Another Murder Set
the scene A murder in 1907 brought to our attention by Corene Phillips, who does a
lot of research into Buffalo County history and knows I like to hear about
murder in early Buffalo County history.
Gus – a bachelor farmer north of
Immigrated from Europe Expert
civil engineer who had worked in many different countries & spoke 6
A veteran of British, French, German, Spanish & Italian campaigns before
coming to US.
Also a Civil War vet Came to
Buffalo County about 1870 and filed on a homestead in 1872.
Had sold the farm two years ago and was now renting the buildings and
Now about 76 years old
Herman – married with family,
lived on farm next to Gus. Also
immigrated from Europe. Filed
his homestead in 1877. Had a
grocery business in Kearney for a while but returned to the farm about 7
years ago (1900).
Had a violent and brutal temper, feared by his neighbors
– August 4, 1907 Gus was murdered by a hammer blow to the back
of the head
Herman had came over midmorning agitated, hammer in hand He
asked John, another neighbor present, what he had heard Gus say about him John
said “nothing” so Herman calmed down Gus
invited Herman into the house. They
were drinking together when John left about 11:00
6:00 p.m. John heard a shot from direction of Gus’ place
Knowing Herman’s violent temper, John went over there. Found
Gus face down in the yard with Herman’s hammer and hat nearby (Shot
later found to have been another neighbor killing a dog.) John
phoned the sheriff who came out with his deputy They
examined the scene, then went to Herman’s home and asked him what was going
(but didn’t tell him Gus was dead) Herman
appeared dazed but sober and said that was what he was trying to figure out Sheriff
told him to get his hat, which he could not find and did not know what had
happened to it,
so he got a new one
They took Herman to the scene of the crime where he seemed unconcerned;
could not say anything coherent about what had happened
Officers brought Herman to Kearney and placed him in jail
The trial was set for
December 10, 1907
The Prosecution (Witnesses
included…) Doctor from Albion – assisted in the
autopsy, gave cause of death as blow to head inflicted by a blunt
instrument. Frank, a neighbor – had borrowed a hay rack
from Herman and returned it on the day of Gus’ death, then went to John to
borrow another. Herman and Gus came over. Conversation was all right as far
as he could tell John – (we have already met him)
Testified pretty much what he had related to the reporter at the time of the
murder. He did say he went to another neighbor’s house to telephone the
Neighbor with telephone – verified John’s
story. He took some photographs of Gus’ place after the event which were
entered into evidence.
Father of previous
witness – told of the arrival of the sheriff and that he and John had
brought the body into Kearney to Bowers Undertaking rooms.
Said he had first met Gus at the bombardment of Ft. Sumpter in 1863.
Sheriff Sammons – told of being called,
arriving at 10 p.m. Upon
learning that Gus and Herman had been together,
went to Herman’s home and found him very confused as though recovering from
a heavy drunk.
He could not find his hat, did not know where it was, had to get another.
They went to Gus’ place where Herman said he did not kill Gus.
including…) Kearney doctor
– gave professional opinion that death could have come from either natural
causes or the head wounds.
– (but his testimony not reported)
The Verdict Judge gave instructions including (at request
of defense lawyer) pointing out that all the evidence was circumstantial
requiring that it must be strong enough to eliminate all other reasonable
hypothesis. They could convict for manslaughter or murder or acquit if the
evidence is not conclusive.
At 5:30 the jury began deliberations; at 8:30 they
returned a verdict of “Not guilty”
The Rest of the Story – Two years later June 28, 1909 – Herman arrested in
Lincoln for selling liquor without a license City detective saw 3 customers each pay 25¢ and
leave Herman’s grocery store with bottle of beer in paper sack so he went in
& ordered the same
When Herman figured out this was a police
detective he gave the excuse the bottles had been left earlier to be put on
ice. He also said he did not intend to sell the beer but the man had come
into the store and forced him to part with the bottle and then handed him
Detective did not buy the excuse and took him to the station
Search of cellar turned up
a barrel of beer, many whiskey bottles and several jugs of whiskey and wine.
told police Herman made his own wine to sell from grapes he obtained from a
grape arbor he owned at Kearney but the Hub added he was not known
to own a large grape arbor here.
There was also a complaint that Herman had struck
one of his lady clerks in the face when he became angry with her. When asked
why she had not informed police of the liquor sales the clerk said she did
not want to be arrested for selling whiskey
Shortly after Herman was
arrested a father showed up at the station and accused Herman of a statutory
offense against his 16 year old daughter
1) City charged him with selling intoxicating liquors and keeping liquors
2) The store clerk charged him with assault and battery
3) The father charged him with a statutory offense against his 16 year old
July 1909 – Herman was assessed a fine of $100 for selling
liquor without a license for every count which added up to “tidy sum.”
Nothing said about the other two counts.