Dakota Datebook

Patricide on the Prairie

Friday, December 9, 2011

 

Today’s story is not a comforting one. It’s about an uncommon crime – patricide. While it’s not terribly unusual for children to kill their parents, the instances of girls killing their fathers is much lower.

On the evening of April 28, 1930, officials were in Anamoose, 60 miles southeast of Minot, investigating North Dakota’s fourth killing in six weeks. That afternoon, 66 year-old Theodore Kummer had been shot in the head while taking a nap. Kummer’s 21 year-old daughter, Anna, confessed and said her mother was working outside in the garden when she killed her father.

Albert Webber, assistant State’s attorney, said it was difficult to question Anna and her mother, because they were hysterical that evening. But the following day, Mrs. Kummer and her son, John, said their sympathies laid entirely with Anna. Speaking through an interpreter, Marie, who was German-Russian, said, “It was either to be him, Anna or myself.”

Neighbors confirmed Theodore was “a tyrant.” Anna’s brother John told authorities his dad was a heavy drinker, but he mistreated his family even when he was sober. Their brother, Emil, he said, had a crippled arm from a beating his father gave him as a boy.

The night before the killing, Kummer threatened his wife with a knife, and Anna locked her mother in a room to prevent her from getting killed. The next day, Anna and her mom were walking home from the grocery store when Mrs. Kummer said she was going to leave her husband, because she “could not stand it any longer.”

Anna was charged with first-degree murder and imprisoned in Towner under a $10,000 bond. It didn’t matter what the amount was, however. Anna said she didn’t want to “obtain her liberty.” It appeared the relative peace and calm of the jail was comforting to her. Several days later, Sheriff James Scholl’s wife – who was also the county jail matron – said Anne had regained her composure and had been helping her with chores around the house.

The trial began in early December. Minot defense attorney F. J. Funke entered a plea of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Jacob Kummer, a son from a previous marriage, testified he had never seen his father show brutality to either Marie or Anna. Anna was the youngest child, and Jacob said his father favored her when she was little. “She was his pet,” he said.

Lena Johnson testified she was in a rented room in the house when she heard the fatal shot. A bit earlier, she heard Anna sobbing in her bedroom. Mrs. Johnson said Anna then came out of her room and walked to the doorway of her father’s bedroom, where he lay sleeping. Anna then went back to her bedroom, came out, and closed Mrs. Johnson’s door. A few minutes later, Mrs. Johnson heard the shot. Anna came back and opened her door, telling her not to be afraid – she had just shot her father. “I had to do it to save my mother’s life and my own,” she said. Mrs. Johnson described Anna as nervous, pale and twitching – her eyes large and glassy.

On December 5th, Anna, who was described by neighbors as a “bright girl,” listened to her attorney present evidence to show she was insane, with the mental age of “eight years and two months.” The Bismarck Tribune reported, “Her mother has described her as appearing to be ‘without sense’ immediately after the shooting; her sister has expressed the belief she was insane at a time shortly after the shooting; a psychologist placed her mentality as that of a child; and a physician this forenoon was positive she was insane at the time of the shooting.”

The verdict came in on this date in 1930. Anna was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to18 years in prison.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

Source: The Bismarck Tribune. 1930: 29 Apr; 30 Apr; 1 May; 5 May; 9 Oct; 3 Dec; 4 Dec; 5 Dec; 6 Dec; 9 Dec.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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