The Would-Be Bride

On August 10, 1924, the decomposed body of a young woman was found near the town of Arden, Michigan. The remains were only half-clothed, and had been mauled by wild animals.

Unceremoniously dumped along a disused railway line, authorities estimated that the girl had been there for almost a week. The coroner soon determined that not only had she been murdered, but she had also been pregnant.

As part of the investigation, police began to ask local doctors if any young women had come to them recently with unexpected or unwanted pregnancies. One physician, Dr. L.A. King, remembered that a 25-year old local woman named Cora Raber had spoken to him about her surprise pregnancy.

King had been a friend of the Raber family, and Cora needed to talk to someone about her situation. At that time, she didn’t want to approach her parents with the news.

When detectives looked up Raber, they found that her family had reported her missing. Because of the poor condition of the body, they weren’t allowed to identify it at the coroner’s office. Instead, they were taken to the police station, where they were asked to examine some personal items and clothing that the woman had been wearing.

When the mother saw a wishbone pin and bracelet, she knew immediately that it was her Cora.

With that, the story of a sad and vicious murder quickly began to unfold.

 

Two days after the body of Cora Raber had been discovered, police arrested Emil Zupke for her murder. The two had dated for a year and half, but Emil had broken things off. He had been seeing a younger woman on the side, and had ended his relationship with Raber in order to see his new girl exclusively.

Contrary to his plans, Cora had become pregnant. Not wanting the social stigma that was widely associated with begin an unwed, single mother during that time, she asked Emil to marry her. Emil, infatuated with his new girlfriend and definitely not wanting to be tied down to an unwanted marriage and child, refused.

 

Cora Raber Herald Press
Cora Raber. Courtesy of The Herald-Press

Cora was a determined woman, however, and took legal action. Following the advice of Dr. King, she swore to Justice John W. Fletcher that she was pregnant, and Emil Zupke was the father. More than likely, this was probably done in order to obtain an abandonment warrant, which would petition the court to have Zupke pay child support.

While the money would have probably been helpful, what Cora really wanted was Emil, the father of her child, to marry her. Asking Fletcher to hold onto the warrant for a few days, Cora decided to make one last try at persuading Zupke.

A few days later, Cora received a letter from Zupke. In it, he consented to marry her on August 6. He told her to meet him at Knaak’s Drug Store in the nearby town of St. Joseph that evening. They would be married right after.

Cora was ecstatic. Everything was going to be alright. Bursting with joy, she went and told her mother, Bertha, the whole story.

Bertha, for her part, seemed to take the entire affair in stride. While Cora had gotten pregnant, she was going to get married right away. This kind of thing definitely wasn’t unheard of, and by the time the baby had been born and the couple had long-since been settled into their marriage, no one would care about how the dates lined up. Still, the two women decided not to tell James, Cora’s father.

Fathers have always had a notoriously prickly relationship with anyone who might want to take away their daughters. Now, when Cora told James that she was pregnant, she would be happily married, and the news would most likely be celebrated. If they were to tell him before, well…fathers don’t generally react well to people who mistreat their little girls.

At about 5 p.m. on August 6, Cora’s brother, Adson, drove his sister to St. Joseph. He knew that she was going to get married, and was happy for her. Little did he know that, as Cora left his car at the drug store, it was going to be the last time that he would ever see his sister alive.

Cora walked into the drug store and waited. It didn’t take long for Emil to arrive. Cora must have been riding high on the euphoria of a new life to come. Maybe she loved Emil; maybe she didn’t. Maybe none of that mattered to her.

What mattered was that she wasn’t going to have to raise her child alone. Cora wouldn’t have to endure the gossip and the disapproving stares of the people that she had grown up around. If Emil didn’t necessarily love her, perhaps in time he would. After all, he was taking the first step in that direction by marrying her.

Emil Zupke News Palladium
Emil Zupke. Courtesy of the News-Palladium.

