Halfdan's Trial

April 03, 2008 By: erik Category: Family, Funny, USA 458 views

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Ruth SeversenThis blog post was written by my great-grandmother, Ruth Rasmussen (pictured to the right), 88 years ago. Although her writing does not specify a year, there are some clues. She said that the trial took place on Wednesday, April 28th. By my calculations, April 28th fell on a Wednesday on 1915 and 1920. The trial is about the alleged theft of a diamond ring that my great-grandfather, Halfdan Rasmussen, gave to Ruth. She says at the end that the whole ordeal from first accusation to trial was six months. I happen to know that Ruth and Halfdan got married on November 21, 1919, which would have been five months and one week before Wednesday, April 28, 1920. So, if we assume 1920 for the trial year, then Halfdan would have given Ruth a diamond ring a month before getting married. Given the evidence I’m deducing that the trial you’re about to read about took place on April 28, 1920.
Halfdan Trial - Page 1Halfdan Trial - Page 2Halfdan Trial - Page 3

You can read it from the scanned documents above or you can read it on this page. Every word that follows is Ruth’s, copied verbatim, including spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, from the three pages above. Enjoy:


I shall try to tell you in detail just how Halfdan’s trial went on April 28th.

Court set sharply 10 o’clock Wednesday morning (the 28th) and Halfie’s case was the first to come up. (In fact the only one to come up) The first thing was the picking of the jury which took just exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes. Our lawyer’s name is SWANSON.

L. The first man on the jury Swanson excused because he admitted he knew nothing whatever of the case, had never heard of Halfdan and yet would not say that he felt H. was innocent. It is the duty of each man on the jury before the case begins to feel that the defendant (Halfdan in this case) is INNOCENT. I believe he misunderstood the question.

4th man. – Knew Ericksons and therefore excused.

6th – Appeared to Halfdan to be too intimate with The States Attorney.

8th – A Cousin of the Chief of Police, although he did not admit this until asked directly by Mr. Swanson.

9th – Excused as we suspicioned he was a brother-in-law of Mr. Montg. oldest sister, although he did not admit it.

12th – Was a tenant on Mr. Burkhardt’s land (states attorney) Our attorney felt as we did that the states attorney should have excused him before Mr. Swanson even questioned him as he knew the man to be his tenant.

So you see Swanson excused six of the jury while the Prosecuting excused only one man. Every man serving on the jury knew The States Attorney and the man he had to help him fight the case. The States Attorney in Kendall County does not seem capable of fighting cases and therefore has to hire another man to do it so you see Halfie had two prosecuting attorneys to contend with.

The court was then adjourned until 1.20 allowing us 45 minutes to get lunch in. Mr. Brown was very fine to us, and brought us into a restaurant to eat and spoke to the owner who was a personal friend of his and we were served at once in spite of the crowd. But you can imagine that we could not eat under the circumstances. And we were worried because he had so far secured only two witnesses, Wm. Mathre’s son, Oscar, and Mr. Tendall. Reverend Peterson had a funeral and said he could not make it until 5 o’clock, which of course was of no assistance to us. and why Sherlan and Tunisvig could not make I do not know. They did not seem anxious to help out. We sent a livery after old man Nels Nelson and he came. So we then had four character witnesses, including Elias.

Court again set at 1.30 and the 1st to take the stand was Mrs. EDITH MONTGOMERY. As well as I can remember her story on the stand before cross examination ran as follows: (Now this is HER STORY AS SHE TOLD IT)

Halfdan visited them from the 7th of October until the 13th, at which time he appeared to be very nervous and anxious to get away.

That he was the only visitor they had during this week, and that he was to have taken the ring at some time when alone in the house.

He had overheard her tell her mother where the jewels were – that they were in an ordinary writing desk in a certain cubby hole, for which Mrs. M. had a key and the key at the time was in the wrong drawer but he was to have taken it from the drawer opened the one with the jewels, which were in a red flannel bag pinned together with a diamond brooch, and taken out this one ring and put everything back just as it had been.

She knew Halfdan could not have had money to buy me a ring as her father had loaned H. $117.00 to get his aluminum shipment out of the bank out there.

She did not admit many things until they were brought out by a good deal of cross examining by our attorney, they are as follows.

  1. She had taken a trip to Chicago during the time Halfdan was there, and so, how did she know who was visiting Ericksons during that time?
  2. Halfdan left there for a few days.
  3. That Orrie (Her brother) was there during that time. At first she said he was on the farm only, and then only in the kitchen.
  4. On cross-examining it came out that although she said in her story that he appeared to be very nervous, yet at the time she thought nothing at all about it, and in fact did not look for her jewels until the 19th, when she suspected him.
  5. She got mixed in the ages of her children when cross-examined and had to think first and then said one was 7 years (the oldest) one 4-1/2 and one 3 and one 1 year old. It came out that the oldest child could easily have reached into this desk.

