April 28, 2021
Flossie Wilbur disappeared from Angelica, New York on August 24th, 1985. While on the surface this seems like a simple old case solved, Flossie left a legacy in her town that makes her story surprisingly complicated.
Threats of violence against children, no graphic detail: 00:00-00:00
Terrorizing children, very LIGHT detail:
VERY vague mention of statutory rape, no details and I speak in code like a nerd, violence against a family pet:
Death by gunshot, no graphic detail:
Rumor about a dumped body:
Mention of poisoning pet, no graphic detail:
Flossie Wilbur – 75-year-old woman who disappeared from her home in Angelica, NY in August 1985
Pete Johnson – Town detective and high school teacher turned mayor
Esther – Pseudonym for an elderly resident who lived in my home growing up
Karl Knohl – The man who pressed charges against Flossie in 1950
Ken McElroy – Skidmore, MO town bully
David Sherk – Suspect in the disappearance of Flossie Wilbur
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Hello everyone and WELCOME to Milk and Murder, a once-a-weekly true-crime podcast about lesser-known true crime cases.
I’ve been thinking a little bit about when I was in theater in high school. Opening night is a total bundle of nerves, you know? You fly through the whole thing on adrenaline with sweaty pits but it’s kind of exciting.
Then the next night always seemed to feel like a bit of a hot mess to me, I don’t know if this is a thing that other people experience. A little less adrenaline, a little less excitement. You’re kind of tired from the night before.
That’s a bit like how I feel on week two of getting back on track with the podcast. Like what am I even talking about? Can I even true crime? Am I even allowed to admit that on my own podcast? that “opening night” knocked the wind out of my sails a bit? I don’t hear people say on their podcasts. That they took a little extra time to recover from their last case but I most definitely did.
However, in so many ways, the true-crime community can be the very best. I genuinely couldn’t have hacked it with you. Like seriously. We all chatted about parenting and crime a bunch on Instagram. I got to know so many of you a lot more and that was really nice.
As I wrote this episode, I sipped cups of coffee courtesy of Amy, Jordan, Claudia, Tessa, and Meghan. I’m not sure if I should admit that I had that much coffee. BUT, I really am SO freaking excited that you’re the first members of this exciting thing.
I’ll share more about it at the end of the episode. But I had to thank you, the inaugural members, for believing in me. And this podcast and for the coffee and the energy to do this thing this week.
Now, on to the episode.
What would you think if I started out by telling you that today, on Milk and Murder, I was going to tell you the most boring story you’ve ever heard?
Because it starts that way. The whole story starts in the middle, which isn’t where it’s supposed to start. There’s supposed to be something that hooks you in. I shouldn’t say, “OH, I found this case when some rando posted in it a Facebook group and I spent half a minute speed reading through an article over a cup of coffee one morning.”
I’ll be honest, I don’t know how I even ended up back on this case at all. It was like I was walking from my living room to my dining room to forget why I was doing in either of those rooms and I had that disgusting sensation of walking through a cobweb.
It was August 1985, and Flossie was a 75-year-old, retired farmer. She kept a journal., she read the newspaper, and she went to the grocery store on Saturdays. Shout by Tears for Fears was a huge hit at that time. But let’s be real, she probably didn’t listen to it as she drove to a local auction that day in her Ford Escort.
When she was in the newspaper later, there was some speculation that she maybe had a brother in Maine. But who knows? There was a short, succinct blueprint about Flossie. It was essentially copied and pasted from publication to publication in the local papers.
It was featured from time to time in one paper’s “Cold Case Tuesdays.” Though, an officer on another cold case from the area bragged that they didn’t call them COLD cases, just OLD cases because they never closed them.
There are very few thorough articles about this case, and I’m so grateful for the few that exist. According to one I found in The Tyler Morning Telegraph, Flossie ran several errands on the day she disappeared. She picked up her paper from the store where she had it reserved, she grabbed her groceries from a fancier grocery store where preferred to get her weekly ration of candy, and she popped into a local auction without buying anything. She had custom drapes made for her windows and she picked those up on that Saturday as well.
When she arrived home, she backed into her driveway which ran parallel to her neighbor’s house. Flossie grabbed her drapes and a few groceries, brought them into her home, and that was the last anyone ever knew of Flossie Wilbur.
