Saturday, May 23, 2015

On This Date in Minnesota History: May 23

May 23, 1896 – The life of Rev. Francis Hermans began to publicly unravel on this date. 

Rev. Francis Hermans1

The Salt Lake Herald’s lead story was about the discovery of the burned remains of a woman found in the furnace of the First Scandinavian Methodist Church, Salt Lake City, a church where Hermans had been the minister up until a few weeks earlier.

The Salt Lake Herald’s lead story2

First Scandinavian Methodist Church, Salt Lake City2

 In fact, Hermans had been a minister for a number of Scandinavian churches over the years, including one in Minneapolis. He had been ministering in Salt Lake City since 1893.

In April 1896, a shortage of $1,000 was found in the church accounts. Hermans blamed it on his poor bookkeeping skills, and told the congregation he would get the money from relatives to replenish the coffers. His parishioners trusted him and believed him. On May 6, 1896, when he boarded an east-bound train to supposedly obtain the money, members of his congregation were at the train station to see him off. That was the last time he was seen by anyone who could positively identify him.

A substitute pastor was appointed to handle Hermans’ duties while he was gone, and it was he, two weeks later, who discovered some bones, false teeth, a belt buckle, garter belt, and razors and knives in the church furnace while inspecting the premises. The police were called, and laboratory tests indicated the teeth—and more than likely the bones—belonged to Henrietta Clausen, a young woman who had worked as Hermans’ housekeeper for a time.

Miss Henrietta Clausen2

 She was last seen Sept. 29, 1895, talking in the hallway to Rev. Hermans after church services. The reverend later told everyone she made an improper proposal to him, and upon his rejection of her, had left his employ. He later claimed he had received a letter from Helena, Mont., saying she was living there in a house of ill repute.

Annie Samuelson, the serving girl who replaced Miss Clausen in working for Hermans, has also disappeared. Samuelson told her aunt, who lived in Salt Lake City, and relatives in Crookston, Minn., that she and Hermans were getting married. She had also admitted to her aunt that Hermans had gotten her pregnant, but that he had taken care of it.

Miss Annie Samuelson3

At the end of January 1896, Samuelson told her aunt that she and Hermans were going to Ogden, UT, to get married. Several days later, her aunt received a telegram and a letter from her niece saying that she had broken it off with Hermans, and was going back home to Sweden to get away from any sad memories of their relationship. Samuelson never made it home, and was never seen again; but her clothes and many of her belongings were.

A watch and ring belonging to Samuelson were found to have been pawned by Hermans.1

It was also discovered that Hermans had given away woman’s clothing to other churches and some friends after Samuelson’s disappearance, claiming they had belonged to his deceased wife; however, they all bore the initials “A. K. S.,” indicating they belonged to Annie Samuelson.

Salt Lake City police believe Samuelson was also murdered by Hermans. He was known to take many late night buggy rides, and it is surmised that during one of these rides, he disposed of her body. A box of poisonous drugs was found in the room formerly occupied by the pastor, and it is thought that Samuelson was poisoned and then chopped up, with pieces of her thrown throughout the Salt Lake City area.

Poison Bottle1

As authorities began to look into Hermans’ background, it became apparent that he had been associated with other mysterious disappearances and murders. His first wife and youngest child both died under unusual circumstances in England; the older son was taken in by his wife’s relatives.

Shortly thereafter, Hermans came to the U.S. While ministering at a church in Minneapolis, he met and married his second wife, Miss Bertha Wangen, a Minneapolis girl. She was somewhat good looking, but lacking in education to such an extent that it was a matter of common mention among the congregation. Mrs. Herman’s sister, Miss Carrie Wangen, lived with the couple when they moved to a new church in West Superior, Wis.

1892 Superior, Wis., City Directory

Carrie was younger than her sister, and a very good looking girl, which is said to have had some bearing upon the family affairs of the Hermans. In January 1892, Mrs. Hermans was suddenly taken violently insane from no explicit cause. During her “spells” Mrs. Hermans was one of the most violent cases ever seen, and made a number of exhibitions of herself. She was examined by several doctors, and preparations were made to send her to the Oshkosh insane asylum.

Some reports say Bertha Hermans died a couple of days before she left for the asylum, and others say it was after she went to the asylum. In either case, traces of ammonia were found around her mouth, which Hermans explained by saying that the drug had been given to quiet her nerves. The case was considered strange at the time, and illusions were made to its odd features in the local papers, but the woman was buried without an inquiry. This is one of the matters to which the police are now directing their attention.

