Gunnild Maria Syversdatter Hanson, daughter of Syver Hansen and Sigri Larsdatter, married Walter F. Horton in Trempealeau on 31 Jul 1879. "Nellie" as she was called, died in a tragic boating accident in 1890 which also took the life of their young daughter, Mabel (whose body was not found until 8 months later). Walter was tried for murder but was acquitted.

Nellie was the sister of our great grandfather Lars Syverson Hanson, thus making her my great-grandaunt. Her brother, Lars, married Helena Kramer and their daughter was none other than my grandmother, "Lena" Hanson, who married David Glenn Drugan, Sr.

Family stories continued to circulate well after the murder trial claiming that Walter literally got away with murder. After some detective work on the Internet, I was able to obtain copies of the St. Paul Globe newspaper articles from 1890 and 1891 in which there were 4 stories published about this event. Below is a picture of the actual news article as well as a text of what is said in the article.

I just thought it is interesting reading of the day, especially since back then there was no TV, Internet, or smartphones. And I love the mastery of the English language used by the reporters.



St. Paul Daily Globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896, August 16, 1890, Image 1

Image and text provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN

Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1890-08-16/ed-1/seq-1/

WERE THEY KILLED ?
Walter Horton's Strange Story of the Death of His Wife and Daughter.
The Trio Take a Boat Ride on the Mississippi Thursday Evening.
In the Blackness of Night the Boat Mysteriously Overturns.
Horton Escapes and There after Acts in a Most Unaccountable Manner.

A terrible tragedy was enacted on the Mississippi near St. Paul Park late on Thursday evening. The only witness of the tragedy was W. H. Horton, an inspector of the Northern Pacific railroad, and the victims were his wife and little daughter. Horton says his wife and daughter were accidentally drowned, but the circumstances surrounding the case look very suspicious, so much so that Horton is to-day under arrest. Why? The details of the drowning are a sufficient answer:

It was verging upon midnight, Thursday, when a man walked with dripping clothes into the South St. Paul police station. Calmly and quietly he announced that his wife and daughter had just been drowned in the river. He expressed less emotion than one would expect in the announcement of the death of a pet dog. He was told by the police that it would be impossible to find the bodies that night. He asked for and received dry clothes and walked away.

Four years ago W. H. Horton was living with his wife and two children in Trempeleau, Wis. He claimed to have proofs that his wife had broken her marriage vows. A violent quarrel ensued. The man and wife agreed to separate. Mr. Horton went to Brainerd, leaving wife and children with her parents. This was the beginning. The end was the tragedy on the river Thursday night, a criminal tragedy the authorities think.

When Horton went to Brainerd he secured a position as timber inspector for the Northern Pacific Land company, and he has held it since. Three months ago he came to St. Paul, and engaged rooms on Thirteenth street. He longed, he said, to see his children, and so wrote to his wife asking that "the past be obliterated, and, for the sake of their children's honor, that they be reunited." In answer to this the wife came to St. Paul last Monday, bringing with her their daughter. Their little son was left with his grandparents.

Dreaded Each Other.

The reunited family engaged rooms at the residence of Basil Saudroche, 157 Eaton avenue. They were far from happy. An undefined dread and suspicion seemed to separate them. On Friday evening Mr. Horton started out with his wife and child, saying that they were going for a boat ride. They went to the boat house of James Miller, and Horton insisted on taking a heavy skiff large enough to hold a dozen people. It was finally given him, and he rowed down the river just as the sun was setting. What followed no one knows, and, perhaps, never will.

According to Horton's story, at about 9:30, when they were opposite a riff-raff dam, about half a mile from St. Paul Park, little Mabel saw something floating near the boat which attracted her.

"Oh, mamma," she cried,"I want that pretty——," but before she finished the sentence she plunged in the water.

Her mother was almost crazed.

In her frantic efforts to reach her child she overturned the boat, and both she and her husband were thrown into the dark river.

They both went down twice.

