Translation of the Gertrude Roehl Murder

New Ulm, Minnesota Post, “A Terrible Crime”, 1 February 1867

A terrible crime. Murder and probably rape. The residents of our state and region struggle with the excitement and unrest of last week’s tragedy. Since the alarm was sounded on 28 January, they have not been able to deal with the news of the crime. One expects such repulsion and evil only in a vision of Hell, or in a Philadelphia trial, or recently a murder was committed in Valparaiso. It was the news of the murder of Mrs. Gertrude Röhl, who lived in the town of Sigel, Brown County (5 miles from New Ulm) with her husband, farmer W. Röhl. On a positive note, the criminal was readily identified through his confession made 4 days after the horrible crime was committed. We provide the following report:

On Monday of last week, farmer Schnoberich (who lives about 100 paces from the Röhl family) noticed that although it was almost noon, the Röhl house showed no signs of life; there was no smoke coming from the chimney and no one was within sight. He knew that Röhl had been gone for several days, but his wife and children should be at home. This worried him, so he went up the path to the house. When he went into the icy room, he found the four small Röhl children with their little heads peering out of the bed (the temperature was about 40-42 degrees). He talked to the oldest child (a boy of about 5 years of age) and asked him, “Where is your mother”? The child responded: “A stranger killed her and carried her to the cellar”. Schnoberich quickly summoned another neighbor, Mr. Leiminger, and they opened the cellar door. They saw a picture of horror: Mrs. Röhl lay in a nearly nude state. Her lifeless arms were outstretched; her head was smashed and there were many other wounds on her body.

In due course the County Attorney and the Coroner, Dr. Meschcke, and Dr. Masser from Fort Ridgeley documented the murder scene: As was already reported, Mrs. Röhl wore only a shred of underwear. Blood was spread from the threshold of the cellar to the furthest window. She had three severe head wounds – two were skull fractures that would have certainly been fatal; one wound on her left side was probably not fatal. There was evidence of choking on her neck. The scene gave clear evidence of the abuse that Mrs. Röhl received before and after her death.

The oldest child, a 5-year-old boy, told the following: The morning light had just broken in the room on Sunday when “a stranger” with a club came to the bed where the mother and children had slept (the youngest is 9 months old). The mother was very frightened and screamed. She jumped out of bed and told the children to run to the Leimingers. The “stranger” slammed the mother into the corner and then carried her to the cellar. He shouted to the children to be quiet, fixed the morning fire, and gave them some bread. When he left he said he would return, but “he never came back”.

The circumstances leave no doubt about who committed this dreadful crime. He was a man who called himself Anthony Schmidt, though he used a different name in Le Sueur County and had murdered someone in Renville County. He was an itinerant farmhand and the previous year had worked for Röhl for 5 months. He is 46 years old and has no distinguishing blemishes to identify him. He has bushy black hair, a restless look, and large facial features. He is stupid and awful brutality gleams from his face. He had complained to different people about allegedly bad treatment that he had received from Röhl and wished that he were dead. He threatened Röhl and his whole family. Nevertheless, on Wednesday of the previous week Röhl asked the same man to come out to his farm for a day to do some work on the house. Röhl left early on Thursday for Mankato. He was to return on Tuesday.

As soon as the incident in New Ulm was reported, it was agreed that the suspected murderer should be taken into custody. Posters that offered $150 reward for the capture of Andrew Schmidt were distributed everywhere. On Sunday morning many of the neighboring farmers went to the dwelling where the crime was committed to offer sympathy and gifts. About noon on that same day, Mr. Weschke and Mr. Sommer met in the drug store and expressed their anger about the deeds of the rogue. With Mr. John Grise and Mr. George Schneider from here, they quickly began to look for him – on Thursday noon he had been seen at the house of L. Charen, not far from Fort Ridgeley. Schmidt did not attempt to resist his capture. On the way to the local jail he confessed that he was the murderer of Frau Röhl. He described the hair-raising manner in which he had committed the crime and expounded further about his motive. He even described how he had planned for a long time to destroy the Röhl family. The confession seemed to be quite consistent with the facts reported about the murder. On the following day the formal questioning was carried out before Justice of the Peace Roos and County Attorney Baasen. We provide that information below:

The murderer gave his name as Andrew Schmidt, he was 46 years old and had been born in Wöerstadt in Rhineland. He said that he had lived with and worked for the Röhls the prior summer. Because he received very poor treatment by them, he therefore formed a deadly hatred for the Röhls and told others of his deep feelings against them. On Wednesday of the previous week, Röhl had asked him to perform some odd jobs around his house and this caused him to sweep back the crazy feelings. Everything was going well until Frau Röhl asked him to remain until the following day and do more work. As she stood over him, he said “Perhaps” and then “anger came over him”. When he found himself in the room where Frau Röhl slept, he quietly observed her bed and it reinforced his earlier decision to kill Röhl. Then the thought came to him, “Röhl will be as devastated if I kill his wife and children as if I had killed him”. As so around midnight in bed he planned how he would kill the family members present, burn down the house, and disappear. At first he wanted to let the mother and children die in the fire. But then the thought about it “still harder” and decided it would be better to kill them first and then to burn them. Now he began to carry out the work of a monster using the potato masher that hung on the wall.

