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Monday, 24 November 2014

Sabotage: chronicle of the Chesterton crash

I have finally obtained a copy of Bryan Alaspa's book on the Chesterton crash and it makes a splendid read. It really does make the entire affair seem so much more mysterious as it delves into the world at the time and sets the scene for what was and still is a great aviation mystery. I only hope the relatives of the victims have an interest and eventually read this book.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Calls for memorial

I have had contact from a relative of hostess Alice Scribner who has expressed an interest that a memorial should be erected to commemorate the memory of those aboard.

I have written to the Porter County museum to see if they have any further information or may be able to put me in contact with someone local who may share in the goal of a memorial.

Considering the historical importance of United trip 23 and the circumstances surrounding its demise I think a memorial in Chesterton or at the crash site would be most appropriate.

There are other people who have also expressed an interest in a memorial for this tragedy.

I personally think one is long overdue.

NBC news item on 80th anniversary.

This items appears on NBC Chicago regarding United trip 23, 80 years ago. Some fascinating interviews...

Thursday, 10 October 2013

80th anniversary United 23 reg NC13304

It is 80 years ago today that United trip 23 exploded over Chesterton, Indiana with the loss of all 7 lives.

It was America's first sabotage of a commercial aircraft and possibly the first of its kind in the world.

An exhaustive FBI investigation turned up nothing in regards to the motive for destroying the Boeing 247D airliner.

It remains unsolved to this day.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Article in New Jersey Sections

This article which has appeared in "New Jersey Sections" written by Ted Sherman this month is a wonderful read. Thanks to Chris Baird at Arizona Wrecks for sending me the link as below:

Sunday, 28 April 2013

An update from Rick Vulpita

Rick posted this as a comment to one of the posts but I thought I'd actually pop it up as a separate post as it contains important information and his contact details. 

Crash Site Search Update: We have visited the crash area on April 7 and 14. Our search has been concentrated where the Indiana Toll Road and 400 East intersect. We based searching this area on the photos from 1933 and from a discussion with a 94 year old eye witness who was one of the first to arrive at the scene. The eye witness will be joining us at the site when the weather gets better. Using a metal detector we have dug up a large bolt and 2 pieces of odd shaped metal. These need to be further identified and more searches of this area are planned.

Even though the area strongly resembles the pictures in 1933 I am getting to sense most of the crash site may now be under the Indiana Toll Road. The family of a co-searcher owns the land to the north where the plane first exploded. Accounts from 1933 detail a trail of plane parts and other items fell into that field including the planes tail section. That area will also be searched in the future.

If anyone has any photos from 1933 of the area to share they are needed and would be welcomed. Please e-mail me at Thank you. Rick Vulpitta

Saturday, 23 March 2013

A witness

Rick Vulpita has approached me to say he has located a 94 year old who was witness at first hand to the explosion, crash and aftermath of the downing of the United Boeing 247. Amazing! I'm glad there's someone still around who remembers this incident first hand.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

J Edgar Hoover & other interesting facts

Many thanks to Chris Baird for re-sending me some vital scanned documents re United Crash near Chesterton. I have been scanning over them intently and see that J. Edgar Hoover was head of the FBI at the time.

In addition he was also in charge of tying up some of the loose ends of the investigation but most of the interviews with persons of interest and United were conducted by M.H. Purvis out of the Bureau's Chicago offices. Other field agents scanned the USA far and wide for witnesses etc.

Of interesting note are the fact that there were many conspiracy theories regarding the downing of the plane.

Some said one of the pilots didn't want to be part of a union and that may have been a motive; also that one of the female passengers had links with a gambler who met "tough looking Italians" at an airport shortyl before the crash. United also carried prisoners during the 1930s. Others point to a Mr Emil Smith as having underworld or illegal connections in Chicago.

It really is such an interesting snapshot of the era besides the sad read it makes.

United also estimate the damage as being around $62,321.69, an astounding amount for 1933.

Much focus zoomed in on threats made against the co-pilot (Mr Ruby) and there is a memorandum indicating that the aspect would be further researched.

The FBI agents in Chicago also sent memorandums to J. Edgar Hoover urging that the crash be more fully investigated as there was undoubtedly some criminal element that placed explosives aboard the plane.

The FBI was also concerned about the press publishing the fact it was a suspected bomb long before the FBI had gone public with the information.

The FBI also list a number of passengers who had flown on the ill-fated aircraft from October 1933 up until the crash. The records indicate the plane had made extensive journeys with a particular concentration on Newark-Cleveland and Cleveland-Chicago routes.

Any passengers who had changed their tickets for any reason were heavily pursued in a line of inquiry as to why they had done so.