The 2nd on the stand was Mr. Krebbs

Mr. Krebbs is a hotel keeper at Steger, Ill., where Halfdan went and engaged room on 15th of October.

Krebbs said that Halfdan had dinner at his hotel and during the afternoon of that same day walked up to him at the cigar counter and pulled a diamond ring of about 1 carat, out of his pocket saying “How’s that for a ring? How would you like to buy it.” But he claimed he paid little attention to it and did not take it in his hands, or rather it did not leave Halfdan’s hand, as this man Krebbs was not in the least interested, but he did note that it was for a very small finger.

Now during this whole trial, all those who testified on the stand were not allowed to witness the trial, until they had already taken the stand. And before Krebbs took the stand, the Prosecuting attorney had told the jurors that Halfdan handed the ring to Mr. Krebbs, so you see these two men contradicted each other.

3rd and 4th on the stand

The 3rd, the Chief of Police, and the 4th the Sheriff, just got up on the stand and told of arresting Halfdan, but that was all to their testimony.

THEN – HALFDAN TOOK THE STAND

Poor Halfdan, he got about as much questing (sic) as the rest all put together, and done wonderfully well. Here is his story:

He came to Ericksons as a result of a phone call from Tom E. requesting him to return Tom’s horse which he was renting to make deliveries with. (this on the 7th of Oct) He stayed there several days, in fact until the 15th, but during this time he took a trip to Newark and was gone the whole day, and another time Mrs. Montgomery came into Chicago.

That he was never at the house alone, and that Orrie visited Ericksons every day that H. was there, and that on Sunday they had company and he went to Orrie’s for dinner that day as he had his good clothes at Larsons in from Ottowa near Lisbon, so did not want to stay with the company.

He had not the slightest idea where any of her jewels were kept.

That Mr. Erickson did not loan him $117.00, but signed a note with him at the bank for this amount, Halfdan getting his shipment out, making deliveries and paying back the note, and that he still could be left with a fair amount of money, his profit being clear 35%. – Of course, there were other shipments around that time as well.

Halfie and I were not very fond of having that whole courtroom know all of our business – just what he paid for my ring, why he came to Chicago etc. it was funny.

Then the 1st Character witness – OSCAR MATHRE took the stand.

The Prosecuting Attorney was so brusque and harsh speaking in his questioning that I guess he just about took Oscar’s wits. He started by asking if Oscar had ever talked about this case to anyone. Of course, he had. This attorney tried to make it out that in this way he questioned Halfie’s character. But our attorney spoke up and quieted this attorney. Oscar told that he had known Halfdan a great length of time, that Halfdan had stayed with them for about a month last summer, and they thought a lot of him.

The next witness, Nels Nelson, was a godsend in the true sense of the word. Believe me, no man could mix that man in his statements. He told that He and Halfdan’s father had been very close friends, and that when Halfdan was a young boy he had met him many times and he had every promise of growing up a good honest chap, that he was raised in a good Christian home. He said he had met Halfdan again last summer several times and took him to be a clean, honest lad.

Then the Pastor was called in (he was white as death when put on the stand) and of course testified as to Halfdan’s character.

It was after this Nels Nelson’s testimony that the Judge called the Prosecuting Attorney out, and said this was the flimsiest case he had ever tried and that there was no evidence whatever against Halfdan and it was only a waste of time to go on with this case. They called Mrs. Montgomery out and she objected, wanting to go ahead with the case, but of course, the attorneys would not disagree with the Judge, and anyway they knew they had no case whatever. The Judge came back to the court, got up and said the case was thrown out of court, LACK OF EVIDENCE.

So there is the end of this case that has been drifting for six months!

We (Halfie and I) were never so happy before in our lives, I don’t believe, as when this came out, and the way the people treated us, gave us a wonderful confidence. Every one in that court room – just about anyway – came up, brushing past Mrs. Montgomery, her brother, her sister Louis, the oldest sister and her husband also, and congratulated us on the success of the case, and telling us they knew from the instant the case came up that Halfie was innocent. Seven of the jurors shook hands with Halfie and told how silly they thought the case was. – One person however was terribly disappointed and angry MRS. EDIT MONTGOMERY, and I don’t believe ORRIE felt very good either, because Mrs. M. had denied his visits to the home, and there was a good deal of talk going on about Orrie anyway.Halfdan Trial - Page 1Halfdan Trial - Page 2Halfdan Trial - Page 3

You can read it from the scanned documents above or you can read it on this page. Every word that follows is Ruth’s, copied verbatim, including spelling, punctuation, and capitalization, from the three pages above. Enjoy:


I shall try to tell you in detail just how Halfdan’s trial went on April 28th.

