The Old Beavertown Pike Mystery


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, Sunday, January 31, 1937

THE OLD BEAVERTOWN PIKE MYSTERY

BY HOWARD BURBA

 

     When Tom Farrell was chief of police of Dayton he enjoyed a reputation as a man-hunter that extended far beyond the corporate limits of the city he served.  It was a matter of local comment that when Dayton picked Tom Farrell to head her police department she went on the theory that “it takes a crook to catch a crook.”  Be that as it may, he was not long on the job until he had set a new all-time high for crook-catching, and had actually won the confidence and esteem of those who had but a short time before been somewhat uncomplimentary in their reference to him.

     Whatever errors of omission or commission may have been laid at Tom Farrell’s door during his service with the great Pinkerton detective force, where he learned man-hunting in all its branches, no one could minimize his ability in his chosen profession.  To him the underworld was an open book, and he had a speaking acquaintance with the big shots who directed its activities.  He knew all the big shots and the little shots knew and feared him, so when Tom Farrell tossed aside a Pinkerton badge and desired the habiliments of a full–fledged chief of police there was a general understanding in crookdom that thenceforth and for quite awhile Dayton would be a good town to stay out of.

     Farrell established a remarkable reputation in crime detection during his career as chief of the Dayton force.  The solution of the Bessie Little case was one of them; the hounding, capture and conviction of  Fritzie Thein, the greatest diamond thief of his day, was another.  And still another was the round-up, arrest and conviction of old Nelson Driggs and his gang of nationally-known counterfeiters.  But there were several cases, some of them apparently far easier of solution than the ones mentioned, that Farrell did not unravel.  He never solved the mystery surrounding the cold-blooded murder of Julius Kruse, and today it is as much a mystery as it was when Farrell hurried to the scene of the crime down on the Beavertown pike on the night of  Oct. 18, 1897, and launched a man-hunt that had many ramifications but no successful results.

     Previous to the Kruse case Farrell had dealt mainly with professional criminals.  He had matched wits with the best criminal talent in the country, and triumphed.  Then came the Kruse case, unquestionably the work of amateurs, and undoubtedly an act of sudden heat and passion instead of a carefully-laid premeditated plan of murder.  In face, no doubt exists to this day, 40 years later, that the man responsible for the Kruse murder never actually meant to slay him.  And if he is living today he has that knowledge to console his own conscience no matter how badly that conscience may have gnawed its owner for a period of two-score years.

     It was along about 8:30 o’clock of a chill October night that Julius Kruse locked the door of a little butcher shop owned by his wife at 12 ½ Brown st., crossed the pavement to the curb where his wife and sister-in-law awaited him in their little one-horse “jersey” wagon, and started to his humble home southeast of the city on the Beavertown pike.

    It was around 9 o’clock when the vehicle, with Mrs. Kruse at the reins, her sister, Mrs. Mary A. Robinson, beside her and Kruse alone on the rear seat, neared a point where Schantz’s lane intersected the main highway.  Just as they reached that point three men suddenly appeared in the road, springing from a strawstack nearby, and proceeded to seize the reins and stop the vehicle.

    “One of the men grabbed the horse,” wrote a News reporter in his account of the tragedy in the issue of Tuesday, Oct. 19, 1897, “while the other two quickly ranged themselves alongside the rig.  The robber at Mrs. Kruse’s side pointed a revolver at her head and demanded that she ‘throw up her hands.’  For the moment it is presumed that Mrs. Kruse, who was driving, was mistaken for her husband in the darkness, but as soon as their error was detected and Mr. Kruse was discovered occupying a rear seat, they changed their base of operations and turned upon the man.  In the frightful and exciting events which followed, culminating in one of the most fearless tragedies in the records of the county, it is almost impossible for the investigators to ascertain the exact occurrence that preceded the shooting.

     “However, it is possible that Mr. Kruse reached for his weapon as he was heard to say that he would shoot or kill the man who held the lines if he did not let go, or something to that effect, and that he was instantly attacked by the highwayman.  He even may have displayed his weapon.  Be that as it may, the robber turned the revolver from Mrs. Kruse’s head toward her husband and fired one shot.  The wounded man fell forward with a groan and the three highwaymen fled westwardly along the lane.”

