Tuesday, August 9, 2011

She Served Only Five Years: Mrs. Myrtle Schaude, Who Poisoned Her Husband and Her Four Children

On January 3, 1929, Wisconsin governor Fred R. Zimmerman, pardoned Myrtle Schaude, after serving only 5 years for the crimes described below.


FULL TEXT (Article 1 of 3): Whitewater, Wis. – No man, not even her husband, ever paid flattering attention to Myrtle Schaude before Ernest Kufahl came to room at her home.

The lines, perhaps, furnish the explanatory background and motivation for the incredible mystery tragedy resulting in the woman being held on charges of giving a deadly sleeping draught to her husband and attempting to poison her four children.

Characters in the drama:

Mrs. Schaude, 36, pretty, capable, ardent, suppressed.

Edward Schaude, 52, hard working, conscientious, phlegmatic.

Kufahl, 29, prim and restrained.

And the children – Ralph, 16; Delbert, 12; Mae, 9; Lawrence, 5; all well-behaved and well-liked, helpless police say in woeful innocence.

In her cell in the county jail at Elkhorn, Mrs. Schaude constantly is pleading to see her babies.

“I can’t bear the thought of being sent away from my children,” she wails again and again.


Yet, according to the authorities, if she had not faltered some weeks ago in sacrificing them, the children now would be in the cemetery beside their father.

This, the police declare, is the story they’ve pieced together bit by bit.

For eighteen years Mrs. Schaude drudged through her married life. Her neighbors regarded her as a model mother and a stand-by in her church. On the farm, she helped her husband in the fields.

When the family moved to town, she began keeping boarders. Kufahl came to room at her house. He volunteered to help Mrs. Schaude wash the dishes and tidy the house.


In the spring, Schaude became ill. His wife was exhausted from nursing him, so Kufahl offered to take her place at night. Kufahl, according to Mrs. Schaude’s purported statement, agreed to mix a drink that would quiet the patient. Mrs. Schaude objected. But she says Kufahl insisted he knew what he was doing and she believed him.

She placed the glass beside the bed. During the night Schaude drank and died.

Kufahl threatened her with a similar fate. Mrs. Schaude maintains, if she should breath the secret.

Last summer, dressed in her widow’s black, Mrs. Schaude visited Kufahl on a farm near McGrath, Minn. They talked of marriage, she says, but he objected that she could not take the children with her.

On a September evening she borrowed a neighbor’s automobile and took the children for a ride. Before reaching a sharp turn in the road, she produced a bag of candy. Strychnine had been placed in advance in each chocolate drop. Ralph the driver, would be stricken first, and the car would plunge over an embankment. The deaths would appear accidental.

But mother love conquered over clandestine infatuation. Mrs. Schaude’s heart fluttered warningly as her offspring tasted.


“Spit them out,” she screamed, “they’ll poison you.”

And with her won fingers, she removed a sticky wad from baby Lawrence’s mouth.

Ralph refused to be scared. He swallowed his candy. But the mother rushed all back to town and called a physician. Ralph took sick, but recovered.

District Attorney Alfred L. Godfrey stepped into the case and began asking questions. Twenty-four hours later she made a clean breast of it all, Godfrey declares.

Kufahl, also in Elkhorn jail, laboriously denies Mrs. Schaude’s incriminating statements. And of her he will not talk.

“I am not going to injure her,” he tells all interviewers. “When this is all over and she gets back to her senses, I don’t want any words of mine to affect her feelings for me.”

[“Sordid Drama Has Central Figure In Mother Who Tried To Poison Children After Killing Father,” Port Huron Times Herald (Mi.), Nov. 12, 1922, p. 14]


FULL TEXT (Article 2 of 3): Elkhorn, Wi. — Mrs. Myrtle Schaude, Whitewater “poison widow,” was sentenced late Wednesday to serve 20 years in the state prison at Waupun for the poisoning of her husband and her attempt last fall to poison her four children.

Mrs. Schaude, whose trial was scheduled to begin Wednesday pleaded guilty to a charge of first degree man slaughter in connection with her husband’s death. She was sentenced to serve 10 years’ imprisonment on this count.

The woman also entered a plea of guilty to each of four counts which charged her with attempts to poison her children on Sept. 21, 1923. She was sentenced to four concurrent terms of 10 years each on these counts, this sentence to be additional to the 10 years imposed for her part in her husband’s death.


Mrs. Schaude was sentenced on her youngest child’s sixth birthday. The boy, with his elder brothers and sister, observed the anniversary of his birth in the courtroom listening to his mother sob forth for the fifth time in public during as many months the sordid story of her killing of his father and the attempt upon his own, his brothers’, and his sister’s lives. He was spared the scene of the sentencing of his mother to prison, as the children
were led from the courtroom as Mrs. Schaude was carried from the witness stand to her chair to receive the judgment of the court.

Mrs. Schaude was on the witness stand two hours and a half telling her story fully, freely and without hindrance from attorneys. It was what might be termed her last request, before effacing her personality under a prison number, to explain without harassing the sinister story of the last two years and a half.

Dist. Atty. Alfred L. Godfrey and his associate, Jay W. Page, sat calmly at the state counsel table their work done, not so much as making a scratch of a pen for memorandum purposes or for cross examination. Legal technicalities and formalities set forth in the text hooks of law schools for examining witnesses were forgotten.

[“Mrs. Schaude Gets 20 Years For Poisonings – Youngest Son Celebrates Sixth Birthday Listening to Mother’s Story of Slaying In Court,” Appleton Post-Crescent (Wi.), Feb. 21, 1924, p. 1]


EXCERPT (Article 3 of 3): Madison, Jan. 3 – Myrtle Schaude, Whitewater, “poison widow” today was given a commutation of sentence by Gocv. Fred R. Zimmerman, through which she will be released from the state prison immediately.

Mrs. Schaude has made frequent applications for a pardon or parole in the last few years but requests were denied. She was convicted of poisoning her husband and in 1924 was sentenced to 20 years in Waupun prison.

~ Affair With a Student.

The poisoning of her husband climaxed a love affair she had had with Ernest Kufahl, a boarder at the Schaude home and a student at the Whitewater Normal school Kufahl was held as an accessory.

Mrs. Schaude attempted to [place] blame for the poisoning on Kufahl but he was acquitted. She later pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Mrs. Schaude also confessed that she intended to poison her four children but relented after she gave them poisoned candy and snatched it from them.

The governor also pardoned George Ratseck, 72, Joseph Jorde, 59, and Henry Liso, 63, all convicted of murder.

Mrs. Schaude was convicted of manslaughter and attempted murder on four counts in February, 1924, more than a year after the death of her husband. His body was disinterred and traces of poison were found.

~ Son in University

Mrs. Schaude was accused of conspiring with Ernest Kufahl, a roomer in the Schaude home, to poison the husband and the children. The children, however, were saved from death by their mother, shortly after poisoned candy had been given to them. She was convicted in Walworth county circuit court and given three sentences that totaled 40 years. Gov. Zimmerman today granted her conditional pardon and paroled her to Dr. Otis M. Johnson, Fond du Lac, a Methodist minister, in whose home Mrs. Schaude will live for a short time, until she goes to visit her daughter at Union Grove. The other children, now grown, are a boy in the state university, another in Stout Institute, and a girl at Dousman.

[The rest of the text discusses other, unrelated, cases.]

[“’Poison Widow’ Gets Release – Sentence of Mrs. Myrtle Schaude is Commuted by Gov. Zimmerman. – Climax of Love Affair,” Ironwood Daily Globe (Mi.), Jan. 3, 1929, p. 1]










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