another, and so on around the top of the drum until it fell down through its cylinder. He worked with great precision, the cuts occasionally overlapping by no more than an eighth of an inch. He knew how to use a chisel and he knew how to cut a drum. It probably took him only about 15 minutes.

“His final work on the drum was to start five slashes in the sides with a hacksaw. Then he hacked the slashes 6 to 9 1/2 inches  inches deep to make the side flaps.” Steel dust from the hacksaw was found stuck to the inside of the drum, showing that the body had already been placed inside, the Tribune said.

The killer put the lid inside the drum, hammered down the sides and pounded them tight with the rounded end of a hammer. When he was finished, the drum was 23 1/2 inches high, 22 1/4 inches in diameter and weighed more than 150 pounds.

The metal bucket containing the head, hands and one arm was “16 inches high and a bit more than a foot in diameter,” the paper said. “This also had been slit, apparently with a chisel, and the edges folded over to hold the cover in place.”

According to the Tribune, the bucket contained “traces of calcium carbonate and calcium silicate phosphate.”

The bucket was marked En-Ar-Co Motor Oil, National Refining Co., Cleveland, Ohio, and was of a type that had not been manufactured in about 10 years. Police said the bucket was so unusual that they could not find another one to show to potential witnesses.

The Tribune later said that the killer made four slashes in the side of the bucket, about 4 to 5 3/4 inches long without using the hacksaw. There was no lid, so he pounded down the flaps over the head, arm and hand, the Tribune said.

The investigation:

The neighborhood was searched and officers interviewed all residents along Judith’s presumed route home. An address book was found in Judith’s room and police interviewed everyone who was listed. Hundreds of officers were assigned to the search and skin divers minutely examined Montrose Harbor.

The Chicago police placed unwavering belief in polygraph tests and gave them to everyone involved in this case. According to the Tribune, Joseph Abbatacola “failed to clear the lie detector test on ‘repeat questions’ ” regarding his movements on Aug. 16, 1957. Joseph said he was installing air-conditioning ductwork at the First National Bank, 35 S. Dearborn. When he got off work about 10 p.m. or 11 p.m., Joseph borrowed the 1957 Ford belonging to his brother Philip and “made a round of taverns, arriving at the family home at 2 p.m.,” the Tribune said. Joseph was eventually cleared, the Tribune said, by a later polygraph exam.

Two detectives went to a mostly deserted part of the Chicago and North Western railway yards between Erie and Ohio streets near Kenton Avenue. One fired two pistol shots into a sandpit while the other reported that from 200 feet away, the shots were barely audible. However, someone heard the shots reported them to police.

While conducting this test, the detectives also noted a number of oil drums that had been cut down in a manner similar to the one containing the body and had officers investigate the railroad right of way.

Police investigated 109,000 homes, 200 boats and searched 40,000 to 50,0000 garages and basements. Police checked 900 businesses, including 225 machine shops, that bought lard oil.

And of course there were the all-too-predictable crank calls and hoax letters.

In 1958, after police questioned and eliminated many potential suspects, attention focused on a construction worker whose mother was employed by the modeling agency where Elena and Judith had worked as telephone solicitors. The Chicago police went to extraordinary lengths and placed incredible pressure on this individual and his parents to gain a confession but were never successful. He was convicted of sexual assault in another case and served prison time in Joliet.

Records of the inquest were sealed in 1961. By that time the Abbatacolas had moved to California, the Tribune said.

Judith Mae Andersen’s remains were cremated. Her mother died in 2005 at the age of 91. Her father and oldest brother passed away some years earlier.

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