It seems one man who missed the flight was interviewed extensively by the FBI as well. He was a treasurer for a company and observed that there was no security at the airport when he finally did get there.

It seems a thorough background check and investigation including lengthy interviews were conducted with a great number of people who had previously traveled on the plane with the FBI even sifting through their business affairs, personal lives and reasons for travelling.

There is also a bluntly worded reminder from J. Edgar Hoover to a field agent to San Francisco to put more urgency into the matter of interviewing suspects connected with the flight.

They even went so far as to interview a man who had been working at the Chinese Consulate.

No stone was left unturned.

But eventually the FBI had to close the case after exhausting all avenues and coming to dead ends.

Some diagrams make for very interesting viewing of the plane and wreckage portions etc.

There's also mention of a psychic who claims to have known details of the crash. The psychic's ad claims to be able to translate Egyptian hieroglyphics and so on. Interesting era indeed!

At any rate the first-ever sabotage of a plane in American history remains unsolved.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

FBI Files from 1933.

It is with extreme thanks to Chris Baird of Arizona that we have scanned copies of FBI records from the investigation of Flight 23 (known as Trip 23 in those days).

Please follow this link for his summary of the very lengthy and dry findings.

Chris has been instrumental in obtaining these documents that persisting with archivists and officials to get them.

It would seem that the FBI could only come up with possible scenarios as to who or why the Boeing 247 was brought down out of the sky to an untimely end. Much of the focus centered around passenger Emil Smith and his associations at the time.

The 1930s were quite a different era and it is plausible that any number of criminal or illegal persons and/or activities could have brought the plane down.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Renewed interest in Chesterton crash of 33

It has been brought to my attention by Chris Baird of Arizona Wrecks that author Bryan W. Alaspa has released a book on the sabotage of the United flight 23 near Chesterton Indian.

Bryan's book details the inner workings of the FBI at the time and the involvement of J Edgar Hoover.

The title of the book is "SABOTAGE, A chronicle of the Chesterton Crash".

Bryan's website is here:

Chris also informs me that a professor Owen Johnson is interested in the crash as well and has been researching it.

Once again anyone with any further information please do not hesitate to contact me or comment on this blog. 

Chris and I would be rather keen to see a memorial for this ultra-important crash in American aviation history. 

As it was the first-ever sabotage of a passenger plane on USA soil it deserved a heck of a lot more attention that it has at the moment. I truly believe that the town of Chesterton should honour this tragic event as it was a defining moment in the history of aviation in the USA and Chesterton happened to be where it unfolded that night.  

Sunday, 24 June 2012

First sabotage in American Aviation History

United 23, the Boeing 247 that crashed near Chesterton, Indiana I have had it confirmed from sources as the first-ever sabotage of a commercial airliner in American aviation history.

I therefore CONTINUE to find it amazing that there's nothing about it anywhere and nobody in Indiana seems to know anything about it. Crazy considering the historical importance of it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Velma Scribner's wedding dress

As a slightly unusual post on an aviation related blog, I have come across an article on Clark County, WI records that has been taken from an original newspaper article in 1940.

That newspaper is the Stevens Point Journal of 26 September 1940.

It details the wedding of Velma Scribner and Lawrence J. Harvey in Los Angeles. Velma was of course Alice Scribner's sister (the air hostess) and goes into say that Velma wore the wedding dress that Alice had intended to use back in 1933 had she not been killed over Chesterton, Indiana that fateful night of the crash.

What a lovely thing for the sister to do. At any rate here is the link to the Clark County records:

Alice Scribner's Funeral

In The New Hampshire Telegraph Newspaper dated October 13th 1933 is a sad little excerpt regarding Miss Alice Scribner, air hostess aboard the United Boeing 247 that crashed. Her funeral was officiated by Rev, Roscoe A. Barnes, the same Reverend who was to have married her shortly after the crash that claimed her life. Very sad indeed.

Here is the link to the article:,5272157

Look under the "flashes of life" section and it is the first item.

An update, albeit with no further information.

I have been in contact with Chris Baird again and he, like I, cannot find any further information regarding the Chesterton crash. Too much time must have passed now as official records and missing or destroyed and US departments have send him on a wild goose chase between one another for records that we have concluded no longer exist due to age.

Such a shame.

The town of Chesterton, Indiana has drawn a blank as well. Anyone who remembers that crash is either dead or must be aged well over 90 by now.

Another thing I am continuing to pursue are any relatives of anybody who was aboard.

Once again official passenger lists indicate the following were aboard that night: (taken from Chris Baird's Arizona Wrecks website.

