Telling Her Story
a mother so distraught she mercilessly murdered 7 of her children and ended her own life soon afterward
Linda Jean Limes Ellis
The above photograph was published
in several newspapers in Ohio
and across the United States
Ethel married Charles Otto Geller on New Year’s Day, 1908 in Franklin County, Ohio. His parents were Jacob H. Geller, Jr. and Eleanor Elizabeth Patterson Geller – both buried at Sheep Pen Cemetery in Madison Township, Highland County, Ohio. Sheep Pen Cemetery is also known as the Limes, Old Limes, or Gustin Cemetery.
Personally, I have several collateral line Limes ancestors buried at Sheep Pen Cemetery, and because of that connection, I have an interest in the lives of others buried at Sheep Pen Cemetery.
Charles and Ethel Rader had five children during their marriage.:
Charles M. Geller – born in 1908 – little is known about Charles M. at this time. His name as Charles M. appears in both the 1910 and 1920 census records for Franklin County, Ohio.
Ervan Reed Geller August 9, 1914
Vernon L. Geller born 1917:
1918 and 1919:
Ethel’s dizzyingly downward spiral began after the tragic unexpected loss of her husband, Charles Otto Geller, at age 34, on April 18, 1918. He was a night fireman who died due to heart disease while working at the Jeffrey Manufacturing Plant in Columbus, Ohio where they lived. She found herself a single mother with 5 young children to care for and raise.
Ethel Geller married rather hastily again on March 8, 1919 to a man apparently who had entered her life and shown her the kind of sympathy she felt she most needed at the time; but a stranger unfortunately she knew little about who he really was or what happened in his past life. In due time, more about him would be revealed.
It is important to note, another side of Ethel Marie Rader Geller Yeldem became public in 1922 when it appears she regained stability enough to become involved with other elements that she encountered; even taking extra steps to help others she didn’t know.:
From the “Columbus Evening Dispatch” – September 8, 1922:
“The Dispatch Mailbag”
“WHO IS THE OWNER?”
“To the Editor of the Dispatch”
“Sir: At the southwest exit of the fair grounds on Monday evening, Aug. 28, at about 10 o’clock, as I was stepping on a street car I found a spectacle case. On examining it I found it to contain a valuable pair of spectacles. I have followed up several ads for lost glasses in vain, so have come to the conclusion that they were lost by an out-of-town fair visitor. I would be only too glad to return them if the owner can be found and am writing the Mail Bag in hopes the owner or friends will see the letter and call for them.”
Mrs. Yeldem, 393 Belvidere Avenue
1925 and 1926:
However, 1925 and 1926, brought more unforeseen and profoundly sad events that greatly impacted Ethel’s life.
Her 10 month old infant died of cholera on July 25, 1925, Walter Yeldem, whom she had with her second husband Darby “Darb” Yeldem, who later the Columbus Dispatch news reports revealed his real surname was Medley. Yeldem was Medley spelled backwards.
Then Ethel’s world was shaken with the fact that her second husband had committed the unthinkable criminal act of assaulting her only daughter from her marriage to Charles Otto Geller, then 13-year old Mildred Geller. Furthermore, various newspaper reports identify Darby Yeldem as a “Negro” or being “colored”. In one article it is stated that he “claims to be an Indian.”:
From the “Columbus Dispatch”– April 6, 1926.: Page 34.:
“Darby Yeldem, age 41, 393 Belivdere Avenue was bound over to the grand jury under bond of $10,000 when arraigned in municipal court Tuesday morning, on a charge of assaulting his 13 year old step-daughter, Mildred Keeler.” *
(*The name “Keeler ” was incorrect for Ethel and the late Charles Otto Geller’s only daughter, who was Mildred Geller.)
If the grief caused by these events were not enough to overcome, another child suffered serious injuries from an accident that could have easily taken her life, but she managed to survive.:
From the “Columbus Dispatch” – July 9, 1926. Page 6.:
“Running after a ball, which had rolled into the street in the path of an automobile, Thursday evening, Elaine Yeldem, eight-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Darby Yeldem of 393 Belvidere avenue suffered a fractured skull when struck by the machine, which was driven by Mrs. L. E. Scott of 347 Columbian avenue. The regained consciousness Friday morning, according to a report from Mt. Carmel hospital, where she was taken by Mrs. Scott. The girl also suffered the fracture of six ribs.
The accident happened when the child ran in front of the machine as it was turned from an alley near the Yeldem home, Mrs. Scott told police.”
