Monday, July 17, 2017

Clinton LeForge Runs Amuck In Ypsilanti

Ypsilanti Daily Press--August 26, 1935.
To the reader: The documentation for this post was collected by the late George Ridenour and Lyle McDermott of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.

Clinton LeForge was known as a collector of Native American artifacts and fancied himself a self-taught expert in archeology. He spoke about his collection wearing an Indian headdress and a ceremonial robe and claimed Indian blood coursed through his veins.

"Whatever the Indian has done has been in defense of his wigwam and hunting grounds," LeForge said in an Ypsilanti Daily Press interview. "The Indian killed only in defense of his family. Trespassing on Indian land meant death in the native code." 

LeForge believed peace-loving Algonquins and the warlike Iroquois used the Ypsilanti area as a neutral burial ground. He gathered over 3,000 artifacts such as arrow heads, spear heads, tomahawks, and grinding stones from his property and searching along the Huron River, Ann Arbor Trail, and the Sauk Trail--all known Indian pathways.

Local farmers familiar with Clinton's interest in Indian artifacts would give him relics they found while plowing their fields. During the excavation of the Detroit Urban Railway in 1901, many Indian remains and artifacts were removed by souvenir hunters who damaged many of them. Clinton got his share, you can be sure of that.

Even a casual investigation of the LeFurge/LeForge family records reveals Clinton had nary a drop of Indian blood in his background. For that matter, he also claimed he was a veteran of the Spanish-American War, but there is no record of his enlistment. His 1930 Federal Census report indicates he had no military service. It is clear that Clinton LeForge was a raconteur and not above stretching the truth, nor creating it out of whole cloth when the purpose suited him.

When LeForge died in 1949, his estate included his Indian artifact collection valued at $2,488.50 and some Mayan pottery valued at $285. How this material was appraised is undocumented. What is known is his widow Grace LeForge did not share her husband's enthusiasm for Indian artifacts and sold the collection to a private collector for an unknown amount of money.


Ann Arbor News, March 15, 1935.
In 1931, tired of scratching a living off the land, LeForge tried his hand at selling insurance and practicing law. But in March of 1935, LeForge was named as a suspect in the murder of seven-year-old Richard Streicher, Jr, an Ypsilanti child found stabbed and frozen under the Frog Island Bridge in Depot Town.

Prior to the boy's killing, LeForge represented Mrs. Lucia Streicher in a divorce action which was dropped immediately upon Richard's death. The buzz around town was that Lucia and Clinton were having an affair. The day after the boy's body was found, LeForge went to the Streicher apartment at Lucia's request and removed Richard's toys from his bedroom, an act that raised eyebrows in the community and set idle tongues wagging.

Ypsilanti Daily Press, March 8, 1935.
Then, for some reason known only to her, Lucia Streicher turned on Clinton and implicated him as a possible suspect in her son's murder--a charge he vehemently denied. LeForge wanted to clear himself of malicious rumors circulating around town, leading him to take a battery of polygraph tests on two separate occasions hoping to clear his name--one polygraph given locally at the Ypsilanti State Police Post and the other in Lansing at Michigan State Police Headquarters. Lieutenant Van A. Loomis, state police polygraph examiner, wrote in his analysis of the data that he was convinced LeForge was innocent and knew nothing that would help solve the Streicher case.

Further damage to LeForge's reputation came eight months later when he was arrested on November 28, 1935, for the embezzlement of $3,685 from the estate of Darwin Z. Curtis. That was a huge sum of money during the Great Depression. LeForge pleaded guilty to the charge and made restitution to the Curtis Estate, paid $50 in court costs, and resigned from the Michigan Bar Association. The judge sentenced him to five years probation--a virtual slap on the hand. After LeForge's disbarment on September 8, 1936, nothing more is known publicly about his activities until his accidental death on August 30, 1946.

LeForge was operating a saw mill on his property at 7120 Ford Road. He was milling a 2" x 8" length of timber when the saw blade kicked the board back hitting him squarely in the chest crushing his ribcage. When Grace went outside to check on her husband, she found him dead on the ground. The Washtenaw County Coroner came to the farm and pronounced him dead at 6:00 pm. Clinton I. LeForge was sixty-four years old. He was buried in a family plot in Highland Cemetery on September 2, 1946, leaving a two-mile length of county road as his legacy.

The Richard Streicher, Jr. Murder: http://fornology.blogspot.com/2016/11/little-richard-streicher-ypsilantis.html