Finally Horton struggled to a sandbar, from which he was taken by two men in a boat. They took him to South St. Paul, and then occurred the scene at the police station.

From South St. Paul Horton went to his rooms in Landroche's house, quietly went to bed and "slept soundly." At about 7 o'clock yesterday morning he entered the kitchen with a new satchel in his hand. Both Mr. and Mrs. Landroche were there. He told them in the same Blood-Freezing Way of the night's adventure, and said he was going back to search for the bodies. His manner, the inconsistencies of his story and the evident ill-feeling that had been noticed between his wife and himself aroused the suspicions of Mr. and Mrs. Landroche, and they reported the matter to the police, who at once began an investigation. At about 9:30 a telephone message from South St. Paul informed the police that Horton had come back there. He was at once put under arrest and taken to Ducas street station, where he now is.

Sergeant Sullivan and Coroner Quinn in the meantime had gone down the river and made a thorough investigation. At the point where Horton claims the drowning took place, and for some distance in both directions, the water was not more than four feet in depth at any point.

It is impossible that the woman, and improbable that the child drowned here. The other most inconsistent point in Horton's story is that three persons, one of them a child, could have overturned so heavy a boat, even by tying.

Horton was interviewed by County Attorney Eagen yesterday afternoon. He seemed as cool and emotionless as before, but several times he contradicted himself in history.

Jailor Joe Anstett, of the central station, lives within about three blocks of the tragedy. He says that at about 9:30 in the evening he heard a woman, a woman's screams on the river. They lasted for a few moments, as though she were having a violent struggle, and then all became quiet. He corroborates the other testimony as to the depth of the river and says that his boys, while in swimming, frequently wade across.

During the afternoon a little fisher boy came to central station, who said he had heard the struggle. He says he first heard the oars, then a woman's screams for help and then a splash. No man's voice was heard at all.

THE WIFE'S BODY.

It Is Found in the River Near Newport.

A telegram was received by Coroner Quinn from Newport at 8:45 last evening, announcing the finding of a woman's body in the river near that place. The description given in the dispatch tallied exactly with that given by the man Horton, now under arrest, of his wife's appearance. Coroner Quinn at once notified the police, and the description of the woman's dress and facial marks was read to Horton, who said at once: "Yes, that is the woman. She is my wife, I am certain.? The body was taken charge of by Dr. W, R. Coates, of Newport, and will be brought to this city for absolute identification this morning. Dr. Coates had just notified Coroner T. C. Clarke, of Stillwater, of the finding of a floater, and was instructed by him to take a description of the body and bury it at once. Word was wired from St. Paul which prevented the interment pending an examination by Coroner Quinn. There were no marks of violence on the body. A large scar disfigures the left side of the face, and a wart of unusual size is another mark which makes it almost certain that the body is that of Mrs. Horton.

A Globe representative visited Horton in his cell at the Ducas street police station last evening. When seen Horton was lying on his back on the prison cot sleeping soundly. He arose after being called to several times, and learning that his visitor was connected with a paper said: "I suppose I shall have to stand trial for this, and I propose to tell what I have to tell in court. I have talked already too much to the papers, and a false impresssion has been created."

"In what?" was asked.

"Why," he replied, "they say that I went to bed without telling any one of the accident, and it can easily be discovered that I told the people at South St. Paul all about the affair right after it occurred."

"How did your wife come to fall out of the boat?"

"Why, she was standing half upright and I suppose she lost her balance and, fell over."

"Did the baby go with her?"

"Yes, she had the child in her arms."

"Did you jump over after them, or did the boat capsize?"

"I can't remember. All I know is that we were all three in the water, and my wife had hold of me, with the child still in her arms. Pretty soon she let go and went down. I saw her rise again, but I was so tired with swimming that I couldn't do anything."

"Did you see the boat near you when you were in the water?"

"No, I never saw the boat after I went over, and I don't know whether it was upset or not, nor whether I jumped out or was thrown out."

