Josef Herzen – The Boy Murderer

Josef Herzen – The “Boy” Murderer

December 4, 1910:

It was a cold December evening in the “old back country” of McLeod County.  Around 10pm, long after the sun crowned the western horizon and the world turned pitch black, Henry Wolter, who lived between Hutchinson and Biscay, was walking home after a late-night visit with some neighbors.  Most of the landmarks in the area were obscured by darkness, so Wolter used the railroad tracks as a guide.  About two miles north of Biscay he could see a dark figure looming ahead of him – a fellow traveler walking the tracks and heading toward Wolter.

There was something strange about the traveler.  He was moving fast, running down the tracks, and as he passed Wolter, he gave not one indication that he noticed Henry.  There was no
“hello”, no “good evening”, nothing but utter silence as he sprinted past.

The strange traveler was reported to the McLeod County Sheriff, as were several other strange people, drifters, who had been seen in town – a murder had been committed outside of Silver Lake, and the County Sheriff was on the lookout for suspicious characters.

One young man named Josef Herzan, who was not a stranger to the community, was in Silver Lake on the day of the murder.  Herzan, who lived on a rented farm with his father, left his home that morning at 9am.  He spent the day in Silver Lake, making a few stops while he was in town.  At 6pm, upon the sounding of the town bell, he left the village and proceeded into the countryside.  He eventually came to the Fajmon home, a little log cabin outside of Silver Lake.

Herzan decided to enter the home and ask for money – this he would do at gunpoint.  He went to the door, knocked, then entered the home.  Once inside, Herzan pulled out a revolver that he kept in his pocket.  Inside the home were Mr. and Mrs. Fajmon.  He pointed his weapon at them and demanded money, to which it was replied that they had none.  Mr. Fajmon then emptied the meager contents of his pockets, in which a few coins were present.  Herzan then demanded more money.  Mrs. Fajmon took a lantern and went into the cellar, then came back with two dollars in paper money and an additional six in silver.  Still unsatisfied, Herzan demanded more.  Mrs. Fajmon explained that all they had left was wheat, and that if he followed her, he could have their wheat.

What happened next was a tragedy.

Mrs. Fajmon looked closely at Herzan and exclaimed “I know you”.  Herzan then panicked, lifted the gun and fired, killing Mrs. Fajmon.

Josef Herzan ran as fast as he could across a plowed field toward Silver Lake.  Once he reached town he passed by the lumber yard and headed out to the lake where children were known to skate.  There, he made a fire and rested for some time.  He then left and headed across the lake toward a stand of timber where he discarded the weapon and ammunition.  Then he went to Travnichek’s store where he met his brother Charley and went home.

A long hunt for the murderer ensued.  For weeks people looked for clues to the crime, yet nothing came.

Meanwhile, Josef Herzan decided to travel into Hutchinson to visit with his grandmother.  It was noted that he had more money than he should have with no explanation as to where it came from.  Suspicion was aroused and questions began to get asked.  Local law enforcement, with the help of a Pinkerton detective, found that Herzan owned a revolver of the same caliber that was used in the murder – it was enough to bring him in for questioning where the young man confessed to the crime.  He was given a prison sentence and served 20 years in Stillwater.  Upon release, he tried to resume a normal life in Hopkins.  There he tended bar for a time.  Sometime in the 1940s, he returned to pay a visit to a childhood friend, but was turned away at the door.  Josef Herzan died in 1977.  He was 86 years old.