July 16, 2017:
Hola! Where does the time go, Geez Louise! Half summer is already gone, and I am first now updating this from last December, tsk tsk. Bad Jan! So, been busy puttering around the yard, as always, and paying more attention than I probably should be to politics. The kitchen "remodel" is on hold due to budgetary constraints, but I hope to have that remedied before the end of the year. And I have yet to paint the guest room - it's only been 3 years now since I moved in to this version of Maison Newton, I'm not lazy or anything, nope... LOL! Take care and have a great rest of the summer. Jan

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Another Family Mystery: Murder by Strychnine!

Wow!  Distant cousin Lucille unleased 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 strycynine in 1938?

I thought about this quite a bit today.  The year 1938 -- 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.

    http://www.stevenspointjournal.com/story/news/local/2017/04/27/history-man-dies-after-eating-mystery-chocolates/100949598/ 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