Ivan DeSilva did not exactly fit the image of a killer, but as Beardstown residents would discover on Jan. 21, 1946, looks can be deceiving.
The 21-year-old DeSilva was of slender build, weighed about 150 pounds and had piercing grayish eyes. A world War II combat veteran with a good record, DeSilva was taken prisoner in Luxembourg during which time he suffered frozen feet. He was hospitalized for a time following his return to the United States and then was honorably discharged from the Army in August of 1945.
DeSilva had a few scrapes with the law. When he was 11, DeSilva broke into the Beardstown Post Office to steal stamps. Apprehended, he was sentenced to the Illinois State School for Delinquent Boys in St. Charles. Later he was paroled into the custody of his grandfather, Charles DeSilva, in Jacksonville. The elder DeSilva was known as “the hamburger king,” and put the boy to work in his restaurant.
After his discharge from the Army, DeSilva came to Beardstown where he alternated between living with his mother, Hester Worley, or a cousin, Marjorie Phillips. He worked three days at Schultz, Baujan & Company, but quit because of foot pain. He then was a dishwasher for a short time at the Bridge Cafe. By January 1946, DeSilva was unemployed, living on $20 a week in unemployment compensation and a $69 a month government disability pension.
The other principal character in this drama is Lucille Riff, whose given name was Clara Lucille Smith. Riff, who was about 30, had lived a hard life. Newspapers described her as a “notoriously known local woman.” That was the more genteel way of calling her a prostitute.
On Sunday evening, Jan. 20, Riff was at one of her local haunts, Crockett Swan’s Tavern. DeSilva chose to pass some time at that local watering hole as well. The pair struck up a conversation, had a beer or two and then walked to Jim & Ike’s Saloon. Again they had a beer or perhaps a few more. Next they ambled over to Stoker’s Tavern.
At some point, Riff and DeSilva decided to spend the night together. However, for some odd reason Riff wanted to tell her mother that she would be staying at a hotel. The couple walked to the Park Hotel to catch a cab. The cabbie first stopped at the Bal Tabarin night club to pick up another fare. While there, DeSilva had the cabbie buy four bottles of beer, a decision that would prove lethal for Riff as we shall discover. After a brief stop at Riff’s mother’s home, the two returned to the Park Hotel.
Because of her profession, Riff was banned from the Park Hotel. “We wouldn’t have allowed her a room had she been recognized,” hotel proprietor Emma Fosgate later told reporters.
Dan Fitzgerald, the night clerk, did not know Riff by sight. Fitzgerald, who was from Quincy, only had been on the job since November. So, at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 21, DeSilva registered the couple as Mr. and Mrs. I.J. DeSilva of 943 College Ave., Jacksonville. They were given the key to room 14.
Fitzgerald went back to reading a magazine. DeSilva and Riff climbed the stairs to room 14.
Fitzgerald later told authorities and reporters the couple did not appear to be intoxicated even though DeSilva asserted he was quite drunk at the time.
Next: Beardstown’s lipstick killer.