By CHRISTINE DAVIDSON
and caitlin Fitch
This city is still reeling from the murder of 8-year-old Bryce Linebaugh, shot as he slept in his bunk bed last week.
A man, 21, has been charged in the shooting death. Police said he fired an assault rifle into Bryce’s apartment home at an East Side housing development.
But 77 years ago, another city child was murdered, and police have never found the killer or killers.
In 1935, the city had recorded 14 murders, including that of 13-year-old Frankie Suhovecky in Mill Creek Park.
“This park is a beautiful place, but there’s ugly here,” said Mary Alice Miller, 53, of Niles, as she looked out over Lake Cohasset, the park’s oldest lake, and reflected on how events during February of that year changed her family’s life forever.
Frankie was murdered, and nobody knows who did it or why. One reminder of his life is a small cross put up last winter by his family near the site where his body was found in the park
The story began Friday, Feb. 18, during the Great Depression. Frankie, one of eight Suhovecky children, decided to make some extra money by picking up scrap metal and taking it to the dump. He had hidden some of the metal in the park and would have walked through the park to retrieve it and to get to his destination.
Although the dump near Idora Park was many miles from his West Side home on Millet Avenue, his family wasn’t worried when Frank didn’t return home that night. The city’s newspapers said the family thought the teenager probably stayed with friends or relatives. It was winter in Ohio, after all.
That changed when Frankie didn’t come home the next day.
The Amber Alerts of the day — headlines from The Youngstown Vindicator and The Youngstown Telegram — notified readers of the news: “Police and Students seek Frank Suhovecky; Missing Since Monday,” “Unite in Hunt for Schoolboy;” “Pet Dog Hunts the Body of Lost Boy.
That dog, Patsy, led searches throughout the park, but failed to track down her master.
“I can remember my mother talking about that little dog — Frankie’s dog,” said Mary Alice, Frankie’s niece and the youngest of the Suhovecky grandchildren. “She was a bulldog. She waited and waited for Frankie to come home.”
Pictures of her mother, grandmother and Patsy appeared on the front pages of The Vindicator.
“Sometimes my mom would talk about it,” Mary Alice said. Her mother died in 2000 still wondering whether police would ever find the person or people responsible for killing her son.
Rich Suhovecky, 60, of Hubbard, whose father, John, died in 1991, recalled the family never discussed the murder much in its aftermath.
“It must have been so sad for my grandmother,” he said.
During the first week after the disappearance, one of a group of boys organized into a search party by Frank’s older brother, Mike, found a piece of junk on the west side of Lake Cohasset. As the rest of the group spread out, they eventually found Frankie’s blood-stained and torn wool cap.
Then came the anonymous notes.
One arrived at The Vindicator indicating the writer had seen an old man dragging something toward the Ax Factory Run bridge. Later, another note was sent to Frankie’s brother, Mike. That note said the body was under the bridge.
On Feb. 23, Youngstown police started dragging Lake Cohasset. By the end of the month, Frankie’s fate became known. He had been missing for 10 days.
The front page of The Vindicator’s Feb. 28 edition informed readers of two things: Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable had won acting Oscars for “It Happened One Night,” and police had finally found Frankie.
The headlines: “Lost Boy’s Body Found,” “Find Missing Boy Slain, Quiz Man,” “Reward for Murderer’s Arrest.” The news found its way to front pages of newspapers throughout Ohio and as far away as St. Petersburg, Fla.
Police and volunteers had found Frankie’s body in the icy waters of Lake Cohasset, close to where Ax Factory Run enters the lake — the spot indicated in the anonymous note to Frankie’s brother.
A Vindicator article said the boy suffered head injuries delivered by an ax or hatchet. Another article claimed the instrument was a tree branch or stick.
The head wounds, however, did not kill him. The Mahoning County coroner listed the cause of death as suffocation, with Frankie’s face being pressed into “the mud or leaf mould,” according to one newspaper account. After Frankie had died, the killer tossed the boy’s body into the lake.
There was much speculation about motive — theft, sex crime and more — but nothing panned out. Police questioned several suspects but never charged anyone with murder.
Richard Posivak, 80, the oldest of the Suhovecky grandchildren, still lives on the city’s West Side. He was 3 when his uncle went missing.
“I really don’t remember much, but there was never any climax to it; it was in limbo,” he said.
Posivak said the family plot is in Calvary Cemetery, “right at the end of Millet Avenue. They bought the tombstone right there on the corner.”
Etched in stone are five names: Parents, John and Mary Suhovecky; Frank; Steven, a stillborn son; and Margaret, who died of tuberculosis in 1940.
Even now, more than seven decades later, Posivak still hopes for a break in the case.
“Maybe this story will generate leads. Maybe somebody told somebody something,” he added.
Posivak’s wife, Ethel, said one veteran Vindicator columnist became very involved in the case.
“Esther Hamilton made many trips to the Suhovecky home. She tried to solve the murder,” Ethel said.
Despite Hamilton’s fame at the time as a leading columnist and hard-hitting journalist, she failed to solve the case. Even a reward of $500 by The Vindicator failed to generate information about the murderer.
Richard Posivak remains incredulous.
“Back then in Youngstown, there weren’t murders like there are now. Murders were rare,” he said.
Mary Alice’s son, Brett Miller, 26, also of Niles, bears a striking resemblance to his great-uncle. And, like his great-uncle, Miller loves to walk through Mill Creek Park.
Not that many months ago, he and his family erected a cross in Frankie’s honor and placed it on the bridge at Ax Factory Run. The 3-foot-high cross, featuring Frankie’s name and the years 1922-1935, stands at the south side of the stone bridge, near where searchers discovered his body all those years ago.
Miller, his wife, Elizabeth, and their basset hound, Louise, frequently hike the 3 miles around Lake Cohasset and some of the other park trails. After doing research on his great-uncle’s death, Brett realized they were walking past the spot where Frankie’s body had been found. That’s when he thought of putting up a marker.
“Basically we just made a wood cross and then my father — he’s a sign maker — he did the lettering on it. For right now, it’s kind of a temporary memorial. We would like to do something more permanent, so he’s not forgotten,” Brett added.
Members of the Mill Creek MetroParks Police Department are aware of the Suhovecky memorial and won’t disturb it in deference to the family.
Bruce Emery, assistant police chief for Mill Creek MetroParks, is familiar with the case.
“When you read the articles like I have, you see they [police officials] put a lot of man hours in on this. And I’m sure if they had a little bit of technology it could have helped one way or another,” Emery said.
Mary Alice still wants justice.
“Nobody ever paid for this. Nobody went to prison. You could imagine back in 1935, and they didn’t have the Internet or anything. I could just imagine my grandparents looking over their shoulder and wondering if this person was watching them,” she said.
Mary Alice said Frankie’s death was too horrific to contemplate.
“This was a Catholic family, and you could never imagine … well, nobody can … that your child could go out the door and never come back. But to be murdered like that. There was no justice for this family, and that still bothers me today,” Mary Alice added.
For years, newspapers ran special anniversary pieces about the murder, reminding readers that the case never closed. The Suhovecky case also has cropped up in the “Years Ago” column in The Vindicator.
Seventy-seven years later, however, the brutal murder of 13-year-old Frankie Suhovecky remains unsolved.
TheNewsOutlet.org is a collaborative effort between the Youngstown State University journalism program, Kent State University, the University of Akron and professional media outlets including, WYSU-FM Radio and The Vindicator, The Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio, both of Akron.