A FIENDISH DEED by Grace Mullanix

Assault committed at her home, Wednesday afternoon, and no traces so far found of the fiend ! Blood hounds go up to the scene, the morning.


(Taken from McCook Tribune – Friday evening, May 24, 1907).


One of the most dastardly, atrocious and mysterious crimes in the history of Southwestern Nebraska had its scene on Red Willow Creek, this county, about eight miles north of McCook, Wednesday afternoon between one and two o’clock when a vicious, cowardly and murderous assault was made on Mrs. Claude Spaulding by some unknown miscreant, who up to the time of this writing has succeeded in evading arrest.


No one was in the house at the time of the murderous attack, save Mrs. Spaulding and her three-year-old daughter, Mr. Spaulding having gone up into Frontier county, the day before, on business. The wretch used a large steel wedge and a hammer in his assault, making several terrible wounds on his victim’s head, fracturing the skull, and left the body weltering on the floor in her own blood for dead.


A young brother of Mrs. Spaulding found her in this terrible condition and gave the alarm: and physicians and officers were soon on the scene, having been hurried there from McCook in automobiles. The doctors immediately set to work to do all in their power for the unconscious and brutally pounded woman, efforts being continued throughout Wednesday night and yesterday.


Officers and neighbors, aroused to the utmost by the sickening scene, eagerly sought for trace or clue, all up to this writing having proven abortive. The Red Willow and neighborhood was at once patrolled by armed men and the telephone used in every direction. Trains out of McCook and other neighboring towns were watched during Wednesday night but no trace or clue was discovered.


An unknown man was seen in that neighborhood during the morning and suspicion naturally attaches to him. He is described as of good size, dark complexion, rather wiry build, wore overalls and a blue shirt. The little girl said that a black man killed her Mamma, evidently referring to the dirty, swarthy complexion of the assailant.


The room in which the assault was made bears every evidence of a desperate encounter.


Cards were printed, the same night, stating simple facts and giving best description possible of the supposed assailant, and these were mailed out over all of this section of the state.


A man was held at Red Willow, Thursday morning, but soon after released. Night Policeman Fitzgerald went down to Holdrege, Thursday morning, to attempt to identify several suspects held there, but returned home last night, empty handed. Reports have come in from Cedar Bluffs, Kansas, and other points, but up to date nothing has developed of an encouraging nature


Mrs. Spaulding, and Laura Gehring, formerly taught school in that neighborhood, is a relative of D. C. Little and highly esteemed.


The dastardly affair has not only aroused that neighborhood but has disturbed McCook profoundly, crowds gathering often to hear the slightest news and characterizations of the crime being the most lurid.


Two young blood hounds arrived from Beatrice, last night on Number 3, and were taken out to the scene, but the heavy rain of yesterday afternoon will make their work most difficult.


F.A. Pennell and Louis Thorgrimson drove physicians and officers to the scene in their autos, covering the distance in thirty minutes. Dr. Beach was misdirected, but later reached the scene, and with Dr. McDivitt assisted Dr. Hare, who is in charge of the sad case.


Words fail in expressing the sympathy felt for Mr. Spaulding in this unspeakably horrible affair.


The plain indications are that the wretch, failing in an attempted assault on account of desperate resistance of Mrs. Spaulding, made a fiendish attempt to kill.


Mrs. Spaulding had not at noon today regained consciousness, but her general condition was improved and in some respects was normal. The next few days will determine whether or not she can or will recover. Her condition is desperately bad.


Up to the time of our going to press, this (Friday) afternoon, practically no trace has been found of the brutal wretch and the prospects are not en­couraging.




Sequel to A Fiendish Deed


Nov. 22 1981


Dear Sylvia


Have your last letter here and I’ve been trying to do a lot of remembering.


As to my Mother’s Ordeal: Up until then a stranger or friend came to the door at mealtime and expected to be fed and every one expected to feed them –this particular day (May 27 1907) Dad was gone and the stranger came asking for a meal. Mother got the meal and I (3years old) went to sleep – when I awakened in this mad mans arms, my Mother lay at the foot of the bed on the floor in a pool of blood in our 2 room soddy. He set me down on the bed and walked out the door. Mother’s half brother Christie Gherring lived with us, came home from Aunt Carries (she lived where John Westkamps live now and we lived about a mile east of the present hi-way 83. Christie alerted the neighbors and of course I don’t recall all the details (I lacked three days of being 3 years old) but from hearing about it for years afterward, I think its safe to say “All Hell broke loose” while 2 doctors and 2 nurses worked to save mothers life. Dr Hare and I don’t remember the other ones name and Mrs. Raines and Mrs. Day were the nurses. The men for miles around hunted the mad man. (I’ve wondered if he didn’t join in the hunt himself to ward off suspicion) and the way people seemed to go crazy and I’ve been told 3 innocent men lost their lives and I know one that did because Grand-pa Little told me how it happened.


Men on horseback chased a man on foot to the Platte river and he swam to a small island Three men shot, so no one knew who hit him, but the “mob spirit” was satisfied and all returned home and some 15 or 16 years later the real mad-man confessed on his death bed that he killed mother and planned to kill me when he picked me up off the bed, but he couldn’t do it. His name was Rasmussen and he lived north west of here 8 or 10 miles. Would have been about 30 or 35 miles from where the folks lived. He was a brother of the Watkins product’s man that had stopped at the folks that morning.


In all I ever heard about it, I never heard rape or anything like that was involved, Since Mother loved a good argument I’d rather think politics or some local issue brought on a sudden temper tantrum in him. In spite of the seeming impossible, mother regained and I don’t remember how long it took for her to be up and around, but of course through it all she suffered severe pain and morphine was the only pain killer they had at that time. At any rate, it made a dope addict out of her. The only thing that saved her, (she didn’t realize what she craved, the druggists did of course) he refused to give her any hint of what or where, so she nearly lost her mind and I’ve wondered if her behavior at times wasn’t a result of that, tho I know she was born with a disposition that no one would envy.


Some Years, 15 or 20, (I think) this Dr. Hare came to visit her (he had moved away from McCook) and she asked him what it was she craved and he told her. (I’m not sure that was the right thing to do) but in her case was , because she refused to ever take any kind of medicine because it might just bring the old craving back.


I guess I’ve covered this. I looked up when Aunt Ell Passed away, it was Jan. 1955 but I don’t have the day.


-Grace Mullanix