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The Bannon Trial


James Bannon was admitted to the North Dakota State Penitentiary on this day in 1931. The North Dakota Supreme Court sentenced James, the father of accused murderer Charles Bannon, to life in prison for acting as an accomplice to the murder of an entire family. James is reported to have told the guard transporting him on that day, “You are seeing an innocent man go to prison.” James’s son, Charles, had been lynched by a mob on January 29th, and was the last case of lynching in North Dakota’s history. The mob had spared James, unsure of his exact role in the murders.

The trouble surrounding Charles Bannon began in February of 1930. Charles worked as a hired hand on the Haven farm, east of Watford City. The Havens and their four children lived and worked on the farmstead until that February. After February 9th, no one saw or heard from the Havens again. Charles claimed that the family had moved to Oregon and left him in charge of the farm. His father soon joined him, and the two men worked the farm until the following fall. At that time, Charles began selling livestock and personal possessions of the Havens, and locals became suspicious of his story. His father left for Oregon, proposing to look for the missing family. Eventually, Charles was arrested on grand larceny charges by authorities. The subsequent investigation found that Charles had actually murdered the entire Haven family, burying their bodies in a shed next to the barn. Charles confessed, reporting that he had killed the family in fear after accidentally shooting the eldest son. And although Charles claimed that he had acted alone in the murders, authorities located his father and placed him under arrest as well. The father and son were placed in a makeshift jail in the small village of Schafer to await trial. On the evening of January 28, a mob attacked the jail and carried Charles Bannon away, later hanging him over the Cherry Creek bridge.

After escaping the lynch mob, James was tried in Divide County and sentenced to life in prison; after losing an appeal in the North Dakota Supreme Court, he was forced to enter the State Penitentiary. He was released by the state Parole Board in 1950 at the age of seventy-six.


--Jayme L. Job