It’s hard to know how long it would have taken the police to show up at Flossie’s house if she didn’t already have the routine of picking up her newspapers from the market in town. This is how anyone started to suspect something was wrong in the first place. The woman who lived by her routine had amassed a small stack of newspapers at Angelica Village Market.
A clerk there tipped off the police that they may want to check in and they did- one week after Flossie Wilbur’s last trip to town, on August 31st. One of the first officers to arrive at her home was Pete Johnson- he was a police officer turned high school teacher turned town Mayor.
He reports that a few days prior, he spoke to the clerk himself when he stopped in to get cigarettes. He makes a point of saying to the reporter for the Tyler Morning Telegraph he hasn’t had a cigarette in 22 years. Like wow good job buddy, why do I hate this guy so much? I feel like he could say something like, “OMG I love coffee and true crime podcasts” and I’d be like “OH I’M SURE YOU DO, PETE”
The clerk asked if he’d seen Flossie- and he reports that he joked, “No, I haven’t been looking for her.”
There’s something you should probably know about me before I tell you anything else about this case. I wouldn’t say I have an extra soft spot for the elderly but I do have some history with the elderly.
When I was growing up, I lived in something called an Adult Family Home. Think nursing home but in a small, intimate home-like setting. I have endless stories of what it was like to live with the elderly who had Alzheimer’s and Dementia in my house.
One time we had one of our church’s little old ladies move in and we’ll call her Esther. I was used to dementia by that point and I knew she’d be different than I remembered her being when we’d go visit her at her apartment when I was a kid.
But it was really different. When the sun would go down in the evening, she’d experience something called Sundowner Syndrome- we just called it Sundowner’s. She’d get irritable and confused, demanding and loud. Most of the residents who lived there did. I can’t remember the exact specifics for her but I think it involved her packing a suitcase to catch an evening bus to maybe go see her long-deceased husband?
I thought of Esther and the other residents from my house growing up. If someone had met them one evening at my house, they would probably say the same things about them that the residents of Angelica said about Flossie Wilbur.
Surly. Foul-mouthed. Rough.
They wouldn’t know them as they used to be. Like Esther. They wouldn’t know that she used to be an incredibly talented artist or that she’d give me a big, wet kiss on my cheek when I met her at church on Sundays.
I thought it must be like that for Flossie Wilbur. I thought that she had to be like a misunderstood Boo Radley in her small town.
So, I set out to find out more about Flossie. Surely she was a good person underneath it all, right? I ended up signing up for a newspaper archive subscription service online and I dug in. There, in 1950, she made her debut appearance in the Olean Standard Times.
The first listing of Flossie Wilbur was in the obituary of her dad where yes- it does list a brother. His name was Harry. There’s no mention of a husband here- in fact, I never found a mention of a husband at all. Everyone said she was a widow. However, I think she was more just a single ole gal living her best life on her own farm.
A few days later, there’s another newspaper excerpt from Flossie and her brother Harry. In it, they give their thanks for the condolences for their father’s death. Right underneath, there’s an advertisement for toilet brushes with WOODEN HANDLES – just 15 cents apiece. What a deal!
Later that year, in September, Flossie places a classified ad for the sale of 2 cows, 2 milkfed bulls, and yearling hens.
12 days later, Flossie is arrested for “third-degree burglary and petit larceny” in connection to a break-in at the home of Karl Knohl. Over the next few weeks, the papers clarify that all that was stolen from the Karl Knohl house were TWO BEDSPREADS.
So weird, right? Who breaks in and steals two bedspreads?
I kept thinking- there’s no way Flossie really did this. Because why? What’s in it for Flossie?
I wondered what her potential connection was to Karl Knohl but I couldn’t find any good information. There were, however, several mentions of his wife who was an avid Bridge player. She won several small games and her hosting of small card-playing events were mentioned multiple times in the newspaper. I think it’s kind of funny how unnewsworthy this is. But I don’t know, maybe she was an incredibly nice lady who is now somehow missing two bedspreads.
There were a small number of court hearings until December 9th, 1950 when the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. So, maybe she didn’t seal them after all. Who knows?
There’s no other mention of Flossie until June 1965 when something kind of unusual happens- her barn burns to the ground. The fire department was able to salvage her house and they mention that the origin of the barn fire is unknown.
And that’s the last we hear of Flossie in the local news until her disappearance in 1985. There are more mentions of Mrs. Karl Knohl’s Bridge Tournaments than any mentions of Flossie.