Taking Cora to his car, Emil began to drive. Their conversation – or lack thereof – remains unknown, but there can be little doubt that both of them were occupied with their own thoughts and hopes for that night.

Cora’s own thoughts must have turned dark as Emil turned into the Arthur McKinney farm. While she was probably fine with the farmer himself, Cora certainly had plenty of issues with his daughter, Florence. After all, she was the one that Emil had left her for.

What was worse was that the car had gotten a flat tire, and it was going to take some time for Emil to change it. In the meantime, Florence came out to greet her guests. An attractive girl with dark hair and blue eyes, she must have been one of the last people that Cora wanted to see on what she thought was going to be her wedding day.

For her part, Florence probably felt the same way.

She was madly in love with Emil, and the two had even made plans to get married later that week, on August 10. Cora would have to figure out her own problems; Emil belonged to Florence. She had told him to get rid of Cora, to break off his relationship with her. He had, and now they were engaged.

Florence
Florence McKinney. Courtesy of the Herald-Press. 

Finishing the job, Emil went inside the house to wash his hands. Florence went with him.

As he scrubbed away the dirt and grime, Emil told Florence that he had to take Cora back to her home in Galien. Emil insisted that she come with them, nearly begging her to come along. Florence didn’t even want to see Cora, let alone take a car ride with her. Relenting, Florence went back outside with him.

Emil asked Florence to drive. He then sat next to her, and Cora next to him, near the passenger side door.

As they drove, Emil began to confess his true intentions to Cora. He told her that he was never going to marry her, but was going to marry Florence instead. Emil was in love with the younger woman, and nothing was going to change his mind.

Cora must have been heartbroken. This wasn’t what she had planned at all. Her dreams shattered, she told Emil that she wanted to leave. Unfortunately for her, he had other plans.

Lifting her chin with his left hand, Emil slammed his right elbow up into her neck and leaned his weight into her, pressing against her throat. Cora let out a gasp as she began to choke. Alarmed, Florence asked Emil what he was doing.

He told not to worry, and that he wasn’t going to hurt Cora. Florence kept driving, and all the while Emil bore his weight down onto Cora’s windpipe. Florence couldn’t quite tell what he was doing, and again demanded that Emil tell her what was happening. Again, he said that he wasn’t going to hurt her.

Finally, Emil released the pressure. He sat back, staying turned away from Florence.

“What have you done?!” Florence demanded.

Emil told her that everything was alright.

After that, they drove to a defunct railroad crossing. Getting out of the car, Florence realized that Cora was dead. Emil told her that he had to do it. He then told her that he had to get rid of Cora’s body.

Florence didn’t believe that Cora was dead. She climbed back into the roadster and pressed her ear firmly against Cora’s chest. The young woman listened desperately for a heartbeat, but couldn’t hear anything over the idling car engine. Looking at Emil, Florence told him that they needed to take Cora to a doctor.

Emil refused, insisting that she was already dead. Finally, Florence relented. Together, they managed to get Cora’s body out of the car. Emil then hoisted the body, carrying it several feet down the tracks, and then about ten feet further into the weeds and overgrowth.

Either because Florence’s pleas had moved his hardened heart or because he was just being thorough, Emil took a few moments to make sure Cora was dead. He felt no pulse, or heard any heartbeat. Lighting a match, he held it close to her face to see if her breath would move the flame.

Nothing. Cora Raber was dead.

Satisfied, he and Florence walked back to the roadster, and drove back to the McKinney farm. He stayed until nearly 3 a.m., coaching Florence on what to tell any police officer who might one day question her about the murder.

Over the course of the next few days, Florence and Emil carried on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened. In light of the murder, both of them had agreed to postpone their wedding.

Neither Bertha or Adson paid much attention when they didn’t see Cora for the next few days. After all, Cora was supposed to be on her honeymoon. The two newlyweds were probably having the time of their lives. It was an occasion for joy, not concern.

