Molly Zelko

Zelda Machinko, the fictional centerpiece of One Shoe Off, was inspired by an actual journalist in Joliet, Ill., who disappeared September 26, 1957.

Amelia “Molly” Zelko was born in 1910 to Slovenian immigrants. ‘At age 17 she took a job as a secretary to William McCabe, a Will County lawyer and politician. He purchased a weekly newspaper, The Spectator, in 1936, with Molly as a co-owner. McCabe took a stand against local racketeers. He was beaten so badly by a group of thugs that he never completely recovered and Molly took a leadership role in running the paper. The Spectator had been doing stories about illegal gambling and pinball machines which were being used for illegal betting in area bars.

On the day she disappeared, Molly had worked from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. She left the office telling printers she would see them in the morning. That night a neighbor found one of her shoes and put it on the trunk of her car which was parked in front of her apartment. The other shoe was found the next day by the printers looking for Molly. Police searched her home and didn’t find any sign of her. She was never seen again.

Reporters came from all over the country to do a story on Molly. Herbert Hoover and the FBI investigated. Robert Kennedy, who was chief counsel to the Senate committee on rackets, also came to Joliet to investigate after an inmate at Stateville Correctional Center claimed to know where she was buried.

McCabe died in 1958 so ownership of the paper passed to Molly. Friends assumed if she were alive, she would have come forward at that time, but she didn’t.  She was declared legally dead on January 5, 1965.  The Spectator, which had been sold by the McCabe family, went out of business in 1965.


Did you know? Molly had a 17-carat diamond ring that was valued at $37,000.

Want to know more about Zelda Machinko?

 Read all about it in the book One Shoe Off, by Sue Merrell