12-2-1913 Grand Haven Daily Tribune front page

Tri-Cities Mysteries

The Curious Case of Hazel Paine

Jen Vos, Assistant Exhibits Curator

At 7 pm on Monday, December 1, 1913, Alfred Wildey found himself walking along the Grand Trunk Railway tracks by his farm near Crockery, Michigan. He had missed the train into Nunica where he planned to do some shopping. Just over a mile into his journey, he saw a figure lying across the train tracks. 

 

As he got closer, he realized it was a young woman who appeared to be bound hand and foot lying unconscious across the tracks. Just then, a light from an approaching train appeared in the distance. Wildey sprang into action pulling the unconscious woman from the tracks and saving her from the oncoming train. Thus began a salacious mystery that fascinated the Tri-Cities and the Midwest. 

 

Wildey half-guided, half-carried the young woman over a mile back to his farm. There they found that her clothes were soaked in blood and she was bound tightly around her waist and arms in what appeared to be corset strings and a man’s shirt. Wildey sent for his brother, a Deputy Sheriff in Nunica. Later, around 4:30 in the morning, Sheriff Dykhuis of Grand Haven was notified and began his investigation. 

The young woman said her name was Hazel Smith but was soon identified as 17-year-old Hazel Paine of Ferrysburg and Spring Lake. Hazel’s parents being absent, she lived partly with her brother, Orren Paine, and his wife in Ferrysburg and partly with her sister Mabel and her husband, Andrew Linn in Spring Lake. Sheriff Dykhuis interviewed Orren Paine, who provided the shocking revelation that Hazel was pregnant. 

 

The story was an immediate true crime sensation and drew newspaper journalists from as far as Detroit and Chicago to the Tri-Cities to get the scoop. The local Grand Haven Daily Tribune was the first on the scene and provided comprehensive coverage throughout the following month’s investigation. 

Hazel’s Recollection

 

When Hazel regained consciousness, she told investigators that she had been approached by a man in a buggy at Villa Crossing near Spring Lake on Monday afternoon. He smiled at her and invited her to join him for a ride. Once in the buggy, he gave her a piece of candy. She then lapsed into unconsciousness and could not remember anything after. 

 

Hazel named George Clippert, a railway dispatcher, as “responsible for her condition” (i.e. the father of her child). This accusation was repeated by her brother Orren Paine and brother-in-law Andrew Linn.

12-2-1913 Grand Haven Daily Tribune - Attempted Murder newsclip Hazel Paine

Hazel’s family told investigators that Hazel had come to them the previous spring confiding in them that she had been assaulted by a married man at the Interurban (the local railway) in Fruitport. They identified the man as George Clippert and said Hazel was terrified at the prospect of seeing him again. Though Hazel was the victim, they feared for her reputation as a young, unmarried girl. When they realized Hazel was pregnant, the family agreed to keep it a secret and planned to give the baby to a relative in another city. 

 

Hoping for some discreet justice, the family claimed to have approached Clippert to request funds for Hazel’s medical expenses. However, Clippert was said to have rebuffed them and accused them of blackmail.

Further Investigation

 

George Clippert was immediately sought out and taken into custody Tuesday evening. Clippert denied any involvement in the crime and indeed denied even knowing Hazel Paine. He was taken to a jail cell in Grand Haven where he spent the night and the next day. His wife was distraught and visited the jail for several hours. Clippert’s friends worked together to prove George had an alibi for the entire time in question. He was seen that Monday, picking up his monthly paycheck and then going around town paying various bills. After, he returned home where a friend of his wife was visiting for several hours into the evening at the very time Hazel was found on the train tracks. 

 

Having conclusive evidence that George Clippert could not have been directly involved in the Monday assault of Hazel Paine, authorities let him go without any charge.

12-3-1913 Clippert Arrested Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-3-1913 Clippert Arrested Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping about the initial arrest of George Clippert. Describes how he professed his innocence and how his wife was distraught.

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12-4-1913 Clippert Released Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-4-1913 Clippert Released Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping about the release of George Clippert after friends put together a solid alibi for his whereabouts on the day in question.

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12-6-1913 Clipperts friends still believe in him Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-6-1913 Clipperts friends still believe in him Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping about George Clippert's friends maintaining their belief in his innocence.

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12-3-1913 Clippert Arrested Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-3-1913 Clippert Arrested Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping about the initial arrest of George Clippert. Describes how he professed his innocence and how his wife was distraught.