On August 10, the day Florence and Emil were to be wed, local men discovered Cora’s badly decomposed body. Emil was at the McKinney farm when they heard about it. Along with some friends, the couple drove to the tracks and watched them carry out Cora’s remains.

   Once James and Bertha had positively identified their daughter’s remains, it didn’t take detectives long to come to the conclusion that Emil Zupke might have had something to do with the crime.

Both Emil and Florence were brought in for questioning in regards to the murder. Later that night, Emil confessed that he had killed Cora. He didn’t ever have any intention of marrying her, and, in the heat of the moment, decided that the only way to get out of his situation was to commit murder. Seeking to protect Florence from any backlash, he deliberately left out any details pointing to her presence during the killing.

Florence, however, freely admitted that she was there. She told police that Emil had murdered Cora Raber in the car that night. She said that she hadn’t realized that was what he was doing at the time. If she had, Florence insisted, then she would have attempted to stop what Emil was doing.

Florence also told police that he had told her before the car ride that he was thinking about killed Raber. She had thought he was just joking with her at the time, though.

On the basis of their confessions, Emil Zupke and Florence McKinney were both charged with first-degree murder.

For authorities, the question of who had committed the murder was solved. What they were interested in now was the complete truth of the matter. They had noticed some odd things about the stories told by the accused couple, and wanted to resolve a few things. 

Emil had left out any part involving Florence in the murder out of his confession, while Florence had confessed just enough to make her seem like a wide-eyed innocent who  had been caught up in his murderous plans.

Florence claimed that Cora put up no struggle as she was slowly choked to death. According to the girl, Raber simply sat in her seat, her hands carefully placed in her lap. To detectives, this made no sense.

Zupke Car News Palladium
The car where Emil Zupke murdered Cora Raber. Courtesy of the News-Palladium.

They contended that if Cora had been even semi-conscious, she would have instinctually put up some kind of fight against her attacker. It could have been to struggle madly in order to escape, or it could have been to simply grab Emil’s arms. Either way, they didn’t believe that Cora would have just sat there.

The authorities had a far darker theory regarding the murder.

They were of the opinion that Florence McKinney had been the one to plan out the murder, and had convinced Emil to help her carry it out. It had been her idea to bring Raber to the McKinney farm that night, in order to humiliate her before she died. Emil belonged to Florence now, and there was no way that Cora was going to ruin Florence’s plans.

When the killing was carried out, they also theorized that Florence, far from the innocent bystander, had actually watched the murder being carried out. She may have even verbally encouraged Emil while she watched the life leave her rival’s body.

Theories are fine, but the county attorney and the sheriff needed hard evidence to back them up. Determined, they went to work.

The authorities asked Emil Zupke if he take them out and retrace his steps from the night of the murder with them. Emil agreed, taking the sheriff and a reporter through his crime step by step.

As they drove, Emil gave a much, much more detailed confession. He explained what happened where, without any hesitation. When they reached the area where the murder was committed, Emil told the two men exactly how he had killed her.

He explained that the roadster was rather small, and the three of them were packed into the vehicle rather tightly. The way that Cora had been forced to sit didn’t give her hardly any room to move, let alone escape. Emil further explained that he had been so nervous during the murder that she might have struggled a little, but he had barely noticed anything.

Now having heard a more complete confession from Emil, and with having thoroughly examined the roadster and the locations of that night’s events, the sheriff was fully satisfied that Emil was telling the complete truth. He hadn’t held anything back, and his story now more closely matched Florence’s.

The sheriff’s attitude stayed this way until the following weekend, when Emil told them that before taking Cora to the McKinney farm, he had driven along an isolated road and had left the car with her for a little while.

Some unexplained dirt had been found on Cora’s shoes where her body had been dumped. It didn’t match anything in the confessions, and there was no soil like it in the area of the train tracks. With Emil’s new revelation, the dirt was explained.

The problem was that this new revelation called everything else he had said into question. Zupke insisted that the only reason he hadn’t mentioned it before was because he didn’t want Florence to think that he was stepping out on her with Cora again.

