A Family Tale of Confused Identity ~ Shared by Sharon Plate
13 Oct 2014 Sharon Plate
Here is that very odd story about the guy whom I thought was dead for 60 years. It got even weirder when I inquired about a grave marker!
I went to Kindergarten every morning with all the other little girls in my neighborhood. Someone's mom or dad would walk us to school and be there to walk us home. One day, when I came home with someone else's mom, my mom gave me lunch and then told me that there was someone she wanted me to meet downstairs in Grandma's apartment. I went downstairs and there was the absolutely most handsome young man I had ever seen wearing the dress blues of the US Navy--the standard "sailor suit" which they still wear today. He was Grandma's nephew, Johnny, from Rolla, MO, (very rural) and he had just left the Navy and was headed home. But first he stopped by to see Aunt Katie, my grandmother. He took me to get an ice cream cone and I was absolutely head over heels in love with this wonderful young sailor, Johnny Szakacs.
Johnny left to return to his parents' home in Rolla and that was that. Sometime later, Mom told me that Johnny had surprised his parents in the middle of the night and his dad reached for his shotgun thinking there was an intruder in the house. He shot his son. For over 60 years I knew that was the absolute truth.
This year I learned differently when I found a holy card with the name, John Szakacs, 1905 -- 1954. I also found pictures of Johnny and his sister, Mary Ann, who were born in 1937 and 1935 respectively; Johnny was all of 18 when he was leaving the Navy. Continuing the family tradition, he lied to get in; times were still tough in Rolla.
So, here is this card saying the young man I thought was dead had been born in 1905? Does not compute! I got the death certificate (online) and, sure enough, it was Johnny's father who was shot by his father-in-law. Some newspaper articles explained that the elder John had broken into his late wife's father's home and was attacking him; it did not say how he was attacking him. The elder John died of a gunshot wound through the heart immediately. I learned that all these guys made wine; so, I suspect alcohol played some part in this.
So what happened to Johnny? I searched newspapers.com for a story about this shooting and learned that handsome young Johnny was a counterfeiter! He and a buddy were caught in Iowa passing bogus 20's. They were both supposed to go to jail. But the story isn't over. On FindAGrave.com I found graves for Johnny, and his buddy who was married to Johnny's sister, MaryAnn. I also found graves for Johnny and MaryAnn's mother, who died very young. But the mother's grave says that Johnny was her only child. I knew that was not true; so, I emailed the person who added the record on Find A Grave.
I told her that I believed that Eva, Johnny's mom, had a daughter, MaryAnn. This nice lady from Rolla responded and filled in a few blanks. Briefly, there was a small Hungarian group out there and they were hard workers and harder drinkers. They made wine and were from a wine making region of Hungary. They were always fighting and getting into trouble with the law. This lady's husband went to school with both Johnny and MaryAnn and said that they were both sad children--whatever that means. So, I kept investigating this guy who shot Grandma's brother, John Szakacs.
Wow! What a group! One brother shot his crippled sister-in-law in the eye and blinded her! Some died of various cancers. And the guy who shot John Szakacs took his own life with a gun, perhaps the same one who killed the elder John Szakacs. The kids, MaryAnn and Johnny died in their 30's but their death certificates aren't yet online; I may pay to get them, though, just for morbid curiosity.
The moral of all of this is threefold:
Believe the family tales with a bit of skepticism; there is probably some truth to the story but it may have been embellished.
Every single family has someone they would rather not admit was in their family. Black sheep are everywhere.