Murder in Hutchinson

It happened on a Monday, one that fell on the 30th day of January in 1950. Mrs. Clara Schouse stood in the kitchen of her small apartment in Hutchinson, MN. It was 11:08 AM, and Clara was preparing an early lunch. As she made her meal, she thought she heard what sounded like a gunshot. The sound, though distorted at first, was followed by a commotion. A moment of a few seconds passed, and Clara heard another gunshot – this one unmistakable. What followed was a moment of silence that was so deathly quiet one could have heard a pin drop. It was broken by the sounds of a woman’s voice “My baby, my darling, why did you do it”, spoken between hysterical sobs and cries.

Clara stood still in her kitchen, speculating as to what could have happened. As she pondered the event, the sound of footfalls racing down the stairway reached her ears. Mrs. Schouse couldn’t stand the suspense of the situation any longer – moved away from preparing her lunch and made way to her apartment door to take a peek into the hallway. As she peered down the building’s corridor, she noticed that the office door of Mr. Gordon Jones, a young attorney in Hutchinson, was slightly open, and from within came two moaning gasps.

Meanwhile, at the L&S restaurant on Hutchinson’s Main Street, Lee Cooper sat atop a stool enjoying his lunch. He didn’t hear the gunshots, nor did he hear the sobs to follow. What he did see, however, was a woman named Laura Miller rushing into the restaurant – crying and pleading for his help. “Come quick, come quick”, she screamed. Together, they raced to the office of Gordon Jones. It was a disturbing scene. Jones lay dead in a pool of blood with a bullet wound to his chest.

The alarm was raised, and Hutchinson Police Chief, Frank Broderius, was immediately dispatched to the scene. Jones was pronounced dead, and after examination of the scene, Laura Miller, the only eye witness, was arrested.

It had only been an hour since Mrs. Schouse heard the gunshots.

The trial that ensued transfixed McLeod County as well as much of Minnesota. The news media pounced on the story, an affair between a young woman and a married lawyer that ended at once when he learned she was pregnant. The defense team took advantage by painting a picture of a wronged woman taken advantage by a dastardly lawyer. They preyed on the public sympathy for a young pregnant woman, going so far as to set up a photo shoot of Laura celebrating her birthday behind bars as well as allowing a published interview of Laura discussing the hardships faced of a young woman behind bars. The media devoured any detail they could find about Miller and made it public. She was a young woman, smart, bookish, and naïve. Quotes were published about how Laura Miller didn’t like to go to parties, how she preferred to stay home and read, and how she was swept off her feet by the charm of Gordon Jones. It was a tactic that set a scene during the trial, one where the public tuned in, and one where the future of a young pregnant woman would hang in the balance.

As the trial went on, however, new facts would emerge…

The trial of Laura Miller was slated to begin in Glencoe, MN on February 20th, 1950, yet the backstory of the murder and the events leading up to were well known around the county. The facts were that on January 30th, 1950, Hutchison Lawyer, Gordon Jones, was found dead in his office from a gunshot wound, and a young woman named Laura Miller was accused of his murder. The story behind the murder was a tale of romance, deceit, and wrong-doing. It was a backstory made for a Hollywood drama, and one that had captivated not just McLeod County, but much of the state.
Gordon Jones was a young Hutchinson Lawyer, one who was married with two children. On occasion, Jones would find himself in Minneapolis on business. It was here that he met Laura Miller. Miller was a young woman, self-described as “bookish” and not one who went on dates often. The two met at a restaurant in downtown Minneapolis in 1948. Miller was taken with Jones, claiming he was charming and a delight to listen to. Though they parted that night, the two would continue to see one another when Jones happened to be in the city. Eventually, Miller fell in love with Jones, claiming to be unaware of his marital status until a year into their affair.

