The census 10 - caught
May 5, 1940
Well I have had another exciting day at Susie's house, and I hope you are
as anxious to hear about it as I am to tell you.
I started out a bit earlier, so that I could go in as soon as I saw Madelyn leave, not wanting to miss any time with Susie. As before, she was pleased to see me.
“Susie, could you tell me about all these murders that you have mentioned in
passing. I know your husband died in 1924, but you made it sound like some of them were earlier than that.”
“My husband and all his relatives were big men, big drinkers, and they all had fierce tempers. I'll tell you about John Suchla – not the one who lived with us, but their cousin, who still lived in Wisconsin. This would have been about 1903 or so, and we hadn't lived here more than five years by then.”
"Were you friends with his family?”
"Not so much, but we saw them all at church on Sunday. Anyway, this was
before the days of national prohibition, but North Dakota had come in as a state in 1889 with a prohibition article in its constitution, and since July 1890 it was illegal to manufacture, sell, import, or give intoxicating beverages to anyone
in the state. Even so, most of us got our drink tax-free, if you know what I mean.”
"You mean you made your own.”
"Yes or one person would have a still and run what they called a blind pig
– a place to go and get illicit booze.”
"Did you make your own?”
"Let me tell this my own way, and I will get to that later. Well this place that I'm referring to in the story was in a place called Spiritwood Lake. Do you know it?”
"We've taken the children fishing there,” I replied.
"Well these gents were not after fish that night. Now this story I'm telling I know from hearing it from one of my Nogosek friends. They and the Kilmeks and the Gospoders were other Polish families who had come from the same part as we did, and homesteaded here when we did, and went to the same little church.
"It was the night of September 26th I remember, and we were all excited because friends and relatives from Independence were coming to our area to visit, and we thought we'd hear news of our families that were left behind. They were staying with Gregory Nagosek, and included his brother Anton, and his wife Sophie's grandfather, Louis Kilmek. John Suchla and another friend that I didn't know of – Mike Bender. These four men had been drinking whisky with Gregory at his home. They went on to the farm of Gregory’s daughter Maria, the Theodore Gospodar farm, for supper and a few more drinks. Then borrowing a dollar from his daughter, saying that they were going to Wimbledon, which was 15 miles away, in two buggies. Instead of going to Wimbledon, they ended up at Spiritwood Lake, only a few miles away, at the LaBrasche boat house, which was reportedly a “blind pig.” Spiritwood Lake was known to be a place of rendezvous for bootleggers. No honest person would want to be caught there. It is no wonder, then, that the Nogosek family claimed Gregory had never before been at Spiritwood Lake, even though he had farmed no more than four miles from it for 23 years."
"Gosh this is exciting."
"According to the testimony of witnesses, there were more drinks at the boat house, and the men got into a very vocal argument with Gregory. He then left the boat house, which extended out over the water. It was a very dark and rainy night. Suddenly he was heard screaming the name of Jesus in Polish three times.
"His friends inside were frightened, and did not go out immediately to find out what was the matter. When they did go out, they saw no sign of Gregory. One waded out into the lake a little way, but found nothing. They did, though think they saw for a moment the shoulder of a man in the water.
"Mike Bender said, “He's gone!" Then they left the boat house to walk up the hill to LaBrasche's house. In the yard they reportedly saw a strange man pull a light out of his pocket. John Suchla began to panic, and ran out into the field to hide in a slough until 4 a.m. Only then did he return to LaBrasche’s house, where he was let in."
"So was he dead?"
"Once it grew light outside, they went down to the water and found Gregory’s body face down along the shore, in eighteen inches of water. The coroner found only ten cents in his pocket. Outside of a bruised nose, no other injuries were found on the body. His friends were convinced that he had been jumped in the dark. What would be the motive? As they figured it out, people in the area had thought that Lewis Klimek had come to the Fried area to buy a farm, and hence
would have a lot of money in his pocket."
"But who else knew they were there?"
"Will you let me tell my story? As a matter of fact, this was not true; he had just gone to visit Gregory. Anyway, speculation was that they had mistaken Gregory for Louis Klimek as he emerged alone from the boat house. It does seem possible that several men could easily cause a man to drown by holding his head under water for a few minutes, and not leave any bruises on the body. Moreover, how explain that Gregory had only 10 cents in his pocket? Farmers are used to carrying considerable sums of money on their person. But the coroner's jury, which met at the same time in Jamestown as the funeral was being held in Fried on Sunday, September 28th, rendered the verdict of accidental drowning."
"But you don't believe it do you?"
"It does seem possible that Gregory had walked out on the dock, fallen into the water in the dark, and in his panic at not being able to swim he could have stumbled out into deep water instead of making his way towards shore.
"Spiritwood Lake does drop off quite suddenly, for it is a spring-fed lake.
Christina, Gregory’s wife, decided to remain at the homestead until Anton sold it to George Bautch. Gregory’s body is at Sacred Heart cemetery at Fried, as Tom's is, under a large white tombstone erected for him in the center."
