Questions from the Murder Box

One box in the archives recently caught my attention, the Murder Box. There are forty-two folders in the Murder Box; the earliest is dated October 1, 1892. Being a young adult, most of the television shows I watch are crime dramas but when I started reading through the files, I was struck by how connected to the people I felt. The ones I identified with the most were the cases where young people were affected. I found myself wondering how I would react in the situations these individuals were placed in. I read through four of the files completely but one of the four has stuck with me the longest.

The first file I read was from the Buckman area and occurred in December 1941. Richard Dehler murdered his parents and two younger siblings. I was intrigued mostly by Richard’s reason for killing his family. During the trial, Richard’s lawyer claimed Richard felt he could “never be free of the farm and its debts because of the illness of [his] father” (LFDT 1/22/42). The prosecution later attempted to show this claim to be false because “during the seasons when there [was] heavy work to be done on the farm, Ralph [Richard’s older brother], University farm school student, [was] at home to assist” (LFDT 1/22/43). The trial concluded quickly and Richard was only charged with the death of his mother, but could still be convicted of the other charges at a later date. Prior to his trial, Richard broke out of jail with another man but was captured. In 1959, Richard was released from prison because of lapses in the original proceedings. The due process of his trial was called into question and he was released only to be re-arrested and re-arraigned for the death of his mother. In December 1960, Richard pleaded guilty to 2nd degree murder and got a life sentence to prison.

When I finished reading, I was not satisfied. I knew what happened to Richard but I did not know what happened to his older brother and four older sisters. How did they react to the deaths of their parents and youngest siblings? Did they contact Richard? Did Richard contact them? Why did the state choose to prosecute him on the same exact charge in 1959 rather than prosecute him for the deaths of his father or his siblings? As I tried to answer these questions, I pulled another file and kept reading, hoping to find answers somewhere else.

The second file I read was from Swan River and occurred in July 1918. John Wozniak killed three of his children. Again, John’s motive was intriguing. He killed them because he was “laboring under [the] delusion that [they, the children] would starve” during the winter (LFDT 7/12/1918). He was convinced his crops, which were doing well, would fail and Tilla, age 8, Louis, age 5, and Walter, age 6, would starve. Prior to the murder, John sent the two oldest children out to do chores and left the 8-month-old baby sleeping in the children’s room. John confessed to the murders but later pled not guilty. During the trial in August 1918, he changed his plea to guilty and received a life sentence. In July of 1920, John hung himself while in prison.Another file finished and I had even more questions. Where did John Wozniak get the idea his crops would fail? Why did he not tell his wife about his conviction the crops would fail? Why did he leave the baby and the two oldest children alive? Why did he kill two sons? I realized my answers would not be found in the murder box but I noticed similarities between the first two stories and wanted to see if there were similarities to any other stories. The first two files I read were centered around farmers and the inescapable nature farms appear to have. Did this trend, if that is what it is, continue?

The third file I read was from Royalton and occurred in July 1959. Julius Voeller was shot by his daughter Shirley, age 14. The Voeller family had problems. Julius and his wife were divorced in the early 1950s in South Dakota. The children, Shirley, Lee, 17 at the time of the murder, Janet, 11, and Mary, 10, were put in an orphanage until roughly 1957. They moved to Royalton only the year before. Lee was working on a different farm and was not at home. Shirley blindfolded and tied her father to a chair before shooting him. Julius was able to drive to a neighbor’s house and get to a hospital before he died. Shirley shot him because he was “dirty to me and mean to the kids” and she “did the work of a housewife” (LDFT 7/17/1959). Julius “had sexually molested her frequently…often swore in the home and …beat them with a strap” (LDFT 7/17/1959). The case was dismissed as self-defense and the judge reprimanded the South Dakotan welfare board. The South Dakota welfare board basically ignored Shirley when she tried to get help.

There were fewer similarities between this case and the first two. It happened in the summer, as the second did, and other than occurring on a farm, it was not related to farming. I did have a few of the same questions that were unanswered with Richard Dehler. What happened to Shirley and her sisters? Were they adopted? What happened to Lee? Did their mother care? After the trial was dismissed, apparently all mention of the Voeller family evaporates. I decided to read one more file, not knowing the amount of questions I had was going to continue to increase.

The fourth file I read was from Darling and occurred in April 1905. It was the file of the unresolved murder of Annie Kintop. She was returning from Little Falls and left the train station in Darling by herself. A week later, when she was still not home, a search was started. Her brother and brother-in-law found her body near a church. She was strangled and beaten. Her brother-in-law, Frank Coenen, had dreamed of the place the night before. She was killed by blunt trauma to the head, caused by a spike hammer. The suspects were two black men. The story was picked up by three out-of-state newspapers, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, the New York Times, and The Washington Post, all the papers the day after her body was found. After a few false leads, the two black men were no longer suspects nor was anyone else. In 1909, a series of arrests were made. Archie Cyrus, William Bailey, Joseph Kennedy, Hugh Kennedy, and Alfred A. Fredrickson were arrested between February 27, 1909, and March 19, 1909. William Bailey was the first released on March 3, 1909. The last two released were Hugh Kennedy and Alfred A. Fredrickson on April 1, 1909. Two years later another possible lead also failed.

