Magic and Murder at the Candy Factory:
The Story of Anna Sula
In 1932, during the Great Depression, very few businesses were doing well. Unemployment was rampant, and people were desperate. Here in Chicago, one of the few companies to be prospering was the National Candy Company, located in this building. With all the hardships of the time, and short on money, one small comfort people could afford was “penny candy”. Because of that the National Candy Company was not only afloat, but able to hire.
Like many companies of the time, National hired children for many manual labor positions. Joseph Miller, the chief accounting clerk and the boss’s son in law, made an arrangement with an orphanage in the Pilsen neighborhood and hired some girls to work in the factory. One of those girls was Anna Sula.
Anna had been orphaned when her mother died during childbirth and no father was known. She was known as a bright but quiet child at St. Catherine’s Home for Girls, often keeping to herself and reading. Among her classmates it was whispered that she also exhibited some extraordinary abilities.
Hired in the Fall of 1931, twelve year old Anna was assigned to be a candy sorter among other menial tasks. Records indicate that she was very adept at her job, sorting at a higher rate than anybody else at the factory. This apparently was impressive enough to arouse the curiosity of the factory boss, Franklin Baines who paid a visit to Anna around March of 1932.
Working at the factory may have been menial, but Anna also began to blossom socially. During lunch breaks she would entertain the other orphans from St. Catherine’s with imaginative stories. Turning thirteen in January of 1932, it was also apparent that Anna was becoming a beautiful young woman and would be attracting suitors, and maybe somebody to lift her out of poverty and the orphanage. Sadly, that day would never come.
On the morning of April 20, 1932, Anna Sula was found brutally murdered in the basement of this building. Discovered by Orel Weegham, the building manager, Anna had been repeatedly stabbed and left to die in a dusty corner.
The investigation, led by Captain Michael O’Connor, turned up a pair of blood stained scissors that were from Joseph Miller’s desk. A search of the clerk’s desk also turned up several photographs taken of Anna, and a small collection of personal effects taken from the girl. Mr. Miller was immediately arrested and charged with Anna’s murder. But only days later Mr. Miller was found dead in his cell, and never able to stand trial. No other suspects were charged in the crime.
The Magic Girl
Much more has been uncovered about this murder, Anna Sula, and some strange happenings at the factory. For several years before the tragedy, factory boss Franklin Baines had been hosting seances, in secret for a gathering of friends interested in the supernatural. These “private circle” meetings were held every other Monday night at the rear of the fifth floor of the factory. The gatherings were attended by as many as ten people including the boss’s daughter, Mary Miller, and the building manager, Orel Weegham.
The meetings were led by a gypsy medium named Ursula Romani. Ursula performed many varied psychic arts for the members of the group, including telling fortunes by means of Tarot cards and dropping a pebble into a bowl of water. She would sometimes channel spirits from beyond, and claim to read the minds of participants. Though the meetings were held in secret, Mr. Baines would photograph the proceedings.
In March of 1932 Baines discovered that a young girl working in his factory possessed the ability to move objects with her mind - psychokinesis - and was using this to sort candies faster. He immediately made an arrangement to have Anna stay after work and attend a meeting of the private circle.
Thanks to notes kept in a diary by member Rose Sawyer, we know that Anna attended her first seance on March 21st, 1932. Mostly Anna simply watched as the medium performed, but toward the end of the meeting Franklin Baines introduced Anna, explaining how he had seen her move candies with her mind. Eager to replicate this he placed several candies on the table and asked Anna to move them. To the astonishment of the onlookers Anna effortlessly coaxed the mints into the air, dancing them between her hands.
At the next meeting everybody was eager to see what else Anna might be able to move. First there were lighter objects like a book, then heavier things like chairs and the table itself. The diary describes on such feat: “An entire box of candy was brought to the table by Mr. Baines. Certainly none of the women could’ve carried it, it must have weighed fifty pounds, but the girl lifted it with just a stare and set it down again like it was a tuft of cotton.”
Anna was becoming a sensation for the guests, and at the next meeting even greater wonders were accomplished. She levitated Rose Sawyer a full four feet off the ground. Describing it in her diary Rose wrote, “I felt a nothing holding me up, only the floor falling away.” But this wasn’t the most amazing feat of the evening.
One of Ursula Romani’s most compelling tricks was to give voice to spirits. When Anna was asked if she had the ability to converse with the dead, she responded “only my mother” and demonstrated by having a pen write, without touching it, on a tablet of paper. The note was a love letter, seemingly in a woman’s hand. Anna was asked if she ever spoke with her mother’s voice. “No,” she replied, “but I see her sometimes.” Anna then turned to an empty chair, raised her hand, and in the chair appeared a vaporous image of a beautiful young woman who stood and took Anna’s hand briefly before disappearing. The following night Anna was murdered.
Another curiosity has recently come to light. Anna’s mother, Emma Sula, a Czech immigrant in her early twenties, had also been an employee of the National Candy Company. She became pregnant in 1918 but never revealed the father’s name. One piece of evidence overlooked in the investigation was a short note found in Joseph Miller’s personal effects at the police station. Written in a woman’s hand, it read:
Darling, I think of you always,
even when you can’t be with me.