November 12, 2017:


It's hard to believe, but winter has arrived early in my hometown. One week it was in the 70s and gorgeous outside, the next week it dropped down into the 40s and then boom, less than a week later, into the 30s. We've already had several hard freezes, the earliest that's happened since I moved here in 2014. Anyway, the trees had not even begun to turn color yet in the neighborhood - and now most of them are bare due to the many hard freezes and strong winds that blew most of the days last week. Wowsers! Today, however, the sun stayed out all day, there was no wind to speak of, and the temperatures felt positively balmy outside. I was very glad because I had to be out and about today.

So, the poor trees did not have a "fall" this year but we did get enough rain to ease my mind that my pines and shrubs will have enough moisture in the ground to survive the winter. The squirrels are SO fat and SO furry, I can't help but think they know we're in for a bad winter. Sigh. I'm way behind in everything including lots of garden clean-up that now I won't get to unless we get a few days of "Indian Summer," which doesn't seem likely this year. I did, however, get everything outdoors pretty much put away, except for the area rug (it needs to be "washed" with some soap and rinsed off) and the mosquito net curtains on my Shezebo. Now I'm already thinking about Christmas, and soon it will be here, before we know it! So, I figured it's about time I put up my "autumn" photographs from prior years as the seasonal header here at Maison Newton. Enjoy your Thanksgiving, that will be here soon and then it's into full-tilt Christmas decorating. Take care, everyone!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another Family Mystery: Murder by Strychnine!

Edited November 5, 2017:  Hola everyone.  Since reading the April 27, 2017 story by Rhonda Whetstone at the Stevens Point Journal this morning, "History: Man dies after eating mystery chocolates," (see her comment in the Comments Section to this pot at the bottom) I went back and checked my family tree just this morning and discovered I had made an error in my original 2012 comment, below.  Susan "Susie" Olbrantz was not a distant cousin of my mother's.  She was actually one of my mother's aunts - one of my Grandmother's sisters!  Obviously, that makes the story even more closely related to my family.  I am following-up with Rhonda Whetstone to see if she has learned anything further and if she will be writing a follow-up article.

My recollection at the time of going through this story with my mother in the summer of 2012 was that she had no recollection of it.  I do not recall if I referred to Susie Olbrantz then as Mom's cousin rather than her aunt.  My recollection from that time is that Mom acted as if she didn't even know who Susie Olbrantz was and had never heard of this bit of family history.  However, she had recently recovered from a very bad health scare and a months-long hospitalization, and we were going through her family tree binder I'd put together hastily for her.  I had felt a sense of urgency at the time, to get Mom's family tree together as much as I could.  Perhaps her memory was not the best then.  However, at the time of the events in question, Mom would only have been about 10 years old, so it is quite possible she was never told anything about this horrific event by Grandma or any other older family members who may have had knowledge of what happened.  Mom passed away in March of 2016 so I cannot ask her questions.

Since that time, a lot more information has appeared to be available on the Olbrantzs, but since our family is SO large, I have mostly restricted myself to concentrating on direct line ancestors, not ancillary ancestors like aunts and uncles and further back, or their descendants.  It was merely because I was - quite delinquently - going through my "Blog Posts/Spam" inbox this morning that I found a post to this story from Rhonda Whetstone and read about her 2017 article! 

When reading my initial post and my comments below, please amend any reference to my mom's cousin to my mom's aunt!  I decided to do it this way rather than mess with the original text of my post from 2012 (below the asterisk line).  Thank you.]


Wow!  Distant cousin Lucille unleashed a family bombshell on me early this morning - good thing I didn't read the email last night, I wouldn't have gotten any sleep!

It seems, darlings, that there was a MURDER in the family!  EEK!

Here is the article from The Milwaukee Journal in October, 1937.  Because it was a google records I was not able to "grab" it to save it, I had to cut it up into screen shots and save it that way, so it's in bits and pieces but readable -- try to ignore the red borders!

Joseph was the husband of a distant cousin on Mom's side of the family (the Makuskis).  Susan Catherine Olbrantz was a Makuski before her marriage in 1925 to Joseph Olbrantz.  Lucille sent me this photograph that must have been clipped from a different article than the one I found (posted above):

I guess I've watched too many "48 Hours Mysteries" and "Dateline" murder stories on television.  Poison is a very PERSONAL type of weapon and historically, a woman's weapon, because it is neat, clean, non-violent -- it can be administered from a distance. The perpetrator of the crime does not have to be confronted with the bloody reality of a dying or dead person at one's feet as a result of one's actions with gun, knife, or club.  In short, poison is the perfect weapon for someone seeking to kill not in the heat of anger or passion (like with a gun or knife or, heaven forbid, beating someone to death with fists or object), but for someone seeking to kill in a "bloodless" way after thinking about it for a long time.  REVENGE.  Cold.  Calculated.

