E.C. native seeks information on father's slaying — 62 years later

2012-10-28T00:00:00Z 2012-10-29T00:11:08Z E.C. native seeks information on father's slaying — 62 years laterMarisa Kwiatkowski marisa.kwiatkowski@nwi.com, (219) 662-5333 nwitimes.com

EAST CHICAGO | Raymond Cornett was 11 years old on the day his father was killed.

It was July 15, 1950.

Before that day, Cornett was a carefree kid who loved riding his red Rocket bicycle, attending Saturday matinees and playing hide and seek with friends near his East Chicago home. The death of Cornett's father, 34-year-old Major Cornett, shattered that idyllic lifestyle. Raymond Cornett was left to wonder why his dad wasn't coming home.

Sixty-two years later, Raymond Cornett's bicycle is gone, his hair has turned gray and the home he grew up in has been razed — but he's still wondering what happened to his father.

Cornett's pleas to public officials for information on Major Cornett's slaying have yielded nothing. No one can even tell Raymond Cornett whether anyone was charged for the crime that changed the course of his life.

Now he hopes a member of the public may remember details that time forgot.


Mysterious slaying

Major Cornett's body was discovered July 15, 1950, by an 18-year-old on his way to work at Inland Steel.

His body was found partially hidden in high weeds in an open prairie between Pennsylvania RR and Guthrie, east of Lincoln, in East Chicago, according to newspaper accounts from that time period. He lay in a crouched position, as though his body had been hurriedly dumped.

East Chicago police at the time said they believed someone murdered Cornett elsewhere -- then left his body in the isolated area. A deputy coroner said there was little blood at the scene.

Two silver dollars and four quarters were found near his body.

He was wearing expensive shoes, a brown gabardine suit and light tan shirt when he was found. Cornett also had no identification with him.

Marie Cornett, who was Major's wife and Raymond's mother, identified the body that afternoon. Marie Cornett told police she last saw her husband at 9 a.m. the day before he died -- when he dropped off some of his paycheck from Inland Steel.

An autopsy revealed Major Cornett had been stabbed twice in the heart and in the back, with the latter puncturing his lung. The deputy coroner at the time said Cornett's wounds were too big to be from a pocket knife and could have been inflicted by a butcher knife.

East Chicago detectives said they believed the killer may have been a friend of the victim.

About a month after Major Cornett's death, a newspaper article about crime in East Chicago noted his murder was unsolved — a detail that apparently remains true today.

The trail of records ended there.


Missed moments

Raymond Cornett said he remembers little of the days surrounding his dad's death.

He said he blocked out everything — including East Chicago police detectives informing his family, his father's funeral and his mother's grief.

"I was just old enough to have a relationship, and it ends," Cornett said. "It's a state of shock. You don't know what happened to you."

Shortly after his father's death, Raymond Cornett and his mother packed up their belongings and moved into a relative's house in Indianapolis. Cornett started school there in September 1950.

He and his mother rarely spoke of Major Cornett after the death.

They spent the rest of Raymond's adolescence moving from place to place, from relative's house to relative's house. Cornett said he never again felt that sense of belonging he'd experienced in East Chicago.

He also missed having a male figure to emulate. Cornett said the uncles he lived with over the years showed little interest in parenting another child.

So Cornett did what it took to graduate from high school, enlisted in the Navy, then married and had children. He rarely concerned himself with the past.

But memories of Major Cornett would come to Raymond in flashes — his father swinging him up on his shoulders, throwing a ball in the park or sitting together on the sidewalk in front of their home in East Chicago. Raymond Cornett said he wished his children had the chance to meet their grandfather.

It wasn't until last year that unanswered questions about Major Cornett's death began to haunt him, he said.


Raymond Cornett said he hates the thought of never knowing how his father's story ended.

In 2011, he went to the East Chicago Police Department for information on Major Cornett's murder, but the agency no longer had records on the case. East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker told The Times the police department's records only go back to the early 1970s.

Cornett also went to the Lake County prosecutor's, clerk's and coroner's offices hoping they could provide answers, but every agency was a "dead end." The coroner's office only could provide a case number, and the prosecutor's and clerk's offices only could look up the case if Cornett had the name of a defendant charged with Major Cornett's death.

Until recently, Cornett knew only his father had been fatally stabbed. He still doesn't know whether anyone was charged or convicted for Major Cornett's murder.

Cornett said an employee in the Lake County prosecutor's office tried to find more information for him, even connecting him with a distant relative on ancestry.com. The Lake County prosecutor's office refused to allow The Times to speak with that employee this week.

Newspaper articles from that time period have shed more light on Major Cornett's death, and the distant relative told Raymond that his father had won money at a gambling hall the night before his death.

But those tidbits still don't provide the answers Cornett seeks.

Cornett said he can accept it if his father's death is a cold case. He can't accept not knowing the status of the case.

"I don't want to go on forever and ever and not know what exactly happened to my dad," he said.

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