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The murder of Fredena Kahlstorf Schwarz, 1919


Posted By: Errin Wilker (email)
Date: 7/5/2007 at 00:54:02


South St. Paul Man Splits Woman’s Head After Beating Her With Heavy Iron Bar


Slayer Goes Immediately After Crime to Police and Confesses Guilt -- Rushed to County Jail.

John Schwarz, an employee of a South St. Paul packing plant, slew his wife with an ax yesterday afternoon following a series of quarrels which had culminated the day before in the serving of divorce papers on the husband.

Schwarz went directly from his little cottage at Sixth avenue and Dwane street, South St. Paul, to the police station and confessed his crime. The facts were verified by Patrolman Andrew Robinson and Coroner J.B. Lewis, and an hour after the slaying Schwarz had pleaded guilty to first degree murder before Municipal Court Judge Schulz and was on his way to the Dakota County jail in Hastings.

Joe Kahlstorf, father of Mrs. Schwarz, and who is well known in St. Paul, having on many occasions impersonated Uncle Sam in festivals and pageants, declared last night that the couple had quarreled almost since the day of their marriage five years ago. Kahlstorf gave Schwarz and his wife the little cottage for a home as a wedding present on condition that they permit him to live with them during his life time, he said.

Less than a week after the wedding Schwarz began to abuse his bride and to complain about the father living with them, Kahlstorf asserted. This was the cause of nearly all their quarrels, the father said.

Wields Heavy Iron Bar

Recently the wife decided that she could no longer live with Schwarz and started divorce proceedings. Wednesday the papers were served.

At 4:30 P.M. yesterday, Schwarz left the packing plant and went home. He found his wife canning fruit in the kitchen. Schwarz did not speak to her, but went to all the doors and windows and made them secure. Then he went to a tool kit in a kitchen cupboard and selected the iron stand for a shoemaker’s last. With this he approached his wife.

Then he upbraided her for seeking a divorce. The wife replied angrily. Schwarz swung the iron bar and felled her. The woman staggered to her feet, sank to her knees again and then dragged herself, dazed and bleeding to the little bedroom at one side of the kitchen.

Schwarz threw the bar into a corner and unlocking the back door, rushed to the barn, fifty feet away. He returned on the run with an ax. He found his wife half conscious, attempting to crawl from the floor to the bed. She turned and gazed in terror at him. He swung the ax full over his head and brought it down on her forehead. Her head was cleaved nearly to the shoulders when the police found the body.

Tossing the ax on the bed, Schwarz left the cottage and walked directly to the police station.

The Dakota county grand jury now is holding a special session and it may take up the case at once, Chief Chelburg said last night.

Schwarz Native of Austria

Schwarz who is 32 years old, is a native of Austria. Mrs. Schwarz was 30 years old. She had been married when she was 15 years old to Chris Herman who then lived in St. Paul. They were divorced six years ago and Herman now has their 14 year-old son with him in Mason City, Iowa. She had no children by Schwarz.

Schwarz, according to Kahlstorf, frequently had threatened to kill his wife, and three years ago lined up an array of five knives on a table with the avowed intention of using them to end her life, but was dissuaded from his plan.

The body of Mrs. Schwarz was taken to Hurley’s undertaking rooms on order of Coroner Lewis. It is probable that funeral services will take place from the German Lutheran church in South St. Paul and that the body will be sent to her former home in Clayton county, Iowa, for burial.

~Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, September 23, 1919

Life Term in State Prison Before South Park Man Who Killed Pretty Wife With Ax

John Schwarz Rushed to County Seat After Committing One of Most Brutal Murders in History of State at Family Home on Dwane Street and Sixth Avenue North Thursday Evening

His Ill Treatment of Wife Lead Latter to Seek Divorce This Week

Woman Struck Down in Cold Blood as She Prepared Evening Meal.

Bound Over to Grand Jury

With a signed confession of the killing of his young wife at their home here last night in the possession of Judge W.A. Schultz of the municipal court, John Schwarz will await the regular term of the Dakota county grand jury. This special term called to consider the case of the three Mendota bandits was adjourned last night after indictments of robbery in the first degree were returned against the trio and the court will not be convened again in special session, it was stated by district court officials today.

Relatives of the deceased woman are arranging funeral plans today. Services will be held from the home at South Park at 7 p.m. Saturday, after which the body will be removed to Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa, the old family home, for burial.

Carrying out in most ghastly manner an oft-repeated threat, John Schwarz, a local packinghouse employee last night killed his beautiful young wife, Fredena Kahlstorf Schwarz, 30, at their home at Sixth avenue north and Dwane street, South Park and then went directly to the South St. Paul jail and surrendered himself to Dan Luey, Jailer. The deed which was committed shortly after 5 o’clock last evening, was the sequel to more than five years of bullying and threats which had finally forced the wife to serve papers in a divorce suit charging cruel and inhuman treatment against the man early this week.

