The story of Minnie Krenske Wurl and her husband Louis is one of those murder mysteries that reads like a classic soap opera. Figuring in the story was another married woman in the pre-1900 close-knit German immigrant community of southern Albany County.
We don’t know how much of a shock it was for Laramie people to learn that a German-born ranch wife from Tie Siding had been brutally murdered on Oct. 26, 1896. The Boomerang coverage at the time gives theories, but no hint that another woman was involved.
Minnie was 53 at the time of her death if her age was given correctly. She had married Louis in Laramie in 1881. On the morning of the day she was murdered, she had gone to a neighbor’s house around noon, then headed home for chores. She did not have children.
She had been married before; her first husband was reported to be a Sand Creek area rancher of Albany County, August Alwes, possibly originally from Appleton, Wisconsin. He filed for divorce on Jan. 9, 1880, in Laramie, charging Minnie with adultery, naming Ludwig Wurl.
Her given first name was “Minna” which became “Minnie” in America. Local optician Steve Grabowski, a descendant of the Wurl family, supplied that information and has a photo of Minnie with Louis and others. That photo, though blurry and damaged is on display at Grabowski’s optical shop, the Spectacle Emporium on Second Street.
Ludwig “Louis” Wurl
Louis’ full name was Johann Ludwig “Louis” Wurl. He was born Dec. 17, 1852 in the Brandenburg region of Prussia, part of Poland today. Dicksie Knight May, local genealogist who is another Wurl descendant, says that when Louis’ parents Carolina and Wilhelm emigrated to Laramie in 1880, they brought school, church, and other family records with them, making it easier to trace family history.
Louis left Germany for the U.S. in 1878, before his parents and brothers; he was one of five — three boys and two girls, all of whom relocated to Albany County. Louis took out a homestead application for a classic ranch set in the small valley of Harney Creek, 2.5 miles north of Tie Siding. It is within two miles of the Union Pacific tracks. Around 1882 his sister, Carolina Wurl Borgeman, and her family settled on a homestead within half a mile of his.
In addition to building the ranch, Louis became involved in the Democratic Party. In October 1892, he was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. Thus he became a member of the second session of the Wyoming State Legislature. Sometimes the newspaper prefixed “Honorable” to his name. He served in the Albany County delegation with S.W. Downey, William Taylor, Kirk Dyer, and James Sterling. Grabowski says that Louis was in his second term when the murder happened, but the third Wyoming legislative session had ended; he did not run for reelection in 1896.
He seems to have stayed around the ranch after the murder and was not mentioned further in the local newspapers until posthumously in 1900. His eventual departure didn’t make the newspapers, but it was probably summer 1897 when he left Albany County.
Mrs. Otto (Marie) Krueger was married to rancher Otto Krueger, also German. There is someone listed on Ancestry.com with the full name of “Marie Louise Wilhelmine Kreuger,” born (like Louis) near Brandenburg, Prussia on 14 April 1859. This is likely the Marie who came to Albany County with her husband, though the last name was misspelled.
Even if they did not meet in Prussia, Marie (also known as Mary) and Louis might have met at the Laramie German Lutheran Church, now St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. According to Grabowski, the church sill has a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of another family member, Louisa Matthes Wurl.
According to Dicksie May, Marie and Otto Krueger had five children between 1889 and 1896. Louis had none. Otto Krueger died at age 78 in 1940 and is buried in Laramie.
Sheriff M.N. Grant of Albany County was maligned by the Boomerang as “incompetent” even before this murder, but he did go to the scene and attempt to figure out what happened. The paper asserted that the deputies did all the work.
An urgent telegram sent on the afternoon of Oct. 27 asked the sheriff to come immediately. Louis sent a nephew from the Borgeman ranch to Tie Siding to wire that his wife had “been murdered or committed suicide.” But a quick look at the body lying on the bed where Wurl had carried her after discovering her in the barn, showed that it couldn’t possibly be suicide. Her head had been smashed with a rock, her face hit with a shovel and throat cut. She probably never saw her assailant. Defensive actions on her part were not reported by the coroner.
There were small signs of ransacking in the house; Louis reported that some money was taken. All three murder weapons were found, rock, shovel and knife along with footprints. But with techniques known in 1896, the investigation at the scene had to end with no good clues.
Where was Louis?
The coroner determined that the murder had occurred on Oct. 26, the day before it was reported. An inquest was held, at which Louis and several other witnesses to his whereabouts appeared. He had an ironclad alibi. Many people had seen him come to Laramie on the morning of Oct. 26 with a wagonload of hay.
