Seifert writes novel based on 1917 murder-suicide near Clements
CLEMENTS — The abandoned farm site a couple miles east of Clements, site of a grisly murder of a family a century ago, is on a rise, offering a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
A narrow, dirt road leading to the property just north of State Highway 68 is full of potholes. It is also the setting of a new book “Sundown at Sunrise,” the first novel by former MInnesota House Minority Leader Marty Seifert.
Seifert led a tour of the site on Friday. Old maps show three lakes nearby, according to several people that were part of a media entourage that accompanied Seifert around the farm site Friday.
Seifert’s book is historical fiction, based on the true story of a gruesome ax murder and suicide that occurred on the farm in March 1917.
The book revolves around William Kleeman, a young farmer who murdered his wife Maud and four young children with an ax, then wrote a note, and hanged himself.
“I have had this book in my mind for decades. In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the murders, I wanted to have this story told,” said Seifert.
Seifert grew up a few miles from the murder site and remembers hearing stories about it from his parents and grandparents.
Seifert said a big reason he chose to write the book is out of respect for the victims and because most people have not heard of this part of Minnesota history.
His research included combing through old newspaper stories about the murder that were available through the Minnesota Historical Society.
“Many area newspapers had accounts of it, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The newspaper stories were all a little different,” Seifert said.
Seifert said he began doing research on the murders in October 2015. Once he began writing the book, it really consumed him, requiring eight to ten hours of work a day for about two months.
“The factual story would only take up a small part of the book, so I added fictional characters to round out the story. It’s more than 300 pages long and has 40 chapters,” Seifert said. “I’ve been interested in this for a long time. My dad always told me something bad happened here but I never learned the whole story until now. I haven’t been disappointed. I really found the story to be a very interesting topic. I think many other people will too.”
Seifert said the long-handled axe used in the murder was taken as evidence by the Redwood County Sheriff’s Office. The axe was later placed in the Redwood County Museum.
Alex Petersen, who farms rented land owned by his grandfather Loren Jacobsen, takes special interest in the story because of its uniqueness and because it’s so close to his farm.
The March 28, 1917 edition of the New Ulm Review included a detailed account of the story. The murder was discovered by a country school teacher, Miss Ruth Snyder, who was boarding at the Kleeman home, according to the story.
It is believed that Kleeman brooded over heavy debts and his inability to meet them. The issue was said to have driven the young farmer insane with grief, according to the story.
A note found near him after he died read:
“Dear folks, when I woke this morning, someone in the house said ‘money or life.’ I hang myself. Good-bye, bye. With love, W.E. Kleeman.”
Snyder rode to Clements with Kleeman on Saturday to catch a train to Mankato to visit her home, Kleeman told her to get a livery rig (horse and buggy) to come back to the farm the next day, so he would not have to drive over after her.
Kleeman told her he was not feeling well. She said she didn’t notice anything unusual in his actions at the time, according to the report.
Returning to the farm via hired horse and buggy, Snyder said the roads were so bad, she had to walk the latter part of the way.
The house was dark as she approached it. Feeling for matches, she struck one on the wall and noticed Kleeman hanging limply from a rope in the center of the dining room. She lit a lamp and cut the rope that held Kleeman.
Snyder tried to bring back the breath of life to him with every effort suggested by “First Aid to the Injured” rules, according to the story.
She rushed to the telephone and called for help, explaining what happened to operator P. H. Crocker. He sent Doctor J. L. Adams and attorney W. R. Werring to the farm. It took them two hours to arrive, due to poor weather conditions.
“By the foresight of Crocker, Miss Snyder had been prevented from investigating the rooms and finding the other dead bodies,” read the report.
She had been alone in the house for about an hour and a half, and was prostrated with nervousness when the physician arrived. As the men went from room to room, they found the dead bodies of the Maud, and the little children.
Seifert plans to sell and sign his book at:
• City and Country Tavern, Morgan, 6:30 to 8 p.m., 7 p.m. program, Friday, Dec. 16.
• The Hitching Post, Marshall, 4 to 6 p.m., Monday, Dec. 19.
• Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery, 1727 S. Broadway, New Ulm, 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 20.
• American Legion, Clements, 6:30 to 8 p.m., 7 p.m. program, Tuesday, Dec. 20.
• Redwood Falls Public Library, 5:30 to 7 p.m., 6 p.m. program, Wednesday, Dec. 21.
• Barnes & Noble, Mankato, 6 to 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 23.
• Wabasso Public Library, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 6.
• Patrick McGovern’s Pub & Restaurant, 225 7th St. West, St. Paul, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017.
For more information, visit www.sundownatsunrise.com