Thursday, September 21, 2017

On This Date in Minnesota History: September 21

September 21, 1897 – The first child ever born in the Minnesota penitentiary at Stillwater during the entire history of that institution was born at 6 a.m. today. The mother was Nellie Frayer, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of the eight-year-old son of David Maxwell, at Moorhead.

Mrs. Frayer was committed to the prison March 10 of this year, but Maxwell, who was accused of complicity in the same crime, did not have his trial until last week. Mrs. Frayer was taken to Moorhead to testify in his trial, and had the unfortunate little girl been born only a few hours earlier, she would at least have escaped the disgrace of being born within the walls of a prison, for it was only yesterday the mother returned from her trip.

The infant weighed eight pounds at birth and appears healthy and strong, and there is every reason to believe she will live. Mrs. Frayer has four other children who are now being cared for at Moorhead. She ascribes the paternity of this one to Maxwell. Warden Wolfer says that as soon as the child is old enough to be taken from its mother she will probably be placed in some charitable institution.

Mrs. Frayer had admitted during her murder trial that David Maxwell had asked her to help him kill his son Willie. She had been living with him as his housekeeper, but obviously with the birth of her daughter, their relationship was more than that. Frayer says she tied the boy up in the barn, then set the building on fire, doing away with both the barn and the boy.

The Frayer child was eventually sent to the state school at Owatonna. Nellie Frayer died Aug. 4, 1905 of consumption (TB). Her remains were interred in the state’s lots in Fairview cemetery.

The Minneapolis Tribune; “Child Born in Prison.”; Sept. 22, 1897; p. 3.

Two Harbors Iron News; “Prison Born”; Oct. 1, 1897; p. 2.

Stillwater Messenger; Aug. 12, 1905; p. 4.

The Minneapolis Journal; “Daughter is Born to Mrs. Brennan. Baby Inmate of the State Prison at Stillwater. Mother is Serving Life Sentence for Murder of three Children in Minneapolis Last Fall—James Brennan, Father of Child, will Pay Mother-in-Law to Care for It.”; July 26, 1906; p. 6.

Old Stillwater Prison


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