We withhold the detailed description of how the murder was carried out, how many blows were required to kill her, in which corner she fell dead, and when he carried her to the basement. The verbal story explained the somber details of the murder scene and further cleared up the apparent contradiction between the visible endeavor of murder and whether he committed rape on Frau Röhl.

Frau Röhl was dead and the villain was coming to also kill the children. But, “the dawn was breaking and the little ones would take a long time.” The murderer crept back to the bed and fell asleep for an undetermined period, “roughly two hours”. He woke up and realized it was past dawn. He thought to himself: “it is really not right for the children to look at their dead mother lying nude on the floor, also others might be coming”. He carried her around and then dragged the body into the cellar and shut the door. Now the children were awake. He gave them some bread, made a fire in the oven, and told them to stay in bed until he came back. “And then the stranger never came back” later said the 5 year old boy. With the fury of the community focused on capturing this dark criminal, Andrew Schmidt began a short trip, which ended on Thursday when he felt the hand of Justice.

It should not be long after his capture that the State and earthly judgment should produce justice. When the killer surrendered he knew that whether through strychnine or with a rope, he had likely reached the end of his days. He had only one request on earth: “to burn his shanty and to destroy other improvements on his Claim so that others would not follow on his path.”

The murderer is now held in a small cell in the local jail. He awaits judgment at the next District Court and it is certainly the most interesting psychological criminal relationship ever found.

“The Murderer of Frau Röhl”, 15 February 1867 - New Ulm, Minnesota Post

The Murderer of Frau Röhl. Conviction will not be an obstacle to put this abominable criminal in the local jail for such a remorseful day. He looked despondent and uninterested when asked to provide his real name, his background, and his prior record. His response was that he was called Andrew Schmidt and was born in Wöerstadt bei Mainz. He also more or less stated that he had used the name Andrew Heck in Le Sueur County [east of Brown County]. In all likelihood he was connected with a certain fire about 12 years ago when he quickly left his home in Albig bei Alzen in Rheinland because of the murder of a young man. An interesting probability is that A. Schmitt, alias Heck, was the same person that Captain Reinmuller from Beaver Creek had been investigating for a robbery and murder that lead back to Germany.

“Murderer Commits Suicide”, 21 June 1867 - New Ulm, Minnesota Post

Murderer Commits Suicide. Anthony Schmidt committed suicide on the night of 16/17 June, just as he was approaching earthly judgment and punishment for the murder of Frau Gertrude Röhl in January. This dastardly man murdered Frau Röhl from Milford in her home in the presence of her small children. Guard Scheef found the murderer dead very early Monday morning. He was hanging from the stovepipe that went through the cell, very close to the wall where the pipe was strongly supported. He had skillfully made the rope himself that very evening by tearing his woolen undershirt and shorts into strips. The murderer had been tied hand and foot, but with great willpower he was able to untie himself without notice.

Schmidt was supposed to have been taken to Redwood Falls for judgment on Monday morning. When he was informed of this on Sunday evening during an examination, he did not give the appearance of being scared. He seemed to accept this decision quite willingly and asked that his local defense lawyer, Herr Dorman, would go with him. That very afternoon he must have made the decision to end his life. The murderer in death commanded the same sinister, defiant, and brutal appearance that he had when alive. His evil, smirking face bore a Satanic look under his bristly hair; his broad shouldered, stocky body presented a formidable appearance.

In all probability he knew that he was responsible for much more than the murder of Frau Röhl. It has already been reported that he had fabricated the name Schmidt and the birthplace of Wöerstadt bei Mainz. Also about 12-13 years ago he fled his homeland Albig in Rheinland because he had set a fire.

The corpse of the murderer will be buried in a suitable place after the Coroner’s inquest is held.

“William Roehl Obituary”, 12 January 1872 - New Ulm, Minnesota Post

A previous resident of Brown County, W. Roehl, died in Mankato after a lengthy illness (we heard it was jaundice). He had become very well known several years ago when a painful fate became him – his wife was murdered by an infamous evil doer, who then escaped prison by hanging himself.

Condolences to the surviving family.