Search begins for recipient of old letters found in house vent - FOX 32 News Chicago

Search begins for recipient of old letters found in house vent

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(Photos by FOX 32's Craig Wall) (Photos by FOX 32's Craig Wall)
CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - A Chicago woman made an amazing discovery in her sister’s West Englewood home that now has her on a mission.

What Theresa Cunningham found was a pack of handwritten letters postmarked in 1934 and 1934. They were addressed to a man by the name of William Rehling who at the time lived at 5943 South Winchester.

“It was a love affair, it was a love affair,” Cunningham said after reading some of the letters.

She found them three years ago after police raided her sister’s home and tore open a heating duct searching for contraband. Cunningham forgot about them until recently when she saw a news story about another person who found an old letter. She contacted FOX 32 in hopes of finding Rehling’s family.

She had been reluctant to read the letters until we asked her to look at them with us.

“Might not be none of my business, you know might be because they was hid, why did he hide them, maybe he didn't want nobody to know about the letters,” Cunningham said, explaining why she had avoided reading them.

The letters were all written by a woman named Joan Sharpe, who went by Jen sometimes in her letters.

“Like a secret affair, that's what I thought about,” Cunningham said.

What we gleaned from the letters is that Joan and Bill met in Chicago and she moved to New York City in 1934 for a job. One letter was on stationary from the historic Edison Hotel in New York City. That letter began “Hello Bill, it has been an awful long time since I wrote to you and I guess you have just about forgotten me, haven't you?”

A few months later, the postmarks and return addresses changed. Joan had moved to Pittsburgh. She kept writing until mid-1935, with the letters taking on a much more loving tone. The letters gave a few clues as to who Rehling was; he loved dancing, was about six feet tall, had a sister Elsie and had lost a finger in an industrial accident while working at what was probably a meat packing job.

Preliminary research efforts by FOX 32 suggest that the William Rehling who lived at that home was born in 1905. That individual later married a woman named Irene and they eventually settled in Waterloo, Iowa where he died in 1998, Irene died in 1996. What remains a mystery is what happened in between that prompted Rehling to leave the letters behind.

If you have any information that might help get the letters into the hands of Rehling’s family, contact us at

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