In 1948, Amelia “Molly” Zelko began running the weekly Joliet, Ill., Spectator, after its publisher, William R. McCabe, was beaten nearly to death on a deserted road. No one was ever arrested in the attack, but speculation centered on the mob. Under Zelko, the Spectator continued a journalistic crusade against mobsters, recording beatings, bombings and murders across Illinois connected to the multi-million- dollar gambling business. Zelko reportedly laughed off warnings from friends about the danger, saying if gangsters ever tried to snatch her she’d kick off her shoes and run, reports the Chicago Tribune.
On Sept. 25, 1957, witnesses heard screams around midnight outside Zelko’s apartment. Police found her car out front the next morning. She hasn’t been heard from since. She’s been forgotten by just about everyone outside Joliet. And the name is familiar there due largely to the work of John Whiteside, a columnist for the Herald News in Joliet who has devoted 25 years of his career to solving the Zelko mystery. “Everyone around Joliet recognizes her name, and Whiteside’s the reason,” Police Chief David Gerdes said. “It would have long been forgotten by people in the community if it weren’t for him.” Through the years, the quest to find Zelko has included local, state and federal investigators, hundreds of anonymous leads, misinformation from convicted gangsters, radar, X-ray machines and psychics. Now, Whiteside has been diagnosed with melanoma cancer, and he sees a new urgency to resolving the Zelko case.