The Strange Dream Of Harold Lotridge
At noon on January 12, 1928, five-year-old Dorothy Schneider disappeared while walking from the kindergarten that she attended to her home in Mount Morris, Michigan. That afternoon a frantic Mabel Schneider contacted the police to say her daughter was missing and a country-wide search was begun. It ended that same evening when Dorothy's body was found under the ice of a creek, some three miles west of the Schneider residence. She had been slashed to pieces. The savagery of the attack galvanized public opinion and next day officials of Genesee County announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer. This reward was later increased to $3,000.
On the day of the kidnapping a farmer named Archie Bacon, who lived near the crime scene, noticed a car park just alongside his farm. It was an unusual place to stop and piqued his curiosity. Moments later he saw a man leave the car, carrying a bundle, and walk toward the creek. Two hours later he returned without the bundle, only to find his car stuck in the mud. He asked Bacon if he would assist him in removing the car and the farmer readily agreed. Then the man drove off. Bacon described the stranger as being about 50, medium height, light complexion, brown hair tinged with gray, and wearing a dark overcoat. And he was driving a beat-up blue Dodge four-door sedan. When news of the murder became public, Bacon went to the police with what he knew. A 100-strong posse combed the area for clues, but despite this description, every lead seemed to run into a dead end. Frustration only stoked the angry mood that was building in the community. Outraged residents bemoaned the fact that Michigan had no capital punishment – it had been declared illegal in 1846 – with several hotheads vowing to "take the law into our hands" when the killer was captured.
One person largely immune to the hostility was Harold Lotridge, a 25-year-old carpenter who lived in Owosso, some 30 miles from the crime scene. But on January 16, in the middle of the night, he awoke in a cold sweat, having had the most awful nightmare. He told his wife that he had seen the crime enacted in his mind in the most vivid detail, how the little girl had been crying, "I want to go home." And then he had seen the killer's face. He awakened with a jolt. It couldn't be…
Putting A Name To The Face
The face belonged to Adolph Hotelling, a 47-year-old deacon at the Church of Christ in Owosso, where Lotridge went to worship every Sunday. Hotelling was deeply respected, a genuine pillar of the community, married with five children. Lotridge and his wife agreed that it was absurd to think that Hotelling could be connected to such an atrocious crime. Even so, Lotridge, who had never before had any kind of psychic experience, was so troubled by this dream that he tossed and turned for the remainder of the night, without getting another wink of sleep.
Next morning, utterly exhausted, Lotridge went off to work with his father. They were engaged on the construction of a schoolhouse in Flushing. On the way Lotridge told his father about the dream. Like his son, he was reluctant to contact the police on such flimsy evidence; probably get laughed out the station, he said. When they reached Flushing the father asked the foreman for his advice. After hearing the outlandish tale he, too, advised caution. However, a workmate, Sheldon Robinson, chanced to overhear this conversation and his mind started ticking over. On his lunch break he took off for Flint. Later that afternoon he returned with a state trooper. The trooper, deeply skeptical, questioned Lotridge, who repeated details of his dream. Some time later the trooper returned to Flint and passed on details of his visit. Despite the guffaws of derison – after all, whoever heard of a dream solving a murder? – a couple of officers were dispatched to interview Hotelling at his house at 809 North Hickory Street, Owosso.
The Blue Sedan
Hotelling told them that he had been home alone at the time of Dorothy's abduction. The officers then asked if he owned a blue sedan. Hotelling shook his head. Do you have any car? was the next question. He took them out and showed them his black Dodge sedan. The officers were about to leave when one of them brushed his hand along the front passenger door. It felt sticky to the touch. When he rubbed a little harder a streak of blue showed through. Closer inspection revealed the entire car had been recently repainted. Hotelling was thrown completely. He blustered at first, then hung his head shamefacedly, and mumbled that the car was originally blue, and that he was the killer.
In the meantime, Lotridge and his father started home. When they arrived, Lotridge got a severe and unexpected shock. A group of troopers was waiting for him and they weren't at all interested in Lotridge's strange dream; they were convinced that he must have been Hotelling's accomplice. Despite his protestation of innocence, Lotridge was dragged off to the cells and made to endure a long and very uncomfortable night. It took several hours, but eventually his interrogators accepted Lotridge's story and, at dawn, he was set free.
Lynch Mob Storms The Jail
When news circulated about Hotelling's arrest, a lynch mob stormed the jail in Flint where he was being held. Tear gas bombs were lobbed back and forth, and several arrests were made, enough to convince deputies to smuggle Hotelling out of Flint and rush him to the state capital, Lansing. While there he was given a severe grilling and ended up making a full confession. He claimed to have no idea why he killed little Dorothy, " I don't know what came over or what made me cut her up." He claimed to have been influenced by a recent notorious California case in which William Hickman had also kidnapped and butchered a little girl. Hotelling also confessed to having attacked two other little girls, Esther Skinner, 7, on February 27, 1926, and Ella May Horn, 8, who he chloroformed and left unconscious by the roadside on April 27, 1927. In both cases the girl survived. Justice moved on apace in those more pragmatic times, and within a week of murdering Dorothy Schneider, Hotelling had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Which just left the sticky question of who should get the reward? Several people wanted a slice of the pie; so many, in fact, that it took the Michigan Supreme Court to sort out the mess. Four police officers saw their claims peremptorily rejected, and, initially, the $3,000 was split between Archie Bacon, the farmer who had provided such a good description of both the man and his car, and Sheldon Robinson, who had overheard the Lotridges' conversation and then contacted the police. Which left Harold Lotridge, whose bizarre dream had cracked this case wide-open, out in the cold. Understandably miffed, he filed suit for a share of the reward.
Court's Historic Ruling
First he had to battle a reluctant and red-faced police force, which was very coy about admitting that they had relied on a dream to capture their man. Right from the outset one officer, in particular, had attempted to downplay Lotridge's role in Hotelling's arrest, bragging that it had been his own investigative brilliance that brought this case to a successful conclusion. But the court poured scorn on the boastful police officer. In the words of the ruling, they preferred to accept the word of a "young man who follows the trade and the teachings of the Carpenter of Nazareth, and that of his fellow workman. Their testimony breathes an air of insincerity; that of the officer an air of bombast." On March 29, 1929, the court ruled that Harold Lotridge was fully entitled to one third of the reward, in the only known instance of a dream leading to a murder conviction.