Albion Interactive History / Events / 1949

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Events / Starr Commonwealth

1949 November 3, Housemother Mrs. Estelle Tusch killed by Starr student

On November 3, 1949, the inch-high banner across the front page of the Detroit Free Press read “Boy Ward SlaysMatron.” The account which followed described how “a quiet, dark-haired ladstabbed his house mother at Starr Commonwealth.” As Mrs. Estell Tusch stood stirring a cake at the kitchen table in Choate Cottage, fourteen-year-old Kenneth Miller of Ithaca, Michigan, stole up behind her and drove and eleven inch butcher knife into her back. The attack was partly to settle a grudge “because she always hollered at me,” but principally it was to secure the $26.00 he thought she had and use it as runaway money. Failing to find the money, Miller coolly called the police and confessed to the assault. After exhaustive tests, state psychiatrists declared the boy “was a victim of sever chronic schizophrenia,” and he was sent to the Ypsilanti State Hospital.

Starr was devastated. Years later he would say, “That was the darkest day of my life. I still cannot speak of it.” From the first years of the Commonwealth, hehad feared two things above all: homosexuality and violent crime on the campus. Thus far he had been spared the first, but now cold-blooded murder had struckthe campus. Although Probate Judge Edmond R. Blaske declared that “Hasty conclusionsor judgments critical of Starr Commonwealth for Boys should not be drawn as a result of thetragedy which has occurred,” Starr knew only too well that human nature loves a scandal. Somehow he must minimize its spread, but how?

Customarily Starr took his problems to his office in the Emily Jewel ClarkBuilding, and there the reporters found him. “I was the complete coward,” he admitted ruefully years later. “I just could not face that pack of newshounds.” Suddenly the desk buzzer broke into his thoughts. “A Mr. Rae Corliss to see you,” said his secretary.

Mr. Corliss was an Albion journalist who had long known Starr as a source for news and a personal friend. At nearly seventy years of age, Starr already was seeing his old circle of friends flee to the South or yield to infirmities. As Corliss said, “Floyd was a lonelyman in his later years. Since I made a handy companion, he often called me out to his home to have dinner with him.”

Outside Starr’s office were several reporters he did not want to speak with. Corliss advised him that they just wanted the facts, and to give those to them. It was good advice. Although a few of the newsmen persisted in playing up the sensational, most of them agreed with Judge Blaske that “the incident could have occurred in almost any public or private institution.”

Source: Keith Fennimore. FaithMade Visible: The History of Floyd Starr and His School. Albion, Michigan:Starr Commonwealth. 1988.