Here we have a family tragedy that took a weirdly sinister twist. The "Harrisburg Sunday Courier," August 14, 1938:
Beardstown, Ill., Aug. 13--Strange goings-on in an isolated Pike county farmhouse today led authorities to press anew their investigation of the deaths of three small children found smothered in an old type ice box on the farm three months ago.Somewhat to my surprise, I was unable to find any further updates on this bizarre story, leading me to assume that the investigation into the deaths of the Petri children fizzled out from lack of evidence. Back in May, shortly after the children died, it was reported that a partially-erased note was found at the farm, that was believed to read, "Man at door." The sheriff, however, dismissed the note as a worthless "plant" aimed at forcing authorities to intensify their probe into the deaths. No other clues about the mystery appear to have been found.
The victims were Henry Petri, 8, and his sisters, Emma, 10, and Alberta, 5. When their bodies were discovered, it was believed the three youngsters had been trapped accidentally in the refrigerator while playing "hide and seek."
But this theory never was fully accepted and a coroner's jury continued its hearings indefinitely.
Now, authorities are convinced the children were murdered. They base this conclusion on a series of mysterious happenings at the Petri farm which so frightened the parents they decided to move.
Most inexplicable, according to authorities, was Mrs. Petri's assertion that early last week she found a broken red celluloid ring on the floor of the bedroom. The ring, the mother said, was worn by Emma the morning of the day she and the other children were found dead. The ring was not on Emma's hand when her body was found.
Mrs. Petri insisted the room had been cleaned and swept many times since the day of the tragedy, May 9. It was not possible, the mother said, that she could have failed to see the ring if it had been there all the time.
Finding of the broken ring led the Petris to move. Authorities said they feared their home was "haunted."
Also without suitable explanation was the mother's report to police three weeks ago that she had seen the snarling face of a man pressed against a window. He disappeared when she screamed.
A week later, the Petris reported, they returned home to find the house ransacked, clothing and papers spread over the floor, and a floor board ripped up.
These happenings, particularly the mystery of the celluloid ring, authorities said, probably will lead to reconvening the coroner's jury, which likely will return a verdict of murder.
Dan Irving, chairman of the coroner's jury, explained that he and his fellow jurymen had from the first doubted the accidental death theory. He said that the ice box is only three and one-half feet tall, with two compartments, an upper shelf for ice and the lower one for food. Irving said also the box could not be locked from the inside, but had to be latched from the outside. It was improbable, too, he said, that all the children would have hidden in the same place.
Mr. and Mrs. Petri had left the farm on the morning of May 9 to attend a stock sale at Chambersburg. The tragedy was discovered when they returned after several hours' absence.