20 years and 2 months after the Barn Burning, Pete Johnson is looking around Flossie’s home at 96 W. Main Street, in Angelica, New York.
Fun fact: Angelica was named for Angelica Church, Alexander Hamilton’s beloved sister-in-law Angelica. Her son established the town and named it in her honor. If you’re anything like me, you know Angelica because you’ve sung, “When I meet Thomas Jefferson I’m gonna compel him to put women in the sequel #WERK” in your car with the other Schuyler sisters.
The police don’t really look around for long because first of all, there isn’t much to be seen. A few groceries inside, an unlocked back door but no signs of foul play. The only timeline-related clue is that Flossie’s other groceries are still in her trunk. In other words, the rancid milk was a sign that she was interrupted while unloading her groceries.
The initial search is also interrupted because of a one-car rollover accident in town which apparently calls the entire police force and fire squad away. I’m only kind of prickly about this because I read that someone thought that Flossie had possibly fallen and yet they just hopped on out of there without returning until late in the night.
As I mentioned- there are few in-depth articles on this case. There are two- the one in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and another in the Buffalo News entitled: “Vanished Flossie Wilbur Was a Little Hard to Take, Right Up Until the Last Time She Was Seen Alive.”
Here’s a summary of testimonies about the kind of person Flossie was from the people of Angelica, both from this article and from everything I could glean about her:
Cool lady, right?
My dream of misunderstood Flossie is dead- this lady sounds like a NIGHTMARE.
Now, there were several searches for Flossie and the police kept the investigation opened- OLD cases, not COLD cases, remember?
The thing was that there never were any compelling leads because there were so many suspects. Nobody liked her and she hated everybody. One of the very few rumors that existed is that somebody had killed her in a fit of rage and dumped her body into some concrete in some construction near her house.
Though there weren’t strong leads or standout rumors, Flossie was absolutely a town legend. I say legend but she was more of the butt of town jokes. People who interacted with her regularly would always say she didn’t deserve what happened to her, no matter what she was like.
BUUUT was a pain, and everyone remembered her that way.
Yellow bumper stickers started popping up on cars all around town with the words Where’s Flossie?
There was one detective who investigated the case and he was the only one who seemed to care. He shared that people knew the case was eating at him so they started sending him postcards from out of town and having their friends do the same. They’d all sign it “Greetings from Flossie!”
Maybe this shouldn’t have made me laugh, but he is quoted as saying,
One local district attorney at the time said of the cold case, “You don’t ever let it go. The state police will tell you, they never, ever close homicides. While there has been public … and I hate to use the word amusement … about her disappearance, it was a serious matter.”
He goes on to say that even if no one liked the victim, she was still a victim. However, it was hard to investigate the case at times because some people hated Flossie so much that they didn’t even want to talk.
There’s another case like this that’s more notorious but I had never heard of it until I was preparing this episode. Ken McElroy was the notorious town bully of Skidmore, Missouri. I keep trying to think of a way to adequately describe how horrible he was without dropping some swears and you know I try to keep things mostly safe for small ears.
I’d call him the Satan of Skidmore if that didn’t reflect poorly on Satan, know what I mean?
According to a multipart story in Missouri Life Magazine, he started uhhhhh PURSUING his wife Trena, XYZ’ed with her repeatedly, burned down her house, shot the family pet, and then bullied her family into allowing them to get married so that he could avoid legal charges. She was in 8th grade. Piece of crap.
After shooting the town grocer in the neck, he caught charges for attempted murder. Instead of remaining in jail where he belonged, he got out on bond. His court date was delayed, and the town met together to discuss how to deal with this dude. Then who should arrive but Satan of Skidmore himself?
Ken had a few drinks, lit up a cigarette, and sauntered into this meeting without an invitation.
His killer was never identified because every single one of those 45 witnesses denied seeing a dang thing.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t say that as a member of the Skidmore community that I wouldn’t have been incredibly OKAY WITH this happening?
Ken McElroy killed just 4 years and 1 month before Flossie Wilbur disappeared. It kind of makes you wonder if the national news of the happenings in Skidmore didn’t have some kind of an influence on what took place in New York.
Flossie’s case remained in a holding pattern for 35 years, until July 2020. Remember 2020? What a year. Gossip spread in West New York…the police are searching for remains.
Someone finally confessed.
