One of my readers mentioned the unsolved case of Herman Edward Wilhelm Luhrsen (Dec 4, 1886 – Feb 14, 1937). He said it was strange, with multiple angles, and without a good web presence. He kindly summarized the case for me in an email.
I got curious and tried to find more articles in the public domain to get a better perspective of the case, possible suspects, different angles, the police investigation, etc.
Everything I found is in this post and all the links are in the resources. It isn’t much so all the more reason to make this the Case of the Month for November 2018. There are many open questions and I hope we will find some clarity. Should you have links to articles I missed about Herman Edward Wilhelm Luhrsen or, a photograph then please contact me.
On February 12, 1937, around 845pm, Luhrsen was working at the gas station he owned. It was a Friday evening and he was sitting at his desk. It is unclear what exactly the inside of the gas station looked like. This desk was either in a back room like in an office area or could have been near the cash register so maybe a desk behind the service counter. Luhrsen heard the door to the gas station open but it isn’t clear if he could see the door open. I wish we knew how close this desk was to the door, the cash register, and the general exits. What happened then is again, not clear.
We know an armed man came in to most likely rob the gas station and/or Luhrsen. His face was masked with a dark handkerchief. He aimed his nickel-plated gun at Luhrsen and demanded he handed over the money. Nickel-plated, that is very precise detail for a victim to notice during a stressful, potentially life-or-death situation. However, if Luhrsen knew the robber he may also have known what kind of gun that man had.
It isn’t clear to me whether the robber wanted the money from the cash register or Luhrsen’s. I cannot find whether the gas station’s cash register was emptied or not and if so, how much was missing. We do know from Luhrsen that he was punished by his impatient robber for being slow to hand over his own money. He shot Luhrsen in the stomach area to make him comply. Luhrsen said he got shot when he got up from his chair. So he was still behind the desk. The robber then removed either $22 or $23 from his overall pocket. Reporting isn’t clear.
What happens now only seems possible in slow-motion: the robber is leaving, as per the papers Luhrsen crawls to the back room (I thought he was behind his desk somewhere) where he kept a .22 caliber revolver (where? in the desk drawer? Some articles say it was a .32), then he crawls towards the station and the robber is still there. He is in the gas station’s doorway apparently in no hurry to leave and in no fear of being seen. Luhrsen aims and shoots twice. Only then does the robber leave but he does not fire back. So did he still have his own gun or not? Did he ran out of ammunition? Or, did he realize he had fatally shot Luhrsen anyway? This is weird-robber behaviour if you ask me. So maybe this wasn’t a robbery at all. As I said before, I cannot find any details about a cash register. Moreover, Luhrsen had another $60 in his wallet. Where was his wallet? In his other overall pocket? Then the robber missed it. In a jacket maybe? There was also speculation that Luhrsen was actually shot with his own weapon, a .22 (or .32) that was kept at the gas station. Was this a robbery or a meeting between two men that went very wrong?
“There is every possibility that Luhrsen was not actually held up,” then-Sheriff Paul Johnson from Rockford, said. Luhrsen fired two shots. One bullet was found inside the gas station. It hit a fire extinguisher near the door. The trajectory is not described in the papers but of course, is of the greatest importance to substantiate Luhrsen’s story. And where did bullet number two go? Authorities had examined Luhrsen’s gun and established it had indeed fired two bullets. So we still miss bullet #2.
Luhrsen crawls to the phone, calls his wife, she calls Marshall Theodore Graves, who calls Deputy Sheriff William Gottfried. Graves arrives at the gas station and accompanies Luhrsen to Beloit Memorial Hospital. Luhrsen passes away around 123am on Valentine’s Day, Feb 14, 1937. He was surrounded by his family.
Herman Edward Wilhelm Luhrsen
Herman Edward Wilhelm Luhrsen (Dec 4, 1886 – Feb 14, 1937) was married twice. His first wife Etta May Case Luhrsen (July 18, 1888 – April 14, 1934) died April 24, 1934. According to the papers, he had two sons: Donald and Robert. After Etta passed away, he remarried Myrtle E. Tyler in December 1936. Some papers say Myrtle E. Tyler and others Myrtle Davis Tyler.
I found the son, Donald Edward Luhrsen (Dec 17, 1911 – Aug 1974). He is buried in Florida. His memorial notes that he is the son of Herman Luhrsen and Esther Case. This most likely needs to read Etta May Case Luhrsen. I could not find a son named Robert Luhrsen as the papers said but I found a Richard Arthur Luhrsen (Oct 29, 1922 – March 12, 1935). His parents are listed as Herman and Etta May Case Luhrsen. So we know one son, Richard. Now who is Robert? On Ancestry is a mention of a twin: Robert and Richard. However, the mother’s name does not match: Etta Katherine Case. This doesn’t match with the information from the site Find A Grave either. Here again, many questions and no clear reporting.
