Abuse, Torture, Corruption and Murder in Minnesota’s State Hospitals


Insane asylums have a horrible history. Originally intended to provide a place to keep away “madness” within society, asylums eventually paved the way for medical professionals to study patients with mental illness. The asylums were palatial buildings surrounded by vast landscaped grounds and beautiful vistas. Due to overcrowding, untrained staff, and corrupt administrators, these institutions gradually became places of squalor and negligence. State funding could not keep up with the high cost of maintaining the monstrous structures. As time went on, more and more patients were admitted, making it challenging to keep up with the demand for better care. By the 1980s, many state hospitals were closed.

This book provides the history of Minnesota’s two oldest state hospitals – St. Peter, which opened in 1866, followed by Rochester in 1879. Before, laws allowed families to commit their spouses, relatives, or friends with little supporting evidence. Many times, people were committed involuntarily and never released.

“Asylum Scandals” offers a glimpse into daily life in these institutions from 1867 to 1915. Many endured long confinements in straitjackets, hydrotherapy sprays, electric shock treatments, lobotomies, and other tortuous procedures. This is just a small sample of all the horrible things that went on behind the brick walls of the asylums, but there are many more secrets yet to be revealed.


1. “Patients with a great deal of mental and emotional fortitude handled their situation quite well. Many of them performed skilled tasks, operating machinery in the kitchen, laundry or on the farm.”

2. “The acts of cruelty which were revealed; the slow torture of helpless men and women, the terrorizing and brutal conduct of the attendants, unfolded a story which was too sickening to contemplate.”

3. “It was said she began wandering from house to house; from place to place; incessantly talking and singing. Her habits were filthy and destructive; tears her clothing and eats it… has been confined in a room alone and chained to the floor by her leg.”

Murder and Misfortune in Minnesota This book contains stories of early crimes of disturbing proportions — the weapons used to commit these dastardly deeds, the proceedings of the justice system at the time, early prison conditions and treatment of prisoners during their incarceration, and the judge’s sentencing of the convicted. Most slayings in the 19th century started as disagreements among farmers in the field. They struggled to make a better life and many times took the law into their own hands. Insults to one’s honor were taken seriously and violence was the method of settling disputes. The knife or a bludgeoning tool were the common weapons of choice, but later on, a good pistol could do a quick job in an unfortunate situation. Farm tools could also be used as weapons — the ax, the pitchfork, the rope, the potato masher, the bolting pin, and even strychnine, which was used to poison vermin — these were all at the ready and highly effective when needed. This book reveals how various types of lethal weapons were used to commit murder and misfortune in rural Redwood County in the early years. Eventually, official justice was established by the courts, replacing private vengeance committed as a result of feuds, fights or fraud. After reading these stories though, one might wonder — is there truly any justice in this world!

This book was written to document stories of the early pioneers who settled in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota during the late nineteenth century. The past comes back to life as you read about the struggles, hardships and adventures that many hearty souls endured along the way, as they made an untamed land their home. You’ll read about numerous crimes-including the first and only execution in the county; shootings, stabbings, bludgeonings, poisonings, suicides; and calamities-a mysterious death, a strange disappearance, a train wreck, a bank robbery, a raid on a saloon, and so much more. What went on back then is not much different than what happens today. Crime is still a big part of our society and will continue. The reader will be transported into the past-you will visit the bloody crime scene, you will stand at the gallows and listen to a condemned man’s last words before he drops to his death, you will witness courtroom proceedings and hear the verdict-guilty or not guilty. You will get a glimpse into the justice system of the early nineteenth century, where court conditions and the treatment of both the victim and the accused was quite different from what it is today. Justice existed but was not always served in many of these cases, as you will discover. This book uncovers some gruesome and dastardly deeds of the day and reveals intimate details of personal lives. Crime and calamity is never a pretty picture but it is what happened, and a very important part of the history of a place.

In 1888 there’s bad blood and bitter feuding between two families, the Lufkins and the Roses. It seems William Rose sought the heart and hand of Lufkin’s beautiful daughter, Grace and she was the main subject of the feud. Her father put a stop to the romance and the fire of hatred was kindled resulting in bitter quarrels and lawsuits between the families.

On the evening of August 22, 1888 Moses Lufkin is seated on a lounge near an open window conversing with the Slover family in the town of Gales. All of a sudden a shot is heard. Lufkin has been shot in the back and dies within minutes. Eli Slover rushes to the window and sees a man running from the scene, who he believes is William Rose. Rose, considered a likely suspect, is arrested two days later, and charged with the crime.

This true story gives intimate details and events leading to this horrible tragedy. You’ll get a glimpse of other possible suspects and motives, a look at the justice system of the times, as Rose endures three trials, being acquitted at the first two, with a conviction at the third. Appeals were made all the way to the US Supreme Court but Governor Merriam denies the commutation of the death sentence and Rose is scheduled to hang.