"Did your wife cry 'Help!' in a loud voice as she fell?" "Of course she cried out and screamed, because she was frightened."

All Horton's answers to the questions put him regarding his wife were given in a manner of seeming indifference, and a voice which betrayed not the faintest evidence of feeling. It was not until the baby was spoken of that the man gave any indication of sorrow at his bereavement. Has the baby been found?" he asked. Being answered in the negative he said in a broken voice, "It was four years since I seen her, and now—."

Horton's story about the drowning shows several startling discrepancies. He states that he swam with the drowning woman and her child until so exhausted that he was compelled to let them go — that he saw them sink twice and was unable to help them. At the place pointed out by him as the scene of the occurrence, there are but four feet of water. Horton is a more than usually tall man; he could have stood breast high above the water level. These matters the prisoner refuses to discuss, being, as he says, prepared to explain everything to the best of his ability in court.



St. Paul Daily Globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.), April 10, 1891, Image 3

Image and text provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN

Persistent link:
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1891-04-10/ed-1/seq-3/

COULD IT BE MABEL?
The Body of a Child Found Is in the River Below Newport.
If Mabel Horton, It Will Tend to Vindicate Her Father.

While C. I. McCarthy, of the firm of McCarthy & Donnelly, was at Rosemont, Minn., yesterday afternoon, consulting with the coroner of Dakota county, a messenger arrived who announced to the latter that the body of a little girl had been found in the river near Pine Bend. The child, which is pretty badly decomposed, is about from eight to ten years of age, and the general supposition of those living in the vicinity of the finding is that the body is that of little Mabel Horton, the daughter of Walter F. Horton, who was tried for the murder of his wife last fall and acquitted. It will be remembered that upon the night of the tragedy in question, Horton, accompanied by his wife and child, started together down the river in a flatboat. The next morning the body of Mrs. Horton was recovered near the spot where Horton claimed the accident happened, but though the river was carefully dragged in every direction, no clue to the body of the child was had. The fact that the child could not be found gave rise to all sorts of theories during the trial of the case, and it was common talk that Horton had placed the child in safe hands upon that awful night. Others were of the opinion that the child was in the hands of the county attorney, who at the proper moment, would confront Horton with this living evidence of his guilt. The fact that the child could not be found was considered by many to be the strongest evidence that Horton's story, that both mother and child had been accidentally drowned, was a pure concoction of his own to conceal his crime. Now, if this child proves to be Horton's which the clothes will undoubtedly reveal, the deep mystery that has hung around this celebrated case will have been dispelled, and belief in the man's innocence to some, extent established.

Pine Bend is a small village between Langdon and Newport, on the opposite side of the river, and distant about ten miles from St. Paul. McCarthy & Donnelly, the undertakers, have been notified by the coroner of the finding, and they will probably go after the remains this morning, and bring them to this city, when the work of identification will begin.


St. Paul daily globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896, April 11, 1891, Image 2

Image and text provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN

Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1891-04-11/ed-1/seq-2/

HORTON HEARD OF IT
And Hastened to St. Paul to Inspect the Recovered Body.
Nothing But Belief That It Is Mabel, the Missing Child.

