On this date in 1903, folks in North Dakota breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that a killer was no longer on the loose. There was quite a bit of excitement surrounding the capture of Albert Beckman in Melrose. Lawmen were concerned that Beckman would put up a fight, and they were also concerned that locals had lynching in mind, outraged by Beckman’s crime.
Beckman was wanted in connection with the death of Helen Kelly in her room at the Dakota Lodging House in Butte, North Dakota. Helen was described as a pretty 18-year-old who had recently arrived from Ireland. It was a shock when she was killed.
Helen had been seeing Beckman, and he was under the impression that they were going to get married. He said he gave Helen money to buy a trousseau, which refers to the clothes, household linens, and other belongings a bride collects for marriage.
Sometimes he said he gave her $200. At other times he said he gave her $300-$400, and once he claimed to have given her $800.
Beckman said Helen changed her mind and jilted him. He was hurt by the rejection. He was also angry that she hadn’t returned the money for the wedding. He said he was forced to sleep on the streets and had no food. He took her to court, but lost the case.
Determined to make one last attempt, Beckman went to Helen’s room with a gun, and when she again refused to return his money, he shot and killed her.
There was no suspense to the story. Beckman admitted his guilt. He said he wanted to die for his crime. He had a flair for the dramatic. While his attorney was making a plea in court, Beckman took out a knife and drew it across his neck. The cut drew blood, but it was not life threatening.
In spite of Beckman’s confession, the jury needed 10 and a half hours to bring in a guilty verdict. Judge McClernan said he would pronounce sentence in a few days, but Beckman’s attorney asked that the sentence be handed down immediately. Beckman said he wanted to hang. Instead, the judge sentenced him to 99 years in Deer Lodge prison.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Heppner Gazette. Heppner OR. 2/18/1904. Page 2.
Rosebud County News. “Beckman Gets 99 Years.” 2/25/1904. Forsyth MT. Page 7.
The Morning Astorian. “Man on Trial for Murder Cuts His Throat in Court.” 2/14/1904. Astoria OR. Page 1.
The Semi-Weekly Messenger. “Albert Beckman Commits Murder.” 10/20/1903. Wilmington NC. Page 7.
Colfax Gazette. 10/23/1903. Colfax WA. Page 1.
Butte Inter-Mountain. “Beckman Says Girl Was to Have Married Him.” 10/6/1903. Butte MT. Page 5.