Crawford County, Iowa, IAGenWeb


Nollen Family Picture Taken Several Years before the Tragedy

Nollen Family, Carbon Monoxide Victims,

Buried Tuesday

From the Denison Review August 26, 1937 (and other sources)

While 2,000 grieving friends, relatives and curious spectators stood with bowed head, the bodies of Mrs. Albert Nollen her six children, victims of Crawford county's most horrible murder-suicide tragedy, were lowered in Lutheran cemetery one-half mile south of Denison Tuesday afternoon.

In what morticians called the largest multi-corpse funeral in the region's history, the final chapter of another's act to end a hell on earth, was written before the eyes of apathetic Albert Nollen, the family's only survivor.

Death Comes

Death came to the family on their farm 10 miles west of Denison near Kenwood when Mrs. Nollen attached a washing machine hose to the exhaust of the family automobile before midnight Saturday and slipped the other end through the bedroom window. The life of the children who had been sleeping in the parlor and bedroom was snuffed out by the deadly carbon monoxide gas, and the mother with her 2 year old baby in her arms resigned herself to her own fatal enactment.

So stunned by the immensity of the loss, Nollen stood dumb, with bowed emotionless face, a pathetic, lonely figure beside the six white caskets and one gray while Rev. L.M. Grigsby of the Methodist Episcopal church pronounces, "Earth to Earth.....Dust to Dust."

30 Pallbearers

A body of 30 pallbearers, friends and playmates of the Nollens, bore the seven caskets, and five funeral coaches from Denison, Dunlap and Battle Creek carried them from the Perkins and Huebner Funeral home in Denison.

"While we deplore this horrible deed," Rev. Grigsby spoke to crowds that jammed the streets near the funeral home. "...we should be slow to condemn this poor dead mother."

Alluding to the husband's drunkenness, he denounced "A social system which foists upon us a liquor traffic...more ferocious and destructive than....bombing planes"

The bodies were placed in a single grave, 17 1-2 feet by 6.

Elsie Marie (Joens)
Dec. 25, 1906-Aug 29, 1937

Arvin Nollen Sept. 11,1925
Wilbert Nollen June 15, 1927
Pauline Nollen Aug 4?, 1929
Earl Nollen Aug, 22,1931
Leona Nollen Aug. 13, 1933
Viola Nollen Sept. 23, 1935

August 29, 1937

Nollen and a neighbor, Jack Schile, discovered the bodies about 2 a.m. Sunday. They had found the car still running and bedroom and parlor tightly closed.

The mother, with the baby in her arms, and Leona were lying on the bed. Two children were on the bedroom floor and the two others on the rug in the parlor where they had been sleeping.

Used Washer Hose

Mrs. Nollen had driven her car alone from Denison just before 11 o'clock Saturday night, backed it against the house and stretched an exhaust hose from a washing machine motor from the car exhaust to the bedroom. The window opening just enough to admit the hose, was stuffed with rags.

A letter written by Mrs. Nollen and left in a mail box read, "If I couldn't live with him (her husband) I didn't want to live because there isn't any other one I ever cared for besides Albert." A bottle of chloroform one-third used, was found open on a dresser which Coroner John Gottburg said she might have used to put herself to sleep.

Followed Husband

The children usually slept upstairs, Schile said, but she must have given them some reason for wanting them to sleep downstairs. The family had been to Denison in the afternoon where Mrs. Nollen bought school supplies and balloons for the children. After chores Nollen wanted to go back to Denison.

She asked him what he was going to do. She said in her letter, "and he told me it was none of my business. He threw me out of the car so I climbed in the back seat. He went to Denison and I followed him around a while and them went to the car.

"I thought he'd come home. I am doing this because i can see that this family is not going to be raised up right and I think it is a shame to let them grow up and live such a life theirself."

Husband Collapses

When Nollen drove home Schile and his wife they heard a car running in the yard, Schile jerked the hose out of the window and dashed into the kitchen. Nollen collapsed.

Orvin and Wilbert where lying on a blanket in the parlor, Pauline was lying with her head under the bedroom dresser and Earl had fallen back on the floor, apparently as he reached the bed.

Excerpts from Letter

Sheriff A.C. Greene refused to divulge all the letters contents, but released these excerpts:

"He had beat me up lots of times, and I always forgot about that just because I loved him and wanted to live with him."

"I've always said I couldn't live with him. I didn't want to live because there isn't any other I ever cared for besides Albert."

The sheriff said the letter indicated much of the couple's troubles resulted from the husband's drinking. He also said Mrs. Nollen sought out a friend in Denison Saturday and unburdened herself of all her troubles, but gave no indication that she intended to commit suicide or take her children's lives.

Nollen Threatens Suicide

Mrs. Nollen, Greene said, was regarded as a hard worker, a scrupulously neat housekeeper and a good mother and wife.

It was Nollen who discovered the suicide letter as he and the sheriff were seated on the running board of the automobile awaiting arrival of an undertaker.

Greene said he read the letter to Nollen, but that the slender 36 year old tenant farmer denied all the allegations at the time.

Sunday, however, Nollen repeatedly threatened to commit suicide himself and to to be guarded closely, according to Greene who said the farmer admitted it "was all my fault."

The seven deaths taxed the capacity of the of Perkins and Hueber.

They, nor any other undertakers in that part of the country, have ever had to handle seven deaths at one time.

Mrs. Nollen looked at peace as she lay in the mortuary, the bodies of her six children around her, "home" at last. She looked older than her 30 years, with wispy blonde hair, and a jaw that was made more indomitable by death.

