A horrible mystery received the attention of the people of the county in December, 1878. On Thursday evening, December 5th, according to the Nunda correspondent of the Woodstock Sentinel, a fire was seen south of Nunda. (NUNDA IS NOW PART OF THE CITY OF CRYSTAL LAKE.) No attention was paid to it, as the blaze came from a burning hay stack on the Gates farm (FARM EAST SIDE RANDELL RD, 1.5 miles FROM RANDELL AND ALGONQUIN RDS), two and one-half miles south of Crystal Lake. The next morning A. Reed, who lived near (FARM WEST SIDE RANDELL RD, 1.5 miles FROM RANDELL AND ALGONQUIN RD), went to ascertain what damage had been done, and in walking around the stack discovered in the burnt hay the charred and blackened remains of a man. Wood (WHO?) was sent to Crystal Lake, and several citizens repaired to the spot, where a horrible sight met their gaze. The remains were burned and charred almost beyond human semblance; one leg burned off up to the knee and other entirely gone; and one are burned up to the elbow. Not a single feature was left by which the body could be recognized.
Over the left eye was found a bullet hole, indicating murder of suicide. A remnant of the vest, upon which the body lay, was found whole, and in it a watch chain, from which the watch had apparently been forcibly pulled also a fragment of a bank book showing that $110 had been drawn from the bank of Elgin.
A coroner's inquest at first failed to bring the solution of the mystery to light, and there was much speculation and many different theories promulgated.
The inquest having adjourned for that purpose, Officer Benthusen visited Elgin with the bank book above mentioned. On presenting it at the City Bank, it was identified as belonging to William Frost, a citizen of Elgin who had an account at the bank.
It was ascertained that on the day of the murder Frost had left Elgin for Algonquin, on the morning train, in company with John Stewart, a boy nineteen years of age, whose home was less than a mile from the burned stack. (STEWART FARM EXTENDED NORTHWARD FOR A HALF MILE FROM THE STREAM THAT MAKES LAKE IN THE HILLS LARGEST LAKE. LAND WAS JUST SOUTH OF THE GATES PROPERTY. BOTH PROPERTIES ARE NOW HOMES. SPRING HILL PRAIRIE AND FEN, AND PETERSON FARM.) On the Tuesday following the inquest (which began on Saturday) the officer arrested young Stewart at his father's house. He confessed his guilt, produced the watch and pocket-book of the murdered man, and showed the pistol with which he had fired the fatal shot. Stewart was taken before Esquire Butler, of Nunda, who ordered him committed to jail to await the action of the grand jury.
The Sentinel says editorially: "We visited the prisoner in his cell Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. He says he went to Elgin the morning of the murder met Frost during the day in a saloon; and that when he came to the depot to return home, he found Frost there, who came with him to Algonquin. They left the train together and walked along the track to where it crosses the wagon road, then followed that until crossing the Crystal Lake outlet, when, leaving the road, they started through the woods for his father's house, that being nearer than to follow the highway. Instead of going direct to the house, they kept to the right until nearly opposite the stack, when they turned and went to it; that they lay down near the stack; that after a short time, he rose up, shot his companion, took what he had on his person and went home; that he did not fire the stack; that Frost was smoking a cigar at the time, and he supposes the stack was set on fire by it. The revolver he says he borrowed from Frost before he left the wagon road, but he gives no reason why he committed the crime. He claims that both had been drinking freely, and that his victim had a bottle of whisky on his person when he left him after the murder but this must be a mistake, as no such thing was found near the body.
"The prisoner is only nineteen years of age, and that he committed this cold-blooded murder seems to be almost incredible- although he insists 'that he did. That he had an accomplice admits of little doubt in the minds of those who have conversed with him upon the subject. He assigns no motive for the crime, but the natural conclusion is that the object was money."
Stewart was tried in Boone County in February, 1880, plead guilty, and was sentenced to the penitentiary for life.
It appears that Stewart and Frost had been acquainted for some time, having worked together as farmhands for John Campbell, who lived three miles north of Dundee. While there Stewart learned Frost had money by Campbell borrowing of him. Stewart was not aware of Frost's having made a deposit in Elgin, but supposed he still had his money with him, he having finished his work for Campbell a short time before. Finding Frost at Elgin he induced him to return with him to husk corn. He bought a revolver on the day of his visit to Elgin, and seems to have deliberately planned the murder. He had no accomplice. Frost was a stranger, having come to the State from Michigan only two months before. The father of young Stewart was a respectable farmer of some property, nearly all of which he spent in a vain attempt to clear his son from the foul stain of murder.
A Mysterious Murder
1885 History of McHenry County (Page 342 - 344)