Frank Frye, Murdered 1969 in Appleton

Frank Frye

Frank Jerald Frye was born February 8, 1906 in Pembine, Wisconsin (near Marinette), the son of Jerome Frye (1868-1948) and Emma Alice “Otie” Kuykendal (1876-1948).

From 1912-1920 the family lived in Flint Rock, South Dakota and by 1922 they resided at 527 South Douglas Street in Appleton. In 1928, Frank worked as a beater at Kimberly Clark Paper Mill. His parents divorced at about that time as Otie and the children were living at 407 North Bennett in Appleton and Jerome was living elsewhere.
Frank supported his mother and younger sister. Brother Theron was married by 1925 and out of the home, while their sister Pearl married in 1929. By 1930, Jerome had moved to Green Bay and Frank had moved to 519 South Douglas St with his mother and sister Cecil (a few doors down from their old address).
In 1932 Frank worked as a laborer for the Appleton Water Department. He hand-dug ditches as part of a work program (probably the WPA) during the Great Depression. On June 1, 1937 Frank was hired on at the Appleton Police Force.

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Frank’s mother, Otie, did babysitting for income and among the children she sat for were the children of Rose Londre Blahnik, Bette Jane (1926-2006) and Joyce (1930-2000). Frank and Rose would meet through Otie. On November 17, 1938 Frank and Rose married in Green Bay, and he accepted her two children as his own.

Frank continued to live on Douglas Street with his new wife and her two children. Frank continued to support his mother and sister, Cecil, but renovated a building on the back part of the property for living quarters for them. In October 1939, Rose and Frank lost their only baby. The newspaper reported that Rose had been hospitalized and daughter Bette later stated that Rose not only lost the baby, but required a hysterectomy meaning Frank would never have biological children. Frank accepted his two step daughters as his children and they even began using the last name Frye. Their names were never legally changed but it was the name they used.

Rose with Frank
Rose and Frank

After Frank married Rose, Bette recalled a time when she was riding her bike down the street with no hands. It wasn’t a busy street and there were big ditches on either side of South Douglas Street. Sure enough, her step father was behind her and called out, “Lady Bette Jane! Your bike goes on the porch for one week.” She said she ran home and asked her mom if he could do that. Her mom told her he could and that with him being a police officer, she had to be a role model for other children. Later kids would complain to her that her father “pinched” (arrested) them for something and she’d reply that then they must have deserved it.

In July 1940, Frank requested to build an addition to their home. Rose worked with her father learning the basics about blueprints and construction. She was able to construct plans for additions and remodeling. Frank continued to improve his property and requested in August to attach a garage to his home, which they approved. The city denied allowing him to put an addition to the front of the house, though.

From time to time Frank’s sister Winnie would come up from Iowa with her family to visit with Frank and their mother Otie. It was here that Winnie’s son Deane Spilman met Frank’s step-daughter Bette when they were just children. On January 1, 1945 Bette and Deane married at the First Methodist Church in Appleton. Deane was in the Air Force, so they moved to his base in Roswell, New Mexico. While it might be seen as odd that „step cousins“ married, there was nothing inappropriate about this.

In February 1947 Frank was promoted to Detective Sergeant on the police force.

Frank’s daughter Bette recalled that in 1953 or 54, when she had been visiting from Iowa with her two children for the 4th of July, an incident happened. There was an annual celebration at Pierce Park and Frank had found six young men drinking and setting off fireworks. He was in plain clothes, but asked the group to leave. It was likely they did not know he was an officer and one guy punched Frank in the eye. Frank was able to take care of himself and after a brief physical battle he arrested all six of the men, but he did come home with a black eye! Frank also loved kids and had started the school cross walk program in Appleton.

As a police officer, Frank did get threats against his life. A man named “Whitey” had given him trouble on more than one occasion during the 1950s. Frank had arrested Whitey and, once released, he made threats against both Frank and Rose. Rose was actually deputized, given a badge and gun primarily for self protection. Rose was a ‘crack shot’ and certainly able to handle a gun. Still, she was reluctant to be home alone while Frank was away at work. Bette’s daughter, Jayne Spilman, was 9 years old at this time but came that summer to stay with Grandma. Jayne had been shown where Grandpa’s gun was kept in the house, along with his badge and money. Jayne stayed there the summer of 1956 and Whitey did stop harassing Rose at that time. There was, however, one occasion in 1957 when Rose actually had to use the gun to deter a man who came to the house threatening to kill Frank.

