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Murder and Mayhem are hers to tell in Redwood County

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Patricia Lubeck holds the ax used by William Kleeman to kill his wife and four young children in 1917 in Redwood County. The notorious crime from the county's early days is among more than a dozen sensational murders she details in her new book, "Murder Mystery and Mayhem in Minnesota." She is in front of the Redwood County Museum in Redwood Falls, where she is the curator.1 / 7
Submitted / William Rose was hanged twice from the gallows after the rope snapped during the first attempt to execute him. He proclaimed his innocence to the end. Author Patricia Lubeck is among many who believe Rose was innocent of the murder of Moses Lufkin, who was widely distrusted. 2 / 7
Submitted The Redwood County sheriff's quarters and jail was built in 1895. The small jail cell was unheated.3 / 7
Submitted Sheriff Charlie Mead was the executioner at the gallows where William Rose was hanged twice. 4 / 7
Submitted The Hotel Francois in downtown Redwood Falls. Charlie Shea, a 21-year-old night clerk and porter, swallowed a fatal dose of strychnine here in front of female co-workers in 1896, telling them he would "take my breakfast in hell.'' 5 / 7
Submitted The Drews Hotel in Seaforth was set on fire in 1915 in a scheme to collect insurance money. Boarders were in the building and one young woman almost lost her life. It's among the crime stories featured in Patricia Lubeck's book "Murder, Mystery and Mayhem in Minnesota.'' 6 / 7
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Patricia Lubeck, curator of the Redwood County Museum, holds a copy of her book telling the stories of the county's sensational murders from its early years: "Murder Mystery and Mayhem in Minnesota." 7 / 7

REDWOOD FALLS — Patricia Lubeck will go to her grave believing William Rose was an innocent man.

How Rose got to his grave played a role in making Minnesota one of the first states to abolish capital punishment.

Standing on the gallows, he proclaimed his innocence one last time and told Sheriff Charlie Mead to "do his duty.'' The sheriff did. Rose dropped and the rope around his neck went taut for a moment before snapping "as though it were a cotton thread, the body landing on the hard, wooden floor with a sickening crash,'' is how Lubeck describes it in her new book, "Murder, Mystery and Mayhem in Minnesota.''

Knocked insensible but still very much alive, the limp body of Rose was hauled back up the gallows and dropped a second time with a new rope around his neck. This time the rope held. Onlookers watched as Rose drew up his knees and moved his shoulders as if struggling for breath as he dangled in the air. His heart beat for 6½ minutes and a trace of it could be felt for another five, wrote Lubeck of the incident.

And all of this after going through three trials, two of which had ended in his being acquitted, appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and month after month of confinement in an unheated jail cell the size of a dinky bathroom.

"Many think that when the rope broke, God was sending a message,'' said Lubeck.

She has a message for all of us in her new book, which tells the stories of over a dozen sensational murders from the early days of Redwood County.

Life was a real struggle in the settlement days of this region, violence and mental health issues were constants, and justice could be an iffy proposition, said Lubeck of what her research into Redwood County's early crimes taught her.

The story of William Rose, executed Oct. 16, 1891, is Redwood County's best-known murder case. He was executed for the shooting death of Moses Lufkin, "a man who was universally despised and distrusted,'' wrote Lubeck.

And yet Lubeck, who is curator of the Redwood County Museum, can point to records at the museum detailing crimes far more heinous and shocking than the one for which Rose was accused. The museum is home to the very ax that William Kleeman used in 1917 to kill his wife and their four children, ages 6 months to 5 years, before taking his own life.

Kleeman's tragic story is also the basis for a recently released novel by Marty Seifert, "Sundown at Sunrise.''

Lubeck tells the Kleeman story in her new book, but with none of the imagining. The events in all of the stories told in her book are based on historical records. She pored over newspaper accounts, court transcripts and other records she could uncover during the course of four years to put together the accounts.

She said she is fascinated by stories of crime, but admits there were times when she "got a little creeped out by it all.'' Along with the ax, her book tells the stories of murders committed with a pitchfork, potato masher, bolting pin, poison and, of course, guns.

Rose is not the only man Lubeck believes may have been wrongly convicted of murder in the county. Clifton Holden was sentenced to life at Stillwater Prison — where he eventually went insane — for the shooting death of his cousin on Nov. 23, 1888, in Redwood Falls. There's more than a reasonable doubt in the case, said Lubeck. Interestingly, Holden and Rose had shared the same jail cell as their cases went through the courts.

There are two stories where racism can be blamed. In one, two drunken trappers who were looked on as "half breeds'' were lynched by a mob on Christmas Day 1866. The mob overpowered the sheriff and yanked their victims from the jail, hacking at them with knives before lynching them. A dispute over an alleged, unpaid bill at a tavern triggered the violence.

In 1921, it is a black man who is the victim of what Lubeck believes is another case of racism. Hall Green was convicted on April 30 in a fatal shooting that had happened only 22 days earlier. Green, his brother and the white victim in this case were all believed to have had relations with a white woman.

Lubeck has uncovered plenty of other tragedies with themes that unfortunately remain familiar yet today. Martha O'Connell struck her husband, John, a fatal blow over the head with a bolting pin after suffering physical abuse at his drunken hand. A grand jury declined to charge her in the 1887 death, even though she had poured kerosene over her husband's body and set it on fire in their home.

And then there is the tragedy of Charlie Shea, a 21-year-old man who had everything to live for, according to Lubeck. He swallowed a fatal dose of strychnine in front of his female co-workers in 1896, telling them he'd soon be taking his breakfast in hell.

"What possesses people to do these things? That's what so interesting to me,'' said Lubeck.

This book is her second to look at crime in Redwood County. Her first, "Murder in Gales, a Rose Hanged Twice,'' is devoted entirely to the story of William Rose.

It was the story of Rose that led her on this path to research the history of early day crime. "I thought maybe that if I really researched, maybe I could find who really did it,'' she said of the murder for which Rose was convicted. "That was my mission.''

She has not been able to find that conclusive piece of evidence to exonerate Rose. Yet what she discovered has only increased her desire to uncover more stories of crime. Prior to taking on her role in Redwood County, Lubeck had served as director for the Yellow Medicine County Historical Society.

And guess what? There are equally sensational stories of crime there waiting to be told, and she aims to be the one to tell them.

In the meantime, she's preparing the Redwood County Museum for this summer's exhibit titled "Crime and Punishment in Redwood County."

Copies of her book are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Outskirtspress, and at the Redwood County Museum.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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