Mrs. Annie Van Camp and William, the youngest of her seven sons, were murdered by shotgun blasts to their faces. These crimes happened late Saturday evening on May 11, 1940, inside their farm home. They were the only occupants of that farmhouse.
The farm was about five miles north of Little Chute, on County Trunk U near its intersection with Highway 55, Outagamie County, Wisconsin. The bodies were found on Mother’s Day, May 12, 1940.
Both Annie (77) and William (31) were shot in their faces with a 12-gauge gun. Annie was shot in her right cheek. William was shot in his left cheek. The Sheriff estimated that both victims were shot point blank. Their wounds were not larger than the bore of a 12-gauge gun. They both died instantly.
The Outagamie County authorities, spearheaded by then-Sheriff John Lappen, did not have a lot to go on. Their investigation was hindered from the start by a disturbed crime scene. Those who found the bodies first, and then their relatives, went through the house to see what, if anything, was taken.
This means that, just like in the William Thomas Zeigler case, that authorities never saw the true crime scene. What they saw was a disturbed crime scene with displaced elements, evidence pieces that were moved, and additional prints that were left at the scene.
Dr. H. E. Ellsworth, the then-Outagamie county corner, thought that the victims had both been dead for at least six hours before they were found. The autopsies showed that both mother and son were killed by shells containing no. 4 shots, the size usually used in duck and rabbit hunting.
Authorities did find a 12-gauge shotgun on the farm. It was in one of the corners in William’s bedroom together with other weapons. They did not think that it was the murder weapon because it had not been fired recently. It was taken for testing and fingerprinting. I have not read anything about those test results.
An inquest was held, a suspect was questioned, the murder weapon was never found, and nobody was ever charged for these murders. From what I read, I am not sure that we are exclusively looking at one killer as I feel, two is possible.
John Verkuilen worked at the Van Camp Farm. He lived across the street. He found the bodies around 645am. William had not shown up that morning so Verkuilen went looking for him. The routine was that William would come to the south barn for breakfast milk. When he did not that Sunday morning, Verkuilen brought the milk to the farmhouse.
I wonder if the milk that was brought over was indeed found at the Van Camp house. Not accusing anyone, but there are many open questions here in this case. It would help to know that Verkuilen, his family, and anyone else working on the farm, were excluded as suspects.
Upon arrival there, Verkuilen found William’s remains first. He was laying on his back in a pool of blood on the enclosed back porch. He fell and died where he stood. Verkuilen found Annie’s remains in her bedroom. Annie was in her bed and was apparently undisturbed.
The murders most likely happened between 9pm and midnight on Saturday evening, May 11. According to Verkuilen, William had played a ball game with others from the neighborhood until approx. 9pm.
When Verkuilen woke up at 2am on Sunday morning, he saw that the lights were on in the Van Camp house. He lived across from them. What woke him up? Did he hear anything?
Lights on at that time was unusual. Annie and William went to bed early and were not often up past midnight. Verkuilen did tell his wife about the lights but he didn’t connect the dots until William didn’t show up the next morning. When he found the bodies, the lights were still on.
According to the papers, a ‘large shepherd dog, which neighbors said was a good watchdog, was tied about 30 yards from the farmhouse.’ Whether this was indeed the Van Camp dog, is unclear. I did not read anything about neighbours hearing a dog bark either. Whoever got the dog away from the farm, must have been familiar to the dog.
The Crime Scene
Judging from the body positions, it was clear that the Van Camps were retiring. William had not yet gone to bed as it was found undisturbed. However, he was found barefoot, was only wearing overalls over his underwear, and it looked like he had shaved for church the next morning. The leading thought is that while preparing for bed, he heard something at the back door, he went to look, and was shot point blank while standing in the doorway of the porch.
Annie was shot next however, she must not have heard the shot that killed William because she was found in her bed undisturbed. No mention that she had pushed back blankets to get out of bed or any signs of distress. She too was shot point blank but from a few feet away.
This is why I think that two killers are possible. Annie’s body seemed undisturbed as if she was shot in her sleep. However, it was late, quiet, and I wonder if she really could not have heard a shot at the back of the house while inside her bedroom. So, it isn’t impossible for one killer to shoot William while the other goes upstairs and shoots Annie within seconds of William.
Robbery was most likely the motive. An ‘empty purse, a leather sack with a drawstring, was found on the dresser’ in Annie’s bedroom. The drawer where her purse normally was kept, was open. It might have held other savings but nobody of the Van Camp family could say for certain how much. A box with some change was on the dresser as well.
Why this case
I got an email from the family. As frustrating as it is that the killer(s) was/were never caught, they had to deal with another setback: the file is lost.
This family member told me how the murders remained part of the family stories told and passed on to the next generation. And they all saw the pain from having lost Annie and William. At this point, all Annie’s children have passed away. The rest of the family still wonders.
The family understands that the killer(s) is/are probably dead too. However, they hope that they told their crime story to someone and maybe, those who know this story, will now pass it on to the authorities.
If you have any information that can help the authorities advance this case, please contact the Outagamie Sheriff’s Department at (920) 832-5605.
Rest in peace, Annie and William Van Camp.