One of the Most Gruesome Crimes in North Dakota History
One of the most brutal murders in North Dakota history took place just a few miles north of Turtle Lake.
On April 22, 1920, Jacob Wolf and family were nowhere in sight as neighbor John Kraft noticed their clothes were still hanging on the line during bad weather. Kraft went to check on the family when he discovered the bodies of Wolf, his wife, five daughters and chore boy.
Wolf, 41, and his daughters, Maria, 10, and Edna, 8, were found in the barn partially disguised with dirt and hay. Bodies of Jacob's wife, Beatta, 35, three other daughers, Bertha, 13, Lydia, 6, and Martha, 3, were found in the basement along with their chore boy, Jacob Hofer, 13. The only survivor was their nine-month-old daughter, Emma, who was left in her crib for the two days it took someone to discover the mass murder.
It is said that the murders occurred after an argument between Wolf and neighbor, Henry Layer. Layer accused the Wolf family's dog of biting one of his cows. When Layer refused to leave the property, Wolf loaded two shells into his double-barreled shotgun. The two men struggled to gain possession of the gun until it accidentally fired both shots hitting Mrs. Wolf and the chore boy.
Wolf fled to the yard followed by Maria and Edna where Layer found and shot them. The three other daughters panicked and ran through the house until Bertha and Lydia were silenced by the shotgun. Layer used a hatchet to murder three-year-old Martha.
Layer was a suspect right away and even confessed after hours of interrogation. However, many believe that he was wrongly convicted. Some say that Layer was forced to confess out of fear for his life.
Layer died in prison serving only five years of his life sentence. Emma lived with her aunt and uncle until their deaths in 1933. She then lived with Turtle Lake grocer, Emil Haas, until she was 18. Emma eventually married and died at the age of 84.
Many still question the actual happenings of this tragic murder and it will continue to remain a big question in North Dakota's history. More can be read about the murders on a website dedicated to the investigation or in Vernon Keel's novel, 'The Murdered Family.'