Mary and Andrew Hanson ~ Accident or Murder? Law & Order in Itasca County

6.26.2022 [archived ~ previously published 9.8.2016]

Mary (Hedquist) Hanson circa 1895

On September 12, 1901, Mary Hanson was busy working in the kitchen of the home she shared with her husband and three small children.  She heard a commotion and turned, at the same moment a bullet struck her in the abdomen, killing her. The boys ages six and four looked on in shock. Their mother lay crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood and the rifle was in the hands of their father.  What had happened?

The Itasca News asked a similar question and detailed the immediate response of Andrew Hanson:

Accident or Murder? Itasca News 9-14-1901

Mrs. Mary Hanson of Moose Lake Found in a Pool of Blood. Her Husband Delivers Himself to the Sheriff Claiming He Shot Her Accidentally

“Andrew Hanson, a Swede living on Moose Lake, at some hour early Thursday morning shot and instantly killed his wife.   The shooting appears to be enveloped with considerable mystery, but the facts as nearly as can be learned as substantially as follows:  Hanson claims he was taking his rifle from a shelf or the wall when it accidentally discharged, the contents entering his wife’s body.  Taking his children, a boy of six and another some years younger, who were the only witnesses to the scene, he led them to the bridge crossing the thoroughfare between Moose and Deer lakes, and started them to their grandfather’s, Andrew Hedquist, where they told that their mother had been shot by their father.  Hanson himself took through the woods and made his way to Grand Rapids, surrendering to the sheriff and claiming he had accidentally killed his wife. 

Coroner Russell, Sheriff Tyndall, County Attorney Pratt and others took conveyance overland and proceeded to Hanson’s house.  Arriving there they found Mrs. Hanson lying in a pool of blood, shot through the abdomen, the ball taking a downward course, passing clear through her body, a dishpan, an inch pine board and flattening itself against a log in the house.  Considerable difficulty was experienced in securing a jury, the region thereabouts being sparsely settled.  The following gentlemen were finally secured: Jonas L. Long, John Bosley, L.W. Huntley, Gus Anderson, Oscar Norman, John Nyberg.”

Bosley, Norman and Nyberg were neighboring farmers. Huntley was a clerk at the courthouse and the other two lived in Grand Rapids.  All of the men were between the ages of 35 and 50.  The coroner’s jury reviewed the remains at the Hanson home and the body was released to the family.  The funeral took place on Friday, and the burial took place on the Hanson farm.

Mary (Hedquist) Hanson was born in Sweden on Oct 15, 1864, to Andrew and Katherine.  The family immigrated in about 1890, and according to an interview done by Elmer Mattila with Clarence Hedquist in 1994, the family name at the time they came to the United States was Anderson.  “The first two brothers that came over here, they said every other person on the street in Duluth, his name was Anderson.  So, they changed the name to Hedquist.”   At the time of her death, Mary had her parents, at least two siblings, John and Gus; and her children Richard, Theodore and Emilie living in the area.  Her husband was in the Itasca County jail. 

Hanson was visited by a News reporter at the jail the day of the funeral who commented, “He is on the verge of a mental collapse, the strain beginning to tell.  Questioned as to why he did not go with his children to their grandparents and notifying them or some of the neighbors, he could return no connected or intelligent answer.  It has long been an open secret in Hanson’s locality that he was morbidly jealous of his wife, almost insanely so.  What grounds he had, if any, will probably develop themselves at the trial.  However, the affair may be viewed it has most peculiar appearances.  Without any intention of prejudging Hanson and without desire to injure his chances of proving his innocence, the News wishes to remark that the first impulse of ninety-nine men out of a hundred under like circumstances would have been to have rushed for assistance.  No thoughts of personal consequences would enter the mind of any man until his wife had been properly cared for.  The trial will tell the whole story, however.  Until then the News withholds further comment.” [Itasca News 9-14-1901]

Hanson was indicted for the murder of his wife Mary in early December 1901 and his trial began on Saturday December 14, in front of Judge McClenahan.  “The prosecution had just completed its evidence when Hanson’s attorney, C.C. McCarthy, made a motion to dismiss the defendant on the grounds that not sufficient evidence was shown or existed to cause a trial against Hanson.  Mr. McCarthy laid much stress in his words and there was a feeling of general satisfaction all through the court room when Judge McClenahan stated in a few words that the accused man was dismissed.  The jury was then discharged, and Mr. McCarthy walked over to his pale client and in a low voice informed him he was a free man and could go home to his children.

Mr. Hanson will immediately resume to his home with his three little children, the oldest of which is only six years, and undoubtedly life will now be smoother for him.”  [Itasca News 12-14-1901]

It is hard to say how much smoother life went for Hanson.  At least to some he appeared to be emotionally distressed.  On April 29,1903 there was an insanity hearing for him on a complaint alleged by Charles Sterling.  Several neighbors were summoned and based on the evidence, he was discharged.  “…Judge Huson finding that Hanson was perfectly sound in mind.  Of all witnesses examined none ever heard Hanson speak irrational except Mr. Sterling.” [Itasca News 5-2-1903]

However, Hanson is an inmate at the Fergus Falls State Hospital for the Insane by the time the1905 Minnesota State Census was conducted.  For whatever reason, his three children are in an orphanage in the Washburn Orphan Asylum in Minneapolis.  According to the census record, they had been there 11 months, so were placed in July 1904.

Theodore and Emilie are still listed at the Washburn Home on the 1910 U.S. Census.  Richard is seventeen and was probably released to work for himself on his 16th birthday.  Their father remains at Fergus Falls and in February of 1911, he died and was buried in the cemetery on the grounds of the hospital.

The 1910 census was as far as I was able to trace Emilie Hanson.  The WWI registration indicates Richard was in Moody, SD and by the WWII registration he is living in Minneapolis with his wife Margaret.  A family tree on connects Theodore with the Washburn Home, and shows him residing in Wichita Kansas by 1915, where he lived until his death in March 1994.

Of course, I cannot help but to wonder if Richard, Theodore and Emilie Hanson saw their father after 1904, or if they stayed in touch with one another.  The tragic event that took place on September 12, 1901, and subsequently haunted their father until his early death, surely affected each of them for a very long time.

1 Comment

  1. David Hyatt says:

    Hi Chris,

    I am not sure when he appeared on the officer down page but I am sure your attention to his situation didn’t hurt a thing. It is probably worth noting that this week will be 100 years since the shooting and 2 weeks later will be 100 years from his death. Thanks again for all you have done to bring hos story to light.



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