Police tried to diffuse the rumors with this press release,
“The Bureau of Criminal Investigation out of SP Amity are continuing to investigate a missing person case from 1985, the disappearance of Flossie Wilbur of Angelica, NY. This case is still under investigation and has not been solved at this time. Due to the missing person case still being investigated, no further information will be released at this time.”
There you have it. They are continuing to investigate a missing person case, the disappearance. It’s still under investigation- it hasn’t been solved. Due to the missing case still being investigated, no more details. Isn’t this the crappiest press release? I died.
Those in the know started talking to the press quickly though. Thankfully, since now we get to enjoy the hot gossip.
From his deathbed in Wyoming County New York, a man named David Sherk confesses to killing his neighbor, Flossie Wilbur, and hiding her body near Almond Dam. (Interesting side note, I found an article about the local government having one woman move her house out of the way for Dam Construction- they cut her house in half, and moved it two miles down the road ONE INCH AT A TIME. That’s 126,720 inches.)
Anyway, back to David Sherk.
David lived next door to Flossie as long as she lived at her little white house on Main Street. He was a notorious hoarder (sometimes described as an “Antiques Enthusiast”) whose hoard was so vast that he built himself a shed in his backyard and made that his living quarters so he could continue to house his treasures in the main house.
I have a picture on my website of a headboard that was used as a sign for peddling his wares- he handpainted “Antique Hardware by Appointments” on the front and leaned it next to his front door on his porch.
One article reports that the guys from American Pickers spent two days going through his hoard, though they decided not to air the footage. One local describes him on a forum by saying, “Oh yeah, I know that guy! He’s the KING of junk!”
The Tyler Paper says the case is solved now that he’s confessed, and mentions that David practiced Hare Krishna according to his Facebook page.
It’s a lot of Hare Krishna, but the nature of his posts seem to show a clear lack of mental clarity over the years.
He posts a few old man memes, lots of 5G conspiracy-theory junk, and gun control talk. He documents some of his heartbreaking struggles with brain cancer.
But then I did find something really interesting- a post from January 18th, 2020. He writes, quote:
“Recently watched a rough movie, Dolan’s Cadillac. If you like revenge, this is the ultimate in creative revenge. The end will blow your mind for sure.”
I’m about to SPOILER ALERT and tell you the end because that’s the interesting part. One character ends up trapping the antagonist in concrete.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that there was a pervading rumor about Flossie’s disappearance and that was that she was dumped in CONCRETE near her house?
I’m not saying that it definitely happened but I WILL say that there was NO sign of Flossie at the Almond Dam even after a massive search. To be fair, there is a lot of flooding in the area so it’s entirely possible that David did leave her body where he said he did and that it’s just not there anymore.
Was David ever a suspect before this? Well, yes and no. Remember Flossie’s journal? She allegedly wrote several entries about him in her journal, just like she wrote about so many of the other residents in town. So, based on whatever conflict she described in her journals over the year, anyone inside could have motive.
Anyone else dying to know what’s inside those journals??
I’ve found only two specific reports of the conflict between David and Flossie- and again, these are things that people said happened and I can’t verify for SURE:
First: she supposedly smeared human feces on his house.
Second: she allegedly killed his dog with POISONED MEATBALLS.
One thing I do know for sure about the contents of her diary is that she kept a running list of things she stole from members of the community ranging from valuable antiques to junk, just for the thrill of it. So, you know, as callback to her arrest in 1950- maybe she did steal those freaking bedspreads.
David was never arrested due to his terminal diagnosis and his cooperation with the police on the location of the body. After searching extensively, no remains were found. During an interview in 2020, a former district attorney in the area let it slip that the police were looking for potential accomplices.
However, the police didn’t update the public until April 17th, 2021- yes, as in, like, two weeks ago. This is the part that I ended up getting “snagged” on repeatedly and the part that made it difficult for me to close out this case. It’s still open, and they will continue to search.
Here’s the thing- I know that they said that David’s confession was a deathbed confession but I can find absolutely not one shred of evidence that says he’s actually passed away.
So, I don’t know what’s next. Do the police think there could be an accomplice that helped David? Do they doubt his confession due to his advanced brain cancer? I guess time will tell. While I got into this episode thinking it would be very clearly closed, I gotta tell you- I don’t think it’s even close.
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Until next time, be nice to your neighbors and tell your friends how much you love them. I’ll see you next week.
David Sherk’s Facebook Page