This article by Steve Nestor about Pope County’s only unsolved murder appeared in the Pope County Tribune, March 30, 2015
The year was 1915. It happened in rural Pope County in Ben Wade Township. The horrific event was the lead story in the May 13, 1915 Glenwood Herald. The ghastly report and “brutal” details written in the style of the day are too graphic to quote by today’s standards.
Sven, Johannes and Amund Mitmoen farmed West of Lowry. And on May 12th neighbor Andrew Knutson stopped by to get some hay. What he found not only shocked him, but left the entire county shaken for months. And today it remains a complete mystery.
Knutson discovered the two oldest brothers, Sven and Johannes in the house, one in the front room the other in the kitchen. Amund the youngest was found in the barn.
Sven and Johannes were gagged with handkerchiefs tied over their mouths. They had been hit by a “blunt instrument”. There appeared to have been a “scuffle” and it “seems probable that the brothers had resisted”. “The probabilities” were that Amund was shot. However he had been bludgeoned as well. The scene at the home was described as “gruesome” and that they were “left in a horrible condition”.
The early report said “Robbery was undoubtedly the motive for the murders”. The brothers were known to be “well to do” and it was said they were “known to have considerable money in their possession”. How much was stolen was not known. Two empty “pocket books” were found at the scene. However “currency and gold to the amount of $2700 left in a bureau drawer had been overlooked”. Remember this was 1915! $2700 !
They reported that it appeared the brothers had been dead for at least a few days. They had last been seen alive almost a week before. The authorities promised to leave nothing unturned to solve this case and bring the guilty parties to trial.
But as of July 1st no incriminating evidence had been discovered and the case remained a mystery. Offers went out for a reward of $1250.00 !
However in October two men were arrested and a dramatic preliminary hearing and County court dates were set. John Jacobson and George Nelson were formerly charged with the murders. Both men were from Lignite, No. Dakota. A third man was also held but later released on $2000 bound signed by a few prominent Ben Wade farmers.
Jacobson, who had been born near Lowry and Nelson were arrested in No. Dakota after they had been identified by a local livery stable owner, G.E. Wentworth, who testified he had rented the two men an auto in Lowry on May 3, a few days prior to the murder. He was taken to No. Dakota and identified the two men as those he had rented to. He was positive about Nelson but not so sure about Jacobson. Jacobsen was the nephew of the Mitmoens and Nelson was his brother in law.
By early November when the preliminary hearing ended, the third man was released and all charges against him were dropped. The others would stand trial in mid-November. 12 “honest” men were chosen as jurors. They came from Grove Lake, Rolling Forks, Bangor, Lake Johanna, Langhei, Blue Mounds and New Prairie townships. The case was presented before Judge S.A. Flaherty.
Testimony was heard and the graphic descriptions, a bullet taken from the barn wall were offered in to evidence. Amund’s cap and a hat that was found next to him in the barn, several handkerchiefs that were used to gag Sven and Johannes, and the empty “pocket books” were all presented. It was confirmed that the bodies had lain for days before being discovered.
The county coroner H.J. Berry (Yes, Berry was the Coroner and mortician. In fact his partner was Toombs and I am not kidding – Toombs & Berry!) and Sherriff Gilbertson and other key witnesses were all called. A relative specifically told about how most knew of the money the men keep on hand in a tin box in their bureau and that it had not been seen since the day of the murders. It was also noted that Jacobsen commonly transacted business for his three Uncles. Another testified that he sold a 32 caliber pistol on May 3 to a man who gave the name “Iver Johnson” a few days before the murders, but at trial identified John Jacobson as being that man. Another man testified, as did others, that he saw two men in an automobile stop in front of Chan’s saloon in Lowry the evening of May 3 and that he was positive that George Nelson was one of the men. He also said the other man wore the hat that was found in the barn near Amund’s body.
However the defense led by Senator J.D. Sullivan of St. Cloud presented a witness and associated documents that declared that Jacobson was seen on several occasions on May 3-10 in Lignite No. Dakota.
So there, the evidence was in and the prelim trial was complete. One week later the entire matter would be turned over to the Grand Jury as reported in the Glenwood Herald of November 11, 1915. More specific information, corroborating testimony…… alibis for the two charged men and their whereabouts at the time of the murders was revisited. The rest would now be left up to the Grand jurors. Pope County Attorney Julius Grove would again present the prosecuting case. Jacobson would have Sullivan as his defense. Nelson had no defender.
Numerous witnesses corroborated that Jacobson and Nelson had both been seen in and around Lignite in the first 10 days of May. Nelson, age 34 and Jacobson, age 32, both testified and related there accounts of those days, which “closely matched what had been given by the evidence already offered on their behalf”.
By Dec. 3, the verdict was in…… a decision had been made on the first ballot. The testimony and witness accounts, which supported the defendants, corroborating their innocence were the deciding factor….. The verdict was “Not Guilty”!
Judge Flaherty ordered the two men be released on their own cognizance and the only unsolved murder to ever occur in Pope County was History. To date no one has been charged and no arrests have been made in what is Pope County’s most heinous and horrific homicide, The Mitmoen Murders, May 1915.
The evidence – the actual hat and cap presented at trial and a rock which was used to bludgeon Amund is in the collection at the Pope County Museum.