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The Muder of Cecil Kersten, 1921


Posted By: Reid R. Johnson (email)
Date: 3/26/2014 at 17:03:58

Elkader Register, Thur., 27 Oct. 1921.

Jealousy and "Hootch" are said to have been the cause for Peter A. Kleinow of Mendon township shooting his sweetheart Cecil Kersten last evening in an attempt to murder Harvey Sass, who was with her. Miss Kersten was shot twice with a shotgun and died this afternoon. Sass was slightly wounded. The tragedy occurred at the home of Miss Kersten on the Pleasant Ridge road about three miles from Marquette.

Kleinow is about thirty-five years of age and comes of an excellent family, but we understand has been rather wild. He was divorced by his first wife several years ago. Miss Kersten is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Kersten and is about twenty-one years of age. She was a young lady of splendid character and was widely popular. The Kersten and Kleinow families have been neighbors for years, their homes being but a short distance apart.

Peter Kleinow and Miss Kersten were engaged to be married but about a week ago had a serious quarrel. Yesterday morning Kleinow went over to the Kersten home and was there most of the day. The quarrel was settled except that Miss Kersten would not agree to break an engagement for the evening with Harvey Sass. At that time Kleinow threatened trouble if Sass came to see her. He renewed the threat after supper but could not get her to promise to break the engagement. Early in the evening he went to McGregor and it is reported that he was drinking while there.

Kleinow and a brother drove home late and on passing the Kersten home sees an automobile belonging to Sass. Continuing to his home Kleinow gets a single-barreled shotgun and some shells. He then goes to the Kersten home where looking thru a window he can see Sass and Miss Kersten sitting. He raised the gun and fired at Sass but the charge scattered and more of it struck Miss Kersten than the intended victim.

Miss Kersten screamed and Sass put out the light while Kleinow reloaded his gun. Miss Kersten then ran out the door, and, thinking it was Sass, Kleinow raised his gun and fired again at close range the charge striking Miss Kersten in the side. She fell and called Kleinow who dropped his gun and carried her into the house.

Doctors were summoned and officers notified. Kleinow made no attempt to escape and was shortly in charge of County Attorney Walter Eichendorf, who looked after him until Sheriff George Losch and Deputy John Kluth arrived to bring him to Elkader. Kleinow has made a written statement in which we understand he admits the crime substantially as given above but says that he did not intend to shoot Miss Kersten but did intend to get Sass.

_____ _____

Postville Herald, 3 November 1921.


We take the following account of the terrible tragedy enacted at McGregor last Wednesday night from Thursday morning's Dubuque Telegraph Herald:

McGregor, Oct. 27.- Miss Cecil Kersten, 20 years old, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Kersten, living on Pleasant Ridge, six miles northwest of McGregor, was shot and fatally wounded by Peter Klienow, 35 years old, Wednesday night. The shooting took place shortly after 10 o'clock.

Kleinow had been keeping company with the girl for the past two years, and they had been engaged. She recently had broken off the engagement assigning as the reason that Kleinow had been drinking heavily lately and efforts on her part to persuade him to leave liquor alone had been fruitless.

Miss Kersten was shot while on a couch in the living room of her home. With her was Harvey Sass, a former suitor. It develops that Miss Kersten, having decided to break off her engagement with Kleinow, for reasons assigned, had on Monday written a letter to Sass asking him to call on Wednesday night. Sass, having responded, was on the couch with Miss Kersten.

The couple heard a step on the front porch, and a second later a gunshot rang out, shattering the glass in the front window. The charge struck both of the young people, scattering over their faces and bodies.

"My God, it's Pete." screamed Miss Kersten, leaping to her feet and starting for the door.

Sass attempted to detain her, and failing, called to her to extinguish the lighted lamp in the dining room, where she and he had to pass to reach the outer door.

If she had heard she did not heed but instead, rushed out on the porch.

Sass rushed into the adjoining room and extinguished the light, explaining in a statement to County Attorney W. L. Eichendorf later, that his thought in so doing was to destroy the human targets at which the mad man was firing.

In another second, Sass, now in the darkened room, heard the second shot outside the house. He heard Miss Kersten scream, repeating over and over again, "He shot me. He said he was going to do it. Oh, I know I am going to die."

Then the assassin did a peculiar thing. Tenderly lifting the form of the prostrate girl in his arms, he bore her inside the house and as tenderly placed her on a couch - the couch on which she was seated when he fired the first shot through the window.

