The Lebanon Historical Society posted on its Facebook page some transcripts of the Town of Lebanon Justice of the Peace records. One of the entries was about a murder that happened which included sworn testimony given by my Great-Great Grandpa Johann Frederick during an inquest held at the Lebanon Town Hall. This was a great story to discover, and I couldn’t wait to add to my family tree book I have been working on.
On July 8, 1896, Ms. Maria (Machmueller) Bochow* was found dead in her home. Her farm was the adjoining property north of the Frederick farm. Maria was 81 years old and widow of Friedrich Bochow. She lived on the farm with her brother, August Machmueller, who helped with the farm work. On that morning August left for the cheese factory just down the road. When he returned, Mr. Machmueller found his sister lying dead in the house. Upon examination by local doctors, they determined that the cause of death was the result of blunt trauma to her head. A pair of horse pincers stained with blood and hair stuck to it was found nearby. Ms. Bochow’s hired farmhand, William Zellmer, was nowhere to be found.
That afternoon an inquest was held at the Lebanon Town House with Justice of the Peace William J. Schwefel presiding. Constable Louis Dornfeld summoned a jury, and witnesses to the events gave testimony. Johann Frederick was one of several witnesses called to give his account of the murder:
“I live in the town of Lebanon and am the nearest neighbor of Maria Bochow. I saw her this morning. She was lying dead, her head at the foot of the stairway leading down into the west wing or kitchen of the building, and her feet were in the bedroom. I saw that the head was swollen, and I noticed bruises. The bruises were on the head, over the eye. There was blood on the floor at the foot of the stairs in the kitchen and also blood in the bedroom. After we found her dead, myself and my son lifted her and placed her in the bedroom. I saw the (horse) pincers after myself and my son placed her in the bedroom. They were in the north side of the woodshed. I noticed blood on the pincers and hair. It seemed to me to be human hair. The blood on the pincers was fresh. I know William Zellmer. I did not see him about the place today. I called for him immediately to help me move the body, but he did not answer. Myself and Mr. Braasch and Mr. Krueger’s son searched the premises for him but were unable to find him. William Zellmer was hired man for Mrs. Bochow.”
The jury of the inquest found William Zellmer guilty of the murder of Ms. Bochow, and Justice of the Peace William Schwefel issued a warrant for his arrest. A search party formed to find Zellmer. He was found several days later by authorities hiding in the woods. When first arrested he said that an unknown man came to the house and killed Ms. Bochow, and then hit him on the head with a club, but his story was never consistent.
His preliminary trial was held at the Lebanon Town House in July 1896, and he was found guilty. Justice of the Peace Schwefel sent him to the Dodge County Jail without bail to await trial by the circuit court. His court date was set to take place in September 1896 but adjournment postponed the trial until February 1897.
Zellmer escaped the Dodge County Jail on November 29 but was apprehended near his family farm in Lebanon on his way to Watertown. He claimed that he just wanted to go home to see his parents and have a good meal and intended to come back to Juneau and see himself back into jail. Yeah, likely story.
The jury trial of William Zellmer commenced on Wednesday, February 17, 1897, and concluded on the evening of Saturday, February 24. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty based on what they believed to be purely circumstantial evidence. The only evidence the prosecution had against Zellmer was that he mysteriously disappeared after the death of Ms. Buchow and the rumor that he urged Maria Buchow to sell him the farm.
Watertown Republican News Coverage
This is such a bizarre murder that happened in the little community of Sugar Island. It was exciting for me to learn about a family member playing a role in this story. My great great grandpa’s involvement and testimony sort of gives him a voice and gives him more life…if that makes sense. He isn’t just a picture, census data, or a death certificate anymore–it gives him some dimension. Have you discovered an event that your ancestor was involved with or connected to in your research? What was it and in what way did it give them person some dimension or change the way you thought about them?
*There are a few ways that the last name has been spelled (Bochow, Bachaw, Bucher, Buchow). For the purpose of uniformity, I spelled it as the Lebanon Historical Society presented it on their original post as it was transcribed in the Justice of the Peace records. However, Maria’s gravestone is spelled differently (Bachaw) than her husbands (Bochow). The newspapers also used several different spellings.