In cases like this, the spouse is usually the first suspect.  But in this case, Susan herself had ingested a piece of the poisoned candy, as had one of her children (son Raymond, age 11).  If her target was her husband, would she have risked the lives of one or more of her children and herself, too?  If murder/suicide was the goal instead (wiping out the entire family) would she not have made sure that her other children also ingested some of the poisoned candy?  And where the heck would she have gotten her hands on strychnine?  Where would anyone get their hands on strychnine in 1937?

I thought about this quite a bit today.  The year 1937 -- the US is still recovering from the Great Depression.  World War II had not yet started and the economy was still in bad shape.  Joseph Olbrantz supported his family with a WPA (Works Progress Administration) job, like millions of other men around the country did -- there was not much other work available.  Money for such luxuries as boxed candy (chocolates? not identified in the article) would have been non-existent.  It might have seemed unusual for a new box of candy, a pair of cotton gloves and a pair of children's stockings to appear on the front seat of the Olbrantz vehicle, but in a small community where everyone knew everyone and pretty much knew how each others' families were doing, the Olbrantzes may have figured that it was a gift left behind by a friend, a family member, or a well-wisher. 

The gloves aren't identified as men's, women's, or children's.  The stockings were called "children's stockings" - I assume because their size made them easily identifiable as such.  So, whoever left the box of candy knew the Olbrantzes had children young enough to wear the stockings.  And the gloves?  Hmmm....  Cotton gloves.  Hmmmm..... perhaps women's gloves?  Meant as a gift for Susan?  Cotton gloves and a pair of children's stockings - doesn't sound like gifts a man would buy for a young family.

What is truly frightening about this crime is that the entire family could easily have ingested some of the candy and died.  At the time, Susan and Joseph had at least two other children: Joseph, born in about 1929 and Elizabeth, born in about 1935.  Perhaps the only thing that saved them from strychnine poisoning was that they were young and probably already abed when Daddy brought out that deadly box of candy.

I was not able to discover any further information on the crime or any further newspaper articles.  I will keep looking, of course!


  1. HELLO!!

    Just stopping in to say HI!! I am finally finding time!!
    Joe is healing nicely and driving! THANK GOD!!
    He was running me ragged!!

    Hope all is well with you!!

    I will be catching up on your posts when I find a bit more time to stay and visit for a bit~!!


  2. Joseph and Susan were my great grandparents. Raymond the one pictured above is my grandpa. Ray lost his hand monthes prior to this happening. I guess they were suing the owners of the land they were renting for 10000 for leaving dynamite caps out which blew his hand off. This happened April 1937 Joseph was poisoned September 1937. 10000 was a nice chunk in 1937 but not worth losing a hand They had 5 kids actually too. Ray, Joe Jr, Leonard, Ernest, Elizabeth. Susie also remarried in 1940 to Harry Kluck and they had 5 children as well. Only thing is she was buried a Olbrantz. In 2007 my dad Raymond A. Olbrantz & Ernest and Elizabeth passed Ernest just a week after my dad. It would seem that God opened the gates and took them all around the same time to be with Joseph and Susie. This is just one of the dark clouds over the family name. Im sure there are more.....

    Thank you for posting this. This has got me interested in learning more about my family history and the name I carry

  3. The following is a link to my column in the Stevens Point Journal. Hope you can still access it.

    I plan on doing a follow-up column thanks to fresh info from Robert (above). Watch for it this fall in the Journal. If on Facebook, go to Portage to the Past and LIKE the page and you will be notified when it comes out. Thanks!

    Rhonda Whetstone/Featured Historical Columnist for Gannett News/USA Today

    1. Wow! I only just saw your post above from July 11, 2017 read your article a few minutes ago (morning, November 5, 2017). I did not know about young Raymond losing one of his hands or about the law suit, either. When I showed my mother the article in the summer of 2012 after I had assembled her family tree and we were flipping through the binder of documents and genealogical records I had assembled, I asked her about it. She did not know anything about it, though, or know the people involved. Not unusual in a large family filled with descendants of cousins (I doubt I would recognize most of my grown-up cousins today that I remember seeing in childhood; we all lost touch over the years and went on with our own busy lives). It was so sad that no one was ever brought to justice. I wonder who the women were who were questions - given lie detector tests and "truth serum" - holy cow! Well, that was of course years before the Miranda decision. It is horrifying to contemplate that one of the Piechowski cousins might have put a box of poisoned candy into the Olbrantz's vehicle in a bid to get revenge for the filing of the law suit. Your article (the link still works, but I had to cut and paste it into a browser window) also noted that eventually the law suit was settled for $2,000, which at that time would have been a substantial amount of money.