Thursday, September 13, 2018

On This Date in Minnesota History: September 13

September 13, 1919 – Ralph LaCount, whose 16-year-old bride of eight months was murdered yesterday, was taken into custody this afternoon and “held for investigation.” Sheriff’s operatives this morning also took a second man into custody.

Ralph LaCount

 At 8:30 this evening questioning of LaCount began, continuing through
2 a.m.

Other developments in the case during the day included:
- Inability through post-mortem examination to place probable time of murder
- Finding a photograph believed to be that of mysterious stranger seen in the vicinity of the LaCounts’ cottage at noon Friday, and information that he was seen on a boat riding from Deephaven to Cottage Grove.
- Sheriff Martinson offered a reward of $500 yesterday for information of the murderer’s identity.
- Failure to photograph fingerprints because they were marred by handling before authorities reached the crime scene.
- Autopsy established that Mrs. LaCount was first attacked with a knife, her throat slashed, and then pummeled with the baseball bat until the weapon broke in two.

LaCount was detained after Mr. Hoy and Sheriff Martinson had questioned him a few minutes shortly before 6 p.m. The questions dealt largely with LaCount’s friends, his past actions, and particularly in reference to a young woman employed in Minneapolis hospital, with whom LaCount is alleged to have been intimately acquainted.

According to Hoy, LaCount replied by asking what connection the questioning had with the murder case. Hoy said the husband’s answers gradually became more incoherent and that he frequently said “give me time to think.”

After a conference with Sheriff Martinson, LaCount was detained and taken to a cell to await the formal examination conducted by Mr. Nash.

Madeline LaCount was found murdered by her husband late Friday afternoon when he returned to their cottage on the state of C. J. Winton at Northome. LaCount is a chauffeur employed by Winton and had been in Minneapolis and St. Paul driving Miss Helen Winton since 11 a.m. that day.

Sheriff Martinson learned from Miss Winton that about 10:15 Friday morning she had talked to Mrs. LaCount on the phone about making sure her husband would be ready to drive Miss Winton to town. No additional evidence has been unearthed that Mrs. LaCount was seen alive after that.

A search for the well-dressed stranger who inquired about LaCount and his wife at noon Friday is being made by the sheriff’s force and it was announced this evening that an arrest is imminent. George Strand, deputy sheriff, returned from Wayzata this evening with a photograph said to match the description of the stranger who passed the Winton place in an automobile at noon and inquired of gardener Oscar Lindgren about the LaCounts. The photo was found in the LaCount cottage and is considered a valuable clue.

According to Lindgren, the stranger, after making inquiries, drove on around a bend in the main road that runs from the Northome station to Deephaven.

Another connecting link was furnished by Erle Savage, a neighbor, who said his 11-year-old son, Jean, and Edith Chapman, a playmate, observed a large touring car standing for 20 minutes at the foot of the lake road directly in front of the LaCount cottage between and 1:30 yesterday afternoon. The children further said they saw a man leave the cottage and drive away. Yesterday morning tracks of a large car were found in the sand near the cottage.

The man sought by the sheriff is believed to have been arrested early in summer on a charge of speeding on one of the roads in the Lake Minnetonka district. About 1 yesterday afternoon, he was said to have been seen boarding the ferry boat at Deephaven, acting nervously and displaying a roll of bills. He left the boat at Cottage Grove. Both stations are close to Northome.

Sheriff’s operatives are hunting for a man believed to have been a former lover of Mrs. LaCount, whose home is said to be in Wisconsin. LaCount today could give no information about the man except he thought he was engaged in the land business, and was about 35 years old. This man, LaCount said, probably is the one his wife mentioned some time ago when she said she had run into a former sweetheart.

The fingerprint clues faded today when Irving Jones, Bertillon expert of the Minneapolis police department, found most of them smeared beyond recognition. The murder weapons had been handled by persons visiting the cottage before authorities arrived and the marks found on the kitchen door also were beyond use.

The autopsy this afternoon led Coroner Gilbert Seashore to believe that Mrs. La Count’s assailant first attacked her with the bread knife. He said that nearly all the blood in her body had left her and this is probably due to the blows struck with the baseball after her throat had been cut. The former theory was that the baseball bat was first used in the murder.

The autopsy revealed that five distinct blows had been struck with the bat before the weapon broke. The victim’s left jaw also was broken and several teeth were knocked out. The bat was thrown behind a wash stand and the bread knife stuck through the oil cloth on the kitchen table after an attempt had been made to remove blood from the blade by passing it between the table top and the covering.

Mrs. LaCount, who was pregnant, was believed to have been in bed when the intruder appeared. The sheriff thinks it must have been a former sweetheart and that an argument started over the question of whether she was married. The marriage license showing she was wedded to Ralph LaCount Feb. 26 by Judge Waite was found lying on the floor near the dresser. An open drawer indicated it had been taken from there.

The license was unstained by blood, lead the sheriff to believe it had been shown to the assailant, then thrown aside when he started to attack her.

Martinson thinks the murderer dealt his first blow without warning, and that it was thoroughly effective. The rest of the slashes with the knife and the blows with the bat are believed to have been results of fiendish rage. A cut on one of Mrs. LaCount’s fingers indicated to the sheriff that she had made one attempt to grasp the knife.

The movements of Ralph LaCount from 10:30 a.m. Friday until nearly 6 p.m. were detailed to the sheriff again today by Miss Helen Winton, who corroborated LaCount’s story of where he was all day yesterday.

LaCount himself gave Deputy Sheriff Strand the only apparent clue to the possible identity of his wife’s assailant today when he told of her meeting a former suitor downtown either in the later part of June or early in July of this year.

LaCount said his wife, at the time, mentioned the name of the man, saying that he was a returned soldier whose home was in a small town in North Dakota. She had first met him, according to LaCount, about the same time as LaCount, and said that he had called on her a few times.

When she met this man earlier this past summer, his wife told him the man tried to make an engagement with her but she told him she was married. The man refused to believe her, and was extremely displeased when she insisted that she was married and told him the name of her husband. While his wife told him the name of the man at the time, LaCount said today that it was a peculiar name and that he could not remember what it was.

The 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; p. 1.

Brutal murder in 1919 near Lake Minnetonka; see Sept. 12, 2018 blog.


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