The Mysterious Murder of O.A. Palmquist

On Thursday, November 12,1914 The Dassel Anchor carried this headline,

The Mysterious Murder of O.A. Palmquist

Dassel People Tremendously Excited Over Cold Blooded Murder

 Last Thursday Of Cashier Of Citizens State Bank Dassel Anchor November 12, 1914

On November 5,1914, the case of the murder of Olaf Palmquist, a cashier at Citizens State Bank in Dassel, caused quite a stir in the area that stayed active for years with no resolution.

Palmquist was shot in the back office of the bank building in the late afternoon.  Nothing had been stolen from the Citizens State Bank, suicide was ruled out by the coroner, George Peterson.

Bill Sisston and
Frank “Whiskers” Carlson
In Citizens State Bank Lobby

Peterson suggested that Palmquist had refused to open the safe, and the killer then shot him ‘in retaliation’.  Robbery was ruled out.  $6,000.00 was visible in the open vault near the office.  The money remained

An inquest was held, 20 witnesses were questioned; however, no indictment was brought forward.  Authorities were unable to come up with any motive for this murder. Palmquist was considered a gentle man who was well-liked by the residents of Dassel.

Witnesses saw a man leaving the building to access a train heading to Minneapolis.  That man, J.G. Barnett, a salesman from Minneapolis, discovered he was being looked at for a person of interest.  He contacted the authorities on his own and was cleared of any wrongdoing. Buffalo Journal, Minneapolis Nov. 1914

This was a triple tragedy for Palmquist’s wife of six months, Della (Madelia) Palmquist.  At the time of Palmquists murder she was pregnant with their son. Her previous husband had committed suicide in 1905, drinking carbolic acid in a building that was next door to the bank in which Palmquist was murdered. The Minneapolis Journal Nov. 8, 1915

A great deal of discourse, rumors and dirty deeds followed the murder for years. 

A newspaper article in the Dassel Anchor on May 27, 1915, accused the Cokato Enterprise of ‘creating cheap gossip’, and distorting information to, ‘Make it appear that Dassel is inhabited by barbarians instead of an enlightened. intelligent and entirely civilized people’ Dassel Anchor, May 13,1915

Another prevalent rumor regarded a woman from Litchfield, Miriam Ingram, who died five months later and was quickly buried. Ingram was sitting in a buggy across the street from the bank at the time of the murder. It was suggested that Ingram was a witness to the murder of Palmquist, and she was murdered to prevent her from speaking of the killer.

Some local speculation claimed that she lived by Washington Lake with two counterfeiters, one of whom was a cross dresser. This, of course, was only an unsubstantiated rumor, and more likely untrue. Other people said that she had lived with a family by Washington Lake since she was eight, and they were kind but eccentric people. (attribution below)

Ingram’s body was exhumed, and a postmortem autopsy was performed at the Dassel City Hall. Her death was ruled to be due to a valvular disease of the heart, chronic mitral stenosis. Dassel Anchor May 6, 1915

Due to the unorthodox burial, the grave digger, Eckman, was fined for shoddy, but not illegal, activity in the quick burial of her body with no medical acknowledgement. (attribution below)

There were suspects talked about by townspeople.

One unfounded speculation was Lem McGrew who was a banker at another Dassel Bank. It was said that the younger McGrew had “no scruples”, and that his” first and second wife walked together behind his casket when he died.

One possible suspect (unfounded) was Frank Carlson, who succeeded Palmquist in his position at the bank. Carlson was a victim of an attempted shakedown by two private detectives in 1917.

The widowed Della Palmquist and her brother-in-law, August Palmquist, of Cokato, were approached by a Minneapolis private detective named Frank Rutz.  Rutz intimated that he had information on the identity of the murderer and would like the Palmquists to hire him to prove the case.  He cautioned them to tell no one in town or at the bank that he was investigating,

He was hired and paid $1,600 in increments.  In order to look like he was working Rutz hired a Minneapolis resident, George Waldorf to follow people around the town, to try and find a ‘goat’ [scapegoat] in the murder. Waldorf was paid $1.00 a day.  He stayed at the Dassel Hotel paying day to day for one year.  He shadowed many people in the area, particularly Carlson.

Waldorf, who spoke with a German accent, was so good at his job, skulking about, watching and listening that it was believed that he was a German spy, in the area for a reason unknown.

George Waldorf sent anonymous letters to Carlson by mail and slipped under the bank door.  Carlson was told in the letters that “they” knew what he had done, and he needed to “come across quick or they would prosecute.”  Carlson traveled to Minneapolis to see if he would be followed.  He was and notified the police.  Waldorf was subsequently arrested and after “being made to talk” gave up the name of his employer Frank Rutz.  They both were arrested and sent to Litchfield for arraignment in the matter. (attribution below)

Rutz was fined $50.00 and sent to Stillwater prison June 21, 1917, for one year. No information is available concerning judgments against Waldorf.

Interestingly after Rutz had spent his year in prison he returned to Dassel. The Dassel Dispatch of September 1,1920 reported


Alleged Detectives Work Results in All Sorts

Of Unfounded Rumors in Neighboring Towns

After months of Rutz (now called Root) and his partners movement about town enough interest was once again raised that a Grand Jury was held on December 6, 1920 to reopen the case. Twenty five witnesses were called. The Dassel Dispatch reported on December 12, 1920


Renewed Agitation of Past Few Months and Activity of Alleged Detectives Bring No Results


A Dassel Dispatch article on June 14, 1922 reported the detective had again returned to town. Root and associate Calhoun were requesting money to reveal important information regarding the murderer in the case. They were met with disregard and were told that they would receive payment upon receipt of credible information. They provided no information and did not appear in Dassel again.

In 2003 three letters which had been found stored in an old chicken house owned by Ralph Peterson were donated to the History Center.  These letters were correspondence to Carlson in 1917 from J.J. Welch of the Minneapolis branch of Pinkerton.  Welch had been contacted by Carlson regarding the letters that he had received.  Welch was instrumental in helping to discover the miscreants who were causing trouble in Dassel.

Sadly, according to the writings of Roland Dille, the Palmquist’s son, Ostler, died sometime in the 1950s or 1960s, He had become a undertaker in a western Minnesota town. During a blizzard he was unable to get his hearse on the road, so he took his station wagon to a nearby town to pick up a deceased person. On his way back he became stuck in the snow. To get his chains from the car he took the body out of the wagon and laid it upon a snowbank. A patrol officer stopped to check and discovering that Ostler had been drinking arrested him. Ostler committed suicide in jail.

Della Palmquist never remarried. She passed at the age of 89 at the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis. (Roland Dille Storys of Dassel, unpublished)

Still no word has come forward with any name or motive for the murder.  This is a mystery that Dassel may never find an answer to but still creates interest in our small city 109 years later.

Attribution noted, Reported by Jeanette Servin following Presentation by Phyllis Carlson, Dassel Historian on April 5,1990 to the Dassel Historical Society “As I recall Hearing it”

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