Hermans’ sister-in-law Carrie continued to live in West Superior and do domestic work for him after the death of her sister. It is said Hermans was very attentive to her, and openly took her around town nights. Carrie Wangen stayed in West Superior with no seeming objective, often saying she was going to leave, but never going. About this time Hermans went to a camp meeting, and when he returned, it was announced that he had married wife No. 3, Miss Martha Lommen on Jan. 17, 1893, in Minneapolis. Lommen was born in Iowa; her brother Edwin was a state senator from Polk County, Minn.

Martha Lommen Hermans5

It appears that Carrie was not to be so easily disposed of, and stayed around Rev. Hermans. (Relatives said Carrie found Hermans repugnant, so it’s possible she stayed around to find evidence that Hermans was at fault for her sister’s death.) Finally, it was announced that she was going to leave, and so far as anyone knows, she did leave, but never got back to her home, and another case of a mysterious disappearance was chronicled. No trace of her was ever discovered.

In the fall of 1893, Rev. Hermans and his wife Martha were transferred to Salt Lake City. In late March of 1895, Martha gave birth to a healthy baby girl, who died suddenly on April 15, 1895. Martha followed her daughter in death three days later for no obvious reason. It is now thought that Hermans may have had a hand in in their deaths.

Death announcement for Hermans’ wife and infant daughter4

Authorities in Salt Lake City sent photos of Rev. Hermans to every large city in the U.S. and Canada. He was a large man with sandy hair, a red walrus mustache and gold-rimmed glasses, someone who would certainly stand out; and yet, he was never found. Many accounts of his being seen in a variety of towns and cities were reported to the Salt Lake City police, but he was never captured nor positively identified. Numerous newspaper stories about the “Bluebeard Pastor” would be written and printed over the years, hoping to revitalize the search for the murderer, but none came to fruition. The mystery of what happened to Rev. Hermans continues to this day. One can only hope that he got what he deserved.

The Salt Lake Herald; “Sanctuary of God Defiled With Blood. One of the Crimes of the Century Has Evidently Been Committed in Peaceful Salt Lake City. Victim Was a Woman. Tragedy Enacted at the Scandinavian Methodist Church. Body Was Cremated. Efforts of the Murderer to Destroy the Evidences.”; Salt Lake City, UT; May 23, 1896; pp. 1 & 2.

The Salt Lake Herald; “Startling Developments! Officials Will Search For Miss Samuelson’s Body Today. The Knife Identified. Belonged to Rev. Francis Hermans, Who is Accused of Murder. Visitors at the Church. Thousands Viewed the House of Worship Yesterday.”; Salt Lake City, UT; May 25, 1896; pp. 1 & 2.

The Sun; “Utah’s Murder Mystery. Our Police Asked To Look Out For The Fugitive Parson. Evidence That The Rev. Mr. Hermans Killed Miss Clawson and then Cremated Her Body—His Sweetheart Also Missing—Known That He Pawned Her Watch.”; New York City, NY; May 25, 1896; p. 1.

The Salt Lake Herald; “A Price on Hermans’ Head. The State offers a Reward for His Capture. Miss Samuelsen’s Fate. It Now Appears That the Pastor Sold Her Trunk Also. The Telegram From Annie. It Is Believed That Hermans Wrote It.”; Salt Lake City, UT; May 27, 1896; pp. 1 & 2.  

The Salt Lake Herald; “Hermans Was A Sport. Kept Four Horses at the Eclipse Livery Stables. His midnight Drives. Took at Least Six Young Women Out on Different Occasions. Officers Hard at Work. Particulars Concerning Miss Samuelson’s Clothing Found at Ephraim.”; Salt Lake City, UT; May 28, 1896; p. 1 & 6.

St. Paul Globe; “Hermans’ Victims. Suspicion That His Second Wife’s Sister Was One.”
May 28, 1896; p. 2.

Chicago Tribune; “ Rev. Francis Hermans Wanted for Murder”; Chigago, Ill.; Nov. 18, 1900; p. 4.

Ogden Standard Examiner; “Pastor, Suspected of Killing 5, Escapes Capture in Bizarre Case”; Ogden, UT; Dec. 26, 1954.

1The Salt Lake Herald., May 24, 1896; p. 1.       

2Salt Lake Herald; Salt Lake City, Utah; May 23, 1896; p. 1.

3The Salt Lake Herald; May 27, 1896; p. 1.

4The Salt Lake Herald., April 19, 1895; p. 6.


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