The girl in the road didn't move as the headlights swept over her.

She wore a long blue dress that was soaked from the rain, and her feet were bare. The approaching driver slowed and reached for her cell phone, thinking the girl might have been in an accident. But before she dialed, she took a closer look -- and could scarcely believe what she saw.Light seemed to pass through the girl, as though she were a figment from a disturbing dream. When the car pulled alongside her, she smiled, displaying blackened teeth in a deteriorating mouth. Unnerved, the driver sped away.

"I can't explain it," she recently told the Tribune, years after the incident. "It just wasn't real."

A chill runs through local historians when they hear this story. The driver had been traveling on Sheridan Road in Lake Forest, near the now-closed Barat College. That was close to the spot where, on a winter morning in 1916, a young woman's frozen body was discovered -- the prologue of a drama that would consume the town and the nation.

Though it faded into the void of history, the tale has never really gone away. At least once every generation, someone discovers it, entranced by its ageless themes of lust, betrayal and mystery.

It is a tragedy that some say has become a ghost story. As Halloween approaches, the Tribune tells it anew in three parts, beginning one cold, long-ago night in Lake Forest, in a small home on a large estate, when the telephone rang with a strange call.

Marion Lambert left her friend in the sitting room and went into the hallway to answer the phone. The conversation was brief. When she returned, her friend noticed, she appeared uneasy.

Marion, two days past her 18th birthday, was a pretty and vivacious senior at Deerfield High School in Highland Park. Her fair, wavy hair was cut stylishly short. Mischief danced in her eyes. Her minister called her the liveliest girl at the Lake Forest Presbyterian church.

Most of her friends would have called her happy. She was a beloved only child, living with her parents on the estate of clothing baron Jonas Kuppenheimer, where her father worked as head gardener. Times were good: The tycoons of Lake Forest were growing even richer by equipping Europe's warring armies, and so much money was flowing into town that Marion was dreaming of college.

Best of all, she had a sweetheart. For months, she had been seeing Will Orpet, a college boy three years her senior. He was a schoolgirl's dream -- hair pomaded into a dark shell, narrow, intense eyes and boyishly smooth cheeks.

They had known each other for years -- Orpet's father, a caretaker at Cyrus McCormick's titanic estate, was friendly with the Lamberts -- but their friendship changed when he began sending her letters from Madison, where he was studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin. Playfully flirtatious at first, the notes grew more passionate.

"I want to see you, dearest, and want you badly," he wrote on April 8, 1915. "If I could only get my arm around you now, and get up close to you and kiss the life out of you, I would be happy."

He wasn't content with mere words. On a springtime visit to her home, he sat scandalously close to her on the sofa. She did not approve. He did not relent.

In September of that year, he was again home in Lake Forest and took her for a drive. They stopped at the edge of a small forest just south of Sacred Heart Convent.

"Shall we go into the woods?" Orpet asked. She agreed. They strolled into the trees until they reached an appealingly isolated spot.

"Shall we sit down?" he said.

That was the end of the talk.

After that, Orpet's letters changed. They were short, sometimes peevish, as he claimed he was too busy to write. He no longer called her "dearest."

In November, the notes grew chillier still after Marion relayed a secret fear: She thought she was pregnant.