"You said it was murder, yet you say the verdict was accidental death.”
"The fact he had no money on him didn't make it sound accidental to me, or
to most others. We all thought it was murder.”
"And yet you are saying that it was probably a stranger or strangers who
did it, rather than the others who were with him.”
"Who knows? And who knows if the magistrate who gave the verdict might not
have been somewhat richer as a result of the proceedings. Nobody knows for sure. But one thing is sure. The Nagosak family felt sad, but also ashamed and humiliated.”
"Tell me about the fire at your house.”
"Not much to tell really. It was the 23rd of January, 1920. Tom was home supposedly in charge of Joey who wasn't feeling well, so hadn't gone to church with us. Tom got drunk and fell asleep. The house caught on fire, probably because of an overheated stove and by the time anybody noticed, my Joey was dead in his bed. But his father was just fine.”
"Did he make any excuses or feel bad about it?”
"Not enough to satisfy me. He was in charge, he was drunk before midday,
he didn't take care of our sick son, and when he noticed the fire, he saved himself, forgetting that Joey was even in the house. He could have saved him.”
"I can see why you wanted to move away from him. You probably would
never have felt that you could leave your kids in his care again.”
"And we had nowhere decent to live. Tom could stay at his forge. The older
kids could stay with friends. John and Mary could get their own farm. I was sick to death of Tom and his drinking ways. They were all like that the Succlas – their dad got so drunk that he went outside in minus 40 temperatures without any gloves on and froze four of his fingers so that he had to have them amputated. Frank was a big drinker too, and with even a fiercer temper than Tom.”
"And you said he had something to do with murder too, didn't you? When was
"Frank was antoher like Tom who helped with the harvesting. And if the
farmers didn't pay up promptly for his services, they were beaten up by Frank until they did so.
"So did someone murder him because of him beating them up?”
"It was his wife Julia who died, on February 27, 1914. They had three children – Frank Junior, born in 1899, and Catherine in 1905, with the one who died in between them in age.”
"So the kids were 15 and 9 when she died.”
"And their lives continued pretty much as normal, because their aunt Mary
had been living with them the whole time, and gossip has it that Frank had bedded her long before they finally married in 1921.”
"So where does murder come into it?”
"Julia disappeared for eight days. People wondered where she
was, but were no wiser for asking Frank about it. He thought maybe
she had run off, but didn't seem to know or care.”
"So did she run off?”
"Parts of her body were found under a haystack with a bullet in her. They questioned Frank, but he got off scot free. He said he had no idea of how she got under there.”
"But didn't they do any investigating about it – try to find out what happened?”
"Because there was no evidence to work with, and no witnesses, there was nothing concrete to go on, but more than a few blamed Frank for it. They left the area. People were so disgusted with him, I guess he more or less got forced to goand he bought a farm in the Minneapolis area.”
"So do they still live there now?”
"Mary died young too – but no suggestion of foul play. Still they didn't live around here, so nobody knew. The neighbours said they thought he was a nasty piece of work when he was drinking – so that didn't change. Mary died about eight years ago, and Catherine just five years ago, only 30 and never married. Frank himself died three years ago, aged 69. Frank Junior is still around someplace. He told the story of his dad's will. He was gong to inherit all his wealth and goods, but only if he fulfilled some conditions."
"What kind of conditions?"
"He had to prove that he had provided his father with care and provision,
in sickness and in health, and made sure he had a proper burial in his church. I don't know if he got the money or not."
Just then the door opened, and in stepped Madelyn, Susie's 25 year old
“Hi Mom, Everything all right?” she asked.
Then she stopped in her tracks, seeing me there, taking notes, and very much involved with her mother.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?” she demanded.
“I'm Nan Elder and we were just talking and having a drink together."
"I've seen you before. You're the person who did the census, aren't you? You were asking all sorts of impertinent personal questions then. I think I will be reporting you. I'm sure coming back to ask more questions of people will not be in the remit of your job.”
"She's my friend, now, Madelyn. Be quiet. You won't be reporting anyone,”
said her moher sharply.
"I'm sorry. I didn't want to do this in an underhand way, but I was so intrieged about your mother's story about your father's death, that I asked her if she would tell me more about it?”
"So now you know all our secrets, do you?”
"No, we haven't even talked about your father yet. Susie has been telling
me about when she moved to North Dakota and things that happened.”
"Well, I suggest that you take your pen and paper and go, and please do not come back. I will change my time for going out, and I certainly do not want you coming here again.”
"I want her to come,” said Susie. “And I don't see why you should object to me having a friend of my own. I get bored here every day. I like the idea of someone asking me about my life.”
"She's making notes, Ma. Doesn't that tell you something. She intends to write up what you tell her and make it into a newspaper article of maybe even a book, if you tell her enough. You might not object to her delving into your background, but I do not want her knowing about mine – and as we have lived together for the last 25 years, that pretty much means that I don't want her to know anything that happened in that time.”
"I'm sorry, I'll leave right now,” I said.
"Go,” she said, and I did. But somehow I can't believe that the story will end like that.