Ethel’s father, Peter William Rader, died on May 25, 1928. He was 68 years old. Her mother, who was five years younger than her husband, survived. She lived until 1939. They were buried in the Mifflin Cemetery.
The year of 1930 actually started off well for Ethel’s oldest daughter, Mildred that should have made her mother quite proud of her.
On the January 30, 1930, Page 10B of the Columbus Dispatch there is a feature spotlight story with the title: “Girl Makes Unusual School Record” which includes a pretty photograph of her sharing that she excelled in two categories at Columbus’ Central High School.:
The 1930 U.S. Census enumerated on April 10th, 1930 with Ethel Yeldem who is listed as age 44 and divorced. Her occupation is listed as “Laundress from home.” She is still living at 393 Belvidere Avenue in Columbus with the following children.: Elaine age 10, Eleanor age 9, Byron age 8, Wayne age 6, Alice and Alan (who were twins) age 3-3/12. Also her Geller children of: Mildred age 17, Ervan age 15, and Vernon age 12.
Charles M. Geller who was Ethel’s oldest child from her first marriage is missing in the family’s census records and has yet to be found where he was living at that time. However, her son Eldon, age 19, shows up in the 1930 U.S. Census living as an inmate at the Institution for the Feeble Minded located at 1601 West Broad Street in Columbus.
May 6, 1930
Tuesday, May 6, 1930, was the day Ethel Marie Radar Geller Yeldem decided she could no longer endure living and carried out the murders of 7 of her living 11 children because she felt they would be better off not enduring a lifetime of hardships as she had known; she also knew she would be joining them soon herself. She tried to commit suicide the same day but did not actually pass away until May 16th.
The Columbus Evening Dispatch of course carried the news by May 7 with many follow up articles appearing well beyond. Newspapers across Ohio, and indeed the entire country, also gave extensive coverage of the news because it was so shocking and heartbreaking.
As might be expected, some readers of the Columbus Dispatch wasted no time writing up and sending in their comments of displeasure about the newspaper’s explicit coverage of this sad event to the point of their overdoing it and being in poor taste in the reader’s opinion.
It has to be noted that despite the trauma she experienced in her early life, Mildred Ann Geller went on to lead a highly productive and successful life passing away at the age of 97 in 2010. :
Obituary for Mildred Ann Geller Lightfoot.:
“Anderson – The family of Mildred A. Lightfoot sadly announces her passing on March 15, 2010, at the age of 97, at her daughter Jean’s residence. Mildred was born June 18, 1912 in Columbus, Ohio, to Otto and Ethel Geller.
She graduated from Central High School in Columbus, Ohio in 1930 and began further education at Ohio State University.
She moved to Anderson in 1931 to attend St. John’s School of Nursing, graduating with honors in 1934.
During her nursing career, Mildred worked at St. John’s Hospital. She enjoyed private duty nursing and was hired as the first Nurse at Madison Heights High School. She was the School Nurse from 1959 to 1967. Mildred and her husband, Clarence E. “Mike” Lightfoot both retired in 1967 and spent over 20 years traveling and spending winters in Clearwater, Florida. They were members of the First United Methodist Church. Mildred was a member of Phi Chi Epsilon Sorority, Tau Chapter, 60 years. She was also active in Bridge groups until two years ago and her wonderfully special “Pixie Club” until one month ago. Mildred is survived by three daughters, Molly Lightfoot Blom and husband Douglas of Eddyville, Kentucky, Jean Lightfoot Faris and husband Joe of Anderson, and Betty Lightfoot and husband Ed of Brownsburg; six grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her parents, C. Otto and Ethel Geller; husband, Clarence E. “Mike” Lightfoot, and brothers, Vernon and Ervin Geller. Services will be at 10:00 AM on March 19, 2010 at Robert D. Loose Funeral Homes & Crematory, South Chapel; 200 W. 53rd Street; Anderson with Rev. Kaye Casterline officiating. Cremation will follow and burial will be in Knox Chapel Cemetery in Rigdon on Friday, March 19, 2010 Visitation will be 3-7:00 pm, March 18, 2010 at the funeral home. Honorary Pallbearers will be Richard Lightfoot, Ervin “Mickey” Geller, Douglas Blom II, Joe Faris, Ed Beaver, Michael Blom, Douglas Blom III, J.T. Fletcher and Jeff Kasper.
Memorial contributions may be made to Community Hospital Home Health Services Hospice and The Anderson Public Library.