He deposited the hay and then stopped at a hotel where he ate and socialized with several of the witnesses. He complained of being tired, rented a room in the hotel and went there to rest. His wagon was parked outside the hotel, and the witnesses said the horse was hitched all night. So it seemed obvious that he had not left. The next morning he was seen having breakfast and went to the ranch, arriving after 1 p.m. He puttered around for a bit, then went to the barn where he found his dead wife, then went to his sister’s ranch and had the message sent to the Sheriff.
The coroner’s jury ruled that Minnie’s death was murder by persons unknown, with robbery as the motive, and that she had not been “outraged” (raped). The County Commissioners ordered Sheriff Grant to offer a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the murderer; Louis and his brother August matched that with an equal reward. Both classified ads offering rewards appeared in the newspaper through the rest of 1896. Minnie was buried in Greenhill Cemetery.
There was a lot of speculation about the unsolved murder. The facts brought out at the inquest showed that Minnie was going to be alone at the ranch the day her husband left. Some young relatives who usually came out from town to help her had cancelled their visit for that day. People might have known Minnie would be alone on Oct. 26 with Louis gone, but no follow-up was reported.
There was a theory that Minnie’s former husband might have returned 16 years later to wreak vengeance on his ex-wife, but no one knew where he was and that seemed like a long time to hold a grudge worthy of murder.
Another thought was that a passing hobo on the railroad might be guilty. But the Wurl ranch cannot be seen from the railroad tracks, so that seemed unlikely. A transient who showed up in Tie Siding that night was briefly a suspect but later discounted. An innkeeper there gave him a meal and a room, and he went on his way, impossible to track.
A former Tie Siding rancher, Hans Delfs, who had sold out around the time that Minnie died, was a suspect for a while. He was apprehended and put in the “sweatbox” by Sheriff’s deputies, the Boomerang reported much later. But he didn’t reveal anything. “Louis Wurl asked about what he [Delfs] said,” the paper reported, but that didn’t arouse suspicion. The murdered woman was, after all, Louis’ spouse.
Then Hans Delfs’ suicide eight months later was reported in the Boomerang on June 17, 1897. Sometime after that, Louis Wurl left Laramie. But he wasn’t alone. He left with Mrs. Otto Krueger and three of her children. Gossip about that didn’t get reported in the newspapers. Perhaps the Germans of Laramie were astounded, or maybe not, depending on what they knew beforehand.
Dicksie May has found records showing that the couple went first to Germany with Marie listed as “Mrs. Louis Wurl.” After that, they went to a German-speaking part of South Africa where one of her three young children died. It was known in Laramie that the couple was there. Sometime later a money order was sent to Louis in South Africa; it was returned with notice that the recipient was dead.
Louis’ estate was sent to Laramie from Davis-Salem, South Africa confirming that he had died on Oct. 18, 1898. The estate settlement of April 23, 1900 showed two watches, a few other bits of jewelry, papers, books, photographs, and $379.04 in cash. The Clerk of Court, James McGibbon, was appointed to administer the estate.
Around Dec. 19, 1900, over four years after the murder, a bombshell letter arrived. After she was deported from South Africa to Germany, Marie Krueger wrote to a relative in Laramie (not her spouse). She said that Louis died “by his own hand when he could endure the hurting of his conscience no longer,” and that before killing himself he had all but confessed to her that he had murdered his wife Minnie. Marie also said that she knew the name of his accomplice, but “prefers not to mention it.”
Naturally it was the talk of the Wurl family and has continued to be for generations. Louis Wurl’s parents, Carolina and Wilhelm, were the great-great-grandparents of both Steve Grabowski and Dicksie May. Dicksie has tracked down hundreds of other Wurl relatives. Some are in Cheyenne, including descendants of the two Krueger children that Marie left behind in the U.S.
Grabowski says that it is feasible that the murder was staged by Louis with an accomplice who might have been the remorseful Hans Delfs. Louis could have been unseen when he exited the hotel and rode a different horse back and forth to the ranch. Another theory is that he could have hopped a train in the Laramie yard, dropping off unseen near his ranch. Then afterward, another train carried him back to Laramie where he crept to his hotel room.
What did Marie know? Was she the kind of woman to not only be an adulterer herself, but to run off with a man accused of adultery once before and who had just gotten away with murdering his wife? Would such a woman have taken children with her if she knew he was a murderer? If she didn’t know, did she have suspicions? Why did she separate her children? What kind of a person was she, let alone Louis?
We’ll never know. As often is the case, tracking down the personalities of ancestors is harder to do than tracking down the bare facts of their lives. An abundance of honest and hardworking Wurl and Krueger descendants show there are many more uplifting but unremarkable stories in their backgrounds, save this one.