HAROLD R. TARRANT, chief pilot, 308 West Erie street, Oak Park, Ill.
A. T. RUBY, co-pilot, 320 Wisconsin avenue, Oak Park, Ill.
MISS ALICE SCRIBNER, 26 years old, 1507 North Sacramento boulevard, Chicago, plane stewardess.
FRED SCHENDORF, 28 years old, 6829 Chappel avenue, Chicago, manager of the apartments division of R. Cooper, Jr., Inc., electric refrigerators.
MISS DOROTHY M. DWYER, 25 years old, daughter of M. FRANCIS DWYER, 67 Mount Vernon street, Arlington, Mass.
EMIL SMITH, 911 Argyle avenue, Chicago.
H. R. BURRIS, of Columbus, O., radio service employee of United Air Lines.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Contact with another Aviation Enthusiast

The creator of a website called has contacted me regarding the crash of the United Boeing 247 near Chesterton. Chris Baird and I have exchanged emails/blog posts and both of us have concluded that, after extensive enquiries, that at this stage we have drawn blanks on shedding any further light on this crash. However Chris does have a few more photos than I do on his website so check it out (as per above link).

I will continue to hunt for information in the meantime but after so many years I doubt we will get very far unless we attempt to identify and contact the Scribner family or the families of anyone else who was aboard. I mention the Scribner family the most as there is the most information available publicly on them.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Scribner Family

I have come across a rather interesting archive on a website maintained by the Clark County, Wisconsin Internet Library; a collection of dedicated person who place historic records and news archives on the internet to the general public. It details the 1940 wedding of Velma Scribner to a Mr Harvey in Los Angeles, California. Velma was of course the sister to Alice Scribner, the air hostess so tragically killed in 1933 in the Chesterton crash. Interestingly Velma wore the wedding dress that had been intended for her sister Alice who was meant to be getting married.

If ANYONE from the Scribner family line who knew of Alice or Velma or are descendants of this particular branch read this please do get in contact. I believe that there is no memorial to this 1933 crash and I believe Alice deserves a bit more recognition for being the first hostess killed in the USA by a suspected act of sabotage.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Aviation Enthusiast at large...

I believe here, as in connection with my other blog regarding the crash of Continental Airlines Flight 11 in 1962, that in 1933 we have a near identical situation of a case of sabotage of a commercial flight. In this case a small propeller plane en-route from New York to Oakland, California was performing the Cleveland to Chicago leg of its flight when it fell in flames from the sky on the night of October 10th 1933. Many witnesses in and around the Indiana town of Chesterton in Porter County reported seeing the airliner in flames as it fell to the ground. The registration of the Boeing 247 was NC13304. It was also the first-ever crash of a United Airlines flight that is known about where the aircraft was written off.

After some investigation by the Chicago branch of the United States Bureau of Investigators it was determined some form of nitro-glycerine had been involved. A suspicious package carried aboard the plane by a man was later found and dismissed to be a cause of the explosion. Of the four passengers and three crew members aboard (2 pilots and one air hostess), none were suspected of foul play with the airliner or any of its cargo.

From a Wikipedia article which links to several sources (Time Magazine and the New York Times of 1933), it would appear that the aircraft came to rest on the farm of a James Smiley of Jackson Township, Porter County, Indiana at around 9pm on Oct 10, 1933. Other pieces of the flight are available only in bit form in a few news clippings from the time which I have obtained from the Auburn Citizen Advertiser Paper of New York, Time Magazine online archives and from the  THE VIDETTE-MESSENGER, VALPARAISO, INDIANA newspaper.

Of those aboard were:
Harold Tarrant, Pilot
H. E. Ruby Jnr., Co-Pilot
Alice Scribner, Stewardess and Registered Nurse
Miss D. M. Dwyer (passenger), Arlington, Mass.
Mr E. Smith (passenger), Chicago, Illinois
Fred Schoendorff, (passenger), Chicago, Illinois
The FOURTH person is both identified as a passenger or a crew members and there is some confusion as to whether they were flying as a passenger or working as a crew member aboard the flight. I cannot clear this matter up at present but he was: H. R. BURBIS of Columbus, Ohio and employed by United as a radioman.

The crash was witnessed first-hand by Miss Esther Stroup, a school teacher.

The flight Number was reported as United No. 23.

As I say the details are sketchy but this is all I have to go on at this stage.

One of the partial article is here:,8816,753980,00.html

I have other articles on request.

If anyone knows anything of this crash, is related to anyone who was aboard or can shed any further light on it I would be delighted to hear from you at or via this blog. Feel free to post.

On another note I would like to point out that to my shock and horror there is NO MEMORIAL to the downed plane in either Chesterton Town or in the entire county or State.