On October 16, 1891, the death march begins, and Rose courageously meets his fate. As he stands at the top of the gallows, he glances at the little crowd of people below with his piercing dark eyes and gives his last speech; “Gentlemen, you realize that I stand on this platform tonight as a poor, unfortunate man, who in a few minutes must swing. Some of you will surely live to see the day that I shall be declared innocent. Watch that old man, Slover, and see whether my words don’t come true. Gentlemen, I bid you goodbye.”

The gruesome details of the execution begin at 5 am; Sheriff Charlie Mead pulls the lever, a loud crash is heard, Rose’s limp body lies in a heap upon the floor; the rope broke. The horror-stricken crowd stands motionless. Finally, deputies carry his body to the gallows, another noose is placed around his neck, and the trap sprung again. This time the rope holds and Rose swings a second time; his spirit finally escaping into eternity.

Over 120 years later, people who’ve heard this story, still claim an innocent man was hanged, not once, but twice. Such a terrible miscarriage of justice is now a part of the past. But there is a piece from this story that still stands at the Redwood County Museum, Redwood Falls. It is the small, one-room jail where Rose stayed the day before his execution. This treasure from the past has been preserved by the Redwood County Historical Society and is on display during the summer months.

A motive for murder. This is a true story about Clarence Larson and the two women he married. His first wife, Martha, died in a suspicious farm accident. She was found wrapped up on the power-take-off mechanism on December 19, 1961. Neighbors felt the scene appeared suspicious, and may have been staged. Poor Martha was dead with a large, bloody gash in the back of her head. Less than two weeks before her suspicious death, her husband took out a 31-day accident policy on Martha for $10,000, naming him as the beneficiary – the perfect motive for murder.

Next, Clarence married his second wife, Jean Sande in 1964. In early October 1980, she disappeared without a trace. Neighbors were suspicious and asked Clarence what happened to his wife. He told conflicting stories of her whereabouts. Clarence finally reported her missing three weeks later but didn’t seemed concerned that she was gone. He told the sheriff, “Jean will surface again someday.”

This story reveals intimate details of Martha’s death, the two autopsies, the coroner’s inquest, details of the trial after Clarence was arrested and indicted for first-degree murder, and how he gets acquitted. Then you will be amazed about all that went on in the search for Jean. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension gets involved. There was the ground search, an aerial search and a search of the Cottonwood River. BCA investigators found blood evidence in the kitchen of the Larson residence. As a last resort, a world-renowned psychic was brought in to help locate Jean’s remains, but they have yet to be found. Jean’s case remains open to this day. Justice has not been served for Martha or Jean. Their stories are heart-breaking.

Murder is the willful killing of a human being with malice aforethought, either expressed or implied. Malice includes not only hatred and revenge, but every terrible and unjustifiable motive committed by one person against another. Malice indicates the state of mind of the person charged. Insanity is a legal and not a medical concept, and can be determined by applying certain legal tests. A hundred years ago, the wildest delusions were not always sufficient to get the prisoner off. The insanity defense had to show previous notorious acts to demonstrate the irrational behavior of the defendant. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the most common weapons of death were the ax, gun, knife and poison. Murder was never a bailable offense; the defendant remained in jail until the trial and, if convicted, until his execution.

This book documents crimes, personal hardships and other struggles, which occurred in Renville County Minnesota from the late 1860s to early 1940s. Find out what happened to: Andrew Anderson who stabbed his wife with a knife; Michael Dowling who almost froze to death in a blizzard; Ole Rogn whose wife fell in a well; Lincoln Parker who murdered his brother-in-law in cold blood; Emanuel Otto, a wealthy farmer, who was poisoned and shot; three men who robbed a bank in Danube; Ed Corey who murdered the woman he loved; Fred Zaske who attacked his wife with an ax; Ed Butcher who shot his daughter while she wrote a letter; Paul Schoepke who had a dispute with his brother about a gun; Joe Williams who beat and robbed a hobo on the railroad tracks; Odin Norby, who embezzled money from his employer; Ottilie Lindeman who attacked her husband with an ax while he slept? These are just a few of the many crimes that took place in Renville County. After reading these stories, you’ll be left with more questions than answers. Many of these cases remain unsolved to this day.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the most common method of suicide was taking poison-usually arsenic. On the farm, strychnine, cyanide, and arsenic were used to get rid of gophers, rabbits, and other vermin. Mental illness, especially depression, was regarded as the most important factor for suicide. In the 19th century about half the coroners’ verdicts on suicide concluded that the victims were “insane.” Suicidal attempts were often triggered by life crises-the death of a close relative or, more often, a breakdown in a romantic relationship. When there were few available painkillers, escape from physical illness was a common reason for suicide. Arsenic was often used for murder, as it was readily available, cheap, and pretty much tasteless when dissolved. Death by Poison is a riveting collection of true stories about people who had a hard time coping with life-either ending it by suicide or by murdering a person who made their life miserable. These stories take place throughout Minnesota from 1859 to 1913, involving people from all walks of life, documenting their struggles, their hardships, and the sad ways they ended their lives.