Laura Miller was infatuated with Jones, regardless of him being married and a father. She claimed that she knew there was room in his heart, regardless of his wife, and she spent hours in her room where she would doodle the words Mrs. Laura Jones over and over on a pad of paper. Yet, the knowledge that she could never be his wife brought her to depression, and she claimed to have contemplated suicide on a number of occasions.
The affair eventually took a turn for the worse when Laura found she was pregnant and insisted that Jones was the father. She kept the news from him for some time, but finally relented to telling him the news, at which he was angered that she kept it from him. Miller claimed Jones pledged to make accommodations for her and the baby, going so far as to coax Miller into thinking that he may even leave his family in favor of her and the unborn child. In reality, however, Jones became cold toward Miller and did what he could to drive her out of his life – going so far as to hire a woman to impersonate his wife and confront Miller in an attempt to scare her off.

During Miller’s stay in the county jail, while she awaited trial, she recounted the story to the media on numerous occasions, always telling of how she was innocent, and how she had only traveled to Hutchinson to confront Jones about how he was going to take care of her and the baby, not to kill him. She maintained that she blacked out the incident, and did not fully know how he was killed.

The media circus surrounding the murder turned Laura Miller into a local celebrity. A good portion of the public sympathized with her, a tactic set out early by the defense team. Yet, there was a faction that still stood by the irrefutable truth, that Laura Miller, believing herself to be pregnant with the child of Gordon Jones, walked into his office with a gun, and when she left, Jones lay dead in a pool of blood.
The entire county sat on pins and needles, waiting for the trial to begin and for a verdict to be given. McLeod County was abuzz with anticipation.

The trial was slated to begin at 10am, yet spectators began showing up as early as 7am to secure a seat in the high-ceilinged courtroom in the McLeod County Courthouse, a room that could hold a capacity of 200 people. Those who could not find a place to sit in the courtroom were ushered across the street to the Oriel Theater where sound was “canned” into a loudspeaker on the stage.

The trial was a spectacle, one where the Judge allowed journalists, spectators, and photographers to flood the courtroom and keep a watchful eye on Laura Miller. The news media watched her every expression, keeping a watchful eye for nervousness and anxiety, and reporting on her every move.
Miller and her attorneys knew the media was watching. They also knew the key to the trial was to win favor with the public. Laura made sure to dress down, always appearing in a black wool dress with no makeup, and always appearing with a bible in hand. Their tactic was to make her look the part of a naïve and innocent young woman taken in by the charm of young and handsome lawyer.

The first round of witnesses was mostly those who had already testified in front of a grand jury – witnesses to the murder scene who could attest to the behavior of Laura Miller at the scene of the crime. As the trial wore on, however, the crowds were treated to more stirring show as the prosecution began calling character witnesses to counter Miller’s persona of a naïve woman, calling attention to the fact that Miller lied about being a bookish loner, and that she was, on occasion, known to frequent places that catered to the night life. They even brought light to the fact that Miller was once reprimanded for wearing tight fitting clothing with low cut bust lines.

Of all the witnesses, the most captivating was a woman named Marion Turek, a beautician that was recruited by Gordon Jones to act as his wife during a meeting with Miller, one where Jones hoped the presence of his “wife” would scare Miller away. Her testimony provided a hint of the alcohol induced weekend routine of the carousing that took place at the Andrews, the hotel and lounge where Jones and Miller first met. Turek also told a chilling version of events where Miller, distraught with grief that Jones was trying to get rid of her, did the unthinkable. During the meeting when Turek was acting as Jones’s wife, Laura Miller opened her purse and pulled a gun – the same gun she allegedly used to kill Jones. She aimed the loaded weapon at Turek, in which Turek responded by saying “Be careful, you will get hurt”. Miller responded coldly with “Don’t worry about me”.

On February 27th, a week into the trial, the prosecution rested its case. What followed was a fight between the prosecution and defense about what evidence, including Miller’s revolver, could be admitted as evidence. This portion of the case was not so riveting to the press, so they filled in the time with speculative news about how the case would unfold from that point on. Question arose as to whether or not Miller herself would take the stand, but it was a question that the defense dodged at every mention.

