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Shameful Suicide


Ole Peterson proved that shame can kill a man on this day in 1907. Peterson took his own life after being arrested for abusing his wife and children, and it was reported that the rural farmer couldn’t bear to live with the shame of the act. The farmer was in the custody of Deputy Sheriff Lillethun at the time of the incident, and the pair were on their way to Valley City to complete a bond that had been issued on Peterson.

Peterson had gone to Fingal the previous day, and while in town had apparently visited the city’s drinking establishments. After returning home that evening, Peterson became violent with his wife and children and began abusing the family. The abuse escalated until the family was forced to flee to a neighboring farm for help. Word of the abuse reached the ears of local authorities, who apprehended the farmer. At a hearing before Justice Boe, the judge decided to place Peterson under bonds in order to ensure the safety of the man’s family from retribution. Since the completion of the bond needed to take place in Valley City, Peterson was put under the custody of Deputy Lillethun.

The deputy placed Peterson in a room at the local Fingal hotel while he made travel arrangements for the pair. When Lillethun returned a short time later to retrieve the man, he found Peterson’s lifeless body propped up against a bedpost with a hankerchief tied around his neck. Apparently, the shame of the crime was too much for the man, and he had hung himself by tying his hankerchief into a noose and hanging it from the post of the bed. Even at this short height, by placing the make-shift noose around his neck and stretching his legs out, the determined farmer was able to take his own life. The deputy, shocked to find that his charge had committed suicide under his own guardianship, quickly reported the incident to authorities, who were quick to label the incident a suicide motivated by shame.


The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican (Evening ed.). February 12, 1907: p. 6.

--Jayme L Job