Court set sharply 10 o’clock Wednesday morning (the 28th) and Halfie’s case was the first to come up. (In fact the only one to come up) The first thing was the picking of the jury which took just exactly 2 hours and 45 minutes. Our lawyer’s name is SWANSON.

L. The first man on the jury Swanson excused because he admitted he knew nothing whatever of the case, had never heard of Halfdan and yet would not say that he felt H. was innocent. It is the duty of each man on the jury before the case begins to feel that the defendant (Halfdan in this case) is INNOCENT. I believe he misunderstood the question.

4th man. – Knew Ericksons and therefore excused.

6th – Appeared to Halfdan to be too intimate with The States Attorney.

8th – A Cousin of the Chief of Police, although he did not admit this until asked directly by Mr. Swanson.

9th – Excused as we suspicioned he was a brother-in-law of Mr. Montg. oldest sister, although he did not admit it.

12th – Was a tenant on Mr. Burkhardt’s land (states attorney) Our attorney felt as we did that the states attorney should have excused him before Mr. Swanson even questioned him as he knew the man to be his tenant.

So you see Swanson excused six of the jury while the Prosecuting excused only one man. Every man serving on the jury knew The States Attorney and the man he had to help him fight the case. The States Attorney in Kendall County does not seem capable of fighting cases and therefore has to hire another man to do it so you see Halfie had two prosecuting attorneys to contend with.

The court was then adjourned until 1.20 allowing us 45 minutes to get lunch in. Mr. Brown was very fine to us, and brought us into a restaurant to eat and spoke to the owner who was a personal friend of his and we were served at once in spite of the crowd. But you can imagine that we could not eat under the circumstances. And we were worried because he had so far secured only two witnesses, Wm. Mathre’s son, Oscar, and Mr. Tendall. Reverend Peterson had a funeral and said he could not make it until 5 o’clock, which of course was of no assistance to us. and why Sherlan and Tunisvig could not make I do not know. They did not seem anxious to help out. We sent a livery after old man Nels Nelson and he came. So we then had four character witnesses, including Elias.

Court again set at 1.30 and the 1st to take the stand was Mrs. EDITH MONTGOMERY. As well as I can remember her story on the stand before cross examination ran as follows: (Now this is HER STORY AS SHE TOLD IT)

Halfdan visited them from the 7th of October until the 13th, at which time he appeared to be very nervous and anxious to get away.

That he was the only visitor they had during this week, and that he was to have taken the ring at some time when alone in the house.

He had overheard her tell her mother where the jewels were – that they were in an ordinary writing desk in a certain cubby hole, for which Mrs. M. had a key and the key at the time was in the wrong drawer but he was to have taken it from the drawer opened the one with the jewels, which were in a red flannel bag pinned together with a diamond brooch, and taken out this one ring and put everything back just as it had been.

She knew Halfdan could not have had money to buy me a ring as her father had loaned H. $117.00 to get his aluminum shipment out of the bank out there.

She did not admit many things until they were brought out by a good deal of cross examining by our attorney, they are as follows.

  1. She had taken a trip to Chicago during the time Halfdan was there, and so, how did she know who was visiting Ericksons during that time?
  2. Halfdan left there for a few days.
  3. That Orrie (Her brother) was there during that time. At first she said he was on the farm only, and then only in the kitchen.
  4. On cross-examining it came out that although she said in her story that he appeared to be very nervous, yet at the time she thought nothing at all about it, and in fact did not look for her jewels until the 19th, when she suspected him.
  5. She got mixed in the ages of her children when cross-examined and had to think first and then said one was 7 years (the oldest) one 4-1/2 and one 3 and one 1 year old. It came out that the oldest child could easily have reached into this desk.

The 2nd on the stand was Mr. Krebbs

Mr. Krebbs is a hotel keeper at Steger, Ill., where Halfdan went and engaged room on 15th of October.

Krebbs said that Halfdan had dinner at his hotel and during the afternoon of that same day walked up to him at the cigar counter and pulled a diamond ring of about 1 carat, out of his pocket saying “How’s that for a ring? How would you like to buy it.” But he claimed he paid little attention to it and did not take it in his hands, or rather it did not leave Halfdan’s hand, as this man Krebbs was not in the least interested, but he did note that it was for a very small finger.

Now during this whole trial, all those who testified on the stand were not allowed to witness the trial, until they had already taken the stand. And before Krebbs took the stand, the Prosecuting attorney had told the jurors that Halfdan handed the ring to Mr. Krebbs, so you see these two men contradicted each other.

3rd and 4th on the stand

The 3rd, the Chief of Police, and the 4th the Sheriff, just got up on the stand and told of arresting Halfdan, but that was all to their testimony.

