Just to refresh your memory, we reported about an unsolved murder that happened in October 1915 -100 years ago. As the PCT put in their story at the time, the two were ‘Struck down by a fiend who had evidently planned the murder before hand, two young men-or rather a man and a boy-were killed about a mile west of town sometime between September 18th and Monday, October 11th, in 1915’.
The police believed the motive was robbery. When we did our research we found reports that indicated $4.72 was found in the man’s pocket. Taking into account inflation, $4.72 in 1915 would equal $111.37 today. In 1915, the median income was $687 per year if you were a male, which equals roughly $13 per week. So while $4.72 might not seem like a lot, it would take two to three days of hard work to earn that much. Would someone who would kill for ill-gotten gains really leave that amount of money behind? Here at the PCT and along with Rugby’s own, our amateur sleuth Lori Miron didn’t think that was plausible for the murders, so we did a little snooping and found some interesting things.
Then we did a search for unsolved murders with similar modus operandi from 1912-1918 in this area of North Dakota and found some interesting reading.
A working man, from all appearances about 32 years of age, was found dead in a straw stack on the W.M. Elmstock farm three miles west of the city this morning by Johnson Wolf, an employee at the Elmwood farm; a straw stack just like in Rugby. The man had gone to a straw stack for a load of straw and his fork struck something, which proved to be a man’s body covered with straw. Sheriff Nedrone was notified and he brought the body to Minot, placing it in Van Fleet’s morgue. Coroner Doe held an inquest.
Thirteen cents, a jack knife and some matches were found in the pockets. So it didn’t seem like robbery was the motive. There was not a scratch of writing to identify the man, just like in Rugby. He was well dressed with a gray suit and wore good shoes. He had a suit of new underwear on that had been bought from the Leland Department store. In his pockets was found some stuff, which leads the authorities to believe that he had been working at thrashing. The murder was never solved and the man was never identified; eerily similar to Rugby’s murder.
Then there was a body of unknown man found in a straw stack at Rockham Farm near Bantry. As reported, the unidentified man had his skull crushed his body lifeless when found. According to the report the body looked like a man of refinement. Thos. E. Fox, the hardware merchant from Bantry was in Minot Monday night, and told the Independent Newspaper of finding the body of a man in a straw pile on the Robert Rackham farm located a mile southeast of Bantry. Sound familiar? The coroner, Mr. John, was notified, and held an inquest. It is generally believed that the man was victim to foul play, ‘for over the eye could be seen a big gash, and the bones were crushed.’
It is thought the victim was a 30-year-old man, and he appeared to be scantily clad. He was likely murdered months ago, and the body carried to the straw stack and concealed. The teeth showed six gold fillings. Again you have an unidentified man murdered, the murder was never solved in the same time range, with valuable left on his person, this time gold teeth, and the same area available by rail.
Then in Upham we discovered this murder. As reported, ‘Murder of the most brutal nature was revealed today when the body of James Schroeder, aged 43 years, a bachelor farmer residing four miles from this city, was found in a haystack.’ This person was identified but hiding the body in the haystack was the same as the other murders.
The report also shared, ‘The murder evidently was committed in the barn, and the dead body hauled to the haystack, half a mile distant, near the Moose river, the evident intention being to conceal the crime as long as possible.’ Again very similar to the other murders. Robbery was not reported as the mitigating factor and the murder was never solved! Coincidence or possibly something dastardlier? Did the area have a serial killer?
We then conducted a search for other similar murders in the whole of North Dakota during the same timeframe and there was only one and it jumped out and we thought we may have our killer.
There was an unsolved murder in the same time period in Jamestown. The victim was a woman that had her skull crushed, was hidden in a haystack and when her body was discovered she still had money on her. Murdered, body hidden in a haystack, and robbery not the motive. Sound familiar?
The murders took place in Ray, ND a town right on the railways “Three Farm People Beaten To Death Degenerate Murders Mother and Sons”, screamed the headline. The murderer was Guy Hall, who had previously spent time in prison. Robbery wasn’t the motive and after the beatings that resulted in the death of the victims, he concealed their bodies in a haystack. Hall left a message for everyone to read pushed into one of his victim’s mouth that read “This is the beginning of my finished work of crime.” Then as reported, ‘The police who when they arrived entered the upstairs room and found Hall’s dead body, a bullet having crashed through his brain’
Could this be a coded message that he has killed before? Was Hall making a deathbed confession? Unfortunately, not! When doing research of these tragic murders we found Hall’s prison record showed he was incarcerated at the time of the Rugby murders, so he couldn’t be our serial killer.
We shared our theories with Rugby’s own Chief of Police John Rose, who said, “That is an interesting piece of history. This also raises the question of what could be done with today’ s technology with evidence that is 100 years old. Would there still be microscopic evidence attached to vehicle coupler? Could the victim’s clothes hold any clue? Has this evidence been held secure, or has it went the way of history as departments move from location to location, or who may have been charged with holding the evidence? What were the standards of holding evidence 100 years ago? How contaminated would it be at today’s standards?” Chief Rose tried to locate any evidence that might still be on hand from 100-years ago, since it is still “technically” an open case, but was unable to do so.
Rose shared his theories about the case, “I do believe some of the law enforcement theory of the incident was solid, but it was just that, theory. I would agree that the location of the deceased indicates they were looking to “hop a train” out of the area. I would be interested to know what was determined about where they were working of what they were doing in the area and how long they would have been in the area.” He continued, ” I would guess that the victims knew the assailant, likely from a work relationship. From there maybe you could theorize a motive. Not sure how the murder weapon would play into it, as carrying a large coupler around with the plan to ‘brain’ two people doesn’t fit with travelers. I would guess the weapon was something that was found close. From the description of the deceased, it sounds like they didn’t see it coming, or were attacked from behind.” He concluded, “It also sounded like there was a plan to conceal the bodies. Again this may indicate that the assailant may have been traveling with the victims. I don’t believe it was a random act of violence, such as serial killer riding the rails, he wouldn’t give that attention to hiding the victims. I’m sure there are lots of theories and lore behind this crime.”
The murders stopped as quickly as they begun. Our search did not reveal any other murders solved or unsolved with these characteristics. So what is your theory? Serial crime? Random act of violence? Revenge murders? Robbery gone bad? Who’s to say? The crime remains today still as an unsolved mystery and open murder case.
To you our readers if you have any information that would lead to the apprehension and conviction of the perpetrator(s) of these senseless murders, the Pierce County Tribune will be offering Chamber Bucks as a reward.
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