|The Bismarck Daily Tribune 20NOV1897|
I was farting around on Ancestry a couple years ago (yes, that's the technical term). Just typing surnames into their search engine. Trying to see if anything would come up in newspapers. When I typed in Villers I got a bit of a surprise...I found several newspaper articles on one Martin Joseph Villers. The father to Florence, Mary Ann, Louis, Alta Ellen, and Agnes. Husband of Octavia Villers nee Waguener. And murderer of August Tromer and attempted murderer of his wife, Pauline Tromer.
So who was Martin Joseph Villers to my husband? He's my husband's great great grandfather. I can understand how we don't want to find bad people in our family tree (particularly our direct line), but the truth is there's going to be bad people in there. It doesn't reflect on who we are.
I've been fascinated by this discovery and sometimes I think that my husband would prefer it if I would stop digging. I've received penitentiary records from North Dakota, copied all the newspaper articles I could find, etc. I don't want to glorify what he did, but I want to know why he did it. He had been a policeman in a previous census! Part of me hoped to find something that would lead me to believe he was innocent. The evidence was so circumstantial in the papers. I had dreams of being able to request a pardon or reversal for MJ Villers. Yeah...not going to happen unless something new comes to light.
The articles are fascinating. The terminology involved and what they seem to consider "proof" is amazing. If you read all the articles it's evident that he was considered guilty from the get go. From a historical point of view the case was a first for the state of North Dakota. They were unsure of how to try him for the murder of August Tromer when he was already serving time for the attempted murder of Pauline Tromer (not a problem today, but back then they weren't sure what to do!). He was also the first person from Stutsman County sent to the state prison for a life term. Now granted, these aren't goals we aspire to, but it's all very interesting.
I don't know if I'll ever know why he did what he did. Was he desperate for land? Money? Did he have a falling out with the Tromers? Why did the Villers family move from Wisconsin to North Dakota to begin with? How did the Tromer family fare as time passed? One thing I do know is that there will be more Martin Josephs as I continue researching. It's a statistical...and genealogical fact.