Second of a two-part series on the Village of Bee.
There were two searches within two days in 1921. The first search came right after the December 12 death of the victim, the ensuing two-state search before the apprehension of the perpetrator.
Inga Magnusson, 1918 graduate of Spring Grove High School, taught 21 students at one-room Bergen School, located one mile south of Bee, a village once also known as Bergen. Inga, at age 22, lived with her parents in the Bee store which straddled the Iowa-Minnesota state line.
The schoolhouse was four miles northwest of Dorchester, Iowa, and seven miles south of Spring Grove, Minnesota. It was a lonely location in a scenic creek valley below wooded bluffs.
Her parents became concerned when Inga had not returned home one evening. Her father went to the locked schoolhouse and saw nothing unusual through the windows. Back home, telephone calls provided no answer. Accompanied by his son and several others, Mr. Magnusson returned to the schoolhouse – this time on foot along Waterloo Creek.
After breaking in and finding the schoolroom in order, they went down with a lantern into the cellar where they found her body with severe head injuries in a pool of blood. The weapon, a stick of cordwood, was still there.
The very next morning, bloodhounds from Waterloo, Iowa, were given the scent from the murder weapon and led the deputy sheriff to the farmhouse home of young adult Earl Throst where bloody overalls were found. The trail then led to a farm near Eitzen, Minn., where a pony had been stolen overnight. The dogs then located the county farm in Iowa where a man had stopped to rest his horse early that morning. The search ended in Postville, Iowa, where Throst was apprehended that afternoon as he intended to board a freight train. Throst was sneaked into the Allamakee County jail in the middle of the night to avoid violence from a crowd of 500.
A popular belief was the perpetrator had waited in the basement until Inga went down to fix the fire for the night. But Throst’s December 14 written confession told a different story.
“It concerns the two of us. I had been going with her for quite a while, and then that Otto Deters, he jumped in. Of course, you see, he made it as bad as he could for me. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, we was to be married Saturday – this coming Saturday, December the 17th.
“I got to the schoolhouse just after the children were gone. Then the quarrel started. Then you know what happened with the other part here. We had the quarrel there in the top of the schoolhouse. I was turned flatly down, so I followed her down to the basement. We quarreled there again, and then I struck her in the head with a stick. I picked this stick up right there in the basement. I struck her two or three times. After she fell, I left.”
He went on to state his experience with train schedules and railroad workers would allow him to escape if he could reach Postville.
The Magnusson family denied any amorous relationship between Inga and Earl, who had merely been schoolmates. She perished wearing an engagement ring from Otto Deters of Eitzen, Minn. The wedding was scheduled for the following February (1922).
The trial took place in a packed courthouse in Waukon. The execution was delayed more than a year to allow due consideration, including claims that Throst was mentally challenged.
After commutation had been denied by Governor Kendall, letters written by Throst tell of his finding peace with God and having faith in his salvation.
There were 60 witnesses as he was hanged, at age 26, at the state penitentiary at Fort Madison, Iowa, on March 9, 1923. Earlier that morning, Throst had given a shirt to a deputy sheriff, telling him to “tear it up, because it is the shirt I wore the day I killed her.”
A museum display of this trial is in the old courthouse in Waukon. For the 2013 book about this murder (Death in a One-room Country School), contact author Elaine Myhre Hegg at (563) 380-9540, 208 Second Street NE, Waukon, Iowa 52172.