421 Linden

Stories and Structures: Downtown Winnetka and Beyond

421 Linden

Winnetka, Illinois 60093, United States

Created By: Winnetka Historical Society


The house at 421 Linden is one of many mysteries. For one, the architect of this stunning 1903 Victorian Farmhouse is unknown. The original owner is also a mystery, though records indicate it may have been Frank E. Herdman, a successful mechanical engineer who lived in the home with his wife, Mary, by 1909.

Perhaps the greatest mystery surrounding 421 Linden, however, is that of former resident Orja Corns, who was living in the house in the 1940s when he disappeared, never to be seen again. Or was he…? Here’s the story.

In 1946, Orja Corns’ life appeared to be perfect. He was promoted to Chicago area district manager at Skilsaw tool-making company in Chicago, appeared to be happily married to his wife, Betsy, had a lovely daughter named Betty, and had just purchased the beautiful Victorian Farmhouse at 421 Linden in Winnetka.

But appearances can be deceiving. In reality, Orja was living beyond his means and could barely make ends meet. In addition, friends and family later revealed that Orja was a drinker, and that his wife and daughter spend an unusual amount of time away at her parents.

The afternoon of July 2, with his family away, Orja left work and stopped at the Willow Inn in Northfield for a few drinks. At about 6pm, Orja left the bar and went home to 421 Linden. While home, Orja reportedly opened all the windows and doors and took a shower. He got dressed, left $80 on his dresser, and went out again at 7:30 pm. The neighbor across the street later reported that when Orja left, all the lights at 421 Linden were on, and the doors and windows were still open.

The next few hours are a mystery, but we know that around midnight, he arrived at the Parody Club, a seedy nightclub on North Clark Street in Chicago. According to an employee at the club named “Dirty Neck Marie,” Orja left alone around 3 am. He was never seen or heard from again.

After his disappearance was reported to the police, they investigated for several days with no leads until they visited the gas station on Sheridan Road where Orja frequently stopped on his way home from work. The station owner told police he had seen Orja on July 6, four days after his disappearance. Other local Winnetkans reported seeing him in town in early July as well.

So what happened to Orja Corns? Several theories have circulated over time. Orja’s parents, for example, told the media that they believed he was murdered. His wife, Betsy, initially believed that he suffered from amnesia related to chronic headaches and was lost as a result. Some of the investigators on the case thought he may have run away to escape money woes or an unhappy marriage. Others believed he was intoxicated and accidentally drove his car into the lake or river.

In 1953, an article in the Chicago Tribune declared this case “one of Chicago’s most baffling missing persons mysteries.” Almost 75 years later, Orja Corns’ disappearance remains just as baffling.

Stylistically, 421 Linden is a vernacular design with some elements of the Queen Anne style, including the cross-gable roofline and the stick-work at the apex of the roof. This beautifully-restored house has been identified by the state as a potential candidate for the National Register of Historic Places.

To learn more about the mysterious disappearance of Orja Corns, click here: https://www.winnetkahistory.org/the-mysterious-disappearance-of-orja-corns/

This point of interest is part of the tour: Stories and Structures: Downtown Winnetka and Beyond


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