Original story by Charles B. DePuy
Forward and italics by Duane Crawford
Since 2008, I have been searching for the coroner or the FBI reports to find the accurate names and other information about the Continental Airlines Boeing 707 Flight 11 that crashed near Unionville on May 22, 1962, killing all 45 crew members and passengers. Despite letters to Continental Airlines and other inquiries, I was unsuccessful. Recently, I found even more than I was looking for in the Putnam County Historical Society and Museum.
Mr. Charles B. DePuy, a reporter for the Daily Iowegian, wrote the “untold story” on June 22, 1962, because Centerville and surrounding areas played a huge role in helping with the tragedy. The rest of this article is credited to his research and writing, and I am deeply grateful for his contribution, as we will have a 50th Anniversary Remembrance Service at 11 a.m. on May 26, 2012 on the northeast corner of the Unionville square.
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It would seem impossible, considering the reams that have been written, but there is still a story about the crash of Flight 11 that hasn’t been written.
It’s a sad story, but one that can be written with pride, for everyone who had a part in it far beyond the normal and in the best tradition of the Golden Rule.
It was the heart of the tragedy, the broken heart, the business of identifying and caring for the dead.
Identity had to be final and complete. If a crime was involved, it had to be final and complete for that reason, and tragic fake hope had to be allayed if any existed.
We talked to L. J. Johnson, of the Johnson Funeral Home in Centerville and with Dr. Charles L. Judd of Unionville, Mo.
Ambulances and funeral home officials were asked to stand by together with physicians of the area on the night of the crash. That started about 10 p.m. Tuesday night, May 22, 1962.
From that time and until the last body was returned to relatives and friends at the point of origin, a monumental task was completed with reverence and respect to the dead, and their grieving families.
Key man in the task of caring for the dead outside the FBI was Dr. Judd, head of the Monroe Hospital in Unionville, Mo., who is also coroner of Putnam County. He has received two letters since. They are as follows:
“Dear Dr. Judd:
“This letter is to express my appreciation for the exceptionally fine manner in which you handled your responsibilities after the Continental jet crash a short while ago. We appreciate the excellent cooperation and assistance which you offered FBI personnel.
“The very efficient manner in which you discharged your duties reflects great credit upon you.
“Robert F. Six,
“CEO Continental Airlines.”
The FBI did a magnificent job. As soon as the main body of the crashed plane was located, the task of removing bodies began. Each body was numbered and when possible, pictures were taken before it was removed; also a description of the body’s place in the plane was attached. Each body was removed only as far as necessary and then carefully wrapped in plastic. Then it was transported to a temporary morgue that had been set up in Unionville.
Wednesday, the morning after the crash, an emergency order went forward to the Batesville Casket Co., in Batesville, Ind. for 43 identical Batesville Sealer caskets. All were run through the assembly line at Batesville and delivered to Unionville within 36 hours. It was known at the time of the order that two bodies would go to Kansas City after being taken in charge by funeral homes engaged by relatives of the deceased. These two bodies were the only ones not handled as all the others were.
At the same time Wednesday morning, arrangements were made for the delivery to Unionville of sufficient disaster pouches for all the bodies. Each body, after embalming, was carefully placed in one of these pouches.
All clothing was removed from the victims, and the contents were placed in separate containers and marked with corresponding numbers.
Each body was removed from the area and transported to a FBI location. A listing was made of every distinguishing mark. Height and weight, color of eyes and hair were painstakingly checked and numbered. Everybody was fingerprinted.
After this, everybody was released for autopsy. Crew members were especially autopsied to determine heart condition, carbon monoxide or anything else that may have led to the cause of the crash. At this stage, some of the “shrapnel” tied to an explosion came to light.
All the bodies but one was accounted for Wednesday. The exception was a stewardess. A search was conducted and her body was found Thursday afternoon.
By 2 a.m. on Friday, all caskets had arrived. Once again, before the bodies were placed in caskets, another check was made to ensure each body was that of the right person.
One rumor that became widespread after the crash was untrue. Bodies were not dismembered to the extent that had been published. In only two cases, there were dismemberments.
In addition, identification was routine in the majority of cases. In only two cases did relatives appear to make identification. One was the case of the young Japanese engineer and the other a boy from Illinois. The latter’s father and relatives arrived. It so happened his body suffered little damage. Identity was quickly confirmed and they started the sad journey back to Illinois.
By 5 p.m. on Friday, every one of the 45 bodies on the plane were accounted for, processed and started on the journey home.
Seven funeral homes helped in the herculean task. They were Reggens of Milan, Mo.; Dee Riley of Kirksville, Mo.; Worman of Lancaster, Mo.; Comstock and Husted of Unionville; Liggett of Seymour; and Johnson of Centerville.
Praise was heaped on the people of Unionville by everyone. They collectively said:
“The people of Unionville, Mo. were wonderful. Without curiosity, without intrusion, and with only a very sincere desire to help, they went all out. Food, lodging, special equipment, service, anything or everything that was needed they answered those needs promptly and without expecting thanks. It would be impossible to give sufficient praise to the fine men and women of Unionville who gave unselfishly of everything they had throughout the terrible tragedy.”
That’s most of the story but not quite all. There had to be “positive identification” with no chance for slipups. Nature has provided us with positive identification with something called “fingerprints.” Each man, woman and child in our world has a separate and different set of prints.
When every other identification was duly made and checked, the final analysis was the fingerprints. Following is the complete FBI report of identification:
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington 25, D.C.
May 31, 1962
Dear Dr. Judd:
RE: Crash of Continental Airlines Boeing 707 Jet Airliner Flight 11 near Unionville, MO on May 22, 1962
Pursuant to a telephonic request from Mr. Paul F. Kriethe, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Continental Airlines, Inc., Stapleton, Airfield, Denver, Colo., on May 23, 1962, The FBI’s Disaster squad was dispatched to Unionville, MO to assist in the identification of the victims of the disaster.
The Squad, through fingerprints, was able to identify 39 of the victims. The six other individuals were identified by other means.
Enclosed is a copy of the list setting forth the names of the victims and the methods used to identify each one.
John Edgar Hoover
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What followed the letter from J. Edgar Hoover were the body numbers, complete and accurate names of the victims, how and where the fingerprints were taken, date of birth and home town.
Mr. DePuy included a picture of the area blocked by barriers on Unionville’s Main Street where the temporary morgue was located. The caption read: “All of Unionville gave wholeheartedly and unselfishly of their time, homes and means to help in the time of grim disaster. Everything that could be done was done to see to it that the victims of the crash were given reverent and respectful care as bodies were returned to their homes.”