March 1st dawned cold. It was a Wednesday, and the temperatures were well below normal for the time of year. Though it was cold, the town of Glencoe was hot with the news that Laura Miller would take the stand that very day. At 2:30pm, Miller, with dark rings under her eyes and dressed in her usual black wool dress, took the stand. Before she did, however, the defense took a gamble and asked the judge and jury that the verdict of the case should be either murder in the first degree, or not guilty.

Miller testified for two and a half hours, at times needing to pause to collect her emotions. She told of her upbringing, how she first met Jones, and how she fell in love with him despite his marital status, and how he shunned her after she revealed to him that she was pregnant. Eventually, she proceeded to the events at the scene of the crime, claiming that Jones told her not to come around anymore, of which she responed by pulling her revolver from her purse and pointing it at her unborn fetus. She then said he lunged for the gun. What Miller did next left spectators transfixed. Miller stood from her chair and shouted at the top of her voice as she described the shooting. “I remember that I smelled smoke and my hand was up in the air and I don’t know what happened exactly…he was on this side of me and he was holding my hand down and then he pushed me and I hit a chair and then I don’t remember anything until I remember he was kneeling on the floor.”
Miller’s defense rested its case and court was adjourned.

On March 3rd, Judge Moriarty reviewed the evidence and read the verdict. Laura Miller was found not guilty, the judge declaring that Gordon Jones “died in an accidental manner during a scuffle”. As Miller left the courtroom on that Friday in March, the crowd roared with approval.

As the years went by, the story of Laura Miller never fully left the minds of those in Minnesota. The question, is what happened to Laura after the trial ended? For this question, I have no concrete answer, however, a bit of research turned up a few possible outcomes as to what happened to the defendant of one of McLeod County’s most intriguing court cases.

What we know as fact is that Laura Miller fled McLeod County and vowed never to return. Her last known whereabouts (as far as I can ascertain) was at General Hospital in Minneapolis where she was visiting her mother. Reporters were already there waiting. Laura gave them the interview they were waiting for, stating that she intended to live with family in Omaha Nebraska. As with any community (an entire county in this case), however, rumors tend to fly when there are unknowns related to a hot topic – Laura Miller was no exception.

The most widely accepted story is that Laura Miller moved to Omaha and had her child. Some sources claim it was a boy, others a girl. Some rumors claim the child grew to adulthood never knowing what happened in McLeod County – meaning Laura kept it secret. Others claim that Laura gave the child up for adoption and then moved to New York to disappear from the public eye. Recently, however, an interview conducted with Hazel Graven, Laura Miller’s jail cell attendant came to light, one that ended with a much different theory as to what happened to Laura after the trial was over.

Hazel Graven was a rarity in 1950. In a time when law enforcement was heavily dominated by men, Hazel Graven was deputized. In the case of Laura Miller, many feared she would turn suicidal. As a result, Hazel was ordered to stay by Laura’s side both day and night. During the day, Hazel accompanied Laura to the courtroom, to lunch, in and out of her cell, and even to the bathroom. At night, Hazel slept in a jail cell next to Laura. Twenty-four hours a day, and seven days a week, Hazel Graven was by Laura Miller’s side. In the interview she described Laura as a personable type, easy to talk with, and so well behaved that Hazel could have left the cell door unlocked and Laura would have stayed put. The two even stayed in touch for a bit after the trial. What’s eye opening about the interview is what Hazel thought of Laura’s story, and what she believed happened after the trial.

“Guilty as sin”, is what Hazel said in the interview. The deputy and courtroom attendant of Laura Miller said that outside of the courtroom, the defendant never cried or showed remorse. In the courtroom, however, Laura was known for having bouts of emotional outpouring. What’s more is that Laura Miller was never forced to take a pregnancy test, and Hazel, who was with her when she dressed, when she showered, and when she went to the bathroom, questioned the validity of Laura Miller’s story, stating she did not believe that Miller was even pregnant.

Perhaps someone out there knows exactly what happened to Laura Miller. For now, however, I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with the idea that even though all the facts seem to be in order, there is always more to the story.

Comments

  1. Beth McCormick says

    Well written. It would be interesting to find out what really happened to her.

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