Late in 1889, a frightfully mangled corpse was found buried in a shallow grave on the banks of Lake Johanna, near St. Paul, Minnesota. It was buried so carelessly, one arm was sticking above ground. The words “A traitor” were carved on it. It seemed obvious that this unidentified person had been murdered in a particularly ghastly fashion, and the entire community was struck with horror at the thought of some fiend lurking in their midst. The whole awful business remained a mystery until a report published in the November 12, 1889 issue of the “Saint Paul Globe” published the “story behind the story.” And quite a story it was.
The secret is out at last. The "victim" of the Lake Johanna mystery may lay his weary bones to rest, secure in the conviction that there is no stern necessity for his wraith to perambulate the earth in a search for vengeance on the heads of foul murderers. It is only a poor, harmless cadaver, after all.
The Globe is in possession of the story in its entirety. As a result those persons who have been wrongfully blaming Sheriff Bean, Coroner Quinnor, or County Attorney Euan will feel it their duty to humbly ask for pardon. No crime has been committed, and no law--not even the health law--violated. These officials, who have the whole story, were entirely right in all that they did, and simply displayed good judgment in sawing wood and doing nothing. The story is furnished by two reputable physicians of St. Paul and can be relied upon as strictly true. It is given in the language of one of them:
THE STORY OF A STIFF.
In the middle of the summer an unknown man was killed on one of the railroads, and the fact only chronicled in the Globe. It was the body of a tramp that was picked up, and it was conveyed to the keeping of a prominent surgeon of the city. No claim was ever made for it, and when a week later two medical students, well indorsed, applied for the body for the purposes of dissection, it was turned over to them, as the law provides. The first demonstration was made in their presence by a physician holding an official position. He dissected a portion of the thigh and groin, showing the femoral artery. That physician was myself. Afterward the body was further dissected, the brain being the especial study, and the top of the skull was removed in a not very scientific way. These students, who are the sons of reputable citizens, attend medical lectures in the fall and winter, and therefore they had completed the dissection of the body the time came for them to return East. They desired to preserve the body until spring, when they could pursue their investigations and finally mount the skeleton. Accordingly they embalmed the body in the approved style, by the advice of skilful physicians. They were directed to then enclose it in a tar barrel and bury it outside of the city limits; and this practice, bear in mind, obtains among all reputable physicians. They properly prepared the body, and then took into their confidence a young man who attended the high school, to assist in burying it. This they left to him, and he buried it safely on the banks of Lake Johanna and blazed a neighboring tree to mark the spot. The students returned to school, satisfied. Thus far all was well. But this young high school man had
A TOUCH OF OLD NICK
in him, and is an inveterate practical joker. A short time ago, actuated by his ruling propensity, he went out to Johanna and dug up the body. He says he thought of boiling down the corpse to get the skeleton, but the probabilities are he went there solely to create a sensation. He uncovered the body, mutilated it, and,after carving the sensational words on the head of the barrel, placed the arm above ground and came away and left it. I have not the slightest doubt he did it to create just the sensation that followed. He once went up the river, got a bag full of snakes and turned them loose in a Jackson street restaurant just for a practical joke, which shows the character of the young man.
Now, there is the whole story in a nutshell. The proceeding, aside from the 'joke' of the young fellow, was strictly honorable and legitimate. Coroner Quinn will testify that the body was in good condition, as far as the muscles were concerned, and would have kept for ten years. The students were entirely blameless, and were simply pursuing a laudable
STUDY OF ANATOMY.
I would have made this statement sooner but for one thing. When I first learned of the discovery I could not understand why the body was in that condition, so I hunted up the high school man and got his explanation, but it was only yesterday. He would not admit any intention of a joke or sensation, and told me he left the hatchet there because it got dark so quickly that he could not find it.
There is the whole story in a nutshell. You will see at once that there was nothing wrong in the actions and intentions of the medical men, and that this howl for justice is all bosh, growing out of a want of understanding of the situation. I do not defend the pranks of the would-be joker, but give the story just as it is.
Hey, these things happen to us all.