Annie Kintop was not much older than I am now when she was murdered. Her murderer was never found. There are no factual connections between Annie’s story and the other three stories. The only connections can be found in the questions. Unlike the three previous stories, there are more questions concerning physical elements of the case. Of course I still wonder what happened to her family and the community: How did they cope with the death of a daughter and sister? Did parents throughout the community regulate the actions of their children, especially their daughters, even if they were grown up, more strictly? How does a community move on after a murder when there is seemingly no closure? These questions are important but ever more present is the question: Who killed her? Obviously I have no idea, nor does Joan Vetsch, who wrote a book about Annie.

My questions may not have answers, for who can really say why people do what they do? I try to find answers to help better understand my fellow human but when, instead of answers, I find more questions, I find myself lost. And then I realize, it is not necessarily the answers that matter so much as the questions. In the end, that is what makes history thrilling. There are so many questions and so few answers. We may know who, what, when, where, and how but the why is almost always a mystery—even when we are told the answer. In finding connections between different events and the questions they raise, we can truly learn something. Whether what we learn is about the past, ourselves, or the future is up to each individual. So, as I close the Murder Box, I do not close the topic; I merely shelve it in my mind to think of when I am looking through another box from another time in another place. My questions remain questions but the answers I hope to find now are not the answers I had hoped to find when I began.

-By Marissa Knaack, MCHS Intern

This article originally appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Volume 24, Number 3, 2011.

9 Comments

  1. http://jansonfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html

    After reading the stories, I was intrigued and dug around online and found this.. It is a Janson family tree/blog. They lived next door to the Dehler family. You will see an interesting pic taken in 1989 of the 6 remaining children – YES, Richard in there.. I was baffled, nothing is mentioned about how they are all posing for the picture looking happy as can be, a normal looking family sibling pic. Crazy! I don’t know if permission could be given to use some of the info or pics etc. So,I just put the address at the top and didn’t copy the pic. It is very interesting! Thanks! Amy

  2. Marissa I must correct your statement in regard to the murder of Annie Kintop. You wrote, “Who killed her? Obviously I have no idea, nor does Joan Vetsch, who wrote a book about Annie.”
    I, Joan Vetsch, have a very good idea who killed Annie; my theory (idea) is explained in depth in my book Murder at the Darling Church. What is “obvious” is that I can not PROVE he killed Annie as there is no forensic/physical evidence left after one hundred years.
    I also make it very clear in my book that my conclusion is not a fact, only a theory based on the information I was able to gather about the crime.
    I don’t claim to have solved the murder; I simply present the readers with a logical suspect.

  3. Hi!
    I was brought here trying to find out more about Annie Kintop’s murder. In the beginning of the article you mentioned a box in the archives, a ‘Murder Box’. I was just curious as to where you got the files from. I would love to look through the box and maybe pull out a few files to look through myself but I’m just not sure where they’d be.

    • Hi, Olivia – Our Murders Box is in the archive of the Weyerhaeuser Museum. We create the files using public information (mostly newspaper articles) that we find. If you want to see the box, visit the museum during our open hours (Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., year-round) and mention at the Front Desk that you want to do research. We’ll have you fill out a research form and you can write on this that you are interested in the Murders Box. Staff will retrieve it for you.

      Mary Warner
      Executive Director

  4. Thank you so much Mary!! I may have to stop in soon.

  5. Ooo! I am obsessed with this file sight unseen. My mother grew up in Buckman, and told me of the Dehler case. According to her, that occurred during the time when Fathers of Germanic descent were still likely to decide their children’s future for them. And that could be staying on the farm, going to the convent or into the priesthood, etc. It was said that mother was killed after father because he couldn’t stand the thought of his mother knowing he had killed the father. The youngest children were killed for the same reason….No idea of the reality of that or if it was common speculation/assumption.

    • That’s an interesting insight, Julie. We have pulled newspaper articles on the case and that’s what you’ll find in the Dehler murder file should you ever want to stop in an look at it. Thanks for your comments.

      Mary Warner
      Executive Director

  6. Greetings to MCHS-
    I have family all around the Little Falls area. I was born there, but not raised there.

    I remember vaguely a story my grandmother mentioned once to me and my siblings when we were very young- sometime in the late 60’s. We were driving down a road late one night (I believe Grouse Rd), and in the middle of the road was a large tree we had to drive around. I remember asking why there was a tree in the middle of the road.
    My grandmother (who was approximately 60 yrs old) said the tree was left as a memorial, because a teenage girl was killed by *indians* who tied her to the tree and cut her heart out, then placed it on her head.

    Now, I was young so this left an impression on me. I don’t believe my grandmother made the story up because I sort of remember others mentioning the story as well.

    I’m just wondering … was I so young to have not understood the story to remember it correctly?
    And if I have remembered it correctly, is there any record of this sad story in the morrison county records?

    I’ve only been back to Little Falls once in the past 30 years. I believe the last time I went through there, I think I did notice the tree is gone now.

    I’m just curious. If you could share anything with me regarding this story, I am all eyes! 🙂

    Thank you.

    • Hi, Alexandra – This is an intriguing story. I’ve been with MCHS for 20 years and haven’t ever run across it in the historic record. We are doing a little digging, though, to see if there is anything behind the story.

      Mary Warner
      Executive Director

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