Dakota Datebook

Death of a Nurse

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

On this date in 1944, residents of Grafton and Mountain were rocked by the news that a young nurse was found dead in the back seat of a parked car. Sigrum Grimson was 22-years old and had grown up in Mountain, in Pembina County. She had last been seen two days earlier at 2 p.m. – the end of her shift – when leaving the Deaconess Hospital in Grafton. That was on a Wednesday.

The car belonged to a young man named Earl Lamont, who told Walsh County authorities that he had been driving around with Sigrum and a man named Leonard Maresch, but that after awhile, he had loaned them his car and left.

Maresch was a 23 year-old marine who had recently been discharged after losing an eye in the battle of Tarawa. According to Sigrum’s roommate, Maresch and Sigrum had been seeing each other for at least a few weeks before the nurse was found dead.

Maresch was brought in for questioning. He told the state’s attorney that he had spent about 10 hours with Sigrum on Thursday. He had picked her up at 2 in the morning and they had stayed in the car until 7 that morning. He said he began drinking about four hours later and went back to the hospital to take the nurse for a ride.

Maresch bought a pint of whiskey for them, and they drove around for a while. They ended up stopping at the city park, where they left the engine running to stay warm. There, they supposedly either passed out or fell asleep. Maresch said he didn’t wake up until the car ran out of gas and the motor quit. He said he tried to wake up his girlfriend, but he couldn’t rouse her.

Maresch spotted two men from the city lighting department working nearby, and he talked them into helping him push his car to a filling station, where he got gas. The gas attendant saw Sigrum laying in the back seat and thought it was odd – perhaps because of how she appeared or maybe because it was the middle of the day. Either way, he called the police, who took him seriously. They found the car parked on a street at about 4:30 that afternoon. Sigrum was still lying in the back seat.

Walsh County officials sent for Dr. A. K. Saiki of the UND Medical School to examine the body. An autopsy was ordered, and Dr. Saiki took the girl’s stomach back to Grand Forks for chemical testing. For the next few days, people speculated that Grimson might have died from over-drinking, a heart condition or carbon monoxide poisoning.

A week later, Dr. Saiki went before a coroner’s inquest to reveal that Miss Grimson had died from none of those things. She had been hit in the stomach so hard that it ruptured; the contents entered her chest cavity, which brought about her death. Saiki said such a blow could come from a fist, an elbow or a knee and that such a blow would seldom show exterior evidence.

Grimson had other bruises that indicated she’d been roughed up, but she hadn’t been raped. Tests had found that the other suspects – alcohol and carbon monoxide – had not been a factor in her death. All agreed that it was the one blow that killed her.

The coroner’s jury released a verdict the next day, stating, “We find and believe Leonard Maresch to be the person by whose felonious act” the death of Sigrum Grimson, 22 year-old nurse, “was occasioned.”

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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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