02 April 2020

Salt Laker was the Victim of the Chicago Trunk Murder Mystery

Image of the body from the Chicago Trunk Mystery
as published in the Boston Medical
and Surgical Journal 1898 V139 p 466-467
In 1896 headlines splashed all over the country about the “Chicago Trunk Mystery.” 

The body of Mr. Prospier Chazal (he was French) was found stuffed in a trunk in a large warehouse in Chicago. The last place Mr. Chazal was seen alive was Salt Lake City in 1893, three years previous.

On Feb 16, 1893, a large box marked “Household Goods” arrived in Chicago from Salt Lake City. A Chicago address was written on the box but no one there knew anything of it and refused delivery (and the associated fees). 

The box was eventually sent to a storage warehouse where it remained until March 25, 1896, when it was sold at auction as unclaimed freight.

Two businessmen purchased the box for $14.50 ($447 in 2020 dollars) thinking the contents might be a stove they could resell. What they found was a dead body with a thick rope fastened about the knees and neck and the head bent to the chest. Two fractures were also found on the skull. The body was stuffed snugly inside a 32x22x18 inches zinc case with the lid soldered closed. The zinc case was in a trunk which was wrapped in an oil cloth and then placed in a wood box with sawdust.

The identity of the body was ultimately narrowed down to Prosper Chazal or Oliver Pike. At the coroner’s inquest in 1896 it was proven that Pike was seen alive after the trunk was shipped (and again alive in 1897) yet Pike’s relatives were persuasive and the body was declared to be that of Oliver Pike. (A body was required in a probate case involving Pike’s relatives and allegations of bribes paid to the coroner’s jury soon surfaced.) The body was handed over to Pikes relatives and buried in Fayette, OH.

However, most people believed the body was truly that of Prosper Chazal, a French man who was a saloon-keeper on Franklin Ave (now Edison St) in Salt Lake City. 

It was thought that Chazal met with foul play after flaunting large amounts of money and diamonds around downtown Salt Lake.

Sources: Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 1898 V139 p 466-467 (including image); various historic newspaper articles.

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