     A wild scene of excitement ensued.  The badly frightened and almost prostrated women screamed at the top of their voices, at that time unaware of the fact that Mr. Kruse had been mortally wounded, while the agitated horse started to run away and dashed along the Beavertown pike at a fearful clatter.

     The screams of the women, the pistol shot and the noise of the rattling wagon attracted the attention of a Mr. Jenkins and wife, neighbors and relatives of Mr. and Mrs. Kruse, and an immediate investigation followed.  They hurried to the pike and succeeded in stopping the horse with much difficulty, little dreaming of the blood-curdling discovery they were later to make.  Peering into the vehicle they observed the prostrate form of Mr. Kruse, who was breathing his last.  In another moment he was dead, having fallen forward from the seat to the bed of the wagon.

     An examination showed that the bullet had caused almost instant death.  The wagon containing the corpse was driven to the family home a few rods distant and the body carried into the house.  Andrew Bradley, who lived in that vicinity, heard the shot and was among the first on the scene. He hurried to a nearby brickyard and secured telephone communication with the police.  About an hour later Chief Farrell and Sergt. Perry drove to the scene, followed by Coroner Corbin, who had been called.

     In the meantime the robbers had made good their escape and nothing was discernible in the darkness to afford a clew as the highwaymen and murderers had fled as soon as the fatal shot was fired, disappearing in the woods. 

     By means of a lighted lantern which the chief thoughtfully took with him, were found the well-defined tracks of the robbers.  These footprints were evidently made by sharp-pointed shoes and were expected to furnish an ultimate clew in solving the mystery.

     A search was made for the revolver which Mr. Kruse was supposed to have carried without result then, although the pike was searched as thoroughly as possible.  It was later found by Andrew Ryan, who lived on the Beavertown pike, lying at the spot where the murder was committed.  All the chambers were loaded and none of the cartridges had been discharged.

     Subsequent investigation and the coroner’s inquest were expected to develop many facts which were at the moment obscured.  Mrs. Kruse and her sister, Mrs. Robinson, were prostrated with grief and were unable to give a definite story of the awful encounter.

     Meager descriptions were given of the three men, the only authentic information being that all wore dark clothing and soft hats.  Chief Farrell did not return from the scene of the murder until midnight and early in the morning he instructed his men to lock up all suspicious characters.  Several well-known desperadoes were arrested and held, though at the time it was too early to prefer a charge.  “No time will be lost by the police in their efforts to run down the guilty parties and compel them to pay the penalty,” said a Daily News reporter in concluding his account of the case.

     Julius Kruse was well known and highly respected throughout the city.  He was 63 years of age and a member of several German societies and of  Steuben lodge I. O. O. F.  Members of the latter order took charge of the remains.  He was a man of family, two daughters residing in Dayton at the time.

     The victim’s wife, Mrs. Martha Kruse, was the owner of a small meat market at 12 ½ S. Brown st., which was managed by her aged husband.  The latter carried the day’s receipts home in a small box each night, and the daring robbers were undoubtedly aware of that fact and awaited their time.  While they intended robbery, they added murder and perpetrated, it is admitted, one of the most cold-blooded crimes in the annals of the county.

     An examination of the murdered man’s effects showed that the box contained $108 in cash.  It was the supposition of the police that the robbers were well posted as to the contents of the money box.

     The autopsy conducted at the instance of Coroner Corbin showed that the bullet entered Kruse’s left side near the third rib and pierced the upper heart valve.  It was at first thought that the victim had been shot in the stomach.

     But a few hours had passed following the finding of the body until Chief Farrell had his police and detective force dragging in suspects.  Every street corner loiterer or unknown habitue of the hundreds of saloons then in operation was classed as a suspect, and woe be to him who could not provide a rock-ribbed alibi and give a detailed account of his movements of the night of Oct. 18.  On the second day following the tragedy The News carried this additional information concerning it:

     “But few developments are at hand today relative to the murder of Julius Kruse.  The police are working assiduously upon the case, and are making fairly good progress considering the meager clews.

     “A number of suspects have been arrested each day though up to this time there are no definite results.  Anywhere from 25 to 50 suspects are bagged daily and carefully examined.  It is possible that this method may terminate in results.  The whole force is alert to the situation, the chief and the detectives particularly following every known clew.  The finding of an empty whisky bottle furnished an apparently insignificant clew, but is about the most valuable one yet obtained and may lead to important developments.

