It was murder by blunt force trauma, and a little bit of a CSI case, even if it occurred in Jamestown back in 1924.
In the fall of 1923 the bodies of two itinerant laborers were found partially buried at a farm near Jamestown. The bodies were not of local residents and could not be identified due to the advanced state of decomposition.
Local law enforcement officers gathered what evidence they could but really had no leads or suspects in the case. The only evidence seemed to be the fact the men were killed by blows to the head presumably from an iron pump handle found nearby.
The bodies were buried and the case largely forgotten until that January when the conscience got the best of Joe Berger, an itinerant farm worker from Richardton, N.D. He confessed the crime to the Bismarck Police Chief.
Berger confessed he used an iron pump handle to bash in the skulls of the two men after a night of drinking home brew. He had met the men while working together on a threshing crew in the Jamestown area. The three had drawn their wages and walked away from the crew and bought a bottle to celebrate.
He said the men teased him which made him angry. The Jamestown Alert described Berger as â€œsub-normal.â€ When the men fell asleep he killed them and covered the bodies with straw. He also said he took the cash the men had and destroyed all personal letters before moving on to work on other threshing crews.
But along with details of the crime Berger gave the authorities the name of his victims.
Winfred Stookey and James Keown were both from Gilman, Missouri. They had been working across the country at various farm jobs. The authorities notified the families and exhumed the bodies.
The fathers of both men came to Jamestown to bring their sons home. They also brought along Stookeyâ€™s dental records from his time in the army which matched the skull that had been exhumed.
Despite the evidence the paper questioned whether Berger was admitting to the crime because of his diminished mental capacity. They did note the Stutsman County officials were taking all precautions to avoid asking leading questions that could put the details of the crime in Bergerâ€™s mind.
In the end the evidence won out and Berger was sentenced to life in the North Dakota penitentiary.
The time the fathers spent in town was made easier by the assistance of the Jamestown American Legion. The organization had been contacted by the Gilman Legion with the request for any assistance the organization could lend the grieving fathers.
But the new information yielded another mystery. Stookey and Keown always traveled with a third man from Gilman that was still missing. The Alert even suggested this mystery traveler may have been the real murderer.
And this third traveler, as far as I can tell, is still out there. So keep an eye out.