Law & Order ~ The Poisoned Cake

9.18.2022 [archived ~ 10.19.2017]

Poison has been used as a murder weapon throughout history, and most originally came from plants. 

Strychnine, the poison used in this alleged crime, is found in a genus of 196 various trees and climbing shrubs in the warm regions of Asia, Africa, and America. The seeds and bark contain strychnine.  Specifically, a shrub grown in the Philippines with a fruit known as Saint Ignatius bean contains two dozen seeds in each pod.  Strychnine was first imported and marketed as a poison to kill rodents.  It was easy to buy at either general or drug stores.

Gus Voigt Held for Poisoning Stepmother ~ Itasca News 5-28-1915

“Grand Rapids, May 26. – Gus Voigt is under arrest here on a charge of attempting to poison his stepmother by sending a cake containing strychnine to her home.  Mrs. Voigt, after eating some of the poisoned food, became violently ill and a physician was summoned and with difficulty saved the woman’s life.

Family troubles over the estate of Voigt’s father, who died two months ago, is alleged by the police to have prompted the attempt.  Voigt was cut off without an inheritance by the terms of his father’s will.

The family is well known in Deer River, having lived for the past twenty years at Deer Lake.  Friends say there was no feeling over the will of the deceased father, as it was annulled by the wife, who wished an equal distribution of the property.”

Brief Voigt Family History

1884 ~ Gus Voigt was one of nine children born to Frank Sr. and Anna Voigt. 

1900 ~ Voigt Family moved from Wisconsin to Itasca County.

1903 ~ Frank Voigt, Sr. built summer resort of east side of Deer Lake.

1910 ~ Gus had a family of his own and lived near his parents in Bass Lake township.

1912 ~ Gus’ mother, Anna died just before Christmas from tuberculosis of the knee joints.

1914 ~ Gus’ father, Frank Sr. married Emma C. (last name unknown).

1915 ~ Gus’ father, Frank Sr. died February 21st.

Probate following Frank Sr.’s Death

“Frank Voigt, Sr., her husband to whom she had not been married a great while, died intestate – without leaving a will.  She inherited one-third of the estate by law.  There are nine other heirs to the estate, which was not valued at more than five or six thousand dollars.

The day after the funeral Mrs. Voigt entered into a contract with the nine other children, to accept one-tenth of the estate, dividing it equally between the children.  This seemed to be understood and mutually satisfactory at the time. Mrs. Voigt, from apparently laudable motives, gave up one-third to accept one-tenth of the property – she to have the custody of the two little minor daughters, Lillian and Alice, her step-children.  In her testimony, she said she freely understood the terms of the contract read and prepared by Hon. C.C. McCarthy.

Later Mrs. Voigt began an action in the office of the probate judge to annul this contract.” [this action occurred before the May Day cake – trial testimony]


The trial began on October 1, 1915 and lasted eleven days. 

“The question of whether Gus Voigt of Deer Lake, placed strychnine in cake that his children carried in May baskets to the home of his stepmother, Mrs. Emma C. Voigt, on last May 4, with the intention of poisoning her, has occupied the time and attention of the district court here for the past week, and has proven of absorbing interest in the village and throughout the county.  There has been a very large attendance all the time, including many ladies.” GRHR 10-20-1915

Mrs. Emma Voigt, the alleged victim, was on the stand for two days.  “The story told by Mrs. Voigt, and substantially confirmed by stepdaughters, Alice and Lillian, and others, is that she and the girls planned to send May baskets to the children of the Gus Voigt on Sunday, May 2 and that this was done.  Six baskets were started to the house, and on the way, the children met some of the Gus Voigt children coming across to the house, and they took them back with them.

It is alleged that on Monday and Tuesday Gus Voigt told Lillian that there was a surprise for them on the way – meaning May baskets for the two little girls and one for Mrs. Voigt.  It is alleged in the testimony that the candy was for the two little girls and that the cake was for Mrs. Voigt, as she did not like candy. That they were not to eat the cake – as it was particularly for ‘Mumsie’ as the daughters called Mrs. Voigt.

The Voigt children brought the baskets Tuesday evening and left them outside the door, and Lillian and Alice brought the baskets into the house.

Mrs. Voigt then recited how she opened the cake said to have been intended for her, gave Alice a little piece of it, and ate a small piece herself.  Alice went out to play.  Alice testified that the cake tasted bitter and made her sick, but she did not mention it at the time, fearing it would be impolite to criticize a gift like that.

Mrs. Voigt later ate a second piece of the cake, she says, and it was not long until she was taken violently ill, according to the testimony of herself, the girls, neighbors, Dr. Hoeper and others.” GRHR 10-20-1915

In addition to Mrs. Voigt, the girls, and neighbors that came to her aid, the prosecution called several witnesses. Testimony included Dr. Frank Sarzin, expert as to symptoms of strychnine poisoning, Julius Hortvet from the state chemist’s office, and John Voigt, brother of Gus, who identified the handwriting on the bottle of strychnine found in Mrs. Voigt’s room as the writing of his father. 

The defense, of course, had their expert witnesses to contradict the state’s testimony and late Friday, Oct 22, the jury began deliberations.

Voigt Acquitted by Jury Saturday ~ GRHR 10-27-1915

“The long drawn out Voigt trial ended Saturday morning when at 6 o’clock the jury returned a verdict of not guilty in favor of Gus Voigt of Deer Lake, who had been indicted and tried on the charge of attempting to poison his step-mother, Mrs. Emma C. Voigt.  The common report is that the jury stood 8 for acquittal to 4 for conviction on the first ballot.

No case in years has attracted more attention, and this was evidenced by a packed courtroom on Friday when County Attorney R.A. Stone and Hon. C.C. McCarthy, attorney for the defense, made their argument to the jury.  The instructions of Judge C.W. Stanton were made to the jury Friday evening, and the jury retired about 8:30 to begin deliberations.”

Skull and Crossbones

In modern history, the skull and crossbones was the symbol used for a secret society of the same name at Yale University in 1832.  Soon after the society was created, the symbol took on another use as well. In 1829, New York State Law was changed to require that all containers of poisonous substances be labeled. The skull and crossbones first illustrated those labels in 1850.

1 Comment

  1. Vickie says:

    Very interesting. I wonder if the stepson was actually guilty.


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