Wednesday, September 12, 2018

On This Date in Minnesota History: September 12

September 12, 1919 – Murdered with a baseball bat and then slashed with a bread knife, the body of Mrs. Ralph (Madeline) LaCount, the 16-year-old bride of a chauffeur employed by Charles J. Winston, was found at 5 p.m. this afternoon by her husband in the cottage the couple occupied on the Winton estate at Northome, Lake Minnetonka.

LaCount Cottage1

A motive for the killing has members of the sheriff’s force puzzled. No attempt was made to rob the cottage and there was no evidence of a struggle. The only clue is information obtained by Sheriff Oscar Martinson that an automobile driven by a man was seen on the road near the cottage at noon. Later it left the scene, and about 1 p.m. a man was seen walking along the road near the cottage.

LaCount told Sheriff Martinson he left his home at 11 a.m. to drive Miss Helen Winton to Minneapolis. He did not return to Northome until 5 p.m. and went directly to the cottage where he found his bride laying on the floor of the living room. Her skull had been broken by the blow from the bat, which was also broken. A knife had been thrust into her throat and was found stuck through the oil cloth covering the kitchen table.

LaCount notified members of the Winton family. A doctor was called, who said after examination of the body that Mrs. LaCount had been dead two or three hours.

The cottage in which the LaCount couple lived is on a blind road leading to the lake, a short distance off the main road. Between the cottage and the Winton’s garage is a path known as “the old Indian trail.” Mrs. E. B. Savage, who lives near the Winton place, told Sheriff Martinson this evening that she had passed within a few steps of the cottage at 12:15 and heard someone moving about inside, but heard no unusual commotion.

Map of LaCount Cottage2

According to Sheriff Martinson, the crime probably occurred between 1 and 2 p.m.

Oscar Lindgren, a gardener employed on the Winton estate, said an automobile stopped on the main road near him at noon and the driver approached him.

“He asked me,” Lindgren told the sheriff, “if this was the Winton place. I told him it was, and then he asked me if a man named LaCount was Mr. Winton’s chauffeur. He then drove down the road.”

About 15 minutes later, Lindgren said a man appeared on foot and went down the road toward the LaCount cottage. Lindgren did not know if it was the same man.

Mrs. LaCount, before her marriage last February, was Madeline Covell. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Covell, live in North Hudson, Wis.
A brother, Roy Covell, was notified of the murder by Sheriff Martinson late this evening and will reach Minneapolis tomorrow morning. LaCount met his wife in St. Paul where she was a nurse.

The LaCount cottage has two rooms, one used as a kitchen and the other as a living room. Adjoining the living room is a small bedroom contained off.

LaCount told the sheriff that when he left home this morning his wife complained of feeling ill. She had not dressed by the time he left and when the body was found she was clad only in a night gown. She was, her husband said, in a delicate condition.

Assisting Sheriff Martinson in the investigation tonight were Deputy Sheriffs George Strand of Wayzata and William Carney of Hopkins.

The body of Mrs. LaCount was brought to the Hennepin County morgue this evening. A post mortem will be conducted tomorrow, according to Coroner Gilbert Seashore.

Sheriff Martinson said it appeared Mrs. LaCount never had a chance to defend herself. There are cottages within 100 feet of the scene of the murder, but no one heard any cry or unusual noises from the LaCount cottage. The sheriff said he believed the blow was struck from behind by a powerful man who crept up behind her. That it was a large man with unusual strength seemed assured by the fact that the blow—and the sheriff believes there was but one strike with the bat—broke the bat. The murderer, apparently crazed as the bat broke and intent upon the death of the woman, ran to the kitchen, where the large bread knife lay on the table.

The knife had been run through Mrs. LaCount’s throat. The wound would have been fatal but physicians say the woman was dead before it was inflicted. Her skull was crushed in by the bat blow.

“It is the work of a fiend,” said Sheriff Martinson. “In all my experience in police work, I have never known of a case more brutal, more baffling. Apparently the man slunk into the house and away again so quietly that no one saw him. The sheriff was without a good description of the man who walked by the house, and had no evidence that this man might have had anything to do with the murder.

“It is a blank tonight,” said the sheriff, “but every man of my office will be assigned to the case if necessary.”

La Count was questioned at length by Sheriff Martinson and the deputies at Wayzata tonight in an effort to throw some light on the mystery but was unable to give any motive for his wife’s death. He returned to cottage, waiting for his brother-in-law, Roy who, he was told, was on his way from Hudson.

To be continued…

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Bride, 17 Years Old, Slain With Baseball Bat. Ralph La Count Finds Wife Dead in Cottage on Minnetonka Estate. Pedestrian and Autoist Who Accosted Gardner Give Only Clues. Husband Says Girl Was Ill—Body Clad in Nightclothes When Found.”; Sept. 13, 1919; pp. 1 & 2.

1The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “LaCount Held; Wife’s Murder Still Mystery. Husband Under Fire of Questions By County Officials. Another Man May Be Taken Into Custody Today. Knife Used Before Baseball Bat--$500 Reward for Slayer. Photograph of Man Believed Implicated Found Near Cottage.”; Sept. 14, 1919; pp. 1 & 2.

Ralph LaCount, whose 16-yer-old bride was murdered, was taken into custody this afternoon and “held for investigation.”; see 
Sept. 13, 2018 blog.


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