THEN – HALFDAN TOOK THE STAND

Poor Halfdan, he got about as much questing (sic) as the rest all put together, and done wonderfully well. Here is his story:

He came to Ericksons as a result of a phone call from Tom E. requesting him to return Tom’s horse which he was renting to make deliveries with. (this on the 7th of Oct) He stayed there several days, in fact until the 15th, but during this time he took a trip to Newark and was gone the whole day, and another time Mrs. Montgomery came into Chicago.

That he was never at the house alone, and that Orrie visited Ericksons every day that H. was there, and that on Sunday they had company and he went to Orrie’s for dinner that day as he had his good clothes at Larsons in from Ottowa near Lisbon, so did not want to stay with the company.

He had not the slightest idea where any of her jewels were kept.

That Mr. Erickson did not loan him $117.00, but signed a note with him at the bank for this amount, Halfdan getting his shipment out, making deliveries and paying back the note, and that he still could be left with a fair amount of money, his profit being clear 35%. – Of course, there were other shipments around that time as well.

Halfie and I were not very fond of having that whole courtroom know all of our business – just what he paid for my ring, why he came to Chicago etc. it was funny.

Then the 1st Character witness – OSCAR MATHRE took the stand.

The Prosecuting Attorney was so brusque and harsh speaking in his questioning that I guess he just about took Oscar’s wits. He started by asking if Oscar had ever talked about this case to anyone. Of course, he had. This attorney tried to make it out that in this way he questioned Halfie’s character. But our attorney spoke up and quieted this attorney. Oscar told that he had known Halfdan a great length of time, that Halfdan had stayed with them for about a month last summer, and they thought a lot of him.

The next witness, Nels Nelson, was a godsend in the true sense of the word. Believe me, no man could mix that man in his statements. He told that He and Halfdan’s father had been very close friends, and that when Halfdan was a young boy he had met him many times and he had every promise of growing up a good honest chap, that he was raised in a good Christian home. He said he had met Halfdan again last summer several times and took him to be a clean, honest lad.

Then the Pastor was called in (he was white as death when put on the stand) and of course testified as to Halfdan’s character.

It was after this Nels Nelson’s testimony that the Judge called the Prosecuting Attorney out, and said this was the flimsiest case he had ever tried and that there was no evidence whatever against Halfdan and it was only a waste of time to go on with this case. They called Mrs. Montgomery out and she objected, wanting to go ahead with the case, but of course, the attorneys would not disagree with the Judge, and anyway they knew they had no case whatever. The Judge came back to the court, got up and said the case was thrown out of court, LACK OF EVIDENCE.

So there is the end of this case that has been drifting for six months!

We (Halfie and I) were never so happy before in our lives, I don’t believe, as when this came out, and the way the people treated us, gave us a wonderful confidence. Every one in that court room – just about anyway – came up, brushing past Mrs. Montgomery, her brother, her sister Louis, the oldest sister and her husband also, and congratulated us on the success of the case, and telling us they knew from the instant the case came up that Halfie was innocent. Seven of the jurors shook hands with Halfie and told how silly they thought the case was. – One person however was terribly disappointed and angry MRS. EDIT MONTGOMERY, and I don’t believe ORRIE felt very good either, because Mrs. M. had denied his visits to the home, and there was a good deal of talk going on about Orrie anyway.

 
  • Paul

    Thanks for that. What a good job of court reporting my grandmother did!

  • Yes, it’s amazingly well written. I’d love to know who she was writing to.

    There’s one logical inconsistency I see in this story, something just doesn’t add up in my mind: How many rings were there?

    It sounds like Halfie (love that name) really did give Ruth a ring. So I see three possible truths to be concluded from the given information:

    1. Mrs. Montgomery somehow learned that Halfdan had given Ruth a ring and, not liking him for some reason, made up the false accusation that the ring was originally hers.
    2. There were two rings. One was either misplaced by Mrs. Montgomery or really was stolen by her shady brother, Orrie. And the other was bought honestly by Halfdan and given to Ruth at, unfortunately, the exact same time that Mrs. Montgomery noticed hers missing.
    3. Halfdan really did take the ring.

    I find it odd that the prosecutor didn’t base his whole argument on, “But look at his wife’s hand!”, and the defense not having to produce evidence of where Ruth’s ring came from (e.g. the jeweler he bought it from, etc.). But maybe that’s what Ruth was complaining about here:

    Halfie and I were not very fond of having that whole courtroom know all of our business – just what he paid for my ring, why he came to Chicago etc.

    Still, it’s a great story and it’s fun reading about the outcome of a trial upon which my existence is based. I wonder what the sentence would have been like if the verdict had been guilty?

  • I’m going to have to come back and read this when I have more time, but I just have to say that your great-grandmother was beautiful. 🙂

  • That is an awesome story 🙂

  • Paul

    The story is still a great read, a year later.