Resentment of her action in doing this or her unwillingness to convey to him the major share of their property in the divorce settlement are believed to have been the immediate cause of the murderous frenzy which seized him when he returned from his day’s work, and led him to commit the terrible crime. Back of that, however, lies a record of ill treatment and terrorizing of the wife extending almost from the date of their marriage over five years ago, according to Joe Kahlstorf, father of the murdered woman who has lived with the couple for years and who is familiarly known in South St. Paul as “Uncle Sam” which character he has impersonated on a number of public and patriotic occasions.

Father Relates Story

Circumstances and events leading up to the tragedy were related to a representative of the REPORTER last night by the aged father at the scene of the murder where the bloody evidences of the crime remained in all their sickening freshness. In brief it seems to have been a case where the ungrateful and brutal husband had wished to have his father-in-law removed from their home, which the latter had deeded to the couple soon after their marriage on condition that they should provide him shelter the remainder of his life.

Schwarz began to show ill will towards his wife’s father very soon after the latter had taken up his abode with them and since tried in every conceivable way to drive him out. Mr. Kahlstorf had long since discontinued eating with them but retained a room there so as not to forfeit his legal rights to care during his life, and his daughter had undertaken to keep the agreement with her father as best she could.

Motives Explained

The husband’s motive in wishing his father-in-law our of the house seems partly to have been to gain full possession of the property, but more particularly to have no one about who might have knowledge of the manner in which he abused his wife. This theory is supported by the fact that he also tried to oust two roomers from the house on several occasions after he suspected that they had heard him brow-beating and threatening his wife.

On several occasions the father said that Schwarz had told his wife that he would kill her and on one occasion about three years ago Schwarz is said to have laid five knives out on a table to emphasize these threats. Both the woman and her father had lived in terror of the man and had found it necessary on previous occasions to appeal to the authorities, although so successfully did Schwarz cover up his actions and so thoroughly did he have the others in his household in fear of him that the immediate neighbors had no inkling that there was anything wrong. The latter as a consequence found the tragedy at their doors almost unbelievable.

Neighbors Praise Woman

Mrs. Schwarz enjoyed the reputation of being a splendid neighbor, a hard working and dutiful wife and of unimpeachable character, being industrious and thrifty to an unusual degree. At the time the first blow was struck last night she was in the act of putting up preserves and fruit for the coming winter, the kitchen table and stove being covered with jars and kettles with jell and jam in various stages of completion.

A pan of water in which she had placed a number of potatoes preparatory to peeling them for the evening meal was also on the table while in an adjoining room a large rack of freshly ironed clothes, spotless except for the bloodstains she left in falling past them, indicated how busy she had been during the afternoon with her household duties. The rooms were immaculately clean and showed she had prided herself on making her home pleasant and comfortable.

Schwarz Confesses

Schwarz’ own story of the crime was to the effect that he went home from his work in the ham trimming department of Swift & Company’s plant, went into the house, locked the doors and windows and demanded of his wife that she give up the house and three lots and about $900 which she had in the Stock Yards National bank. This she refused to do and he then said he would kill her.

Proceeding immediately to carry out his threat, he grabbed the iron standard of a shoemaker’s last which stood beside the kitchen door and struck her over the head with it. The blow partially stunned her and as she staggered through the dinning-room and into a bed-room in the front of the house, he ran to the barn about three rods distant and obtained an axe.

Strikes Fatal Blow

Returning to the house he found her semi-conscious and cowering in the bed-room and struck her in the forehead with the axe, cutting the skull open and causing instant death. He then left the house and walked to the jail, on Grand Avenue and asked Jailer Lucy to lock him up, stating that he had killed his wife.

Following Schwarz’ surrender, he made a signed statement concerning the affair to the above effect before Judge W.A. Schultz and Thos Kennedy, notary. His story was verified practically through the investigation made by Coroner J. B. Lewis and Patrolman Andy Robinson who went to the scene. Coroner Lewis ordered the body removed to the Hurley Undertaking establishment on the West Side. He had not decided late today whether to hold an inquest.
Patrolman Robinson and Jailer Lucy took Schwarz to the county jail. The penalty for murder in the first degree is life imprisonment in Minnesota. The prisoner took the situation very calmly as he was being removed to the county jail.

Woman Twice Wed

Mrs. Schwarz had been married twice, the first time to Christ Herman who married her in St. Paul when she was 15 years old after having taken her from the family home which was then in Stevens county, Minnesota. A son was born to them and later the woman obtained a divorce, the father keeping the child who is now believed to be in the vicinity of Mason City, Iowa.

Mrs. H.J. Bernstengel (Birnstengel), who resides one block north of the Schwarz home at South Park, is the only sister of the murdered woman and Henry Kahlstorf of LaPorte, Minnesota is her only brother. Mr. Bernstengel (Birnstengel) who is in South Dakota and Mr. Kahlstorf have been sent for and are expected to arrive tomorrow.
Mrs. Schwarz is thought to have had considerable money of her own in addition to the several hundred dollars which she and her husband had in a joint account in a local bank. The husband wrote a check last night after the crime so as to make it possible for relatives to get the money for funeral and other expenses.

~Source: South St. Paul Daily Reporter, St. Paul, Minnesota, September 26, 1919


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