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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Augusta Schmidt.

Little Murders
   
J. Oscar Walton, a tenant farmer in Walton, Indiana, had an argument with his landlady, Mrs. Augusta Schmidt, the morning of October 21, 1893. They shared a house on the rented property, Mrs. Schmidt and her family in one half, Walton and his family in the other. They stood in the doorway between the two halves as they argued. Walton was upset that geese and hogs owned by Mrs. Schmidt had been let loose in his cornfields and were scattering the corn all around. As the argument became more heated, Walton threatened to take his gun and shoot the livestock. Mrs. Schmidt went into her side of the house and returned with a revolver, and while Oscar Walton’s mother and ten-year-old son watched, Augusta Schmidt shot him in the head and killed him.



Augusta Schmidt’s journey to Indiana and ownership of the property had been a long and arduous one. She was born Augusta Crumbine in Germany in 1848. At age 20, though engaged to be married, she agreed to cancel her engagement and travel to America with her aunt, Mrs. Christina Hooper. Mrs. Hooper was a baroness with a considerable estate in America, but her husband and child had died en route to their new home. She needed help managing the property and offered to make Augusta the sole heir and legatee of the estate if she would come live with her in America.

Augusta soon regretted her decision; Mrs. Hopper turned out to be a heartless miser who worked her niece to the bone. When Augusta a was not collecting rent on the property that Mrs. Hopper leased to tenant farmers, she did menial labor, working as a farmhand in Mrs. Hopper’s fields. After ten years, she got some relief when she married Charles Schmidt, a well-to-do farmer, and began raising a family. But through long association with Mrs. Hopper, Augusta had become as grasping and avaricious as her aunt and was thoroughly hated by everyone with whom she had dealings.

When Mrs. Hooper died in 1888, Augusta learned that her aunt had not officially made her the sole heir to the estate. Claimants from all over the world came to Indiana asserting their right to the estate, initiating a legal battle that lasted four years. Augusta Schmidt ultimately won the case, but legal expenses had consumed the bulk of the estate. Though she was still seen as a wealthy woman, Augusta and her family were reduced to sharing a house with the family of her tenant farmer, J. Oscar Walton.

James Oscar Walton was from a prominent Indiana family; the town of Walton was named after one of his ancestors. He was also popular in the community and news of his murder generated much excitement. Augusta turned herself over to the police to avoid a gathering lynch mob. 

Augusta Schmidt was charged with first-degree murder, and she pleaded self-defense. Her attorneys’ strategy was to postpone the proceedings as long as possible in the hope that the only eye-witness the state could use, Oscar Walton’s old and feeble mother, would die before the trial. Augusta was denied bail and spent the next five months in jail awaiting trial. When the trial could be put off no longer, the attorneys requested and received a change of venue since she was unlikely to get a fair trial in Cass County where the murder took place. Even with that, they had to interview more than eighty prospective jurors before agreeing to a jury.

A doctor who examined Augusta in the Logansport Jail testified that he treated numerous bruises on her face, tending to confirm her allegation of self-defense. The highlight of the trial came when the state introduced into evidence the skull of Oscar Walton. Augusta wept, and women in the gallery feinted.

The jury deliberated for sixty-eight hours before returning a compromise decision. Augusta Schmidt was found guilty but sentenced to only ten years at the women’s reformatory in Indianapolis. Though the sentence was light, it was too much for Augusta who threatened suicide.

In 1899, after Augusta had served nearly half of her sentence, Indiana Governor Mount granted her parole. With nothing left but her pride, Augusta refused the parole, vowing to stay in prison until the judge and jury who convicted her acknowledged her innocence and admitted their error. Later that summer the last of her property was sold at auction to cover her debts leaving Augusta Schmidt and her family penniless.

Sources:
“Baroness Practically Penniless,” Elkhart Daily Review, July 31, 1899.
“Declines a Pardon,” Muskegon Chronicle, March 23, 1899.
“The Daughter of a Baroness,” Plain Dealer, January 3, 1894.
“Found Her Guilty,” Elkhart Daily Review, April 4, 1894.
“Killed by His Landlady,” National Police Gazette, November 11, 1893.
“The Kokomo Sensation,” Evansville Courier and Press, March 21, 1894.
“Murdered Her Tenant,” Kalamazoo Gazette, October 22, 1893.
“She Shot to Kill.,” Daily Inter Ocean, October 21, 1893.
“Trial of Mrs. Schmidt,” Elkhart Daily Review, March 29, 1894.
“Wept at the Sight of a Skull,” Elkhart Daily Review, March 24, 1894.“




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