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Lunatic Found in Idaho Cave


Today’s story most certainly took place during an era less sensitive to the mentally ill. On this date in 1932, the Fargo Forum ran a story under the headline: “Lunatic Found in Idaho Cave.”

The article referred to Charles Edward Moline from Barton, a small town near Rugby. Information is sketchy, but to learn why Moline ended up in his cave, you’d have to back up 22 years to January 1910, when Moline’s father, Frank, was poisoned to death. Young Charles confessed he did it, but less than a week later, his mother, Ida, was arrested as well. The papers said Ida and her husband were divorced, but not much more.

Two months later, Ida and Charles were arraigned and granted separate trials. The State brought in 40 witnesses, including one Jack Daly, who had just been acquitted of two serious charges in district court. Charles’ defense attorneys made a strong plea for insanity, but after eight hours of deliberation, the jury found young Moline guilty, and he was given life in prison.

Before Mrs. Moline’s trial could took place, however, she was diagnosed as insane and sent to the State Hospital in Jamestown. About a year and a half later, Moline was displaying definite symptoms of mental illness and he, too, was transferred to Jamestown. Then, five weeks later, he escaped, and the hospital quickly circulated his photo and description throughout the state. The Bismarck Tribune reported, “No fear is felt by the authorities that he will do harm, however, as he was a simple fellow; but they fear that he will wander off and die in the woods somewhere.”

About two months later, on December 9th, a farmer named Jake Steffes checked a spot he was leasing in Richland Cty and found a man calling himself John Weldemeir had moved in. Steffes told him to get out, but Weldemeir refused. Steffes went to Wahpeton to file a complaint, and Richland County Sheriff Moody went out to investigate. The meeting ended badly, with Sheriff Moody dead from a shotgun blast and Weldemeir heading south with horse and wagon.

Rumors quickly spread, and two days later, the Bismarck Tribune reported Weldemeir was actually Charles Moline in disguise; the description sent from Jamestown seemed a sure match. A posse gave chase and, two days later they caught up with Weldemeir near the South Dakota border. In a shootout, Weldemeir’s horses were the first to go down. Minutes later, Weldemeir was shot and killed when he tried to take cover behind a haystack.

Warden Hellstrom of the State Penitentiary came to Wahpeton to identify the body and surprised the press by saying the dead man was definitely not Moline. Locals also had a look and said the body didn’t belong to a John Weldemeir, either. He was a farm laborer named Bert Hudson. Ironically, it wasn’t the first time Hudson had been mistaken for Moline. The Bismarck Tribune reported: “Deputy Sheriff Budao of Hankinson, also identified the body as that of Hudson, whom he says he placed under arrest at Hankinson this fall while the man was husking corn for a farmer... Deputy Budoa arrested Hudson, believing that he was Moline, the escaped maniac.”

So now we arrive back at the 1932 headline: “Lunatic Found in Idaho Cave.” The story coming out of Caldwell, Idaho, stated: “After hearing strange stories of the habits of a man known as Charles Edward Hanson, Sheriff O.G. Boyd...investigated. The sheriff said ‘Hanson,’ who lived for nearly two years in a cave with two live rattlesnakes, confessed he was Charles Edward Moline, escaped inmate of the North Dakota hospital for the insane... the man confessed he killed his father in Pierce County, North Dakota, Jan. 22, 1910, and was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment...”

Someday, we may learn the rest of the story...

Written by Merry Helm

Sources: Bismarck Tribune, 1910: 1-30, 3-05, 3-15; 1911: 10-10, 12-11, 12-12; Fargo Forum, 5-2, 1932