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Foul Play


On this date in 1935, the news in North Dakota wasn’t very cheerful. Among other things, two young women had met untimely deaths at the hands of others.

Out near Zeeland, in McIntosh County, 21-year-old Leah Hass had been living with her sister, Mrs. Fred Rueb. When Leah was found missing one morning, Mrs. Rueb assumed her sister had gone to stay with their parents 2 miles away. When Leah still didn’t show up, Mrs. Rueb went to her parents’ home that night. Leah wasn’t there, and a search began.

A Fargo Forum article described the investigation conducted by McIntosh County State’s Attorney, Max Wishek. Wishek said Leah’s brother-in-law, Fred Rueb, told him he thought Leah “might have done something” and led Wishek to an abandoned well on their property. Rueb told Wishek he’d noticed the wash tub that covered the open well had been knocked away the day before; Rueb said he figured the wind had blown it off and simply replaced it. Now, he suggested Leah may have jumped into the well, and 65' down, Leah did indeed lie dead in 2' of muddy water. The last line of the article read, “It was brought out the girl was an expectant mother.”

The following day, March 28, 1935, 24-year-old Emily Hartl, of Cartwright, was teaching as usual at the Manion country school near Belfield. At 3:30, a 28-year-old man named Harry McGill walked in. Seven school children witnessed what happened next and immediately ran home to tell their parents.

Sheriff Joe Fritz and State’s Attorney Tharp went out to the school and found a bizarre scenario. McGill had been living and working with his 21-year-old brother, Arthur, in Rockford, IL, for five months and were just returning to North Dakota. They stopped the car in front of the school, and both got out. Harry went inside, while Arthur walked home the rest of the way – their house was about a mile from the school.

“Harry entered the schoolroom,” the story read, “armed with a 30-30 calibre (sic) rifle, placed the gun to his shoulder and fired two shots, one entering the girl’s neck and the other her body, close to the heart. McGill then placed the muzzle to his head and fired.”

Authorities speculated McGill was “angered when he apparently had been rejected as a suitor...”

On a much brighter note, a different story read, “An investigation into the disappearance of H.B. 220, which would have prohibited dancing in beer parlors and similar establishments, is under way in the attorney general’s office.”

Prohibition had been repealed just three years before, in 1932. It was still a touchy subject for a lot of people, but for others, it was cause for great celebration. Now, the state house and senate had both passed a bill that would make it illegal to dance if alcohol was present.

After it was passed, the bill mysteriously disappeared, apparently unnoticed. Later, just as mysteriously, it reappeared in the secretary of state’s office among a number of properly completed bills. The problem with H.B. 220 was that it wasn’t in its “final form of enrollment.” Because it had disappeared, it was lacking the required signatures, and without those signatures, it couldn’t (and didn’t) become law. Acting Governor Walter Welford called for an investigation, but someone else went to the bar to dance.

Source: The Fargo Forum, March 28 and 29, 1935

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm