Murder by Thumb Bite | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Murder by Thumb Bite

Jul 31, 2020


On this date in 1900, an arrest warrant was issued for Joseph Schlanser of Fargo for the murder of A.P. Carroll. The murder weapon was Schlanser’s teeth, and the fatal injury was a bitten thumb. The cause of death was blood poisoning. Schlanser, of Fargo, was a veteran of the Spanish American War and a carpenter. Carroll was from France and former seminarian. He came to the United States around 1890, but had only been in Fargo for a few months, and was a cook for the restaurant at the Northern Pacific Depot. 

The thumb biting incident happened on the night of July 17, 1900. After work, Carroll went for a walk, crossing the bridge from Fargo to Moorhead. There are conflicting reports of what happened next. According to Carroll, he witnessed an inebriated Schlanser knock over a little girl riding a bicycle. The girl’s father hit Schlanser. Carroll said “serves him right.” An angered Schlanser then struck Carroll. When Carroll raised his arm in defense, Schlanser bit the tip of his thumb off. Carroll ran back to work, where his colleagues said he should go to the hospital. A doctor amputated part of Carroll’s thumb. Despite the medical care, Carroll came down a fever and infection and died on July 26th. While on his deathbed, he told a priest that Schlanser should not get in trouble for what happened, and took the blame for the incident.

According to other witnesses, the thumb biting came about differently. They said a very drunk Schlanser was walking outside of the Arcade Saloon in Moorhead and picking fights. After fighting two men, he next attacked Carroll and bit his thumb. After Carroll ran off, witnesses found the bit of thumb on ground and put it in a glass of alcohol.

When Schlanser was interrogated about the incident, he claimed he had been drinking all night and did not remember the event. He said he did not attack Carroll, but also could not swear that he didn’t do it. 

A grand jury heard the case, but then dismissed it. After all, Carroll’s deathbed wish was for Schlanser to not be prosecuted. Schlanser and his family attended Carroll’s funeral. It is not known if he continued to make a habit of biting people. 

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


“Around the State,” The Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. July 28, 1900, pg. 1.

“Injury Proved Fatal.” The Saint Paul Globe. Saint Paul, MN. July 28, 1900, pg. 6.

“Schlanser Case,” The Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. August 3, 1900, pg. 1.

“Schlanser Held,” The Bismarck Tribune. Bismarck, ND. August 4, 1900, pg. 1.

“Dismissed,” Bismarck Daily Tribune. Bismarck, ND. December 14, 1900, pg. 6.