     “All sorts of reports are abroad as to the identity of the highwaymen, but it may be candidly stated that up to this time but little material progress has been effected.

     “A prominent Odd Fellow in conversation this morning suggested that the various lodges of that order contribute $500 to $1000 as a reward for the capture and conviction of the murderer.  He thinks this plan will prove the only practical one under the circumstances and that it will result in the speediest disposition of the case.  His opinion is generally shared by others.  It is reasonably certain that the above amount can be collected, the only question remaining being that of the wisdom of such a move.  It is claimed that one or both of the highwaymen who are not as deeply implicated as the gun wielder would be only to willing to surrender and if necessary turn state’s evidence.

     “Coroner Corbin conducted an inquest into Kruse’s death in the office of the county infirmary directors late this morning.  The inquest concerning the sudden death of Joseph I. Stoecklein preceded the Kruse case.  The first and most important witness called to the stand in the Kruse case was Mrs. Mary Robinson, sister-in-law of the murdered man.  She said it was her custom to accompany Mrs. Kruse to and from the city.  On Monday night the three started home at about 8:30 o’clock.  Mr. Kruse had in his possession about $108 in a cigar box.  He had not been in the habit of carrying a revolver until recently when he became alarmed at the numerous depredations.

     “Mrs. Robinson described the route followed to their home and the incidents leading up to the tragedy.  She did not see the men until Mr. Kruse yelled ‘Let go of that horse.’  The man then let go of the horse, stepped to the side of the wagon and grabbed witness by the arm roughly, though nothing was said.  The second man came to the other side and pointed his revolver at the women.  Again Mr. Kruse commanded the men to disperse, and then the shot was fired.  Shortly thereafter the horse started to run and Mrs. Kruse was forced to devote her time to trying to check its flight.  She turned several times to ask her husband if he had been shot, but he made no response.  A short time later when the horse was captured the dead man was discovered.  Mrs. Robinson said the three men hurriedly ran down Schantz’s lane.  Not a word was spoken by the men, one of whom remained in the background.

     “Chief Farrell announced late today that he will offer a reward for the capture of the men.  This is purely a personal offer on the part of the chief and indicates not alone his official interest in the case but the fact that the clews promise but small results.  He has made the reward $500.”

     The fact that Kruse enjoyed a wide acquaintance, especially among the German residents of the city went far toward sustaining interest in the case.  Then, too, it was an unusually cold-blooded crime; it was one for which there was not the least justification whatever, so that fact also served to arouse the citizenship generally and to increase the clamor for a solution of the mystery.  When Farrell had failed to turn up even one promising clew after 48 hours of diligent detective work, public patience began to show signs of raveling at the edges, and in public meeting places there were those who did not hesitate to openly proclaim Farrell a very much overrated sleuth.

     The News apparently sensed this sentiment, and shared it.  At any rage, in its issue of Oct. 22, but brief mention was made of the case, and then only to say that there was nothing new to report.  “Up to a late hour today,” wrote the reporter who was covering the story of the tragedy, “the police had given out no information relative to new developments in the Kruse murder case.  Many clews have been followed, day and night, with fruitless results.  However, hope has not been entirely abandoned, and it is possible that what first seemed like a vague clew may result in solving the mystery.

     “The murderers have now had ample time to escape and if they were strangers this could have easily been accomplished.  It would be difficult, however, for local highwaymen to do this without attracting attention as nearly all suspicious characters known to the police have been closely shadowed since the tragedy.  The $500 reward has whetted interest in the case and much information has been carried to police headquarters, though mostly of a valueless nature.  The coroner has rendered his verdict, but he failed to develop any worthwhile information at the inquest, the witnesses divulging no additional information and their testimony being substantially the same as they gave when first interviewed by Chief Farrell immediately following the crime.”

     On the same afternoon on which the above appeared in print the funeral of the victim was held, and was up to that time one of the most largely attended in the history of the city.  Brief services were held at his late home on Beavertown pike, after which the body was brought to Raper M. E. church on E. Fifth st.   There an immense crowd had, failing to find even standing room inside the church edifice, flowed out along Fifth and intersecting streets, the streets being so congested that practically all traffic was halted, police finding it difficult to keep a lane open for street cars passing in front of the church.  After formal funeral services at Raper the body was laid to rest in Woodland cemetery.