Florence, by this point, was done with Emil Zupke. While authorities had once thought she had masterminded the murder, they were now convinced that she had been telling the truth and had no direct role in Cora’s death.

It was soon concluded that Emil’s addition to his confession didn’t amount to anything. Zupke pled guilty to first-degree murder, and was kept in jail to await sentencing. He was determined to change his ways, and became a quiet prisoner who made sure to read his Bible.

Prosecutors reduced the charges against Florence McKinney to second-degree murder. In order to avoid what promised to be a very, very sensational trail, Florence also pled guilty to the charges against her in December. Essentially, she was saying what she always had – she had served as an accessory to the crime after it had already been committed.

Zupke was sentenced to life imprisonment, and was sent to Marquette Branch Prison in Marquette, Michigan. In early January, 1925, Florence McKinney was sentenced to serve between one to seven years at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan.

Years later, they were both released from prison. They returned to the area and lived seemingly quiet lives. But Cora Raber and her unborn child never left. Cora never got to meet her baby, or see it grow up.

It can be argued that part of Emil Zupke and Florence McKinney died with Cora on that warm August night in 1924 as well. The carefree innocence of their youth was crushed as Emil choked the life out of his former lover. Many of the hopes and dreams that they had for their futures were left to decompose along with her body near those abandoned railway tracks.

In the end, Emil Zupke and Florence McKinney’s youth came crashing to a sudden, violent end, along with the life of Cora Raber.

  You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please stop over and have a seat at the table every other week to hear new stories of true crime, disasters, the paranormal, and other weird and dark stories from America’s Heartland. 

   You can also ‘subscribe’ to my blog and have these tales sent directly to your favorite inbox, or you can click the ‘Like’ button on the Kitchen Table Historian Facebook page and receive them in your news feed. You can also find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Linked-In.

   If you prefer to listen, the Kitchen Table Historian podcast also gives you these same great stories with just the press of a button. You can find that on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Tune-In, this website, and where ever you choose to get you favorite podcasts.

   Please tell a friend or four about us here at the table, because it helps more people to find us. If you like these stories, then chances are someone else will, too.   

   Until next time, thank you for stopping by, and I look forward to seeing you again at the table!

   Sources

Arden Murder Solved. The Herald-Press, 8/12/1924

Identify Dead Girl; Arrest Man. The News-Palladium, 8/12/1924

Murder Pact Charged. The Herald-Press, 8/13/1924

Delve Into Death Plot. The Herald-Press, 8/14/1924

Lovers Face Court; Denied Bail. The Herald- Press, 8/15/1924

Raber Murder is Re-Enacted By Emil Zupke. The Herald-Press, 8/15/1924

Zupke’s Sweetheart Spurns Him. The News-Palladium, 8/15/1924

New Girl Murder Clew Probed. The Herald-Press, 8/18/1924

New Version to Murder Is Made Public. The News-Palladium, 8/18/1924

Defense Prepares to Acquit M’Kinney Girl. The Herald-Press, 8/20/1924

Florence McKinney Prepares To Face Court Tomorrow. The Herald-Press, 8/21/1924

Jam Court of M’Kinney Hearing. The Herald-Press, 8/22/1924

Cuts M’Kinney Murder Charge. The News-Palladium, 8/23/1924

Zupke Pleads Guilty; Arraign Florence McKinney. The News-Palladium, 9/15/1924

Florence McKinney Arraigned In Court. The Herald-Press, 9/15/1924

Zupke, Resigned To Fate, Called A Model Prisoner. The News-Palladium, 9/17/1924

Florence McKinney’s Trial May Open Late Next Week. The Herald-Press, 9/26/1924

M’Kinney Girl Pleads Guilty. The News-Palladium, 12/4/1924

Zupke Will Face Judge. The News-Palladium, 12/8/1924

Zupke Gets Life at Marquette. The News-Palladium, 12/9/1924

U.S. Census Records

State of Michigan Death Records

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: