HARDWICK, Vt. — A retired Vermonter with time on his hands and experience as a professional historian and researcher is taking on the post-World War II mystery of a Hardwick man murdered in Austria at the hands of Russian soldiers.
It was Oct. 30, 1948, when U.S. State Department worker Irving S. Ross was murdered by Russian soldiers who stopped him in the Soviet zone on his way from a party. They entered his vehicle and brutally killed him. Ross, his wife, Clara, and their three daughters, Anna, Lyla and Caroline, were residents of East Hardwick. The house that was their home still stands at the end of the dead end Pleasant Street. Its current owner is Charlie Morrissey.
A news report that followed Mr. Ross’s death noted, “The Austrian police said Ross’ skull had been crushed from behind by blows from a rifle butt. There also were wounds, police said, to indicate he had been bayoneted . An Austrian police official described the slaying as ‘the most brutal I have ever seen.'”
The details that emerged were scant with the Soviet Union government controlling the investigation and shutting down access to an eye witness, and nearly 69 years later Brian Lindner, of Waterbury Center, is trying track down the full account of Ross’ death.
Lindner is corporate historian for National Life Insurance. He is also the historian for the Stowe Ski resort and is on the board for the Vermont State Police Archive Center and Museum.
It was through his work for the state police archive center that put him on to the Ross mystery. Lindner was working on a project researching Vermont’s worst car crashes. He learned of a Newbury crash in 1952 in which a doctor and his three young sons were killed when a train t-boned their car. The story he found in The Caledonian-Record referenced another train crash at the location in 1948. When he went to that edition of The Record he discovered the headline about Ross.
“Russians Kill East Hardwick Man,” the headline read in all caps. So began Lindner’s current research project.
“I saw the headline in The Caledonian-Record and was just intrigued by the story,” he said. “I’ve got the knowledge and ability to research it, and I thought I ought track it down.”
Newspapers reporting on the tragedy of Ross’ murder, provided details as they became available. Ross had been working in Vienna for about a year, assisting with the Marshall Plan, the European reconstruction effort following the war. He had been to a party earlier in the evening of Oct. 30. He drove into the Soviet zone and had a female passenger with him.
Four Russian soldiers stopped the car and when two of them tried to enter Ross’ vehicle, Ross put up a fight. The savage beating that killed Ross followed. They took the car with the woman inside. She tried to escape by jumping from the car, but the Russians put her back in the car until she jumped a second time from the car. This time the soldiers left her behind. She was found later by Austrian police and was taken to the hospital with a skull fracture.
Ross’ car was found abandoned with his bloodied body inside. All four wheels were gone.
After the initial report from the woman, the Soviet government shut down any follow-up by American investigators. Newspaper reports noted three attempts were made by the U.S. government to meet with the eyewitness.
U.S. officials talked tough about their plan to get full details. “Every step will be taken to ascertain the identity of the murderers and to assure that proper measures are taken by the Soviet authorities in the light of their responsibilities in their sector of Vienna,” noted a newspaper report from Nov. 5, 1948.
It appears no amount of pressure put the American investigators in the same room with the eyewitness.
“The Russians after the war said ‘you’re not coming in here,'” said Lindner. “The Soviets really shut everything down, and that looks like what they did with this. It was a pattern that started as soon as the Russians occupied the eastern zone. And in this particular case you can see why they’d do it because it looks like it was four Russian soldiers that killed (Ross).”
The name of the witness was either Anna Sutkena, Anna Sutkenina, Dana Superina or Dana Supancic. It appears she was a refugee from Yugoslavia and was likely serving as a translator. As far as Lindner can tell, whoever the woman was, she was never heard from again in relation to the Ross murder.
The motive for the Russians stopping Ross is also only speculation. The soldiers’ identities were never revealed nor was there any indication that they were prosecuted for the Ross murder.
Among Lindner’s current hurdles is the effort to find at least one of Ross’ daughters.
When Clara got news of her husband’s death, she was preparing to voyage across the Atlantic with Anna, 12, Lyla, 6, and Caroline, who was turning four on Nov. 4, to be with Mr. Ross. The bags were packed when she learned he had been killed.
The family remained in the house on Pleasant Street until all three daughters graduated from high school. Sometime after that it appears Clara went to Oregon. She died in 1990. Her body was brought back to East Hardwick where it was buried in a Sanborn Cemetery plot next to the remains of her husband.
Lindner is hoping that one of the daughters is still alive and has some information that could help with his research. The youngest of the three, Caroline, would be 72 today.
A trip to the National Archives is Lindner’s next step. He is optimistic about his chances of finding something.
“I’ve done quite a bit of research at the National Archives on military aviation,” said Lindner. “I have the knowledge and experience to actually go down . and start looking for his file. I’ve already kind of narrowed down which record group I’ve got to look in.”
He’s had positive experiences with earlier efforts at the Archives.
“The U.S. National Archives is the only place where I’ve got my dollar’s worth for my tax money,” said Lindner. “They literally stumble over themselves to be helpful to researchers.”
Lindner hasn’t put a time-frame on his effort but intends to stick with it.
“I’m retired so I just go full bore,” said Lindner, and for good reason.
“There’s mysteries all around this thing.”
Information from: The Caledonian-Record, http://www.caledonianrecord.com