Murder in Wauwatosa: Hoffman recounts a tragic murder close to home
"I know who killed the Schumacher boy."
Wauwatosa native Paul Hoffman, a journalist now based in Indiana grew up hearing that from his elderly neighbor Lillian Harwood.
It wasn't until later that Hoffman understood what his quirky neighbor was talking about. But once he knew, he was hooked on the long-cold case of the murder of 8-year-old Buddy Schumacher.
Schumacher, on the way to a Tosa swimming hole (near current-day Hoyt Park Pool) with some friends, disappeared and turned up dead a few weeks later in the summer of 1925.
Hoffman tells the story of the murder is his new book, "Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher," published in paperback by The History Press.
"The situation surrounding my finding out about the murder was very intense for a young boy. Having a lady say out of the blue, 'I know who killed the Schumacher boy' when you're young makes an impression that you don't soon forget," says Hoffman, with whom I worked a few decades ago in the Milwaukee Sentinel sports department.
"And every time Mrs. Harwood said something about 'the Schumacher boy,' it raised questions. Well, who was this boy? Was he really killed? These questions would resurface every once in a while. I finally decided I needed some answers for my own peace of mind."
The story nabbed Hoffman on a number of levels, he says. Of course, growing up in Wauwatosa, he knew all the locations: Buddy's schools (Lincoln, Washington), where he lived (Alice Street, behind the State Street George Webb), where he disappeared, where his body was discovered.
It didn't hurt that Hoffman was raised in the home purchased by the Schumacher family two years after Buddy's death. Buddy's dad, in fact, sold the house to Hoffman's dad.
"Originally, I was drawn to the story simply to satisfy my curiosity, which I'm sure was fueled by having lived in a house his father sold us," Hoffman recalls. "After I started finding out more about the circumstances surrounding his death, and reading about the places involved in the story that I knew so well, my interest kept growing. And once I got in touch with three of Buddy's relatives, my interest only intensified."
Hoffman says that although he carried a passing interest in the episode for years, it wasn't until Christmas 2009 that his curiosity was really piqued.
"I was at my mom and dad's house in Brookfield, where they live now. I think I was talking to my brother, Andy, a little about the people who lived in our old neighborhood, and 'the Schumacher boy'came up. I decided that this newfangled thing called the Internet might answer some of my questions," he says.
"The first item I found regarding this Schumacher boy was a photo of a casket being carried out of a house in Wauwatosa. The caption said it was Buddy Schumacher, who had been murdered, and his dad's name was Art. I knew the man who sold us our house was Art Schumacher. So at least that part of Mrs. Harwood's allegations were true. And I needed to find out more."
What he found was a tragic story of a little boy out for some summer fun with his friends, led astray by someone with nefarious intentions. He also found a town that rallied to help a neighbor in need and a press licking its lips at the juicy details.
While doing his research, he also found descendants of Buddy's family willing to help him recount this horrific story.
"Without them, I may not have finished the book and I dedicated the book to all three," says Hoffman. "Two nephews, Brian and Keith Egloff, took a lot of time to tell me about their mother – Buddy's older sister – Buddy's parents and anything they could recall of what was said about Buddy. A cousin of theirs, Gordon Schumacher, had already done some research and shared with me all of the newspaper microfilm he had made copies of, which was quite a bit.
"I filled in some gaps and went beyond what Gordon had found as he had stopped with the funeral coverage. I felt I owed them a finished book after they had been so helpful to me and I was able to provide them with some family history that they didn't have. Some of the details of their family history didn't make it into the book. But it was interesting doing the research and rewarding to provide it to them."
More than 85 years later, the murder of Buddy Schumacher remains unsolved. There were suspects at the time and their stories and the cases against them are included in "Murder in Wauwatosa." But, while Hoffman has his theories about who murdered Buddy Schumacher, he's not saying.
"I think I know who committed the murder. I don't think that after all this time, there's a way to prove it, though. So, it will just have to stay an educated guess based on the facts presented ... unless some unforeseen nugget of fact arises."
"Murder in Wauwatosa" is available at bookstores in the Milwaukee area and online. Hoffman returns home for a series of events, some of which are still being organized. However, there is an evening event on Aug. 1 at the Milwaukee Artists Resource Network, 5407 W. Vliet St. (414-732-2121) and a Sept. 25 event at 7 p.m. at the Wauwatosa Public Library, 7635 W. North Ave. (414-471-8487).
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