Kleinow struck a match, relighted the lamp and turned his attention to the wounded girl. Both men bent over her, and seeing the wound was serious, probably fatal, Sass hurried to the telephone and summoned medical assistance.

Kleinow, instead of trying to make an attempt to escape, remained to gloat over the prostrate form of his victim.

Again and again he repeated, "I told you I would do it, and now, by God, I have."

Help arrived and Miss Kersten lingered for eighteen hours before she died. She died in her home.

County Attorney Eichendorf of Clayton county, accompanied by Sherriff George Loch, arrived upon the scene and placed Kleinow under arrest.

He made no resistance and later made a full statement to the county attorney. The statement in part follows:

"I had been keeping company with Miss Kersten for the past two years. I called upon her Thursday afternoon and endeavored to persuade her to reconsider her decision to break off our engagement.

"I saw Miss Kersten a number of times before yesterday, when I spent several hours with her. Leaving her, I got my car and drove to Marquette with my brother, Walter. While in town I bo't a bottle of moonshine of which I drank I don't know how much. We drove from there to McGregor where I bought some more intoxicating liquor. My brother and I drank from two bottles.

"Arriving home I went into the house, took off my overcoat and got four shotgun shells. Then I went into the kitchen and got the shotgun. I went over to the Kersten house with the intention of shooting Harvey Sass. I saw a light in the house and walked up to within twelve feet of the porch. I saw them sitting on the couch together and I aimed at Harvey Sass, shooting through the window.

"I heard Cecil scream and saw Harvey turn off the light. Then someone came out of the house and I fired at that person, believing it was Harvey Sass.

"And then I heard Cecil call to me. It was not until then that I discovered that it was Cecil whom I had shot with the second load. I put another shell in the gun but it jammed and I could not close the breach. I picked her up and carried her into the house. Then Harvey called for the doctor and by the time my mother and brother came.

"The quarrel I had with Cecil on Oct. 20 was on account of my drinking and about her going with other fellows, one of whom was Harvey Sass.

"When I was over to Cecil's house after supper that night I told her that if she allowed Harvey Sass to come out that evening there would be trouble. I also told her that I would not give her up, and that as long as she was keeping company with me, not to go with him, or there would be trouble."

Harvey sat, with his face crisscrossed with adhesive tape, in the office of County Attorney Eichendorf in McGregor this afternoon, relating of the affair about the hour when Cecil Kersten died.

He explained that he had kept company with the young lady up until two years ago when he discontinued his visits. There had been no quarrel, he said, she having become interested in other persons and other things, while it was much the same with him.

They remained friends, he said, and occasionally met at dances and parties.

"I got a letter from Cecil last Monday", Sass told the prosecutor, "saying she and Peter had agreed to disagree, and suggested that I pay her a call. She mentioned that she would be home alone on Wednesday, that her folks were going to Lacrosse that day, where her mother was to undergo an operation.

"I called upon her early in the evening. We took a drive out towards Monona in my car, returning early to her home. We went in and visited in a friendly manner. She mentioned that she had broken off with Peter Kleinow, so we didn't talk much about that.

"Suddenly we were both peppered with shot. I put out the light as quickly as I could, thinking to prevent whoever was doing the shooting from seeing who was inside. But Cecil ran out on the porch and was shot the second time."

Both the Kleinow and Kersten families are prominent. Their homes almost face each other along Pleasant Ridge.

Gossip has long had it that all was not well between Kleinow and the girl and when the news that she had broken the engagement became noised about, it was no surprise to the young folks' set in which they both moved.

Kleinow used a Springfield barreled shotgun, loaded with No. 6 shot. The gun, now in the custody of the sheriff and which will be held for evidence, remains broken at the breach, just as it was when the shell which he had inserted into the weapon became jammed.

Kleinow will be charged with first degree murder. He was hurried to the county jail at Elkader where Prosecutor Eichendorf had taken his statement.

Mr. and Mrs. Kersten, parents of the girl, arrived home early Thursday morning from Lacrosse, having been notified of the shooting by long distance telephone.

Other relatives were with the girl until they arrived.

The tragedy has created a profound sensation in Clayton county. It is the sole topic of conversation wherever a number of persons are congregated together.

Kleinow's trial for murder promises to be one of the history making trials of Clayton county.

Kleinow is a divorced man, the decree having been issued about five years ago, it is said. Miss Kersten, according to those who attended her, displayed unusual vitality. She was conscious until the last and conversed coherently with those about her. She lived an hour, it is said, after every evidence of heart-beat had gone.