The Initial Suspect
Luhrsen was still fully conscious when Beloit Police interviewed him. Luhrsen said the robber was male, mid-30s, 6 feet tall, and about 155 lbs. He said the robber was “raggedly clad” wearing a light-colored hat but no overcoat. He might have worn glasses but he didn’t get a good look at his face. Because the robber had no overcoat, authorities thought he might have had a get-away car nearby.
Luhrsen was shot once but the bullet pierced his intestines in seven places, the mesentery in three places, before lodging next to his spine. He had massive internal bleedings and his surgery lasted more than an hour. In the articles that describe that surgery, the caliber varies between .32 and 0.38. Unfortunately, the surgeons were not able to save his life. The bullet that killed Luhrsen only became available to police after the surgery so there was a delay in ballistics testing which could explain the vague reporting about the exact caliber.
Because of the slow-motion robbery, people thought Luhrsen tried to kill himself or he knew his killer. In each case, we lack motive. The robber takes off with $22-23 and misses $60 in a wallet. And what would Luhrsen’s motive be to kill himself? Were there any indications of suicidal thoughts? Had he tried suicide before? Did Luhrsen have enemies?
Enemies are always an interesting angle. On February 17, police said they heard from a couple who drove past the Luhrsen home at the time of the robbery. They saw an unknown car parked close by the house. Two men were in the car. The Luhrsen home was less than 50 feet from the gas station. Then they said, that car sped past them driving towards South Beloit. Police were unsuccessful in finding either the car or the two men. I wonder about any complaints about speeding cars in residential neighborhoods that night.
On February 15, authorities were able to rule out attempted suicide. Luhrsen was killed with a .38 caliber weapon. Luhrsen owned a .22. Another interesting detail was revealed: the .38 bullet that killed Luhrsen was apparently an old bullet. It had been in the gun’s chamber for a while and that gun had not been used in a long time. So are we talking about maybe an antique weapon or a weapon that serves as part of a collection versus a weapon that serves to protect oneself?
Authorities questioned an unidentified woman and her husband about an affair she apparently had with Luhrsen. She told police their relationship was “friendly” (does that mean platonic?) and that he ended it to remarry. The couple was released after questioning but not for long.
With Luhrsen dead, the gas station had to be manned to stay in business. So on behalf of the Luhrsen estate, Gilbert Brady was operating the gas station. On Dec 10, 1937, Brady was searching for oil cans. He opened the trap door to the gas station’s attic. He found bundles of not so friendly letters from the woman who previously has claimed all was friendly. Her name: Nellie Walmer. Brady went to the police and Nellie and husband Robert Walmer were the center of attention.
Luhrsen had indeed ended their relationship before remarrying Myrtle E. Tyler in December 1936 and Nellie was not happy. As the rejected lover, she wrote threatening letters to get revenge. The Walmers were arrested on December 12, 1937, and taken to the Winnebago County Jail. Nellie tried to explain that yes, she wrote those letters but that no, she never had attempted to carry out any threats. She had an alibi for the night Luhrsen was killed. She and her husband had relatives over at their home. Her brother-in-law confirmed the alibi. On December 14, 1937, the Walmers were given lie detector tests. On December 17, the results were made public: they both passed and were released from custody.
There are other angles discussed in the links below however, none ever proved to tie anyone to the crime scene or to Luhrsen himself. None carry that second bullet and none give a clear and convincing motive why Luhrsen had to die. I do not discuss them here as they just distract from the case.
On March 23, 1940, authorities announced a reopening of the case. On March 27, 1940, they re-interviewed Luhrsen’s widow at the Beloit Police Department. Mrs. Luhrsen told them she doubts robbery was the motive for her husband’s murder. That is the last bit of information in the public domain.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, sometimes more information can be found online and in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can forget about them.
If you have any thoughts about this case I encourage you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. Every time that we mention Herman Edward Wilhelm Luhrsen’s name online we enhance his digital footprint.
We must make sure that he keeps his web presence if we ever wish to find answers in this case. You can help by linking to or sharing this post.
Thank you for remembering Herman Edward Wilhelm Luhrsen with us.
The Rhinelander Daily News, Wisconsin, Feb 15, 1937
Freeport Journal, Feb 15, 1937
Gazette, Janesville, Wisconsin, Feb 15, 1937
Belvidere Daily Republican, Belvidere, Illinois, Feb 17, 1937
Belvidere Daily Republican, Belvidere, Illinois, Feb 19, 1937
The Tennessee Location: Nashville, May 16, 1937
Escanaba, Michigan, May 16, 1937
Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, May 17, 1937
Hat tip DM.