Frank Retired from the Police Force in 1959

Frank always cared for family. While his sister Pearl was ill, he and Rose cared for Pearl’s son Johnny Mader. In 1960 when Bette and Deane divorced he had Bette stay with her four children in the apartment above his house on South Douglas. By that time the old house in the back had been torn down and the two story house made into an upper and lower apartment. Frank had worked for a while for Lawrence University and was able to help Bette get a job there with the ROTC in 1963. He later had Rose’s widowed mother, Rose Londre, live in the apartment above them.

After retiring, Frank did other work as a night watchman and motel clerk at Biggers Motel on West College Avenue before taking a similar job at the Embassy Motor Lodge just off Highway 41 and County BB (Prospect). Donald Stowe originally owned the place but the motel was foreclosed and a financial firm bought the building. While Frank was employed at Biggers, he found some blood in a room as well as on some sheets. Frank began doing an investigation when the manager yelled at him saying he had to stop being a cop. If guests wanted to bleed, that was their business.

Frank complained to his daughter Bette and her daughter Jayne, that there were “too many Chicago and Milwaukee boys running around” and he thought this would come to no good. For the most part Frank had believed that Appleton was basically a very good community. According to his family, Frank had worked as an officer during the depression and the time period of Al Capone. Al Capone had some tunnel passage under College Avenue and a building he worked out of on College Avenue. This is quite unlikely. Capone was never in Appleton, definitely did not operate a building on College Avenue, and had been sent to prison by 1932, before Frank was a cop.

On December 20, 1969, Bette went to see Rose and Frank with Jayne Spilman at their home. All seemed normal that day and they had a pleasant visit. After the company left, Frank pulled out Rose’s Christmas present from under the bed. He said he wasn’t sure if he had gotten her the set she wanted so was just checking. It hadn’t seemed too odd at the time that he was giving her the Christmas present five days early.

Frank’s shift started at 2 am so he went to bed early that evening, as was typical of him. Later that night, at about 8:30 pm, Rose received a strange phone call. A man asked if this was the residence of the Frank Frye who worked at the Embassy. She said it was and when the man asked to talk to Frank she didn’t want to wake him so lied and said he was at work. This prompted an unusual response from the man saying, “Oh, I must have the wrong number” and hung up.

December 21, 1969 – Frank Frye was Murdered

When Frank left for work early the morning of December 21, he brought with him a gold retirement badge that was normally kept in the dresser drawer. He wore a suit to work and slipped the badge in a small watch pocket in his pants.

At 5:30am he was discovered missing from the motel and his body was found by Jon Friedrich of Fremont along a ditch on County MM in Waupaca County (described as between Winchester and Wolf River, near Zittau). He thought the body was an injured deer, but once he pulled over was horrified. $263 had been taken from the motel, but not the whole amount. The morning security guard noticed Frye missing (of course), but otherwise noticed little to alarm him. Frank apparently put up no struggle. A guest had checked in at 3am and did not hear the shooting, which apparently happened elsewhere.
Frank’s funeral was on Christmas Eve, timing that would darken the holiday for years to come.

It is not known why he had his badge with him that night or whether he gave Rose her Christmas present early because he thought something would happen. At the time (late 60s, early 70s) the Wisconsin DCI apparently was investigating some activities that were going on at the Embassy through both Chicago and Milwaukee. Frank may not have known about that but did seem to think there were some bad things beginning to happen in the Valley that came from larger cities. (I do not know the source of the claim that the DCI had an investigation going.)

Case Remains Unsolved

The case has been opened off and on over the years and remains unsolved. During the late 1960s there were a number of robberies that were taking place in the Valley. Almost one year earlier there was a case involving the murder of Marvin Jansen who had been the night watchman at Cloud Buick in Appleton. A man named Robert Mitchell was arrested and charged with his murder in 2005, but charges were dismissed after his health became poor. (This crime will be addressed in a separate article/podcast.)

Rose suffered a stroke not long after Frank’s murder, but remained living at their home on Douglas Street with her mother living in the apartment above. Eventually Rose decided to go to a nursing home in Little Chute. After she left, the house was torn down and the land used as a parking area for Miller Electric. Rose died on April 21, 1990 at age 80 from a heart attack.

It is unclear if there will ever be an answer to this case as it fades into the past. Not only is the Frye home gone, but the Embassy Motor Lodge later became the Colony Inn and was demolished in 2008. Frank’s last surviving daughter, Bette, had hoped to put his murder to rest in her lifetime, but died in 2006 with no resolution. Today (2021), granddaughter Lori Dollevoet keeps the hope alive more than 50 years later.

These notes were adapted and revised from longer biographies of Frank and Rose Frye written by Ms. Dollevoet

If anyone has any information, please contact the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department.

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