Friday, May 02, 2008

The Mystery of Felt Lake

Oct. 3, 1907
Stanford University

Chester Silent was among the most promising young men of Delta Tau Delta at Stanford. The son of Judge Charles Silent and prominent in Los Angeles social circles, Silent, 22, had excelled in his studies and upon graduating with a law degree in the Class of 1907 had begun graduate work at Stanford and was expected to head to Harvard.

His fraternity brothers described him as being fairly quiet and reserved—at least among strangers. He didn’t drink or smoke and had little to do with women. His only health problem seemed to be his eyesight, which was so weak that his father wondered whether to let him return to Stanford. But after a summer of tramping around the family ranch in Glendora, Silent found that his vision was well enough that his father allowed him to go back.

A studious young man, Silent usually locked himself in his room to pore over his books and was always eager to help his fraternity brothers with their classes. At the same time, he could be boisterous and was the leader of the Deltas’ roughhousing.

“He would often come charging from his room after a long siege of study, with a series of whoops which were signals for a general uproar,” The Times said. “When studying he always locked himself in his room, but when at leisure he was the jolliest and gayest of companions. One of his favorite stunts was to mount a chair and deliver a series of odd spiels which never failed to convulse his hearers in laughter.”

On the weekends, Silent usually put on some old clothes, walked three miles from the Delta house to Felt Lake and hunted ducks, usually returning after dark.

And then on Sept. 20, 1907, he vanished. His fraternity brothers organized search parties and authorities as far as Los Angeles tried to track phantom sightings of the missing student.

There was nothing until fraternity brothers Walter H. Hill and Ross W. Harbaugh borrowed a boat to explore Felt Lake. Discovering that the boat leaked, the noticed another one floating near shore some distance away, and in examining it, found Silent’s body.

“The back of the skull and the left side of the face were blown off,” The Times said. Doctors examining the body decided that the fatal shotgun blast came from the left side below the face. No firearm was found.

Friends insisted that Silent had not been depressed when they last saw him and insisted he had no reason to commit suicide. His father said that Silent had just written a letter describing his progress at Stanford and his plans for the upcoming week. His father theorized that Silent might have lost his balance in stepping into the boat and accidentally discharged the shotgun.

In November, the sheriff drained the lake and found Silent’s double-barreled shotgun. Examination showed that the right chamber had misfired and the left chamber had discharged. The sheriff theorized that Silent had pulled the right trigger and when the shell misfired, examined the weapon, discharging the left barrel.

Silent was buried in Rosedale Cemetery.

Bonus fact: When Charles Silent subdivided his land near USC, he named it Chester Place.

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