The Nollens had tried hard to do something about baby Viola's blindness, and after treatments at the University of Iowa's clinic Viola could just distinguish items.

Mr. Nollen hardly knew what he was doing Sunday afternoon. To all expressions of sympathy from neighbors and friend, he looked at the ground and muttered:

"This is the worst thing that ever happened."

Asked if he blamed his wife, Mr. Nollen seemed stirred for a moment from his lethargy, and raised haunted eyes saying:

"She hadn't no right to do it. No right."

But life went on at the Nollen farm, even if seven persons had met death there only a few hours before. The livestock was bawling, cows needed milking, and pigs had to be fed.

Three of Mr. Nollen's brothers, Jay, Fay, and Ernest, came over from Arion to help him with the chores. Mr. Nollen comes from Arion, and his father, John Nollen, lives there with two other brothers, Frank and Chris.

Frank dismantled the death machine and took the car away.

The flexible pipe, with a pair of pliers Mrs. Nollen had used to uncouple it from the washing machine.

Mr. Nollen gazed at it apathetically, kicked it one side as he entered the back door of the home.

"This is the worst thing that ever happened," Mr. Nollen said. "This is the worst day I ever saw."

Sheriff Greene has seen a lot of violent deaths in his life, lots of bad accidents.

"I never saw anything that hit me like this did," he said Sunday, "to think it could be done so easily, so softly that most of them ever wake up."

Coroner Gottburg said there will be no inquest.

Father Visits Place

Mrs. Nollen's father came over from Carroll to see Sheriff Greene Sunday, but left after a short time. He visited with Mr. Nollen for a little bit.

Mrs. Wessel said Mrs. Nollen had talked several times about wanting to kill herself, but Mrs. Wesssel had dissuaded her with the plea that the small children needed a mother's care and that she couldn't leave them behind. Mrs. Nollen decided at last to avoid that problem by taking the little ones with her.

It was Mrs. Schile, shaken by the tragedy that had struck so devastatingly so close to home who inadvertently found the phrase that described the seven deaths of the Nollens.

Mrs. Schile was describing Mrs. Nollen's boundless affection for her husband.

"She loved that man to death," said Mrs. Schalie.

No School

School is that district will not start Monday. Mr. Nollen had just been appointed director. His family would have been the largest in the school,

Indications that Mrs. Nollen had almost reached the breaking point was seen in her remarks only Saturday to Mrs. Hans Petersen of Denison.

"She told me." Mrs. Petersen said, "that she was going to take the children and go away; that she couldn't stand it any mmore."

Reverend Grigsby used the text Tuesday, "The eternal God is my thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms." Deut. 33:27.

For one hour and a half the crowd filed through the mortuary to view the dead bodies, scores of the weeping affected more by the number of the dead that the feeling of loss.

The Bartcher and Luft funeral coaches from Denison were used, the Christiansen funeral coach from Battle Creek and a fifth belonging to R.F. Barrett and son of Dunlap. The bodies of the mother and baby were carried in a single coach, and also those of Earl and Leona.


Six men carried the mother's casket , while the others were borne by children, four to a casket, and eight of them girls. Pallbearers were:

Men: Paul Hopp, Nels Nelson, Milo Olson, Eugene King, Art Benningdorf and Jay Aburt.

Children: Leva Wessel, Helen Coan, Evelyn King, Bernice Stein, Dorothy-Marie Wessel, Eleannore Dethlefsen, Esther Wessel, Irene Nelson, Nora Dethlefsen, LaVanne Hopp, Donald Hansen, Edsel and Robert Schile, LaVerne Olson, Louis Dethlefsen, Beryl Garrett, Delbert Olson, Harold Olson, Lloyd Wessel, LaVerne Benningsdorf, Robert Petersen, Dick Ahart and Mary Ahart.

From the Denison Bulletin Wednesday, March 5, 1924
Mr. Albert Nollen and Miss Elsie Joens (1906-1937) were married at Denison. They are living a mile southeast of town, on the old George Carpenter place, Their many friends wish them happiness in their new life,

From Denison Bulletin Thursday, September 9, 1937
The Albert Nollen public sale held last Tuesday (Sept 7) was attended by more that 1,500 people, and cars were parked in a row over a distance of more than a mile. Most part the property sold well, although there were those present who could not get close enough to the auctioneers to put in a bid. E.T. Malone & Sons were the auctioneers. (Albert quit farming)

Elsie's parent were Henry Joens (1884–1969) and Mary Joens (1886–1927).
Siblings were Velma Joens Mundt (1908–1933), Elmer H. Joens (1918–1972) and Orvin Jerry Joens (1922–1962)
Albert was born in 1901 and died June 11, 1977 in Oregon
Albert's parents were John (1875-1952) and Pearl Savage Nollen(1880-1958).
Albert married Eva Irene Husmann (Dec 7, 1917- Feb. 2, 2001) in Omaha, Ne. in 1938.
Eva was born in Shelby County Iowa Dec. 7. 1917 and died on Feb 2, 2001.
Eva's parents were Julius Husmann (1881–1953) and Petrea Husmann (1889–1966)
Albert and Eva and family moved to Oregon about 1950.
Albert and Eva Nollen are buried in Jefferson Cemetery, Marion County, Oregon, USA

Albert and Eva had 10 sons:
John P Nollen (-2006)
Tom Nollen
David Nollen
Leonard Nollen
Vernon Nollen
Albert Nollen
Monty Nollen
Robert Nollen
Kenneth Nollen
Don Nollen
Clifford Nollen
Gaylord Husmann
and Delmer Husmann