As the nights grow longer and the howling winds rattle the windows, thoughts naturally turn to eerie happenings and things that go bump in the night.
A colorful character from Cream City’s past still leaves people curious about the validity of his otherworldly abilities. Arthur Price Roberts (1867-1940), was known as a trance medium, clairvoyant and, to his delight, a “psychic detective.”
Both celebrated and notorious, he worked on a number of prominent cases which made him, for a time, one of the most famous psychics in the United States.
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The Celebrated Psychic
He made headlines throughout this career by making predictions, locating lost people, recovering missing goods, and aiding police with difficult cases. In July 1905, Wisconsin man Duncan McGregory went missing.
His wife asked Roberts for aid, and the clairvoyant conjured an image of the man, lying face down in the Menomonee River with his body caught on a log. When McGregory’s wife went to the part of the river Roberts described, she discovered her husband’s lifeless body, snagged on a log, just as Roberts had envisioned. Roberts was also called upon by authorities in Fond du Lac to help them learn more about a murder case that had gone cold.
After the mystic reviewed a series of mug shots, he selected one from the pile and assured the police that in his hand was the photo of the murderer, and that the man could be found in British Columbia. The wary officers followed up on this prophecy and to the shock of the lawmen, the suspect was found working in the province, just as Roberts had predicted.
Roberts rose to local fame in 1935 when he made a prediction that captured the attention of all of Milwaukee. The psychic detective created a sensation when he foretold the city would experience a series of bombings.
The vision he shared with the city was:
“Going to be lots of bombings-dynamitings! I see two banks blown up and perhaps the city hall. Going to blow up police stations. Then there’s going to be a big blow up south of the Menomonee River, and it’ll all be over.”
To the shock of many, eight days later, a bomb destroyed the Shorewood Village Hall, killing two people. From there, each of the foretold bombings occurred, just as Roberts predicted they would. The final bombing, which happened on Nov. 4, was an explosion so powerful that it was heard for an 8-mile radius and was the end of the series of bombings that terrorized Milwaukee in the fall of 1935.
It was later discovered that the bombers, Hugh Frank “Idzy” Rutkowski and Paul Chovaonee, ended their run by accidentally detonating a bomb, killing themselves and obliterating their garage hideout, located south of the Menomonee River, which had also been envisioned by the psychic.
While some hailed him as a true psychic, others branded him a charlatan. The city fined Roberts for fortune-telling in 1899. Appalled by the accusation that he was a fortune teller, he protested that he was a true seer and fought the fine in court.
The resulting trial was entertaining, but did nothing to prove his case, resulting in a deadlocked jury. The authorities were not done with Roberts after the trial. He was nabbed again after a visit from two undercover policewomen who came to his home seeking his psychic services. He told both women he had important information about their husbands which he would only share after he was paid.
The women paid the fee and at the end of the reading they revealed their true identities: they were both widowed undercover policewomen.
After his arrest, Roberts claimed he knew all along the women were police officers and sneered at the force for using women to bait him, as he claimed to be an expert in women.
While Roberts may have been convinced of his prowess with the fairer sex, his history of lawsuits suggest otherwise. In 1926 he was sued by Jessie Smith for breach of promise to marry her. The woman, asking for $25,000, stated he proposed to her on Sept. 25, 1924.
After the engagement she quit her job to become his wife, but the marriage did not take place. She claimed he left her unable to find employment, destitute and heartbroken. While the jilted fiancee did not receive the desired settlement, she was not alone in attempting to solve her romantic problems with Roberts in court.
In 1932, Roberts and his wife, 33-year-old Blanche, were in divorce court. The psychic claimed he was battered by his estranged wife, showing the court a photograph with his eyes blackened and stating she crawled through his kitchen window to deliver the beating, then stabbing him with an ice pick. Blanche did not speak in her defense during the trial, only stating that she believed her husband was 72 years old. With wounded pride, Roberts countered his young wife, claiming to be just 65 years old. In the end, the divorce was granted and Blanche was awarded alimony.
In 1934 Roberts had legal problems with yet another woman in his life when he declared bankruptcy, noting, among other debts, thousands of dollars of back pay he owed to his longtime housekeeper.
Despite his brushes with the law and his bumpy track record with women, in some circles Roberts was renowned for his sixth sense and is cited by some as evidence that psychic abilities are real. In the scope of his career, it is likely Roberts’ final prediction was his most important.
While at a dinner party in November of 1939, he regretfully told his fellow attendees he would be unable to make their next event, because he would die on Jan. 2, 1940. True to his word, the 73-year-old mystic died on the predicted date, as the result of natural causes. The legendary seer was laid to rest in the Wanderers Rest Cemetery, now known as Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.