Article by Frank Statler
There is a little town about 40 miles away from the Mississippi on the Illinois side of the river. It’s home to Western Illinois University and it’s goes by the name of Macomb, IL. My Father lives right outside Macomb in Tennessee, IL and I have a lot of relatives in the area so this story jumped out at me.
In 1948 a farmer by the name of Charles Willey who owned a plot of land outside of Macomb, IL city limits had one of his barns burn down completely to the ground. That’s not so strange however, the cause of the fire is what is not able to be explained to satisfaction.
The finger has been pointed at a young niece that was spending the summer at her Uncle’s farm because of problems and stress in her home-life. They believed that she might have been starting the fires with her mind because of the crippling stress she was under.
She and her Father had moved to the farm after a bitter divorce from her Mother.
The young girl’s mind was in turmoil. She was unhappy, depressed and confused and had a lot of negative psychic energy coming from her. The high strangeness began with small brown smouldering spots on the walls.
Soon however it started to catch the curtains and newspapers on fire. Willey was very confused as to the source of the mysterious fires so he invited his neighbours over to witness the phenomenon firsthand. Neighbours soon crowded the house sleeping on the farmhouse floor in hopes of catching a blaze starting.
A fire started on the front porch and a ironing board caught on fire out of nowhere. The family took to having buckets of water around the house to douse the flames as they started. The Macomb fire Marshall came out to the farm to asses the situation.
He was pretty sure that it was a simple case of arson. However, he could not explain how the fires were started right in front of surprised onlookers. “Nobody’s ever heard of this. But,it happened right in front of my eyes”! Exclaimed the Fire Marshall.
In the following week almost 200 more fires were started. As many as 20 a day! This went on until one day the fires in the house could not be contained and the home finally burnt to the ground. However, that did not stop the fires from still starting around the farm property.
Mr.Willey had to then move his family into a tent on the property but, the troubles were far from over. Two days later their barn burned down and then the milk house was destroyed by an inferno. All the livestock was dead and the crops were gone, and the house was reduced to cinders.
As you can imagine the family was at it’s wits end with the situation. Then on August 30th the mystery was labeled “Solved”.
It was, the detectives said, a case of arson involving the farmers young niece. She had been starting the fires with kitchen matches. That, of course, did not explain the ignition on the ceilings and in front of witnesses.
It was also reasoned by some that she must have an endless supply of these kitchen matches to start so many fires. This weak explanation satisfied local, state and federal law enforcement. However, reporters did not not believe in this ridiculous solution. It was very obvious that more was at play here in Macomb, IL.
One columnist from Peoria stated that he simply did not believe the “Confession”. Many others shared this belief and though the years have attempted to solve this mystery. Unfortunately, we will probably never hear the whole story as the the whereabouts of the family was lost when they moved away to try to leave their misfortune behind them. “To farm in Kentucky” Farmer Willey said. “To get a fresh start”.