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Hazel’s “Delicate Condition”

 

From the very first news story, it was known that Hazel had been in “delicate condition,” (a euphemism for pregnancy). It was also reported that she had been the victim of a “criminal operation,” which was a delicate way to say an abortion. Reports from the Wildey house said Hazel murmured about “my baby” and expressed fear that someone would hurt her again. 

 

Doctors from the surrounding area were brought in to examine Hazel. They came to the shocking conclusion that Hazel showed no signs of a “criminal operation,” because Hazel had never been pregnant in the first place. 

 

This went against everything Hazel and her family had told the authorities. They had insisted that she was expecting a baby very soon and that all the arrangements had been made. People started to question Hazel’s story, piecing together that if she had been assaulted and impregnated in early Spring, she should have either just given birth, or would be about to give birth at any moment.

12-10-1913 Hazel in County Jail - Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-10-1913 Hazel in County Jail - Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping describing the events of Hazel being brought to the hospital wing of the County Jail

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12-15-1913 Wildey's Visit Hazel - Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-15-1913 Wildey's Visit Hazel - Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping describing Alfred Wildey visiting Hazel Paine in the County Jail and his belief that she was an innocent victim.

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12-11-1913 Physicians Examine Hazel - Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-11-1913 Physicians Examine Hazel - Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping describing physicians examining Hazel to determine whether she had been pregnant and was fit to be questioned.

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12-10-1913 Hazel in County Jail - Grand Haven Daily Tribune
12-10-1913 Hazel in County Jail - Grand Haven Daily Tribune

Partial newspaper clipping describing the events of Hazel being brought to the hospital wing of the County Jail

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Rising Suspicion 

 

At this time, Hazel was still being cared for by Alfred Wildey's family. Authorities decided to move her to Alfred’s brother, Deputy Sheriff Wildey’s home 3 miles away. Orren Paine argued that she should be brought to his home and cared for by her own family. However, it seems as though the mounting suspicion surrounding Hazel and her family convinced authorities that they needed to keep a closer eye on her. 

 

On December 9th, only a week after she was found on the tracks, Hazel was brought in a covered automobile to the hospital ward at the county prison. She was not charged with a crime, but it was clear that authorities were not satisfied that she could not provide more information. She had been in a delirious semi-conscious state since her rescue and it was reported that the events of the previous week had left her on the verge of a mental collapse. 

 

The idea was to detain her until she was well enough to be questioned closely. 

 

The more authorities investigated the case, the less they understood. Was she pregnant? Was she lying? Or was it a hysterical pregnancy? Investigators even hypothesized that the bonds around Hazel’s stomach and arms could have been tied by herself raising the question of attempted suicide. No mention was ever made of Hazel giving birth, or a body being found.

A Disappointing Lack of Closure

 

However, there remained a few pieces of evidence that stubbornly suggested the involvement of at least one other man, possibly more. There had been a set of footprints leading to the tracks where she was found that seemed to be from a man’s shoes. There were reports in the area that two men had been seen with a young woman near a wagon that night. One of the bonds tied around her was a man’s shirt with initials sewn into the collar. Investigators worked to discover who’s shirt it could have been but came up empty. 

 

On Wednesday, December 17, 1913, Hazel was released from the county jail. Authorities were still no closer to finding out what had happened to her 16 days prior. Shortly after Christmas, the Grand Haven Daily Tribune was still hopeful for news of an arrest in the case. But they were destined to be disappointed. 

 

After a month of sensational newspaper coverage, the case went cold. It was mentioned only briefly in subsequent years before being forgotten entirely.

03-17-1915 Brief Mention of Hazel Paine.png

Relying on Newspapers 

 

It is impossible to say with any certainty what happened that night. The only information we have on the case is the shifting stories presented by the local papers. Newspapers at the time did not always hold to a strict journalistic standard of confirming facts and sources before printing detailed, salacious stories. Some clues may have been assumptions based on early stories, other leads were never followed through. 

 

Hazel Paine was certainly going through an intensely traumatic time in a very public way. Likely the Paines were relieved when the newspapers stopped their coverage. Hopefully, those involved were able to find closure, if not a definite answer to their questions. 

 

The case of Hazel Paine remains unsolved.

All clips of the Grand Haven Daily Tribune are courtesy of the Grand Haven Tribune and Loutit District Library