Molly Zelko Joliet Area Historical Museum Zoom Meeting Topic

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JOLIET, IL — Director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, Greg Peerbolte, faced a dilemma — how to keep the community engaged in local history when the museum is closed to the public. Part of Peerbolte’s solution was another of his passions, the Molly Zelko story.

Zelko, a Joliet journalist and business owner, disappeared in 1957. His disappearance, or probable murder, has never been solved.

Peerbolte, executive director of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, had previously worked to resurrect Zelko’s story for a new generation of listeners through a podcast launched in 2019.

“The Spectator: Who Killed Molly Zelko“, runs for eight episodes and takes listeners through a number of possibilities, including that Zelko is buried in a rural farm field owned by mob members and the possibility that her body remains beneath Stryker Avenue.
In 1978, John Whiteside and Lonny Cain joined forces with the Joliet Herald News and started a series about her disappearance.

“(Whiteside) said everyone had a Molly story,” Cain said at the Zoom 2021 event. “It turned out to be the biggest story either of us would ever have. in his career, a story I’m still working on.”

Through this exposure in the newspapers in 1978, many leads were investigated, but neither Zelko’s whereabouts nor his body were ever discovered. A major revelation then was a witness who claimed to have seen a woman’s body thrown into a ditch as a sewer line was being laid under Stryker Avenue. Although this interview was included in the podcast, it wasn’t enough for the Will County prosecutor in 1978 to dig up Stryker Avenue for his body.

Since that time, however, a number of other people have come forward and corroborated the story in various ways. Cain thinks Stryker Avenue is the most likely lead and hopes the city will eventually investigate it as a possibility.

The January 29 Zoom event brought together Peerbolte, Cain and Dennis Enrietta who all co-hosted an event attended by over 250 people.

“I think 322 people signed up,” Peerbolte said in a later phone interview. “About 250 to 260 people constantly listening for the duration of the program.
“We said an hour and it was more like two hours.”

Titled “Where’s Molly Zelko? Exploring Joliet’s Biggest Mystery with the Joliet Area Historical Museum,” the reunion featured a discussion of the main players and where Zelko’s body may be. It was co-sponsored by the Joliet Public Library and private donors.

The Zelko podcast was one of many Peerbolte is planning during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re a few months away,” Peerbolte said of the museum’s Zoom event plans. “We’re going to unveil some items from the collection and do an interactive, can you guess what it is. We have hundreds, maybe thousands of things in the collection that no one ever sees. We can’t bring hundreds of people into the collection room, but we can do it virtually.”

The next scheduled Zoom event is for Black History Month and will take place on February 25. The event will feature local speakers and focus on Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 visit to Joliet. In-person exhibits are also planned, including one on Zelko and an exhibit on African-American history. For more information on upcoming events, follow Joliet Area Historical Museum Facebook page.

As for Zelko, Cain is working on a book, but would like to see his story help unravel the mystery – where is Molly?

“I think we’re still talking about Molly because there’s a huge question mark over this story – what happened to Molly?” Enrietta said.

Editor’s note: A detail regarding the farm field and Stryker Avenue has been corrected.

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Patrick F. Williams