     On the following day the News reporter put a little sharper point on his pencil, and while he devoted but little space to announcing that there was “nothing new,” he did manage to crowd in a criticism of the police department and its failure to produce results. This police chastisement was couched in these words:

     “The police have absolutely made poor progress in the prosecution of the Julius Kruse murder mystery.  They are not to be blamed so much for the lack of results, however, as the clews were vague and indefinite.  Yet the greatest of all cases have been worked from the smallest clew in the most insignificant circum- stances.  There is scarcely any hope in the present case, however.

     “Chief Farrell’s offer of a reward of $500 has only attracted volunteer information from people who have big imaginations, which died ‘aborning.  Much importance was attached to the finding of a whiskey bottle and doubtless it should prove a valuable discovery.  But up to this time no developments have been reported, because none exists.

     “The arrest of two men at Cincinnati was a complete mistake.  They were merely riding in a box car, the seal of which had been broken, and were guilty of only a slight misdemeanor, as they had not even broken the seal.

     “Unless pure luck turns up or the Odd Fellows offer a big reward the murder mystery will never be solved.”

     While the whole affair, from the actual perpetration of the murder down to the man-hunt which followed, was somewhat clumsy, those who sought to be fair realized that it was just one case in a million in which “Lady Luck” stuck close to the murderers.  Ordinarily there would have been some sort of clue to work on, even thought the case had been premeditated and planned and carried out by experienced criminal talent.  In this instance the crime was unquestionably the work of amateurs; they had not intended murder, nor had they time to plan the usual “perfect alibis” had they been arrested.  It was “just one of those things,” as the more modern sleuth would express it, in which, unintentionally, the murderers covered their crime far more perfectly than might have been the case had they given long study in advance to this feature of it.

     On the force at the time was a famous Indian fighter and government sleuth, a man who established a widespread reputation as a detective in the years which followed the Kruse case.  That man was Frank McBride.  He was assigned to the case, and the fact that even Frank McBride was unable to unearth a workable clue went far towards tempering the wrath of those inclined to criticize Chief Farrell.  McBride’s name figured in the printed story of the case but once, and that on the afternoon of Oct. 29, when The News said:

     “Sergeant-Detective McBride returned to Dayton this morning from Logansport, Ind., near which city he had arrested two men who are being detained as suspects in the Kruse murder case.  At present it may be said that no definite evidence has been obtained against them.  They were unfortunate enough to leave Dayton on the night of the tragedy and are alleged to have been seen drinking in a roadhouse not far distant from the scene of the murder.  Both men disclaim all knowledge of the murder and explain that not having read the papers they were in complete ignorance of the crime until notified by the arresting detective, who located them in a stone quarry a few miles from Logansport, where they were at work.”

     On the following day, just 12 days after Julius Kruse was slain, the two suspects brought back by McBride were liberated, perfect alibis having been established by both of them.  They carefully accounted for their movements from the very moment they left Dayton, and their stories were verified by witnesses both here and in the Indiana community where they were arrested.

     That wound up the arrest of suspects.  Farrell continued his search, and gave his men orders not to relinquish their watchfulness, and not to abandon hope of eventually picking up a clue which would lead to the trail of one or all three of the bandits.  But 12 days was sufficient to shatter whatever hope the public may have had of any successful results.  By that time Dayton citizens had come to look upon the mystery as one that would forever go unsolved, though firmly believing that the trio responsible for it had never left Dayton, but were daily going about their usual haunts, conducting themselves the same as they had previous to the night of the crime, each with their secret locked tightly within his breast.  Dayton could only hope that a chance word dropped by one of the three might sometime reopen the case and lead to a solution of it.  For years there were a few who, holding tightly to the old belief that “murder will out,”  felt that eventually a death-bed confession would prove the truthfulness of the old adage.

     But they were wrong.  Today, 40 years after Julius Kruse was slain, the names of the perpetrators of the deed are unknown.  This story of the crime is on the records at police headquarters, just as it was placed there by Tom Farrell and his men 40 years ago.  But the one word written across the face of the record—“Unsolved”—stands as undisputed evidence that even tom Farrell, the greatest manhunter of his day, was not a stranger to failure.