"He shot me twice, I know I am going to die," the girl repeated over and over, indicating Kleinow as the man who shot her, while he remained in the room.

_____ _____

Elkader Register, Thur., 22 Dec. 1921. Condensed from a longer article.

Peter A. Kleinow of Marquette who plead guilty of the murder of Cecil Kersten of Pleasant Ridge was sentenced to imprisonment for life at hard labor.

(Note: The article continued to explain facts that the Judge considered in passing sentence - that Kleinow had served in the Army, that moonshine was involved, and that the mother of the victim had written a letter requesting that Kleinow be given a life sentence rather than death by hanging, out of sincere regard for the mother of Kleinow.)

_____ _____

Elgin Echo, Thursday, 29 Dec. 1921.

Mother's Plea Saves Youth.

The merciful plea of a murdered girl's mother rescued Peter Kleinow from death on the gallows.

Following Kleinow's confession to the shooting of his former sweetheart, Cecil Kersten at her home on October 26, Mrs. Amel Kersten appealed to Judge H. E. Taylor at Elkader not to inflict the death penalty on the young slayer. Her own loss need not be revenged upon the boy's mother, pleaded Mrs. Kersten.

"If the Kleinow boy is hanged, his own mother's heart would be broken" she said in a letter to the judge.

Judge Taylor, in consideration of the mother's plea, sentenced young Kleinow to life imprisonment.

_____ _____

Waterloo Daily Courier, Waterloo, Iowa, Friday, 13 Jan. 1933. (That part of an article relating to Peter Kleinow.).

Des Moines. - As one of his last official acts as governor, Dan W. Turner commuted to 70 years the life sentence of Peter A. Kleinow. Kleinow was committed from Clayton county in 1921 for first degree murder.

_____ _____

1900 Federal Census, Mendon township, Clayton county, Iowa.

Charles Kleinow, Head, born 10-1848, age 51, born Germany, father born Germany, mother born Germany, carpenter.
Amelia " , Wife, born 03-1861, age 39, born Iowa, father born Germany, mother born Iowa.
Charles " , son, born 10-1883, age 16, born Iowa, " , " .
Georgie " , son, born 01 1885, age 14, " , " , " .
Peter " , son, born 05-1888, age 12, " , " , " .
Fredrick " , son, born 08-1890, age 9 , " , " , " .
Anna " , dau., born 03-1892, age 8 , " , " , " .
Henry " , son, born 02- 1894, age 6 , " , " , " .
Albert " , son, born 01-1896, age 1 , " , " , " .
Alfretta " , dau., born 01-1896, age 1 , " , " , " .
Walter " , son, born 04-1900, age 2/12, " , " , " .

_____ _____

1930 Federal Census, Iowa State Penitentiary, Ft. Madison, Lee county, Iowa.

Peter Kleinow, Prisoner, Age 42, Divorced, Born Iowa, Father born Germany, Mother born Iowa, Veteran of WW.

*Note: Could not find on the 1940 census.*

_____ _____

Washington State Death Certificates 1907-1960.

Peter A. Kleinow, born circa 1889, died 06-04-1948, last res. Seattle, father Charles Kleinow, mother Amelia Heppner, wife Dolly.

*Note: Presented only as a possibility of a match.*

_____ _____

1910 Federal Census, Mendon township, Clayton county, Iowa.

Amel Kersten, head, age 42, married 19 years, born Wisconsin, father born Germany, mother born Germany.
Lulu " , wife, age 41, " , children born 6, children living 5, born Wisconsin, Father born Pennsylvania, mother born Indiana.
Irmegarde " , dau., age 18, single, born Wisconsin, father born Wisconsin, mother born Wisconsin.
Audrey " , dau., age 16, " , born Iowa, father born Wisconsin, mother born, Wisconsin.
Vida " , dau., age 15, " , " , " , " .
Cecil " , dau., age 9 , " , " , " , " .
Lawrence " , son, age 4, " , " , " , " .
George Carlson, hired man, age 22, single, born Iowa, parents born Germany.

_____ _____

Amel L. Kersten, Lula Walters Kersten, Cecil Eloise Kersten, and Irva Kersten, are shown as buried in the Council Hill cemetery, Clayton county, Iowa. View gravestones at The Iowa Gravestone Photo Project (IGPP)

_____ _____ _____ _____

This information is believed to be correct but is offered only as a help to researchers. Interested persons should check all information presented. The submitter is not related and has no further information.


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