Owing to the inclemency of the weather and the bad condition of the roads the undertakers postponed their trip to Pine Bend yesterday to secure the remains of the drowned child supposed to be little Mabel Horton. Coroner Cadzow, of Dakota county, went to the scene of the finding yesterday and is at present on the ground. He telephoned McCarthy & Donnelly, the undertakers, that the remains were those of a child of from eight to ten years old. The body he judges from appearance has been in the river all winter, aud the fact that no other child has been reported missing from St. Paul or Minneapolis leads strongly to the resumption that the child is none other than Mabel Horton. The story of the finding, which appeared yesterday for the first time in the Globe, attracted considerable attention, and provoked widespread comment. Among those who devoured every line with avidity was Walter Horton, who, though acquitted of the awful crime of murder, still rests under a terrible weight of suspicion. This suspicion was enhanced to a great extent by the mysterious disappearance of the child. Now if the remains lying at Pine Bend prove to be those of Mabel Horton, Walter Horton's conscience will have been relieved of a heavy burden. He will be a free man, and can stare the whole world in the face, for the dark shadow that has pursued him so relentlessly will have been dispelled. Horton, pale and careworn, and evidently laboring under suppressed emotion, called at McCarthy & Donnelly's, yesterday afternoon, and made inquiries concerning the drowned child. He looked quite changed since his appearance in court during the trial in which he was the central figure. He is growing chin whiskers, and he has a three-weeks' grewth of beard on his face. He wore a Stetson slouch hat, and carried a small valise in his hand. He appeared to be quite moody, but his countenance lit up when told by the undertaker that the remains were very probably those of his child. He said he was stopping at the Clarendon hotel, where he could be found if wauted, and he requested to make the trip with the undertaker to Pine Bend.

McCarthy & Donnelly will go to the scene of the finding this morning at 9 o'clock, and Mr. Horton will accompany them. If the child is indeed Horton's the clothes will enable him to identify her.

Mr. Martin, who assisted Mr. Erwin as counsel for Horton during the trial, called at McCarthy & Donnelly's yesterday and inquired if the child had been brought to St. Paul yet. He seems to be quite interested in the matter.


St. Paul daily globe. (Saint Paul, Minn.) 1884-1896, April 12, 1891, Image 2

Image and text provided by Minnesota Historical Society; Saint Paul, MN

Persistent link: http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1891-04-12/ed-1/seq-2/

SAYS IT IS MABEL.
Walter Horton Identifies the Body as That of His Daughter,
But Displays None of the Emotion Natural to Such a Scene.

There was published in the Globe exclusively Friday morning an account of the finding of the body of a child supposed to be that of Mabel Horton. The supposition has proven not to be unfounded, for the child was identified yesterday by Walter F. Horton himself, who pronounced it undoubtedly his child.

At 9 o'clock yesterday morning McCarthy & Donnelly started their undertaking wagon for the scene of the finding. In the conveyance were Johnny Doherty, a faithful employe, and on the seat with him Walter F. Horton, who was on hand bright and early prepared to make the trip. A plain box to transport the remains was taken along, Horton wore the same unperturbed demeanor that marked his bearing during the trial. Closely following the undertakers' wagon was a light rig in which was a representative of an evening paper, who, smarting under that tired feeling which a good live scoop always engenders, "swept on," like the immortal Sheridan, "with his wild eye full of fire" determined, if he did get left once, he would make up for it now in good shape. Horton had little or nothing to say on the way to Pine Bend, and what words he did utter where the usual common place remarks incident to everyday conversation, and not at all pertinent to the mission he was engaged in. There was no nervousness on his part, nor did he express any particular urgency to reach his destination. It was exactly noon when the spot was reached where two men had erected a small tent and kept watch over the body, which lay near the water's edge. The men showed the way to Horton and the rest, and all hands descended to view the remains. Horton scrutinized the body carefully, paying particular attention to the wearing apparel, all traces of humanity having been effaced by the action of the water. He showed but little signs of trepidation or suppressed feeling as he did so, but proceeded with the examination in a cool, collected manner. When he had completed his examination, Doherty asked him if that was his child, he replied that it was, and, according to Doherty, that was all the pathos and heartbreaking that ensued. The body, after being viewed for a few moments, was placed in the wagon, and the journey homewards commenced. St. Paul was reached about 5 o'clock and the remains of the child deposited in the morgue, where they now lie. There are those who express doubts as to the child being indeed Horton's. They say that, no one else claiming the body, it would be a strong card for him to play to go through the motions of identification, and thereby dispel doubts as to his complete innocence of the terrible crime which many have believed him guilty of, notwithstanding his acquittal by the jury. For him there was nothing to lose by the identification, and everything to gain.
   
   

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